When we need to lift up “Thanks to God”

4 06 2015

gloriaandodeliaGloria and Odelia, newborn

Hey, friends. Remember the virtual baby shower many of you attended for Zhanna and Stepa’s twin baby girls?

Remember how God moved our hearts, and many gave what they could, and together we helped raise the $40,000 needed to give those baby girls their very own bedroom? Oh, the big and beautiful things we can accomplish when we each do our small and humble part!

Now those sweet babies are six months old, and one of them needs our help again. Her name is Odelia. It means “Thanks to God.”

GloriaAndOdeliyaGloria (“Glory to God”) and Odelia (“Thanks to God”)

Odelia is not thriving, and her parents don’t know why. Here’s the unfolding of events as shared on Zhanna’s Facebook page:

OdeliaApril 17: “Please pray for Odelia’s health, we are in the hospital to find out diagnose.”

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Odeliya2May 30: “Hello friends, thanks for your prayers for our baby girl Odelia… Finally, June 2, we will fly to Bangkok, Thailand, to Bumrungrad International Hospital to find out diagnose. Here we just spent a lot of money and finally didn’t find the main reason of her health problem. Please – continue to pray for Odelia and now pray for Thailand doctors’ wisdom.”

June 1: “Dear friends, please pray for financial part of Odelia’s treatment in Bangkok’s hospital. For now, we know that examination will cost about $5000, but if they said that Odelia needs surgery- we don’t know how much it will cost! Pray for my English – that it will be enough to understand all medical words during treatment. Thanks:)”

InBangkokThen this, yesterday, June 3: “We are in Bangkok in Bumrungrad clinic. Pray for us [as they] start [the] examination.”

When I invited you to the virtual baby shower, I began by sharing a story about Zhanna and Stepa, because I wanted you to fall in love with them like I have. If you didn’t read it then, you can go back and read it now. But here’s one snippet from that post:

When you ask them how they’re going to handle all the changes and make ends meet? Their response is as calm as the one they gave the camp director when the power went out. They don’t know. But worrying about it won’t help. So they pray. And smile. And keep on tirelessly pouring out their lives and their love on these kids and their families.

I’ve never known anyone I admire and respect more than these two. Seriously. If the dictionary had an entry for “Salt of the Earth,” I’m pretty sure their pictures would be beside it.

If you’re wondering who “these kids and their families” are, they’re all of Young Life Central Asia and Young Life Capernaum (Special Needs) Kazakhstan. Zhanna and Stepa are not only raising four biological children in a small apartment, here are some of their other kids:

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This precious couple needs super-human strength and stamina just to function from day to day. I can’t imagine bearing up under their load. I know they willingly and joyfully carry it, but I also know they’re human, and they need rest. They need space to breathe. They need our help.

So, you’re invited again. And this time, we want to lift up “Thanks to God.” Isn’t that the sweetest thought? As we surround this family and this baby with love, we are tangibly expressing our gratitude to God for all the ways He meets our needs and for the privilege of being part of His family on earth.

I hope everyone reading these words will pause and pray for God’s healing touch in Odelia’s life and for blessing, strength, wisdom, and grace for her weary parents. If you feel inclined to help with Odelia’s hospital expenses (and all the other costs piling up for this family), you can give the same way you did when we hosted our virtual baby shower, through Orphanos. Here’s the drill:

1. Click here to access Orphanos’ giving page, and fill in the personal information.
2. Scroll down and select “Partners in Asia”
3. From the drop-down menu below, select “Central Asia Young Life (Kazakhstan)”
4. In the memo box asking how you want to divide your gift, write “Odelia’s Medical Expenses”
5. Indicate the amount of your donation in the appropriate box.
6. Fill in the billing info.
7. Solve the simple math problem (apparently to prove you’re an actual human with kindergarten level math skills?)
8. Click “Submit Donation” and you’re done! You’ve lifted up “Thanks to God.”

