Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hospitable Coercion: a night of Indian generosity

Don’t make eye contact. Just look at the hard floor as though something interesting is taking place. Yes, this is fascinating, I think to myself. I have yet to master an acting face and my subtle interest comes across as overly eccentric or mildly psychotic. With a look of deep concern, the elderly woman rushes over to my white plastic chair. To remedy my illness she heaps two more ladles of white rice onto my already overflowing plate.

I sigh deeply and struggle to mask my agitation. The angst does not translate over to the women. I can tell by her face, which continues to exude a bright smile, that she failed to notice my aggravation.

The charade starts over. I continue to attempt disinterest but she returns to my side just three minutes later, large rice bowl in hand. I hand her my plate in surrender and she fills it once more with unwavering enthusiasm.

While an overabundance of hospitality is a daily occurrence in India, tonight is special. It is prayer time in Mumbai. With an hour warning, my group is invited to attend a prayer service with members of the Trinity Tamil Lutheran Church. Having promised myself I would not miss such a cultural experience, I manage to join the company of seven others in the small yellow and red van reserved for just such excursions. Still reveling in the excitement of living out my Anthropology minor first-hand, my mind wanders to subsistence strategies, kinship diagrams and social theory.

The van rumbles to a stop near dimly lit shops and small houses. “We must walk a short walk,” the driver explains. The dirt path is lit by surplus fireworks left over from the previous week’s Diwali celebration. Rogue sparks flare towards us unsuspecting victims, subject to war in this foreign land. We trudge past barbed wire fences hidden by the darkness while our Rainbow sandals squelch in the newly formed mud. After several more minutes I spot dim lights in the distance past tall grass and mosquito infested fog.

Shoes remain outside as we step barefooted into a one-room house with a small kitchen. I see the space is already full and ponder how my group of eight will fit. Couches, a bed and all the floor space is occupied by this newly formed church. A short man with dark hair, gray slacks, a collared shirt and bare feet stands to greet us. “Hewwo,” he garbles and I am reminded of the Princess Bride. “Welkwome Concowdia Seminawy Students.”

Suddenly a shiny silver tambourine materializes into his right hand, magically already shaking out a beat. He hums a vaguely familiar hymn at a rapid tempo. I pause, mouth slightly open, wide-eyed and look around at my fellow Americans to see if they have a clue as to what is happening.

By the time my eyes go back to the man, his tambourine is moving even faster and a big grin stretches across his face. I try to hum along and hide my disbelieving smile. Three songs later, my stomach rumbling and head aching slightly, the man introduces himself as Sonn De. “Like Sunday. Or Sundae,” he says with a wink.

Sonn introduces the other house church members one by one. He pats the final woman on the head and smiles, “Wife. My Woman, Wife.” I ponder how his high-pitched voice can exit in a constant stream from his continuously smiling lips. After the poignant introduction of his wife, Sonn declared, “Now, one of our guests from Concordia Seminary will give a short message, yes?”

Our looks of intense confusion bordering on both frustration and humor seem to be a constant theme of the evening. Sonn’s bold expectation causes a flash of panic covered quickly with a relatively calm, confident response from our group leader, Sam: “Umm, yes, of course, we have come with a message. A short message.”

Sam’s compelling message about Colossians 1:1-14 spurred a loud applause from the energetic crowd of Indians. I cannot join them. I should have declined the three cups of fluorescent orange Fanta and two pieces of chocolate cake that were lovingly pushed upon me while Sam spoke of prayer and thanksgiving. Stomach aching already, I am not looking forward to a repetition of such generosity during dinner.

Despite my fervent prayers and pleadings, after three more high-pitched, fast-paced, tambourine-infused hymns, dinner is served. Copious amounts of bony mystery meat in a spicy curry sauce makes its way around the room, along with various textures of bread. Chapatti, papel, potatoes and parathas circulate to each person multiple times. My head spins and my stomach continues to turn with the moving serving platters.

The evening moves along and slowly my stomach forgives the abundance of food that has been assaulting it since I arrived in India one week ago. After several more upbeat hymns in Hindi and English my hesitancy about Indian hospitality starts to lessen. I smile to myself as the last song concludes with a short prayer.

We say our goodbyes and take a step out into the dark, misty night air. Instead of leading us on the daunting trek back to the yellow and red vans, our drivers guide us into a neighboring house. “It is Helen’s birthday. We must celebrate,” he says, as though that is a legitimate reason for continuing the evening in a stranger’s home.

Already two and a half hours behind schedule, I sit down in Helen’s house and try to hold on to my newfound happiness. Chocolate cake and Fanta are passed around and I take each, surprised at my compliant reaction. It is another excuse to consume additional calories and too much sugar. I accept the cake and cannot think of a more appropriate reason to eat than to participate in unfamiliar culture. “Happy birthday, Helen,” I say with joy. This time I look her in the eyes rather than at the floor. This is India, I slowly realize. And I welcome it, stomach ache and all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Africa:: Surprise Assault and Reconciliation

I step forward through a rusty gate, my mind racing for the events that are sure to transpire. Full of both hopes and fears, my heart beats rapidly. I have arrived in Kenya: both my greatest excitement and greatest cause of worry. The wet, red earth made muddy from last night’s warm rain squelches under my feet. As I make my way through the crowd of children, small dark hands reach out for my much lighter arms.

Nervously I sit down on an old pew inside the church. The spaces fill up and a teenage boy sits down next to me, taking up the last of the wooden space. My nostrils fill with the assaulting smell of industrial strength glue. Upon closer inspection, I realize just who is sitting to my left-A boy of sixteen dons the same tattered clothes day after day; his only possessions he carries with him. His feet, red from the same Kenyan dirt I walked through, stick out from the multiple holes in his only pair of shoes. Somewhat reluctantly on my part my eyes meet his. My heart drops somewhere deep within me. Timidly I smile a greeting but those dark eyes do not respond. They are preoccupied with fumes from the glue and something I sense as fear, which stems from the hardening realities of destitution.

I sit next to this boy who is the same age as my youngest brother. I am afraid to ask his name. Hours later my heart is still weighted by the smell of glue used to forget. The very substance that binds is tearing him apart.

