Monthly Archives: December 2012

World Missions Summit

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World Missions Summit

World Missions Summit

We have had an amazing opportunity this past week.  Every couple of years we attend a World Missions Summit for University students.  Students are given the chance to rub shoulders with missionaries from all around the world and to be inspired to consider serving overseas themselves.  The theme is “Give a year, pray about a lifetime.”  For me, it’s a real highlight of our job to be able to inspire and encourage Christian students to seek God’s will for their lives.

I love those “light bulb moments” when students catch the vision of missions when “I could never do that” turns into “I could do that”.  Even just being more open to the possibility of being called by God is a huge step for some of these kids.  Many of them have an idea of what they want to do with their lives, and laying down their dreams to be available to God is a scary thing.

I remember being in college and just having the end in my sights.  I just wanted to be done, to finally be a grown-up and let real life begin.  Of course, we did not have the kinds of opportunities that these kids had.  Missions was something that youth groups did once in a while or professional missionaries did for their whole lives, but the idea of taking a year out of your life and serving overseas was not on my radar any more than joining the Peace Corps was an option for me.  I just wanted to graduate and start life.

So for me, this is amazing that students would even be open to the idea of taking a year out of their lives and investing in something bigger than their career.  For many of these kids, this decision could change the trajectory of their lives forever.  Some of these kids will go out for a year, fully expecting the commitment to only consume one year, and find that God has another plan for their lives.  Some of them will abandon their career plans and give themselves to becoming God’s hands and feet and voice of love to a hurting and broken world.  This week could change kids’ lives.

Yes, this week also has the benefits of being like a family reunion for us missionaries (we have reconnected with so many beloved friends from all around the world!), but it’s really about the students.  We have a window of opportunity in which to expose them to a bigger world and to inspire them to think less about themselves and more about the lost.  We have this great chance to change the future.  Dang, I love my job!

All those university students committing to give a year and pray about a lifetime.

All those university students committing to give a year and pray about a lifetime.

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2012 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 26,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

On Holiday

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Just a little blog talk this morning.  I wanted you to know that I will be taking the next week off from posting blogs to spent Christmas with my family… and I hope you do too!  I will be back to blogging again on Monday, December 31.  Oooh, the last day of the year!  So I’ll see you next week.  Enjoy your holiday!

xmas tree

Joy in a Feeding Trough

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In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Galillee in Nazareth to Judea, to Bethlehem because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.  And she gave birth to her first-born, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks by night.  Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you.  This shall be a sign to you, you will find the babe wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest!  And on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heard.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

(Luke 2:1-20)

There is no Grinch.  There is no Santa Claus.  There are no reindeer, no elves, no talking snowmen.  There is no tree, no wish list, no long lines at the cash registers.  There is no greed.  There is no family feuding.  There is no drunken office party.  This, and only this, is the true meaning of Christmas.  A Savior has been born to us.  We are offered a peace-child, a covenant between us and God.  Forgiveness.  “The Bread of Life” was laid in a feeding trough.  And we feast!  Now go and tell everyone what you have seen and heard!

What?!? No Christmas?

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snow globeI handed my friend Marcela the pretty little package wrapped in simple Christmas paper.  Inside was a snow globe.  As she tipped the globe, the figurine of a snowman clad in a red scarf smiled out at her through a curtain of glittery snow.

“Oooooh, I love it!  Just LOVE IT!”  She squealed with delight.  I was glad she liked the Christmas present.  We stood beside my tall Christmas tree that she had been eyeing with pleasure all evening.  “You know, when I was a child my parents were pastors.  The Christian church used to be very conservative back then.”  She commented as she fingered an ornament on the tree.  “And we never, ever decorated for Christmas because we were always concerned about what people would say.”

I must have had a confused look on my face because she expounded further on her parents’ conservative views.  Marcela’s family never had a Christmas tree.  They never mentioned the Nativity story.  And they never gave each other presents.  Apparently here in Costa Rica many Christians still view Christmas as a Catholic or pagan holiday, depending on their own prejudices.  Many families that have converted from Catholicism to Protestantism have completely rejected anything that even appears in the Catholic tradition.