For those who prefer a visual guide, here’s a screenshot of a few key steps:

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 2.43.07 PMFriends, I mean it when I say no donation is too small. Your little bit plus my little bit added to lots of other little bits becomes immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. And the result? “Thanks to God” is lifted up, the saints are refreshed, and all of our hearts are encouraged, to the glory of His Name.

“For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:12

Grant it, Lord. And may your will be magnificently done in this sweet family’s life. In Jesus’ Name.

* * *

Thank you, thank you, thank you, friends.
Please share this opportunity as you feel led.
The more people who participate, the more thanksgiving overflows.
I appreciate you so much more than you know.





The Real Problem

28 05 2015

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I’ve been thinking. Forced to think, really. Because some things touch our lives that can’t be ignored. As much as we may want to simply dismiss them, they aren’t going anywhere and must be faced head on. So I’ve been thinking and soul searching and trying to find clarity in the midst of so much accusation and innuendo, and in the process, I remembered this 2012 clip from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Before you watch it, let me assure you, this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with human nature. And this video is a brilliant case study in human nature, well worth a few minutes of your time. Please watch it. Then come back, and let’s talk.

We love to draw dividing lines, don’t we? It makes everything so simple. We are good. They are evil.

This is by no means a political problem. It’s a human problem. And the church is not exempt. From our cradle days, we who claim to follow Jesus formed our camps. “I am of Paul” and “I am of Apollos.” So it began, and it has only compounded with the passage of time.

Oh, how we love our labels! They make us feel smug and superior, and they make judging others such a tidy process. The problem, after all, is the Evangelicals. The Fundamentalists. The Literalists. Or it’s the Progressives. The Emergents. The Revisionists.

It’s the Calvinists. The Arminians.
The Conservatives. The Liberals.

The problem is Patriarchy. The problem is Feminism.
The problem is Proof-texters (and we have the verses to prove it).

We are the inclusive ones. We love everybody. We are the remnant, the enlightened ones, the true believers.

They are “destroying everything.” They are the blind leading the blind. They are clueless, unteachable, deceiving and deceived. They are “always this” and “never that” and their condemnation is just.

We’re the party of tolerance and acceptance. Yes, we are. And from the security of our encampment, surrounded by walls we’ve constructed from our scars and fears and pride, we hurl prayers toward heaven for judgment on our evil, intolerant enemies (often the exact same prayers they are hurling about us), convinced God is on our side. He has to be. Because we’re right.

Like I said, I’ve been thinking. And praying. And you want to know the conclusion I’ve come to?

I am the problem.

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You see, God has taken me from Point A to Point B to Point C to Point D. And now that I’m here at Point D, I see everything clearly. The things that I suffered at Point A taught me who I could trust and not trust, and the things I learned at Point B gave me a theological and spiritual edge, and the community I embraced at Point C confirmed all my opinions and applauded all my insights, and I think it’s safe to say that I have arrived. Never mind that I’m still a long way from Point Z. What could there possibly be left to learn? My intuition is flawless. (I can feel it.) And my discernment is a finely tuned instrument. I’ve got the big picture now. Which means when I perceive that you’re in a place very similar to my Point A, I’m not only in a position to judge your words and deeds, I can also judge your motives. I know why you do what you do.

After all, no one can believe what you believe, say what you say, and do what you do, and not be evil. So I’m pulling out my broad brush and applying your label, and there you go. Case closed and court adjourned. Now, please do us all a favor and go burn in hell, and the world will be a better place.

Exaggeration? Maybe a little. But not much.

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True confession: There’s a popular blogger with a wide following. She’s intelligent and articulate. And I strongly disagree with her on some pretty serious issues. From where I sit, here at Point D, I believe she is damaging the body of Christ in these particulars, and it grieves me deeply. But here’s the deal. Sometimes she also writes beautiful things I agree with. And you know what? Instead of celebrating those things, I’m annoyed. I don’t want to agree with her. I want to categorize her.