The obsessive part of me takes over, having been structured by an American education system based on problem-solving. I start to make list after list of how to fix this problem of orphaned street kids turning to drugs for support. I brainstorm the needs of Kenya with other local volunteers at the church: water, food, education, healthcare, clothing, shelter. This simple list is just that-the basic needs of children and people around the world. I continue to write with my three dollar pen, pages of dreams to fix these issues.

Soon my attitude becomes one of disbelief at the enormous problems laid out in my black notebook, tangibly displayed in these children who lack a daily meal and clean drinking water. My list cannot heal this problem, even my mind cannot fully comprehend how great the need is here. I leave the church feeling disheartened, helpless and unsure of how to respond.

The next morning comes too quickly, and I enter those same rusty gates with shaky hands and nearly overflowing eyes. These two weeks in Kenya will be my chance to contribute in the fight for the needs here. I serve the kids ugali, corn flour mixed with water, along with vegetables. This meal is the only one of the day for most of the children here. We sing songs with them, give hugs, play games, and try to show as much love as possible to those who are just beginning to learn the value they hold in their small selves. In these children I see a haunting spectrum. They are young and impressionable; my prayer is for positive influences rather than self-destruction or a fear of trusting others with their dreams.

Afternoon hours come and another young boy sits next to me on the hard earth. We shake hands in greeting, and I notice something different in him. Most boys his age bring with them the weight of glue and hardened eyes. I met Paul Kariuki that afternoon, a 14-year-old boy who proved me wrong. Paul has been at the church for five years; the first three years were a haze of glue fumes and a life hedged by the influence of his friends. He explained to me he did not see his family during that time. He had no food, no shelter, no education and no love.

Smelling rags soaked in gasoline was his only defense against the cold of living on the streets; it helped him not to feel so alone. People categorize street kids as thieves, and Paul was looked down upon by pedestrians, shopkeepers, tourists and other hesitant adults.

I asked him what caused him to stop doing drugs; his response caused me to reflect on my own goals. He said he had really thought about life, and what he wanted from it. His old life was one of fear and neglect, but his future is bright. Paul was accepted into the Fikisha program where, for the first time in his life, someone told him he was allowed to dream. I was told that often as a child, but he had never been asked what his hopes are for his future. Now he was able to answer-an engineer.

He talks about his past with mentors at the church, in order to process his old life and the beautiful transformation into the present. He tells me the rest of the boys who still do drugs have been influenced by Paul’s new vision. They say he made a wise choice. I smile and nod my head in agreement, a small outward sign of my heart for him. He has made a wise choice, because of the opportunity to find better influences, people to encourage him, a place to live, money for school and a place to sleep.

Paul has shown me that many children have unrecognized potential. Fikisha placed a hope in him, and in turn he inspires hope. I have seen the tragedies are real. Orphans and children who don’t have money for school or food pour into the church grounds daily in hopes of a meal. But the successes are real as well. Paul showed me this the first day we met, and he will continue to exeunt that hope in Kawangware to those who need someone to reach out, pull them up and show them a new life is possible.

Goals revisited

Seven months ago, I wrote several goals for myself. They have all been met, at least on a partial, continuing level. Looking back and looking inwardly, I can tell that this list of 20 only scratches the surface of what has taken place.

Each item on this list represents something that changed in my life, my heart, at my very core. My identity has increased to encompass a level I have never known before. This list is a symbol, an icon of a paradigm shift.

Through hearing stories about other people, through being uncomfortable for the majority of 4 months, I have become more aware of what I am capable of. This is not of my own strength, or by sheer will power. Several times I would have given up, if not for my community around me who encouraged me with the Word and their presence.

I am still unsure how to process all that has happened. I sense a time is coming, because I cannot take it in all at once. Nor can I describe it here, with the mere written word. To do so would be a disservice to myself and to you.
So I will wait in attempted patience, with the knowledge and comfort that the changes have not come to a conclusion.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The greatest story ever told

This is perhaps one of the most meaningful things that happened to me in the past four months, and before that as well. This trip has come to an end, but this story that follows will remain in my heart forever. I want to share it with you in hopes of encouraging you with the love I have experienced since leaving in August. It's a little long but believe me, it is one of the greatest stories ever written. (Not because I wrote it, but because God formed this testimony).


I wasn’t sure why God switched me from one host family to another after only a few days in China. I don’t think I did anything offensive…I am a student of anthropology and a firm believer in cultural sensitivity and participant observation. But I met Lucky once at school and she seemed sweet. I did not ask questions as I moved into her family’s home Saturday afternoon.

It has only been a few short days, and I know why I moved.


Saturday, December 4th, Day 1: This evening I had dinner at Lucky’s house. Afterwards we went to the study room and did homework. She is an excellent student. She has the sweetest demeanor I have encountered in a long time.

I cannot remember ever meeting someone like her, especially not another 13 year-old. She is kind, caring and sensitive. We got along immediately, which is aided by her strong English skills and willingness to learn and ask questions. I believe she is naturally inquisitive. Saturday she asked me if I was a Christian, after we saw a cross necklace for sale at a gift shop. I said, “Yes, I believe in Jesus. Do you know God?” She responded, “Perhaps I must ask my parents, they have not told me.”


Sunday, December 5th, Day 2: Sunday night, my friends Shirley, Joanna and I were sitting on the rooftop of the apartment complex, enjoying a Chinese-American dinner of spaghetti and mandarins. I asked Lucky and her cousin Sarah if they had heard the Christmas Story. “Perhaps I have learned some things in school. Christmas is an American holiday. There are presents and Christmas trees. There is Santa and parents put small gifts in socks.” I asked if they had heard the real origins, about the birth of Jesus. They responded with hesitant nods, but they had not heard much about it. “We would like to hear it.”

I told them the Christmas Story, of Jesus birth by Mary, who was a virgin. He was the Son of God, and he was fully man and fully God. I continued by telling them that Jesus’ birth is only a small part of the story. Jesus grew up, and he taught about loving our neighbors and the forgiveness of sins through his blood. I spoke of Jesus dying on the cross and then raising from the dead three days later. Lucky responded, “I like that story very much. It is a very good thing.”

