Tuesday, October 29, 2013

confessions of a weekend missionary

This last weekend, I did something I haven't done, officially, in a long time: go on what we in church culture call a "mission trip." Why would I go on a mission trip? Aren't I already involved in enough "ministry", by default? Shouldn't I focus on where I am already committed? These thoughts were very prevalent in my mind in the weeks leading up to this little trip, and I almost changed my mind. But I went, and it was good, interesting, and challenging. I came away with a few honest observations.

  •  I went on my first "mission trip" with my mom and sisters when I was 11, which would be 20 years ago. We spent 3 weeks with some friends of ours, a young couple with a brand new baby, in a very small house in Guatemala. Since then, I have done short term missions at least once or twice a year, until I started having kids. Then it stopped completely! I hope and pray that each of those trips, both local, national, and international, furthered the work of the missionary/local church in a meaningful way. But if we are to be honest, it is oftentimes as much about us being changed as it is about changing the world. And I am completely ok with that. There is alot of talk about the purpose and effectiveness of short term mission trips (not $130 to go to Omaha for the weekend, but tens of thousands of $$ to send a group overseas). That is a conversation for another day. But I appreciated how clearly the focus of this weekend was communicated. We knew we were going to visit many different types of inner city ministries, tour them, hear the testimonies of how they began and what God is doing through them, and get outside our comfort zones. Then to pray and meditate, both privately and corporately, about where our passions, gifts, and callings lie. Everybody knew that what we wanted to accomplish was not to save all of inner city Omaha in one weekend, but to humbly watch and learn from those amazing ministers of the Gospel who live and breathe inner city ministry, not to get in their way, and then to go home and do something ourselves and/or organize a long term partnership. 
  • As you see, I have no pictures to share. This was a camera free trip. I thought this was a great idea. We weren't going to the zoo. The places we visited and the people we had the honor of meeting and serving were not exhibits 1, 2, and 3 of our great missionary service. They may not have wanted to be plastered up in front of a church as the generic homeless alcoholic. Also, it saved an awful lot of time! And nobody was relieved of their I Phone (aka mugged) throughout our travels. Always a plus. 
  • We had 20 in our group, from a 4 yr old up to a few among the older crowd. 3 kids, 3 youth, 3 college students, and a mish mash of adults. Some got connected with our church because of Celebrate Recovery, and have testimonies of overcoming alcohol and other addictions. Many were on their first mission trip. Then you had people like me and the pastor's wife, with significant ministry and cross cultural experience. It was really interesting! I was nervous, to be honest; but really, shouldn't the serving/evangelism/outreach arm of the body be representative of the entire body? It was a good experience. (I do think it is important to have clear communication and expectations regarding young children on mission trips. Will there be a child-free van, for those who don't want a roadtrip with little kids? If space is an issue and the parent is also sharing a room with another adult, does everybody know ahead of time? Are there any activities which would not be appropriate for them to participate in? I am all for family mission trips. But it does change the dynamics, and everybody needs to know that up front.)
  • There are many different stripes of evangelicals out there, we all know. And I believe we only have to agree on the most basic of basics to call others our brothers and sisters in Christ. But that does not, however, mean we all go about ministry the same way. Unless you are participating in something through your denomination, be prepared for many different styles of leadership, worship, and even theology. I remember being on a mission trip when the whole group was questioning my salvation, and my calling into missions, because I did not practice praying in tongues and I had never seen firsthand or personally experienced a faith healing. (Not Southern Baptists, obviously ;-). This can get tricky, because we feel very strongly about the way we live out our faith. If we are proselytizing, it becomes even trickier. Just because I agree you and I are both true believers, doesn't mean I need to support the way you do ministry. So, if I come up against, say, an organization that 1. is huge, and centered around one single man, and every church plant has to listen to him, as they have for the past 50 odd years 2. asks for your money because it will cause God to bless you financially in return 3. promises physical healings as a mark of your salvation and God's blessing on you, I don't feel like I have to jump on the bandwagon to support you. Even if we are thrown together on a mission trip. Keep your antenna up. Just sayin.
  • We ALL have comfort zones. And we ALL need to get out of them occasionally. Please don't ask me why I hold this opinion. Honestly, I'm not sure why. I just think so. That being said, they are all different. (Thank God! It would be bad if we were all nervous about the same things.) Some people in our group didn't want to pray out loud. Others didn't want to talk in front of people. Others were uncomfortable being the only white face in an all black church service. Others didn't really know how to approach a street person, or were unsure about going through the heavy security into a detention center, and hearing the door click behind them. And then there's me. Being the odd duck that I am, not of that bothered me, because none of it was new to me. You know what I didn't like? The van ride! Having a roommate! (Which actually was fine, because I had a friend go, and we stayed together.) Staying in dormitories and walking down the hall to the bathroom. And all that kumbaya circle time that is so popular on mission trips. (I know, I know. I should be ashamed of myself.) And doing all this living in community with people I barely know, instead of my tall dark and handsome trusty sidekick, with whom I regularly exchange inside jokes. Like I said, we all have our things. I survived, and now I can get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom and drag myself to the coffee maker in the morning, in a grumpy blur with my pyjamas on, and only have my family for an audience. 