A while back I felt like the Lord was convicting me to pray for this woman, so I obeyed. My prayers for her went along this line: “Lord, please reveal to _____ that she is leading a lot of people astray with these stands she is taking. Please draw her into Your Word and show her the ways of Your upside down kingdom. Rescue her from her deception, and convict her of her sin.”

I felt pretty good about that — praying for “my enemy” and all — until the Lord showed me that my prayer wasn’t actually for this woman. It was against her. And she’s not my enemy. She’s my sister.

So yesterday I prayed differently. It went more like this: “Lord, you created _______ in your image and for your glory. You knitted her in her mother’s womb and numbered her days. You know her heart, and I don’t. You know her whole story — everything that has shaped her and informed her world view — and that story is not over. You are the Good Shepherd. You know your sheep, and your sheep hear your voice and follow You. You are able to make your voice heard in her life as clearly as I believe You are in mine. Pour out your joy, your peace, and your presence on her today. Accomplish your purposes in and through her, to the glory of your Name.”

A remarkable thing happened when I prayed that way. Probably for the first time ever, I felt love for this woman.

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It’s a step in the right direction. But only a step. Because I’m still human, and I always will be. Until I stand in the presence of Jesus, I will only know in part, and yet the temptation will be to think my way is the right way and to take it upon myself to expose the wrong.

It feels good to be right, and we can always find a tribe to cheer us on — an “increasingly isolated echo chamber of agreement” where we can sound off and hear a chorus of Amens. But I’m pretty sure, if Jesus came back today, He wouldn’t point to any one of our factions and say, “Nailed it!” Nor would He turn to the rest and say, “You losers should have listened to them. You ruined everything.”

11881On the night He was betrayed, Jesus laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He washed the feet of Peter, who would deny Him, and Thomas, who would doubt Him, and all the others He knew would soon abandon Him in the garden. And He washed the feet of Judas. The man whose heart was already filled with the devil’s purpose. The man who would betray Him.

Afterward He said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Even the feet of those who would crucify you if they could.

Can we all agree, that’s just plain hard?

It’s easier to form camps. It’s easier to venture into our neighbor’s territory only long enough to gather ammunition against him. It’s hard to listen. To try to understand. To see people as people and not as labels. To see them as the image bearers of our God. To serve the ones who hurt us.

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It’s easier to assign evil motives to people who don’t see things the way I do. To grab on to every shred of evidence that proves I’m right while ignoring any indication I might be at least partly wrong. To take my spark of indignation and stoke it into a blaze, fueled by the kindling of my equally enraged friends, while we all fume ourselves into a fury and boldly curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

And so our tongues boast of great things, and how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! Add the internet to the mix, and the whole world goes up in flames in a matter of hours. And the damage is irreversible. Once it’s out there, we can’t get it back. No wonder James says the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

It’s easy to react. To lash out. To defend our position. But it’s hard to be quiet. To be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. To let God be the judge. To forgive as we’ve been forgiven. To strive, as much as it lies with us, to be at peace with all men.

It’s hard to really love — the 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love that is patient and kind, that does not envy or boast, that is not arrogant or rude. The love that does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. The love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I haven’t loved this way. Far too often, I’ve taken the easy path, and left a smoldering swath of charred remains in my wake.

I am the problem.

C.S. Lewis wrote in his glorious sonnet, As the Ruin Falls: “All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you. I never had a selfless thought since I was born.” Guilty as charged. And how can I judge your motives when my own heart is deceitful above all things? Selfishness mars everything I do. To quote another favorite poet, Rich Mullins:

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens, so few inches apart
We must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.

It’s true. I’m awfully small. Much too small to see the big picture. And I’m tired of choking on the fumes — of spewing my selfish and self-righteous rage on people whose hearts I can’t see and whose stories I don’t know. Life is too short for this.

So I’m asking you to hold me accountable. I know perfection isn’t possible this side of heaven, but I want to let Jesus break down the walls in my heart. I want to erase dividing lines instead of drawing more. And I invite you to call me out when I fail.