That night Lucky asked if, “Perhaps we could read the Bible together sometime soon. I would like that very much.”


Monday, December 6th, Day 3: The next day, Monday, I was having Chinese red tea with Lucky’s family. She asked if she could speak with me for a second, in the other room. She said, “Amanda, I have decided I would like to read the Bible with you for ten minutes each day. Would that be alright?”

Oh, my heart. It melts at her curious pursuit of the Word. I said, “Of course, shall we start now?”

Our ten minutes started in Genesis 1 and expanded past the Creation story, to the Christmas Story in Matthew. An hour later she was still reading aloud to me and asking questions. We moved through Matthew, to the Sermon on the Mount. After reading that Jesus said to love your enemies, Lucky responded, “That is very nice. I would like to try and do that.”

I said, “It is very difficult for us to love our enemies on our own. But if we confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, Jesus removes the separation between God and us. Then God can come and work in our hearts. God is very powerful. With his help, we are able to love our enemies.”


Tuesday, December 7th, Day 4: The next night we read Jeremiah 29:11. It is not a cliché to her, because she had never heard it before. She moved in to verses 12 and 13. She asked if she could write it down in her notebook. After re-reading the verses a few times, she covered her notebook. Then she recited all three verses from memory.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Lucky had memorized her first verses of Scripture.

Her next question was, “Does God force us to love him.”

Seriously? She was asking about Free will!

I responded that, “With any relationship, we do not force people to love us. It would not love if God forced us to love him. And since God is love, he does not force us. We always have a choice.”

I wrote down a prayer one would say to accept Christ into their heart. I gave it to her and said, “This is what one would say. Just read it to yourself and you can think about what you have learned so far.”

She responded with a smile, “I would like that very much.”


Wednesday, December 8th, Day 5: Another Bible Study tonight. We started out in John, Chapter 3. She read from verse 3-21 and then we discussed how God is the light, and he desires everyone to know the truth of Jesus. She asked about Easter: “A holiday with chocolate eggs, in America.”

I responded that there is another Easter story, a great story. The Resurrection Story. We read about how Mary went to the tomb and it was empty. “He is risen! He was dead but he conquered death and is seated with God. All those who believe in Jesus and God’s love have his power and forgiveness of sins.”

We went back to John 3. She asked, “Amanda, what must I do to talk to Jesus?”

I answered, “Jesus knows your thoughts. He knew you before you were even born. He knows everything about you. He hears what you speak to him. But in order to receive forgiveness from him, we must confess and believe in our heart that He died and rose for us.”

And so she repeated after me, “Dear Jesus, I am sorry for my sins. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Please forgive me. Help me to grow and learn more about you. Amen.”

And she asked, “Now, may I speak to Jesus, there is nothing else I must do?”

“Nope, it’s all by God’s grace, there is nothing we can do to earn his love.”

She wrote down John 3:17 on the paper she had written the verses in Jeremiah, and the Prayer of Salvation. She clutched the paper in her hands and said, “These are much more valuable than money or life or knowledge.”

Oh, my heart again. Indeed, it is much more important than that. Welcome to the family.



Thursday, December 9th, Day 6: The next afternoon, I pondered the pros and cons of giving Lucky my own Bible. I know she would be interested in learning more English through reading an English version. But would she understand more if she read it in Chinese, which is her native language? Could a 13-year-old girl understand the depth of the Word of God in her second language?


Friday, December 10th, Day 7: During lunch, an answer appeared in the form of Marissa. She is one of the only teachers at the school who is a Christian. I had heard of her but I didn’t know whom she was or where to find her. She was elusive, and I wasn’t sure she even truly existed. I needed to ask someone where I could get a Chinese Bible, someone trustworthy. While Christianity isn’t technically illegal in Communist China, it is highly discouraged, especially in the school system. It is technically a Closed country, and it could bring someone trouble from the school or the government.

Marissa sat down next to me during lunch. She was real. I asked her if she knew where I could get a bible, for a girl at the school. She asked quietly, “Your whole group, are you all Christians? I responded “Yes, and there is a girl at school who would really like a Chinese bible; she is a new Christian.”

“A Bible? Oh, I have three. Some in Chinese, and one in both English and Chinese.”

Perfect.


Saturday, December 11th, Day 7: I have been living with Lucky’s family for one week. We have read the Bible 7 of the 8 nights I’ve been here. I have never met anyone who had never heard of Jesus. But Lucky has heard very little of what Jesus is really like. We have been going through the Gospels, to read about Jesus’ ministry on earth. She is intrigued by the power he gifts for us to love our enemies. She sees the themes of “Do not worry, Fear not, God is with you.”

It has been such a gift to see Lucky begin this part of her life. What a blessing to see her fire for God’s heart. He has given her something very special.


Monday, December 13th, Day 9: Tonight I gave Lucky my Bible. She said, “This is the greatest birthday gift I have ever gotten. (Her birthday is Sunday). If I took this, I would feel guilty.” I assured her I had another Bible at home. She said, “It would not have markings in it,” referring to all my highlights and notes. I told her, “I will fill it up again soon, because I try to read my Bible everyday.”

We went through names of chapters, order and who wrote which books. I also showed her some reading plans in the Study section, about Jesus’ ministry, Prayer and Paul’s life. I hope she reads it often and is able to understand it through the English and Mandarin translations. Great is your faithfulness.


This is the greatest story ever told-the story of the Gospel, God’s grace and gift of forgiveness. It is the story of Lucky and of Jesus pursuing her heart with relentless passion. This story is that God cares for individuals, and He uses me not because there is anything good in me, but because He wants to share the story of a love that could not be held down. Thank you for sharing in this story. Be encouraged. Amen.



Sunday, December 19, 2010

Indonesia and China

Bubble tea in ChinaCrash a wedding photo shoot in Hong Kong..
Bat. No, wait..Lizard...