  • Be prepared for a difficult mixture of guilt and conviction. (This kind of thing often brings more questions than answers. Or is that just for me?) Sitting in church, my stomach started grumbling. Not all that uncommon. But I was not surrounded by my lovely clean, presentable regular church family, who were going home to old fashioned Sunday dinners, out to enjoy pizza buffets or brunch at Perkins, or even just to clean out the leftovers in the fridge. I was surrounded by homeless people, prostitutes, addicts, and other societal fringe people. And I bet they were all hungry. (Many of them were probably only there because of the hot lunch served after, and the grocery bags available to take home.) The kind of hungry that I have never and will never experience. What to do in this situation? I don't do hungry. Or cold. I thought all weekend long, I would make a terrible homeless person. I can't stand being hungry. I eat every 2 hours. Our whole group jumped in the van and pulled out our granola bars and such that we had packed earlier, after being notified that we wouldn't be eating lunch till 2. So ate our snacks, then we ate lunch after the second church service, then we stopped at the gas station for snacks on our 4 hr ride home, then we ate supper when we got home. And who knows, we may have had snacks before we went to bed. And since I was cold, I cranked the heat up before falling into my soft bed with my clean pillow. How do we, as imitators of Christ, live with ourselves? I am not here to drag us on a guilt trip. But really? My Friday nights are basically defined by eating myself sick on pizza and Ben and Jerry's. Why is this necessary? And my definition of sacrificing is when we get the giant pail of store brand ice cream, because the other is about 5x as expensive. Please, nobody give me the sarcastic, what do you want, then, do you think we should move into a one bedroom apartment and eat beans and rice for every meal? That's just stupid. There is a world of sacrifice in between. Is it enough that I actually have sold (nearly) all my earth possessions to go serve the poor? Yay me! Or maybe there is something more about somehow identifying with the millions upon millions of people who are hungry, every day of their lives. here's just one idea 
  • Just because I have been, at times, discouraged by the lack of long term change when I have dabbled in various ministries such as homeless shelters, at-risk youth, getting out of poverty, teen pregnancies, prison bible study, or other things, does not mean that people are not changing and turning their lives completely around every day. Yes, I know the statistics can be depressing; and people have huge obstacles to overcome to get to a place of health, wholeness, peace, and financial stability, but it happens. These obstacles are not insurmountable. Horribly abusive home situations. Countless felonies. Relapse upon relapse. The vicious cycle of poverty. God's heart is for those people! He is reaching down into the garbage dumps of our country, picking people up, washing them clean, and setting their feet on a new path! And then He is using those exact same people to be His ambassadors of reconciliation in these vile places. Where sin abounds, grace and love abound more. Just because you and I may have never stuck around long enough to see it, it doesn't mean it isn't happening! 
  • Don't be hatin'. Yes, people take advantage of welfare and other helps all the time. It is a broken system. (I would like to point out that it probably was never the government's job in the first place, but the church's. anyways. . . ) But the common causes of homeless and other things are very strong forces in people's lives. Addictions, mental health, and veterans, I think those are the most common reasons. Often a combination. Be involved in helping someone towards a long term solution if you can.  At the very least, show compassion on them in a temporary way, when your path's cross. But please don't ever brush somebody off because you think there is no hope for them. You have no idea what brought them to that place. I'm glad you are such a strong person, that you would never allow yourself to get into the place that they're in. More power to you. But is that really the point? You may think, my $5 is not going to change his life, so why do it? You're right. It won't. But neither is it going to ruin his life. So why don't we just go ahead and do it, instead of holding back in all our righteous indignation?
I have rambled much too long, I know. I would just encourage you to be on the front lines somewhere. And even if it isn't your thing, if you are involved somewhere else, take the time to learn about and pray for and fellowship with those involved in another fight, on another battle ground, in this war. The enemy wants to keep people in slavery, both literal and figurative. he wants to keep them hurting, lost, trapped in sin and addiction. hungry and cold, with no hope of a different life. he glories when child abuse happens. when a young person commits a crime that lands him in prison and alters his entire future. when an addict relapses into another months-long binge that destroys his family. he laughs when gang violence kills innocent people. This makes me so angry! We need to get mad. Spitting mad. Those people dont' belong to him. They belong to Jesus. I know he has already lost the overall war. But I want him to lose more battles along the way. battles for real people. People Christ loves. Let's battle for those people. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