If we are members of His body, we are members of one another, and I want to see you (whoever you are) as made in the image of my God. And even though we may not agree on everything, I will trust God’s plan for you and His power to bring it to pass.

I don’t want to be the problem any more.

Jesus is coming back for a spotless bride, and when He does, I want to be found bowed low, washing her feet.

 





Thirty-six Years and Still Climbing

5 05 2015

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Look at us. That was the summer of 1979, and we were newlyweds. So young. So unaware and unprepared for a journey that would include unimaginable adventures, trials, sorrows, and joys. Today marks 36 years of wedded bliss. And wedded turmoil. And wedded hanging on by our fingernails. But most of all, today marks 36 years of God’s amazing grace and faithfulness. For your viewing pleasure, here’s a little stroll down visual memory lane.

The 70s

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May 5, 1979, leaving the church on our wedding day

The 80s
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The 90s
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The 00s
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The 10s
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After my dad walked me down the aisle on our wedding day, before he officially gave me away, George sang a song to me. The lyrics were an invitation: Let us climb the hill together. That’s a good metaphor for marriage. Much better than a walk in the park or a stroll on the beach. The soundtrack of a marriage is beautiful music, yes. And laughter and weeping. Joyful praises shouted and agonized prayers wrung from a broken heart. Daily choices to give and forgive. And, in the end, it’s all good. All part of a symphony God orchestrates for our growth and His glory.

“I pray God will be with us night and day, guide us on our way. So, let us climb. Let us climb. Let us climb the hill together.”

Invitation accepted. Until death do us part.

* * *

Speaking of soundtracks, here’s a little vintage George and Jeanne singing “Let Us Climb,” because, why not?
Love you, George. Happy Anniversary. xo





Give and Take

2 05 2015

Let’s play a game. Try to find at least three differences in the following pairs of photos. You’re going to have to concentrate, but don’t give up.

Ready? Here we go:

water delivery truckwater delivery truck

water delivery truck2water delivery truck in South Sudan

UCF class sizeclassroom

classroom2classroom in South Sudan

waiting roomhospital waiting area

waiting room2hospital waiting area in South Sudan

grocerystoreselecting produce

grocerystore2selecting produce in South Sudan

bedmy bed at home

bed2my bed in South Sudan

kitchenmy kitchen at home

kitchen2Ruth and Briana’s kitchen in South Sudan

So, how’d you do? Okay. I confess. It was a trick game. The differences are obvious.

I think it’s safe to say most of us living in North America consider ourselves blessed — not only with the common graces God so lavishly supplies to all people everywhere, but with an exceeding abundance beyond the basic necessities. We point to our freedoms, educational and occupational opportunities, material wealth, system of government, financial institutions, medical resources, overstocked grocery shelves, reliable utilities, instant internet connectivity, drivable roads, and a thousand other goods and services at our fingertips.

If we ever take the time to pause and consider how much we possess compared to most of the world, we may wonder why God would single us out to show us such abundant favor. In our best moments we admit: we don’t deserve all this.

Or maybe we do.

Maybe we’re getting exactly what we deserve. And maybe it’s also time we reconsider what constitutes a blessing from God.

kids-cleanan American child

happychilda refugee child in South Sudan

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m thankful for clean water, nutritious food, a car that runs well, a closet full of clothes, and a comfortable home. I’m glad I can worship freely, receive medical attention when I need it, and call the police if I’m in danger, expecting a quick response. I also believe it pleases God when we receive every gift with gratitude and enjoy His material blessings.

But is it possible my possessions and conveniences have robbed me of far better blessings? Am I truly aware of my utter dependance on God? Or am I blinded by all the glitter and gold, benumbed by the constant bombardment of images and advertisements telling me I’m worth it, I need it, and I can’t live without it?

Am I cruising along in a fog, mostly oblivious to the realer Real — that nothing I achieve or own is actually mine, and every breath I take is a gift? That God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble? That “control” is a delusion, and none of my idols — the things I value, pursue, and trust — can save me?