Indonesia:

Travel and Loss

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Traveling to the tenth and final country has been one of the most trying experiences. It has also been a journey that has allowed me to see the most about myself. It is easy to love something when it loves you back. It’s easy to love traveling when there are beaches and fresh fruit juice, comfy beds and exciting new friends. But what about when travel does not love you back? It can be a cruel friend, so I have seen. Multiple times I have seen the shadowed side of travel. These are the parts that no one mentions in a post card home. On that small rectangular piece of thick paper, it is all smiles, sunshine and serenity. But once that paper has been stamped and sent by airmail to friends and family back home, the true experiences creep in.

If you think someone is perfect, spend more time with them. The truth comes out, slowly. After nearly four months, traveling has shown itself to me. I see that traveling often means being very uncomfortable, for days or weeks at a time. It means trying new foods, treading softly as to not offend the locals. It means following the group tour, or perhaps getting lost on your own. It means looking inside yourself at the places that only come out in times of desperation, anger or frustration.

I have seen that side: in Russia, with confusion and impatience, in Egypt, sailing down the Nile for 4 days. I saw it in India with no air conditioning, privacy or fresh air. I saw it in Kenya, where the people take too much of your heart. But China has been offering an even deeper view of self. Loss has increased, and my reaction to such events has been frustration and sadness. I see it only lasts for a moment. It last for a few moments, this last time.

There is nothing that is constant, except God, his love and his word. I have seen that. Times and circumstances change so quickly in this adventure of world travel. I lose material possessions, time, and money. Effort seems wasted, people seem unchanged, and my heart reacts in a deceitful way. It is scary. But a short time after, God always comes in and picks up these pieces of me. These pieces are much more malleable than before. They can be molded, shaped and changed in a way that was impossible before that instance.

I am still afraid to welcome such change. Perhaps one day I will see the true value in dying to self, multiple times on a single trip. I hope to see these new shapes. The old ones are gone; they are being replaced, renewed.

The lesson now is to learn to wait through the feelings of confusion, loss, anger, and fear. They still occur, but they are building a larger structure of character and strength that I could not have fathomed before. So in the tenth country I realize there are many more countries to come. There are many more uncomfortable situations. And as I learn to say, Bring the rain, for now I say, the rain is here and I know the fruit will come soon. Just be willing to wait, that’s all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Seasons of the trip

I'm sitting in the airport in Hong Kong, waiting to fly to LAX in an hour! I will update on China and the last few weeks of the trip when I get home. For now, here's my latest Travel Writing story about seasons from the trip. :) Looking forward to coming home and continuing to process all that has happened in these past 4 months.

Growing as Children: Games and Revelations

It started out as a guessing game, similar to the endless rounds of I-Spy on a family road trip. I would take a guess, write it down, and hope for the best. It seems like just as long ago that I started to ponder the vast lessons of world travel. I expected to be changed, to have new experiences, to expand my perspective and to fly far away from my comfort zone.

After months of planning, I realized how completely unprepared I was to face the whole world with one backpack and nineteen textbooks. That morning came quickly, like a road sign that flashes by before you can read the words. That first airplane ride took me away from everything I knew. I remember it, a distant day. I was on a mission: to experience everything with new eyes.

Argentina: I am now an English-speaker and a Spanish-listener. I am a consumer. I want to take the perfect picture. I want to capture the experience in a single frame. It will be the experience I am supposed to have. Yet these first two weeks teach me I know very little about myself, and even less about those around me. I have 29 new acquaintances and am hesitant to share my life with these strangers. We share a common bond and our desires to learn and grow are the foundation for new friendships.

Russia: I have to take a second to check the road map. The GPS shouts contradictory directions at me in a British accent. I am confused and scared of what the future holds. I grasp for anything I can hold onto. A plan, I need a plan.

We pile into an old building, some speak too loudly. This place cannot hold us. I hide inside, wishing for more tact and a greater awareness. And so it is. I am changing. We cannot stay the same. Flowers, cold, wind bites, rain falls. These jackets and shoes are from another place. It was the wrong list. I resent it. But isn’t that a part of it all? Going beyond what I choose and control. We cannot stay the same. I fight it, yell inside that I won’t. Yet forcing me, I learn humility.

Egypt: Loss resonates and my mind plays it over and over. It is the longest van ride ever-from Cairo to Sinai. I resent it even more than the false packing list. Emotions run higher than the temperatures outside. Sand mixes with sweat and tears as we drive through the desert. It is a process of purification. Loss of material possessions has a cathartic effect on my heart. But I fight it the whole drive.

Eight hours later and I will myself to exit the van. We pour into the hostel, exhausted, spent. I cannot stay the same. I press on and climb a mountain. I beg God to reconnect with my heart, to fan the flame that had been choked by earthly desires. The Word is like water or breath or cold air in the hot desert. On the top of Mt. Sinai, I thank God for helping me endure.

Israel: We made it to the Promised Land. This is where Jesus walked. Sit and wait for the moment where your heart will change, as though willing the rain to come, the flower to bloom, the autumn leaf to fall. A frustration overshadows any other emotion. Why am I the same? Did not Jesus die so we would never be the same? I sing worship songs under my breath, in order to have a familiar context for these unfamiliar sites.

The day salvation was gifted to my heart is the day I refused to be the same person. I cannot stay the same.

Lifting my face to glory, I celebrate the loss of my self, my former life. The true self looks at Jesus, face to face. Don’t miss what I want to show you; don’t look around at the things you think you want. He speaks this to me.

Jesus asked, God, my God, Why have you forsaken me? When he could no longer see the Father, never was he more near. There is safety in suffering, affliction, death to self that He might reign in me. At our last breath we cling to the Father who is well-pleased to draw near, and promises such. At this point I realize that I am not the same.

Egypt: Woe to those who go back to Egypt for comfort: because there are no comforts in Egypt. It is not just a disclaimer, it is practical advice. There are no options but to sit on a sailboat for endless hours and pray to God. My heart is restless and I try to fill it but there is nothing around me but the Nile River, pita bread and flies. And so I pray, out of both boredom and out of necessity. It is a necessity, I realize. I cannot stay the same.