bread and butter

 This fall is going fast, as it usually does. We are in week 8 of school already. For Bible, we are focusing on Jesus, and each memory verse is an I am statement. Last week was the bread of life, so we had alot of fun, as we like bread! Above is a science experiment, activating yeast. 

Then we put our expertise to good use, and made bread. 

Although the bread is more complicated, I was much more impressed by our next accomplishment: butter!

It's silly, but I was inordinately proud of myself that we made butter by hand. Who knew it was so easy? Really, you just have to shake it. and shake it. and shake it. Hannah asked for some dance music to help her keep shaking. I complied. Soon Rihanna came on Pandora. I went over to change the station, and my little girl said, "Mommy, is that inappropriate?" "Well, it sure is for you." "Oh. I thought so. But I really like it." Great! We're here already! 

The kids, of course, think it would have been great fun to live in colonial times and make their bread and butter from scratch. Me, I'm grateful for SuperWalmart. 

Four years ago, we sold the car we had and used half the money to buy our van, and the other half to pay for the midwife when Charlie was born. That van and I have grown pretty close, with all the time we've spent on the road together! (I thought about trying to add up the road trips, but I gave up. It has been alot of miles) We were hoping it would last until we left, but that was not looking likely. It was needing some expensive work, and we decided not to invest in something that would probably continue to fall apart. And, as we have quite a bit more traveling coming up, we needed something more reliable. So we (mostly Patrick) cleaned up the van really well, and it sold within a few hours! That, combined with a very generous gift, enabled us to pay for the new old van without taking money out of our Outgoing Expenses Fund. Thank you God! 
(Our new red van would love to carry us on a roadtrip to your house/church/small group/SS class. Just ask!)

The kids are doing well learning the Pledge of Allegiance and other things. We noticed this sculpture in the park the other day, of the children doing the pledge to the flag (not pictured.) My ever theatrical daughter wanted to join in. And Charlie decided on a heil hitler approach, i guess. To each their own!

We really do have a big kid now. The first tooth was a little traumatic, but that was mitigated by the promised gift left by a special night time visitor. The tooth fairy sure has changed since I was little ;-).

 Patrick is gone for two weeks, which is the longest he's ever been away. The day we took him to the airport, we took the kids to a drop in daycare place in Sioux Falls (whoever came up with that idea is my hero) while we had lunch together and did one of my favorite things, browse Barnes and Noble. Patrick picked out a surprise for the kids, which served the dual purpose of communicating "I love you and will miss you and maybe this will help your mommy not go crazy if you have something new to play with while I'm gone." Charlie does seem to be following what I've heard about boys. Not really interested in holding a pencil and learning to write or learn his letters, but he just loves putting things together, all on his own. 

We love fall! And fall here is nice. This is the first time in years we have done things like going to the pumpkin patch and not been sweating, as it is in Texas, Alabama, and sometimes Kansas. Minnesota is really known for its apples, so we also went apple picking. The kids helped me clean out these pumpkins. 
While we did it, I told them the pumpkin Gospel story. How God calls us His own, just like picking us out of the pumpkin patch. Then He takes our sin away, like cleaning out all the pumpkin insides. Sometimes it is hard to get rid of our sin, just like we noticed all that pumpkin innards like to stay attached. But when we let Him clean out all the bad stuff, then He can fill us up with the light of Christ, like the candles we put in the pumpkins. To remind us how this miracles happens, we cut out the shape of the cross, so the candle shines through, by the miracle of what Jesus did to take our sin away. 

The coolest part: the whole neighbourhood gang came to help out, so they all got to hear the story! 
 It is my opinion that Halloween is a blight on the face of a perfectly wonderful season. However, I decided that even Halloween can serve a purpose: talking about Jesus! (Wow, I really run that one into the ground, don't I? ;-) What better opportunity to share the true Light, when there is so much celebration of darkness? 

 Hope your family is enjoying this beautiful season, and that the light of Jesus is shining in your life today! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

And seeing the multitudes. . .