Have my possessions taken possession of my heart and hardened it toward the better treasure?

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IMG_1333sanctuary in South Sudan

In Revelation 3:17-19, Jesus spoke these words to the church at Laodicia:

Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

This wasn’t a message to pagans. It was written to people who professed faith in Jesus. The same Jesus who says He reproves and disciplines those He loves. The same Jesus who doesn’t say He gives His favorites fancier stuff.

Like stepping out of a cave into noonday sun, all of this became clear in Africa. For two weeks I left my over-stuffed closet behind and lived out of one small suitcase. Conveniences varied from place to place, but in South Sudan, we had no air conditioning, no indoor plumbing, no running water. We washed clothing by hand in a tub and hung it to dry, hiked to an out-house, and showered using a bucket system. I slept on a screened-in porch under a mosquito net, ate whatever was placed before me, and got around on foot.

And I don’t know when I’ve felt a greater depth of peace, joy, and the presence of God.

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IMG_1123Ruth and her team leader, Bubba

In Kisses From Katie, Katie Davis wrote about her attempt to return to her comfortable life in Tennessee after a year in Uganda:

Many people asked the same question: “Isn’t life hard in Uganda?” Of course it was hard, in certain ways, but they didn’t seem to understand that what was even harder was being back in the States . . . . I hadn’t realized what a transformation had taken place while I had been in Uganda, the spiritual richness I had experienced in material poverty and spiritual poverty I felt now in a land of material wealth.

She goes on to say, “Brentwood didn’t feel like home anymore. Frederick Buchner writes, ‘The place God calls us to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ I had been more than happy all my life in my home in Brentwood. But my deepest gladness and the world’s deep hunger met in Uganda.”

IMG_1466Ruth approaching the market

IMG_1459preparing a young mom to take her baby for surgery in Kijabe

If you hear me trying to shame the North American church for its material blessings, you’re missing my point. What I’m really trying to do is give a glimpse of a truth that I’m praying will take such deep root in my own heart, it will bear fruit a hundredfold and then some for as long as God grants me breath in this world.

My prayer for me and for you is that we will wake up. The fog will clear, and we’ll realize more stuff isn’t ever going to satisfy our heart’s hunger. We don’t need bigger or better or more. We don’t need applause or reputation. We need to pour out. To empty ourselves. To give away. And when we do, our joy is going to explode exponentially.

Katie also wrote:

“The truth is that the 143 million orphaned children and the 11 million who starve to death or die from preventable diseases and the 8.5 million who work as child slaves, prostitutes, or under other horrific conditions and the 2.3 million who live with HIV add up to 164.8 million needy children. And though at first glance that looks like a big number, 2.1 billion people on this earth proclaim to be Christians. The truth is that if only 8 percent of the Christians would care for one more child, there would not be any statistics left.”

This is what we have to give. And what do we have to take?

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If you’ve ever bought the lie that the impoverished and oppressed have nothing to offer, you haven’t attended a Nubian church service in a straw-thatch sanctuary in a refugee camp in South Sudan.

They come in their tattered clothes and bare feet — old and young and everyone in between — stooping to enter the low doorway, filing into rows of rough-hewn benches. Their voices rise with an urgent and contagious joy, and like David before the ark, they dance — clapping, jumping, worshiping with complete abandon.

There are no distractions. Instead of laser light shows, sunlight filters through the roof. Instead of a snazzy band, children play drums and tambourines and maracas. And the Lord is here, blazing with grace, pulsing with peace, igniting our worship with glorious intensity and purpose.

They don’t doubt His goodness. They don’t rush His timing. They don’t question His plan. They simply give themselves to Him.