Kenya: I fear the whole continent of Africa-the place notorious for capturing missionary hearts for needy, orphaned children. So I come prepared. I plan the saving of Africa, of Kenya, to be exact. I make endless lists to save the children. Bullet points, color-coded, categorized. This structure is the only way I can protect myself from heartbreak. \

I come to realize that Africa is big. There are many needs and my highlighted lists cannot save anything, at least on their own. I leave feeling changed. Saddened that I cannot save the world, but emboldened to know that Christ can. I continue on, ambitious for India.

India: How did I get back to Egypt? I am back on this silly sailboat with nothing to do but endure the heat and pray. I am frustrated. I continually remind myself that I cannot stay the same. Part of me is still the same. I do not like being uncomfortable. But God, if that is where you are going, take me along too. If this suffering is producing something in me, do not remove me from this humid purification.

Indonesia: God, you captured my heart in Bali. Not through the green trees, rice fields or ocean breezes, but through a supernatural power. I can no longer operate on human abilities and man-made strategies for advancing the Kingdom. God’s pervasive presence has fallen on my heart, on my new heart. The earth is saturated with His presence. God pulls me in to experience more of his power and provision. I have been invited to encounter His divine existence in my daily life. I am made new, changed, purified and refined by fire.

China: Part of me would have been content to skip these last few weeks in China. But almost immediately, my heart warmed towards this place. I had two host families in my three weeks here; both were amazing and helped me learn more about Chinese culture. I taught English to 8th graders. The teacher told me, "I want to learn from you. I want to see how you teach students." Since I have never officially taught a class, this was an ironic challenge. The three weeks flew by, and God continued to soften my heart and surprise me by moving through me to impact others. I know the next step is to process and share all that has happened here. I look forward to this new challenge and I expect the intense impact to resonate into the future.

I am still guessing: I-Spy for grown-ups. Or, rather, for those who are growing up. I am a work in progress, refining my guesses, asking better questions to discover the true nature of God and his people. I have new eyes that are continually being refined to see more like God sees. It is the child’s hope for guessing well and knowing the Father’s heart. He is showing me that child-like wonder is more than a road trip game. It is the only constant theme in this quickly-passing scenery.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Welcome to Bali

Life has taken a turn since my last posts in India. We said goodbye to the people of Mumbai and the Lutheran Center, goodbye to the former orphanage in the slums that we called home. We left the tastes, smells and constant horn-honking traffic for an air conditioned airport and airplane. We had a layover in Malaysia and I pondered the next time I would be on this part of the world. Oh, and God provided a Coffee Bean :) in the cool Malaysian airport so I spent all night on the plane to Bali hyped up on an iced coffee. Many people on the team were sick just before and during these two flights to Indonesia. We arrived in lush, green Bali Tuesday morning around 11 and were driven to the guesthouse where we are staying in Ubud, the art capital of Bali.

Bali is...opposite of India in several ways. It is so green here, though still humid. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, but Bali is primarily Hindu.

I have been learning a lot about Hinduism from the owner of our guesthouse, who is also a professor of Religion and Culture (two of my favorite things). Each morning people make a small offering of rice, coconut flakes, coffee or flowers on a square of banana leaf. This is to appease the evil spirits and to please the kind spirits to grant them prosperity and wellness in their businesses or homes.

I asked Mr. Budi about this and tried to steer the conversation towards the questions Hinduism cannot fully answer. I asked if these small offerings could ever be enough to satisfy the god of the universe. What about grace? If you do wrong, you are given bad karma, or imbalanced karma, and the only way to get out of that is to do good. Do you ever feel like you cannot do enough?

I know that I can never offer enough to compensate for my sins. And that is ok, because Christ has paid the price for our transgressions. What a beautiful concept. Man could never do enough, God intervened to give us true life, free from coconut offerings or trying really hard to do good.

I am still processing these concepts of Hinduism. Mr. Budi is an amazing man, and his wife is an amazing woman. Each morning she places various offerings around the hotel grounds. I see the striving, but I know we can never offer enough on our own.

I will be graduating from Concordia in May, and I am not sure what I want to do afterward. Usually this would scare me. I love having a plan, having everything organized and figured out. But now I have a peace about it. I know that I am available to go wherever God would have me. I will not sit around and be careless with time to dream and plan and apply for jobs or schools, but I trust that worrying thousands of miles away can fix anything.

One option is the Middlebury Language school for Spanish. It is a 7-week summer language program at Mills College in Oakland, CA. I applied and am fairly sure I will get in. Whether or not I attend will be based on how much financial aid they offer me, since it is an expensive program.

The newest option is Bethel's School of Supernatural Ministry. Bethel church is in Redding, CA only 3 hours from my home. I have considered this school once before, after my sophomore year of college, but I knew I had to get my degree first. It is similar to a Bible college, where you can take 1-3 years of classes. Classes run from September to May. I would have classes Tuesdays-Fridays 12:45-5:30pm, attend two church services per week and one cell group per week. Students read through the whole Bible, along with 12 other books by various theologians. Tuition is only 4,000 per year in addition to housing and I would be able to have a part time job.
I really feel like God has been preparing me for a school like this.
Here's the website to the school if you're interested:
http://www.ibethel.org/site/bethel-school-of-supernatural-ministry

It is an amazing ministry that equips people to walk in God's spirit and power. Practical skills are taught, as well as general teachings and spiritual growth.
So much has been going on here. I am excited to see what happens in these last few weeks of traveling, and the residual effects God will work in my life and the members of the team. Please be praying for guidance, wisdom and boldness. Missing home but I will be there soon!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Personality of the Written Word

Sometimes writing can be very pleasant. Sometimes it’s just easy. But other times I just want to go out and experience rather than contrive meaning from every single cultural encounter. It is like a chaperoned tour, or a trip with too many people. It is a claustrophobic feeling, trying to fit your ideas, insight and ethnic revelation onto a small, white page. It would mean taking a photo of a person and saying, this is him. This is all he is, he is here. He looks like this, he stands this way, and this is him. But after the flash he moves along, into another place and another pose as time ticks on. And this new place, this new smile or phrase or response is also him. And this process continues for many years, shifting him. Changing and growing him. And we say that old photograph, peeling at the edges, faded in color, that this is him. The same man that once was, is still.