I concentrated hard out the dirty window of the small, battered, very missionary looking truck as we bumped along terrible, pot-holed roads, trying desperately to avoid the motion sickness that often plagues me. Going the 60 or so miles from the capital city to our final destination would take 3 hours or so, and we had been warned there were no facilities along the way. These days, 10 years later, that information would not have affected me, but at the time, I diligently suppressed the constant desire to grab my water bottle. There was no way I was going to be the one asking our male driver to stop on the side of the curvy mountain roads. Night was falling as we pulled up at a gate, not the cute white picket fence kind, but the tall, imposing dead-bolted kind. A small, shriveled, old woman sat there, her face hidden by her headwrap as she rested her head on her knees. She had evidently been waiting for us, and pushed herself up off the ground as the driver of the truck rolled down his window. I didn't understand the words, but I clearly got the gist of the conversation as she asked him for help, and he turned her away, to wait until the next morning.

My idealistic, naive, self-righteous 20 year old self was appalled. Here he was, a real live missionary, and he was not "moved by compassion." He was not moved at all, except into his dirt courtyard where he shut the gate behind us. I was in Haiti, on a trip that wasn't really a mission trip, but where I learned more about missions in 2 weeks than I had in my previous 20 years. We were staying with an older couple who had been in Haiti for a few years. She was a nurse, and treated many people at an informal clinic on their compound, and also through a mobile version, in their truck. He worked in agricultural ministry. Both these precious people were constantly, faithfully meeting the needs, both spiritual and physical, of the incredibly poor people in their area.

Fast forward a few years, to Senegal, a place where I am surrounded by people everywhere I go. (Unless I am behind a gate like the one mentioned above: at my house, a fellow missionary's house, or a mission compound.) People with needs. It was hard enough at the time. Now, I am bombarded with the "needs" of my little family constantly, and even that wears me out! At the end of the day (or to be honest, even by lunchtime!) I am so behind with meeting our needs that I am often not moved to compassion to help meet the needs of those around me, whether that means a hurting neighbor or the people I see in the Samaritan's Purse newsletter. What can we do about this? How do we become more like Jesus?

 I want to be like Jesus. But my selfishness is painfully apparent. He did not value "me time." He did not arrange his schedule to jealously guard his own space, time, or resources. He gave EVERYTHING he had, an instructed his disciples to do the same, when we sent them out. Not even to bother with an extra cloak or a money bag. How, then, am I so consumed with my own little world that I fail to notice my single-mother-of-4-boys neighbor two doors down has been out of work for a month and so one of my kids' best little friend has actually been going hungry?

Is it perhaps because when the thought crosses my mind, I should pop over and see how Maria's doing, there is always something more pressing that needs to be done? I have to start supper. I have to do laundry. Hannah and I have to finish school. I have to go running. I have to work on the newsletter or write thank you notes. (I have to update the blog ;-) I have to check in with our extended family far away, who's going through hard times. We all have endless to do lists in our heads, and, at least for females,  that list runs non-stop. If you slow down for a second, I feel like I'm so far behind I'll never catch up. It starts the second you wake up and goes till you fall asleep, and sometimes runs in your sleep as well. But the problem is, it is all legitimate things. I wouldn't say we spend alot of time or money pursuing much that is temporal and only benefits ourselves.

So what is the answer? I sincerely want to have a heart and a life that reflects that of our Lord. One that is constantly searching out and ready to actually do the good works I was created to do (Eph 2:10). But I don't often do that. Either because I'm completely wasted by the end of the day with my own family, or because sometimes I just would rather choose to go the coffeeshop for an hour break on that Saturday afternoon Patrick is home with the kids, instead of sitting in someone's incense filled living room listening to blaring music videos in a foreign language trying to politely eat some food I really don't like and try to make small talk all the while wondering how to introduce the Gospel. So how do I go from sincerely needing that break in the evening or on the weekend, to being completely willing to be spent and used up for the sake of the Gospel? 

And don't say "it's just your season in life right now." Little kids, homeschooling, trying to get overseas, all those things. I really don't see anywhere in the Bible where it says you are exempt from this because you have little kids, because you work full time, because your spouse is sick. We all have things. Things that are real, legitimate responsibilities. Good things, like taking care of a husband and children. But even in those things, we are still the lights of the world, that are to do those good works so people will see them and glorify our God in heaven. (Matthew 5:16) It says people will see our good works. Not our yard signs, our Jesus t-shirts, not our 4 spiritual law tracts. I want to do more of those good works. Not because I have to earn my salvation, but because it's what Jesus did. It's who Jesus was. And calling myself a Christian means being like Jesus.