While my friend talked, I remember a missionary from several years ago telling me that she collected Nativity sets.  But she always had to put them away whenever a Costa Rican family came over to her house because the Nativity was considered part of the Catholic symbolism.  My own Nativity set was sitting on a side table in plain sight.

Marcela continued her story.  She said she would always go over to her friends’ houses and lovingly admire their trees and lights, but her parent’s wouldn’t budge in their decision not to decorate.  So when she got married, she decided, “I am an adult now.  I’m going to make my own decisions, and I don’t care what people think!  I love Christmas, and I’m going to decorate.”

She and her husband married in October.  Her first major purchase was to buy a Christmas tree!  The first year they decorated together, and it was a novelty for both of them.  The second year he said, “You’re going to put that up AGAIN?” and he lost interest in helping her decorate.

This is their third year of marriage.  They are currently sharing a very tiny apartment above the church with her in-laws who are also the pastors now.  When she decorated their tiny apartment with a little tree and lights around the window, her in-laws were less than thrilled.  “Hmm,” her father-in-law sniffed, “I feel like I’m living in a department store.”

So now I understood her great joy in receiving a pretty little ornament that she probably never would have bought for herself.  Their family still does not celebrate Christmas… no gifts, no traditions, no decorations.  But my friend is doing her best to keep up her Christmas cheer.

The whole thing is so sad to me because Christmas is meant to be for everyone!  No denomination owns Christmas.  The angel who announced the birth of Jesus our Lord said, “I bring you good news of great joy that is to be for all men!”  Christmas is meant to be for everyone, because salvation is meant to be for everyone as well.  The birth of our Savior is the true reason for Christmas.

And God hardened Pharaoh’s heart

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lump of clay

 

“The same sun which melts wax hardens clay.  And the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sin.”  ~Spurgeon

Problems reveal what you’re made of.  When the pressure comes, do you crumble or turn into a diamond?  The same problem that causes one person to draw closer to God can cause another to shut God out of their lives forever.  The same crisis that causes one person to become aware of and appreciative of God can cause another to curse God and grow bitter and hard.

The Bible says that when God was preparing to deliver the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt,  God had a plan to show his mighty hand to the polytheistic, idol worshiping nation.  He planned to use the man Moses and to use the apocalyptic powers of nature to reveal his mighty powers.  Every time Pharaoh would come close to letting the Hebrew slaves go, he would change his mind at the last minute, his heart getting harder and harder each time.  The Bible says “And God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” because he still had more lessons to teach the Hebrews and the Egyptians alike.  Is it fair for God to harden a man’s heart and then condemn him for it?

Yes, it is fair.  Because your reaction to pain is evidence of what you are made of.  Hurricanes of pain and suffering happen to both the good and the bad.  But only a certain kind of person comes through with resilience.  Your reaction to God will reflect what you are made of in your heart.  Will the pressure turn your life into a clump of dirt or a diamond?  Only going through pressure can reveal that to you.

My roommate from college lost a child when he was just over 1 years old.  As I read her emails from wherever I was in the world, I saw her growing stronger and stronger in her faith.  If you had asked me back in college whether I thought her faith could survive such a storm, I would have said No Way!  And yet, here she was maturing and growing right in front of my eyes and it was the pain and pressure that was promoting that kind of rapid growth.  The astonishingly high divorce rate among couples who have lost a child is evidence that this kind of pressure causes many to crumble.  But not my roommate, she was pressed into her true form through this tragedy.  She is a diamond.

Missionaries on “Survivor”

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I know my limits.  I know that I could never be on the T.V. show “Survivor”.  First of all, the first meal I missed my blood sugar would plummet and I would go cannibal on someone.  Second of all, hygiene is super important to me.  Third of all, I would suck at the social element of the game.  I was never good at lying.  I really couldn’t give a crap about who’s popular and who isn’t.  And I’m sure I would spout off my mouth and make too many people mad at me.