This place is not an aged photo. It brings forth life, not death. It has seen, heard, felt and known so much more. It is different than before, but others insist on saying it is the same, or if changed, only slightly. It is a tragedy, to claim this picture as what will stand for all eternity.

While writing can be a joy, it creates only a photo. A new story must be written, to document what has been taking place under the surface all this time. A new story has been welling up, forming, being prepared for its second encounter with the writer. It is the written that shows growth, where he came from, what this landscape used to say. And now, I write a new story. It is a story of adventure, of calm, controversy, creation. It is written. And it will be written.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What are your moments of enlightenment?

What are your moments of enlightenment?

  1. Argentina, waiting for the bus from the airport. The first realization that time does not always mean doing life by my schedule.
  2. Learning loss in Argentina, one week into the trip, in Russia and in Turkey. Losing what I thought was valuable and continuing to wrestle with that loss throughout the trip. The drive from Cairo to Sinai and dealing with my frustrations of having no music or books to pass the time.
  3. The idea of doing absolutely nothing for 4 days on the felucca sailboats, and being moved by our devotions, Dr. Norton’s message about Woe to you who go back to Egypt for comfort. Too much time for prayer and not enough distractions.
  4. Africa-dealing with the apprehension and fear of coming to Kenya. Worried that my life would change, that God would call me back, that my heart would break for the country.
  5. The walk in Kibera, the second largest Urban slum in Africa. The homestays with Mamma Grace and Joyce’s family, selling vegetables and reading Scripture together with her family.
  6. All of India. Being constantly uncomfortable and slightly on edge.
  7. Learning to deal with my discomfort, my fears, my anxiety and seeing that God is the only constant thing on this trip and in my life.
  8. Learning that I only have a small amount of control over the future and my future ambitions. Trusting in God that he will provide and take care of my living situation, money, my car, classes, my job and career and my relationship with friends, family and Matt.
  9. Knowing that I need to be continually praying for my mom, sisters, brothers and family
  10. Accepting a compliment.
  11. Finding joy in writing and recording stories.
  12. Seeing joy in people who have nothing, no money, little food, poor living conditions, children begging and not in school.
  13. Having church, worship and devotions with no carpet, no coffee, no fancy sound equipment, no RockHarbor.
  14. Wearing the same 3 outfits over and over. Learning to be dirty and not hate every second.
  15. Diving into Scripture and reconnecting with God who wants to speak truth and love into my heart
  16. Preparing and dealing with Spiritual warfare in Turkey and Egypt and in primarily Muslim or Hindu countries.
  17. Dreaming about how God will use me to impact the world
  18. Giving a devotion and knowing that God will use my to speak His truth
  19. Discovering that the Lord does give strength to his people, he blesses his people with peace
  20. Recording the good and the bad. Getting frustrated with God, saying that He has taken everything away from me. And he has. He is removing my crutches, my earthly desires, what I think I need or want. He has taken them and replaced them with a beautiful community of fellow Christians who can pray and support me.
  21. Not having anything else to rely on but God-no clothes, no snacks, no car, no music, no job, no income, no cell phone, no Internet, no schedule or Starbucks. Relying fully on him as my support, my foundation, my comfort, my joy, my love, my devotion

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's Set in India










India. I never would have guessed it would take part of my heart. I have been taken by the bright fabrics, dark skin decorated with gold or silver bangles, nose studs, mendi, too much chai and crispy snacks that are forcefully offered to me from a generous heart. Multiple generations live in a single room. Water from hand washing laundry runs through the uneven stone alleyways. Children shout out Hello and push their hand into mine as a greeting. A few words of broken English and Hindi with expressive hand gestures show the story and big, white smiles tell the rest. The heat is almost unbearably humid and being constantly sweaty has become an unavoidable reality. This is an unexpected love, which is perhaps the best kind.

Monday, November 8, 2010

So I Will Rest Here


This field is a place I have never seen before. Never have I ventured beyond the tall grass that divides the meadow from the forest of trees. Yesterday I awoke to a beautiful sunrise. I stepped out onto the porch to better see the birds and smell the flowery, damp scent after the cool rain. Breezes ticked my face and a smile played on my lips. My eyes search farther than usual, and I decided tomorrow would be the day to explore. So here I stand, the trees are close enough together to touch one with each hand. The crunchy sound of fall leaves breaking under my bare feet breaks the silence.

I am alone, except for these trees. They hear my thoughts, know my dreams, push me further. And so the journey continues. Each step brings a new revelation. To take them all in, I pause. A long pause, so the new ideas may catch up with my racing mind. I desire my thoughts to be as calm as these trees, stoic, firm, grounded in truth. They have never moved from the place in which they grow. And yet they are away from the meadow.

So I will rest here a moment, catching my breath. A life exists beyond my porch. It is a life I had never hoped for, a distant life. Everything is new, clean, alive.
So I will rest here a moment, focusing on the details of this new world. I also yearn to understand the former life, where I was just yesterday, or so it seemed. More time has passed, I start to realize. This much change takes more than one evening.
So I will rest here a moment, learning to see well, no longer through stained glass or from a far distance, but with wide eyes, clear and pure.

"This is the resting place, let the weary rest. This is the place of repose" Isaiah 28:12

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Refined by Fire


Journaling from a few weeks ago (Egypt):
Felucca trip up the Nile. 3 days of doing absolutely nothing except relaxing, swimming in the Nile and praying::
So many thoughts and prayers are being sent up right now. Floating here, rocking gently in the water. I'm discontent with myself. I need God to meet me in my inadequacies because I am unable to fix them myself. God, I want to see you. You say, Receive your sight, your faith has healed you. Meet me in this quiet place. Touch the deepest part of my heart. I realize over and over that I cannot do this on my own. Show me my place here-in this group, on this trip. Don't let life just pass me by. Surprise me with your creation, the vast beauty to explore. Heal my heart and give me new eyes to see.