Oh, friends. They have so much to teach us. So much that we desperately need. Gold refined by the fires of suffering. Garments washed clean from the stains of pride and self sufficiency. Eye salve to clear our vision and show us there’s a fountain of living waters, and the broken cisterns we run to again and again will never slake our thirst.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus won’t force us. He simply invites. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

As for me and my house, we’re flinging the door wide. Come, Lord Jesus. Everything on this table belongs to You. And thank You, thank You, thank You for the better treasure. May we never be too easily pleased again.

* * *

You can support SIM’s work with refugees in South Sudan.
Click here for more information.

Thank you!





Thirsty

23 04 2015

IMG_1344“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I spent two weeks in the Horn of Africa. By the numbers, thirteen flights landed in ten different cities at eleven different airports in six different countries. From jumbo jets to prop planes on dirt runways, every flight was on time. No connection missed. No piece of luggage lost.

Our small team got along great. No one got sick. (Or kidnapped or robbed or murdered.) No one even got cranky.

We found favor with visa and customs officials, received unbelievable hospitality, enjoyed a wide variety of local foods (including camel, goat, and a few dishes I couldn’t identify), slept well, and drank deeply of the wells of grace God supplies when His children connect around His faithfulness and eternal purposes.

We were sustained, protected, led, and encouraged, and I have no doubt we were upheld by thousands of answered prayers.

We received mercy upon mercy, and we are grateful beyond words to express it.

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IMG_1358I promised stories upon my return, and there are plenty of stories to tell. But one is burning like a branding iron in my soul, and even though it happened near the end of our adventures, I need to begin right here.

Our God is kind. Much too kind to let us walk in pride. And sometimes when we think our obedience is just about as complete as it could get, the kindest gift He can give is to expose the true condition of our hearts. Like Peter at the last supper, we declare our allegiance. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death,” (Luke 22) and Jesus simply sets us straight. No, He says. You will deny me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I promised you a story, and a story you shall have.

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IMG_1406The small village of Doro is located on the northern border of South Sudan. What was once the undisturbed home of the Mabaan people is now a refugee camp housing 130,000 people from a wide variety of tribes — people who’ve fled across the border from Sudan to escape violence, many of them leaving all their possessions behind. There are a number of agencies and NGOs working in the area, and one of them is SIM.

Ruth is a young, single nurse practitioner, an SIM worker stationed at the Grieve Memorial Clinic in Doro, serving the medical needs of the refugees. We traveled there to see her world, bring some requested supplies, and spend time hearing her heart and speaking into her life. Ruth being Ruth, we also ate well, laughed a lot, and played a card game or two. And there may or may not have been a late-night dance party in the hotel room Ruth and I shared in Juba. You’ll have to ask her.

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IMG_1301Ruth with a Nubian child

One of the highlights of our time in Doro was a feast held in our honor and hosted by Nubian refugees. Ruth attends the Nubian church and has gotten to know many of these dear souls well.

IMG_1359Ruth walking past the Nubian church building

The women began cooking early in the morning, preparing mountains of their traditional sorghum bread (like very thin injera). Working over open fires under a massive baobab tree, they also prepared various sauces for dipping, including a goat-and-potato dish, noodles in oil with tomato, a green leafy vegetable/herb concoction, and another thick sauce that I believe contained lentils.

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IMG_1379When we arrived early in the afternoon, they began serving their traditional beverages. First we drank hot tea poured over sugar. A lot of sugar. Then, after they roasted and ground fresh coffee beans, they mixed the thick, strong coffee with a generous infusion of ginger and another shock of sugar. It was delicious, but intense. A few sips went a long way.

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IMG_1388As we sat sipping hot beverages in the 100+ degree heat and visiting with the women, we were surrounded by a couple dozen children, at least as many pigs, and the occasional chicken or dog — a sort of happy chaos as babies were passed around, toddlers squabbled, and older children played games or sang and danced.

Everything was dust and sweat and pots boiling on hot coals and chatter in a language I didn’t understand.

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IMG_1310Ruth and her teammates cuddled babies and conversed with mamas. Pigs were shooed away from food. I sat on a bench, taking it all in, when I felt a small presence crowd in beside me and looked down into a dusty little face.