But having said that, sometimes I feel like us missionaries are playing our own personal game of Survivor… minus Jeff Probst.  For example, I’ve been to the beach, and I can tell you that after a few hours, you are ready for a shower just to wash the sand off of you.  When you can’t get all the sand off of you, it’s irritating.  And so it is the same with life on the mission field.  Sometimes we have irritating little problems that just won’t go away.  The tiny grain of sand gradually becomes all you can think about.  It could be the constant traffic, the annoying way that the locals do that one thing that you hate, or the unrelenting drip-drip-drip of daily troubles like power outages and the internet signal faltering.  Whatever it is, after a while those little annoyances become huge aggravations… and there’s no way to escape them!

For me, there are cultural things that act like little grains of sand stuck to damp skin.  I don’t want to make specific complaints, but I do want to express the fact that this kind of thing- being annoyed and irritated- happens to missionaries.  Even missionaries who love their country and who love their work, we all have those little things that get under our skin… and we can’t escape them!  Our only hope is to win the next reward challenge and pray that it’s a bar of soap and a dry towel.

sand on feet

Heart Language

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It does not matter how fluent I am in Spanish, there always seems to be a point at which the words coming out of my mouth feel inadequate to describe what is happening in my heart.  When I hit that linguistic wall, I know I need to revert to speaking my heart language.  There are some things that are just better expressed in your native tongue.  For me, the top two situations that require English are Praying and Expressing Love.

Probably because both love and prayer come from the deepest part of my heart, I have a hard time breaking my thoughts down into verb tenses and indirect object pronouns.  Finding the right words is hard work, not the work of the “moment”.  My mind refuses to violate my emotions by forcing them into an unnatural form, twisting and tangling the strings of the heart until they no longer play a pure tune.  It’s like contaminating the deep well of sweet caring with the sweat of labor.  Some things just need to be expressed in my heart language.

For some time now, I have had a desire to tell our best Costa Rican friends just how I feel about them.  I want them to know just how much their friendship has meant to me.  I want them to understand how special I think it is that they would take a risk and get close to a foreigner… especially knowing that we are missionaries who come and go every few years.  It is a lot of work to be friends with someone who struggles to communicate in your language.  I wonder if I would have the courage to be that kind of friend if the shoe were on the other foot.

I want to tell my friends that I love them so dearly, but I just can’t find the right words in Spanish.  I want them to know that I see the risk they took, I appreciate the work it takes, and I am so very thankful for their patient love.  Our friends have opened their lives and their homes and their hearts to us.  They have shared their food and their family.  They have given us more than they will ever know.  They have, in many ways, gone against their own cultural current and opened doors for us that we could have never opened on our own.  Their sacrifice does not escape me.

For a long, long time now, my friends have been silently precious to me.  When I am with them, my heart pulses telepathically.  I love you dear friend!  I love you!  I don’t know how, but I think they can hear my heart beat.  I think they know that my heart is open to them.  They can sense it, though I can’t express it.  I love you with my heart language when my second language doesn’t feel like enough.  And I look forward to the day we meet again in Heaven and we both will speak and understand the language of the heart.

 

Honorary Auntie

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Missionary families often say that the hardest part of our job is being far away from family.  Especially when you have a close and loving extended family, you miss them a lot.  When we were preparing to become missionaries, the “experienced ones” all told us that the other missionaries on your field become like the aunties and uncles and grandmas and grandpas for your children.  I was offended by this idea.  My kids already HAVE aunties and uncles and grandparents.  I didn’t want them forgetting their real family, and I didn’t want them replacing those roles in their hearts.  And I wasn’t really keen on the idea of someone else’s kids calling me Auntie.  I wasn’t impressed with this substitute idea of family.