This is perhaps his response:
“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Revelation 7

The Creator God has been guiding my heart, mind and steps to produce something in me that is of greater worth than gold, refined by fire.
It would be easy if God forced us to love him. But to be presented with the choice to accept or reject his love-how much more valuable:
"For up to this very point, for this very point, he has been educating us, leading us, pushing us, driving us, enticing us, that we may choose him and his will, and so be tenfold more his children, of his own best making, in the freedom of the will found our own first in its loving sacrifice to him, for which in his grand fatherhood he has been thus working from the foundations of the earth, then we could be in the most ecstatic worship flowing from the divinest impulse, without this willing sacrifice" (Unspoken Sermons, George MacDonald)

I am no longer in that place of loss and confusion, yet I know those situations are never wasted. God isn't vindictive or crude. Every struggle, while not necessarily caused by God, can be used by him to draw us closer to his heart, which is when and where we find purpose and hope. Blessings friends and family, may this hope work in us and in this team.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Africa





Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Heart of Light

Arriving in India has spurred my longing for the green grass, red dirt, ugali, coffee and peace that is Kenya. The plane landed at Jomo Kenyatta and I was extremely fearful of what Africa would do to me. I was nervous about how my heart would respond to a country famous for pulling in missionaries with a passion for helping people. We arrived at 4am, tired from the flight from Cairo, and I was ready to sleep the next two weeks away, in order to protect myself from Kenya's embrace. That morning groggily set the tone for what I would experience. A welcoming crew of 12 from the ELCA church in Kawangware greeted us with a warm handshake and Karibou Kenya.
Our days were spent at the church, serving children food, playing games, taking pictures and worshiping with the kids. We had two different homestays with families. At the first one, Becca and I sold vegetables and fruits and Mamma Gracie's shop at the front of her two-room house. I counted and added in Swahili, while Becca and I traded off making dinner, boiling water and cutting vegetables. After dinner we had tea, the best chai of the 8 countries so far.
I made friends and connections for future ministry projects, and God stretched my heart for these people. I would say it broke for them, but the hope we have in Christ holds it together.
I was able to capture some pretty amazing pictures, and was even allowed to interview a family of 8 to share their story with the world.
Now we're in India, it's hot, loud and the start of the 5 day Diwali festival. Fireworks are in full force outside the internet cafe. Hoping to post pictures soon, after writing a few papers because, that's right, we are taking 5 classes over here. Praying for patience in this new culture, as well as a heart for a new country and everything India has to teach us.
Missing family and friends, sorry about the lack of communication in the past few weeks. Hope to catch up soon :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ponderings from the Nile River


I made it back alive after a 3-day felucca trip up the Nile. A felucca is a traditional wooden sailboat used primarily to sail the Nile. 30 of us had 2 feluccas with 2 crew members on each. We ate vegetarian each meal and plenty of pita with various toppings. We took a night train Friday from Cairo to Aswan, and boarded the boat Saturday afternoon. I showered Thursday night before we left for Aswan, and then not again until this afternoon, Tuesday. I am definitely being pushed from my comfort zone; at home I shower at least once per day. And Egypt is hot. I mean hot. We were dripping sweat most of the time, which meant of course-we must cool off in the Nile.

It is extremely questionably water; I am sure it was not too safe for my new tattoo (see previous post..), but no one got sick and it was nice to float around with no real agenda. Free time is a new concept to this group, because we are always rushing somewhere, having classes, studying or taking tests. This semester has been my busiest yet, even without my job or friends and family to spend my time with.

Saturday night I spent a few hours just laying on the boat and praying. I journaled, I re-read my posts from the beginning of the trip, and pondered my future. It is difficult to dwell on the future when I am thousands of miles away and a continent and oceans prevent me from planning every or any details.

I read Tales of a Female Nomad this weekend. It showed me that I do not have to worry about providing for my every need. There are so many people out there that have helped me find a place to stay, a job, transportation, friendships, etc. God has me in his hand. That concept is so abstract, it doesn't always fit in my head very well. But while I know the value of planning and hoping for a good job and for things to turn out well, this time I want to fully depend on God. It is perfect, because I have no ability to work out my own future this far away.

My felucca ponderings have given me a peace about these next six months. I cannot wait to see my family and friends in December, and what is beyond Christmas I have no idea. I will rest in that, because God has always, always, always revealed the next step for me.

Tonight we leave for Kenya, and internet will be intermittent, if at all. If you don't hear from me, just pray that God would continue to work in this team and in my heart. Daily He is showing me how to trust in his plan rather than stress about how to provide on my own.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pyramids at Giza

I'm studying for our World Religions midterm tomorrow morning, but here are a few pictures from today!






Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Final tattoo, Psalm 29:11a




The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace, Psalm 29:11

One of my goals for the trip, unofficially, was to get a Hebrew tattoo in Israel. I mentioned it to the group in passing in our first two weeks in Argentina, and a few prayed about getting one as well. Fast forward 2 months and halfway through the trip- 6 people decided to go through with it.
The part that scares me the most is the declaration this particular verse is making: The Lord gives strength to his people. I know this to be true, it is the foundation of my life and God is the only reason this team of 30 students and faculty have bonded so quickly. Our foundation in Christ is the reason we are able to make it through tough classes, sickness, frustrations, various personality differences, all of our service projects and unending culture shock. God has brought each individual here, and we are reminded daily in large and small ways of His truth and present action in our lives.

And that is exactly what scares me: To have a permanent reminder on my body (my right arm, to be specific) that I can and should be fully dependent on God as my sole source of strength is the largest claim I can make. It is a declaration, but it is also a prayer that I would be continually renewed in the word as I actively seek His face rather than my own desires.
So in Christ I am broken yet full, dead to myself and alive in Him. May my present actions take me in His direction as this journey continues. Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Shout to the Lord

I step out into the busy streets. Darkness covers this beautiful city, the Jaffa gate is visible from here as I pass through and continue onto my destination. My heart is excited, light in anticipation: Worship. The group of us rushes on through the streets, along the city wall, continuing on Jaffa Street. Twenty minutes later we find a spot to sit; the group piles onto the ground, ledges and cobblestone steps. This group consists of two schools- Marietta Bible College and Concordia University students are staying at the same hotel, and tonight we find ourselves together on the cement stairs.