I asked Ruth if she recognized the boy, and she said no. She also said that a feast like this is rare in the refugee community, and it’s not unusual for uninvited guests to wander in and partake.

The child didn’t look well. The whites of his eyes were thick and yellowed, and his clothes exceptionally tattered. He reached out his hand and pointed to my water bottle.

During my entire two weeks in Africa, I was never without my water bottle. And this particular afternoon, I knew it contained the only water I would have to drink until well after dark. I instinctively pulled it away and said, “No.”

Then I looked at him again. His eyes locked on mine, and he simply opened his mouth.

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I don’t even know how to describe my internal reaction. It was surprise, revulsion, and perhaps a small twinge of guilt. But I still shook my head no. Undeterred, he reached across my lap, placed his hand on the bottle’s mouthpiece, and opened his mouth again.

Now I was annoyed. I wouldn’t be able to drink any more until I got a chance to wash it. But I still didn’t give him a drink. I suppose I subconsciously equated it to awarding misbehavior — like letting one of my children go ahead and eat a cookie they’d grabbed after I’d already said no cookies.

So I simply turned away and ignored him until he left.

IMG_1285I didn’t think much about it again until a few days later when we were making our way home. Our return journey included five flights spanning 36 hours, and I decided to pass some of those hours reading the remarkable and inspiring book, Kisses from Katie.

If you’re not familiar with Katie Davis’ story, the short of it is that Jesus captured her heart for Uganda at the age of eighteen, and she never looked back. Not yet twenty-five, she has adopted fourteen daughters, founded Amazima Ministries (a nonprofit providing sponsors for other needy children), and lives with an open door and heart, welcoming and serving whomever God brings to her. Her philosophy in a nutshell is this: love the one God has placed in front of you right now.

I was reading along, feeling moved and blessed, when I came to this:

“…for me, the whole situation could be reduced to one question: Did I believe that Jesus was serious? Did I believe what He said was true? The answer was yes. I believe He was serious when He said to love my neighbor as myself. . . . I kept going back to Matthew 25, where Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats . . . . Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink . . .whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

And there it was. Like an arrow to the heart, almost knocking the breath out of me. In an instant and with perfect clarity I saw that boy’s pleading face. I knew Jesus had asked me for a drink, and I in disgust and irritation had pulled my water away.

I said no to Jesus.

I knew this beyond doubting, and my heart was crushed. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” It was grief like that.

Any sense of self-righteousness I might have been feeling after our two weeks in Africa evaporated. I was a noisy gong. A clanging cymbal. And for a horrifying moment, I wondered if Jesus would forgive me.

IMG_1394In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter was restored and commissioned. He received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and preached a sermon that launched the newborn church. But no matter how many visions he had, souls he reached, or miracles he performed, I wonder if he always kept the memory of Jesus’ face the night he denied Him.

I think he probably did. And, like me, I expect he came to consider it a gift.

My broken-hearted prayer on that airplane was simple. “Please, Lord. Please forgive me. I never want to say ‘no’ to You again.”

IMG_1235I returned from the Horn of Africa with many images seared on my mind, but one stands out, and I’ve asked God to keep it front and center.

By God’s grace, a refugee child in South Sudan will help me keep my promise to say yes.

* * *

You can support SIM’s work with refugees in South Sudan.
Click here for more information.

Thank you!





Led forth in peace

4 04 2015

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If we’re allowed to have a favorite chapter in the Bible, I’m pretty sure mine is Isaiah 55. I love the combination of imagery, poetry, and promise — how God is set apart as holy and higher, yet He calls us to come and eat what is good, to seek and find, to forsake our wicked ways and run into His arms of compassion.

I can almost hear the mountains breaking forth into singing, see the trees clapping their hands, and feel the earth stirring with purpose as His word succeeds in all He has planned.