But time has passed and my attitude has softened.  My kids have NOT forgotten their real family and thanks to Skype and Face Time, we can talk to them face to face whenever we want to!  They know who their real family is and they love them like no other.  But it can get kind of lonely and sad out here.  There are no relatives to babysit for you when you need a date with your spouse.  There are no proud grandparents taking pictures at your school plays or sporting events.  And don’t even get me started on all the birthday parties that my family has missed and we have missed in our turn!

So here is where the missionary family comes in handy.  We KNOW we aren’t really related, but we ACT like we are.  I have taken care of children who are not mine– overnight, while their parents were out of the country.  I have pulled loose teeth, tucked them into bed, bandaged owies, and packed school lunches for kids who are not mine.  I have driven kids to school, picked them up again and taken them to youth group.  I have watched school plays and cheered at sports games.  I’ve taken kids to the movies and McDonalds and go carts.  I’ve attended every birthday party we’ve been invited to.  I’ve earned my Auntie status in a million ways.

It in no way diminishes my love and connection to my real family, but we all need a “Jesus with skin on” so to speak.  We all need the Village to raise a child (we just hope and pray that our village isn’t full of idiots!).  And we try to be that kind of community for others that we are missing ourselves.  It’s about living in harmony with people that you don’t get to choose… just like a family.

Doing the Birthday Party Rounds!

Doing the Birthday Party Rounds!

My Jesus who carries a big stick

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This past Sunday in church we watched a “human video” (aka a mime or drama set to music) that I have probably watched 100 times in the last 5 years, since we work with youth and host teams of students as well.  It was set to the song by Lighthouse called “Everything”.  Even though I’ve seen it enough times to know exactly what is going to happen, it gets me wiping the tears every time!

It’s the basic story of God’s salvation of humans.  God creates a girl, creates the world full of beautiful things for her enjoyment and teaches her how to live in harmony with himself.  They dance a sweet dance together and as he spins her out, Satan grabs her hand.  He entices her with more daring and seductive dips and twirls, and spins her into one bad crowd after another.  She spirals downwards until she finds herself holding a gun to her head, ready to pull the trigger.

At that point the song reaches its climax and God begins to pull at an imaginary rope that is connected to her, pulling her closer and closer, back to his loving arms.  She wants to come to him, but her old temptations and habits pull her back down, over and over again.  Finally, God has had enough and he steps in between the girl and her tormentors, he fights for her and wins her back!  Though she is beaten and ragged and broken, he holds her tenderly and clothes her in a white robe.

The thing that I like the best about this drama is that God fights for the girl.  It is the primal scream of every girl’s soul to be fought for and rescued.  But as we have emasculated the men of our society, we have diminished our chances of ever being fought for.  At the same time we have also neutralized and sanitized our image of God.  No longer is he the God of the Old Testament who was capable of brutally punishing his enemies and savagely, passionately rescuing his people from bondage.  No longer is he the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, he’s more like Alex the Lion from Madagascar.  We have forgotten about the fearsome and awe inspiring Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia- Aslan who is NOT a tame lion, but he IS good.

But here’s the thing, sometimes I walk through very scary places in life.  I find myself in dangerous dark spiritual alleys with bad guys carrying big weapons chasing me through the unfamiliar streets of life.  Sometimes I have to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  And when I do, I want a great big God who knows how to handle himself in a fight!  As soon as the battle gets too hot and heavy for me, I want to simply breathe his name in my exhaustion and feel him rushing in to rescue me.  The moment I call his name, the battle becomes his- not mine any longer.

So don’t try to paste a pansy image of God onto my grilled cheese sandwich and expect me to be satisfied with that.  I don’t want Mister Roger’s with me on a dark night, I want William Wallace by my side!  I don’t want the pacifist Jesus.  I want the warrior Jesus… I NEED the Jesus who knows how to snap a whip and flip over a table and beat up the bad guys.  Oh he’s not tame, that’s for sure.  But he IS good.  And that’s the Jesus who fights for me.

“Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  Psalm 23:4