Our eclectic compilation of instruments are scattered between our two groups to form one worship band. Holy is the Lord, we sing. I close my eyes to focus on the words I'm singing out to God, in this crowd of people with one purpose. I open my eyes after this first song and the largest group has appeared around us. Christians stretch their heads out of surrounding stores and restaurants, couples and families stop to see why we have gathered-to understand why we sing these praises.

Between each song I hear whispers permeate this sacred space. Who are you? What are you doing here? Why do you sing? Several students wander the edges to answer questions and offer prayer. How Great is Our God. Most of us take off our sandals as a symbol of this holy ground. The concrete steps have turned into God's dwelling place. Our hearts sing Him out, our voices lift His name in praise and adoration.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Some passing tourists stay the full two hours, others stay for a song or two. Soon individuals shout out song requests in English with various accents. Forever God is Faithful. The three guitars rotate between several musicians to display their own style.
We press towards the center of our contrived circle to accommodate the increasing crowd.

The community felt there can only by formed and felt because of God's presence and the Holy Spirit's actions in our lives. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. It is what binds us together in perfect unity. May God seal up that worship time-the words sung, the prayers prayed, the witness portrayed, in Jesus' name, in His City, among His People of Israel.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What I learned in the deserts of Egypt and Jordan




Let us have grace to serve the Consuming Fire, our God, with divine fear, not with the fear that cringes and craves, but with the bowing down of all thoughts, all delights, all loves before him who is the life of them all, and will have them all pure. We, therefore, must worship him with a fear pure as the kingdom is unshakable. He will shake heaven and earth, that only the unshakable remain.

It is the nature of God, so terribly pure that is destroys all that is not pure as fire, which demands like purity in our worship.
The symbol of God's presence, before which Moses had to put off his shoes, and to which it was not safe for him to draw near, was a fire that did not consume the bush in which it burned.

He is against sin: in so far as, and while, they and sin are one, he is against them-against their desires, their aims, their fears and their hopes; and thus he is altogether and always for them.
The Consuming Fire is the active form of purity-that which makes pure, that which is indeed love, the creative energy of God.

Gone then will be all anxiety as to what his neighbor may think about him. It is enough that God thinks about him. To be something to God-is not that praise enough? To be a thing that God cares for and would have complete for himself, because it is worth caring for-is not that life enough?
The Consuming Fire, George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons

God has been working on my heart. It isn't easy, but I know that I am learning character on this trip. I love it here, there is always something to do, see, learn and read. I am dealing with losing things I once held valuable, and that shows me that my heart needs to move more towards living in the moment rather than thinking about what used to bring me happiness.

The team is growing closer as we study and travel together. We spent this last weekend in the desert near Wadi Rum, Jordan. We rode a caravan of camels (30 people, 30 camels, which were borrowed from neighboring villages to trek us all through the desert). Jordan is hot, sweaty and full of sand. Tomorrow we go to Petra, and we are here for 3 days. I'm looking forward to what the future has in store, while continuing to live in the moment.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mt. Sinai and the Egyptian Desert: Wandering for 40 years


The time is here: A journey from known to unknown. We have left Turkey and have arrived in Egypt. We passed from the African side in Cairo, under the Suez Canal to the Middle Eastern side of Sinai and then the Red Sea in Dahab, Egypt.


Monday night at 1am we rolled into Sinai in two small, cramped, sweaty vans. We unstuck our bodies and walked sleepily to the large outdoor tent where the staff of Desert Fox Hostel greeted us with cups of hot tea heated by the fire. Tuesday I wandered around the desert to the oldest continually used monastery in the world, St. Catherine’s. That night the group of us set out with our daypacks to climb Mt. Sinai. I thought it would be a quick trip up, but it took just over two hours, mostly in the dark. I lit a small path with my head lamp, in between a cliff and a red mountain. Strenuous though it was, the trek proved to be more than worth the exhausting exercise. After the 752 “Steps of Repentance,” the final steps up to the top, we had a worship service while staring at the stars and down to the distant desert sands below. “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mt. Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain. To the Israelites, the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” [Mt. Sinai, also known as Mt. Horeb, is where Moses and Elijah met with God]. We beat the crowds who come for sunrise and had the mountain to ourselves for a few hours, but tourists poured in around 4am. I woke up to headlamps peering over from above to our mats and sleeping bags on a landing below, while foreign languages met my tired ears.


I slept a bit longer till the sun started to rise around 6am. The sight was slightly less than I was hoping for, and I thought, isn’t that exactly how God works-not at all as expected. But a few minutes later a blazing ball of fire emerged from the foggy horizon, and the view was spectacular. Perhaps this is the same Consuming Fire.

An hour later we packed our bag and took a different route down the mountain. This new path took much longer than the first, and this time the sun was beating at our backs. I got to lead the group through some of the last climbs which was an amazing feeling. This morning, Thursday, we took three vans to Dahab. Immediately after dropping our bags into the hotel rooms we made the 40 minute walk to Lagona Beach. We managed to find a semi-private section of shore and water, which was crystal clear blue. The color changed lighter periwinkle or darker navy depending on the reef deep below. I swam to the buoy and floated in the crystals aquamarine water for a long time since the temperature and atmosphere were perfect for a relaxing afternoon. The Egyptian sun bore down but it was no match for the calm, salty clear sea: The Red Sea, where God parted the waters for the Israelites and Moses to walk safely across.


Friday morning, waves are rolling, never crashing, as though they possess the lazy beach personality and opt for a rest instead. A single person stands in these calm waves, white sun beating down to reflect the dark silhouette. This blazing fire creates a white-hot pathway across the sea to the neighboring Saudi Arabia. Its mountains are barely visible in the morning haze. Away from this path dark water churns, lost without a light source to guide.

After French toast and ice coffee for breakfast, we take a two buses and a two-hour ferry ride to Aqaba, Jordan. We will be staying near the entrance of Petra, Jordan