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This has been a profound Holy Week for me, my senses more fully alive, and my heart more deeply moved by the price Jesus paid for our redemption. I think this is true for a variety of reasons, but surely one of them is the fact that, after I gather with the Body of Christ on Easter morning to celebrate how life once and for all conquered death, I’ll get on an airplane and fly across the ocean to the Horn of Africa. Lord willing, I’ll spend the next two weeks visiting friends who work in that region. Two weeks listening to their stories and hearing their hearts. Two weeks meeting the beautiful souls they serve and seeing the image of God in their faces. Two weeks walking among people whose hardships are heavy and whose daily lives bear little resemblance to mine, and yet whose hearts cry out for the same love, hope, peace, and purpose.

I don’t know what these two weeks will hold, but as I think about going, I hear a Voice, urgently calm and fiercely tender:

Come! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

I know that my thoughts are not His thoughts, and my ways are not His ways. I know I’m utterly insufficient in myself to strengthen weak hands or feeble knees, but I also know the word that goes forth from God’s mouth will not return to Him empty. Like the rain and snow that water the earth, it will accomplish His purposes.

And I know that I will go out in joy and be led forth in peace — that no matter what happens, in the realest Real, the mountains will be singing and the trees keeping the beat. That all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

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How do I know this? Because Easter happened. Because even though Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to take Him off the cross, He didn’t. He stayed there. And it wasn’t the nails that held him. It was love.

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Friends, will you pray with me over these next two weeks? I’d be so grateful. And have a beautiful, worshipful Easter! Jesus is risen. He really is. May we never lose the wonder.

 





Twenty-One Grains of Wheat

17 02 2015

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They were good men by pretty much any standard.

Able-bodied, hard workers who only wanted to provide for their families, but there was no work available. So they counted the cost, took a big risk, and crossed a border into dangerous territory in search of jobs.

And we all know what happened. We’ve seen the photos. Twenty-one men kneeling on a beach, each with a black-clad, faceless executioner standing at his back. Like lambs that are led to the slaughter, and like sheep that before their shearers are silent, they opened not their mouths. And their captors knew no mercy.

Good men as the world counts goodness. But much more than that. Christians. Servants of God. Knit together in their mother’s wombs, set apart, adopted, chosen, beloved. Purchased with the blood of Christ, redeemed for His pleasure and glory.

And what their captors can’t know is that not one word God spoke concerning those beloved sons failed. All were brought to pass.

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Evil is never going to learn. Arrogance can’t understand the power of the laid-down life. And hate can’t fathom the greater love. When satan entered into Judas at the Last Supper, he tipped the first domino in the final chain of events that crushed his own head.

And so they knelt, men of whom the world is not worthy, twenty-one grains of wheat violently planted on that beach before the eyes of a watching world. And if you think for one minute that evil won, you don’t know the law of the upside-down kingdom.

They were portrayed as powerless victims before the eyes of a watching world, but in the realer Real, they were ushered as overcoming conquerors into the presence of their Lord, who found them faithful and counted them worthy to suffer for His Name.

They were good men who only wanted to provide for their families, but God had a higher calling in mind. And He will never leave or forsake the families they left behind. Their plight is on the radar of every believer now. We are their family.

When ISIS called the execution, “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” they might as well have said, “Hey, Christians. You say you’re blood-bought. A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Well, prove it. Are you willing to count the cost and take up your crosses, too?”

And once again, evil plays into God’s hand. Because it’s a question we must answer, and must not answer lightly. If I claim that God counted these men worthy — that their deaths were purposeful and their reward is great — then I must be prepared to take the same stand if it’s my husband or son or grandson kneeling on that beach.

The cost is real.

 

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Twenty-one grains of wheat, never meant to remain alone, but rather to bear much fruit — a harvest of fellow servants stirred from slumber and self-indulgence to follow Jesus with joyful abandon wherever He leads, whatever the price.

And we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the call, because to not choose is to choose.

The seeds have been planted, and the harvest will come.

Will we be part of it?

 








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