Archive for December, 2013

A Village Christmas and God’s Power in Weakness

In two days we will be flying to the other side of the country to visit the village where we will eventually live. We’ll stay for 3 weeks over the holidays and hope to gain a real sense of what life is like there, meet many of our neighbors, and join in with what everyone else is doing on the team. The trek out is no little deal. We fly 30 minutes to east Narnia, followed by a 4 hour very winding-road drive with a friend in his truck. We will stay the night at a friend’s place and leave out early the next morning. We will again drive another 4 hours, get out of the truck and walk 6 hours up the trail to reach our destination. Ralph Winter described our neighbor as hidden peoples and that sure has a certain ring to it as we set out this weekend.

The idea that we are on a team and need a team to do what the Lord has asked, live how the Lord has asked is something fresh on my heart. All along the trail we will have people taking very good care of us, using all the safety precautions imaginable, (perhaps most exciting) creating a new, fresh bond with one another as we see each other at their best and worst. Villagers will be going back and forth up the trail to meet us, helping us carry our bags, and giving the most amazing Narnian welcome you’ve ever seen. This too has a certain ring to it when I think of Jesus coming to this earth and embodying what it means to live among us and show hospitality like no other.

The sort of work we are engaged in is labeled “pioneer, frontier missions” in most books and we certainly have identified this area as a zero zone. No believers, no churches, no missionaries. Part of this can get thrown into a category that is so other, so different from traditional mission work or ministry in general. (All of which is hard to believe when understanding this is the very nature of the mission of Jesus, but it could seem like such to some). However, we still have a very vivid image of the teams hand in a pile cheering us on and our hearts are screaming for each other to make Jesus known in this small village of Narnia. That sort of team is one anyone would want to be a part of. I’m thankful that we can take the language we’ve been learning and be thrown into the jungle where all of our hard work really matters.

I see so much coming to a head with this trip and our eventual move out. Our desire to have children is now merged with our equally strong desire to raise such a child in a place where the light of Jesus can be seen the brightest. In God’s great grace and sovereignty, He delayed child-raising plan so it would be perfectly merged with raising a villager with villager friends, speaking another language, and learning to live quite differently than he or she would have if giving us a child 10 years ago. Another aspect coming to a head is my increasing comfort and acceptance of blindness and all the training that has gone along with it. Most of you know I attended a 7 month long training program in the US where I learned to navigate anywhere under a blindfold, learned braille, and how to operate a talking computer. Though I was in that program for 7 months, the acceptance and other skills have been going on for years. That too has come to a head. Overcoming adversity is such a load of garbage. We don’t really overcome it. In fact, adversity probably is the reason Janessa and I am walking up the mountain in a couple days, looking to make it our home for a long time. All that to say, God really does order our steps and that ain’t church foyer talk.

We’ll be off the grid for the next several weeks and we would appreciate all the prayers we could get over the next several weeks. All the language lessons, walks under the blindfold, emotional rollercoaster rides, the joy of raising our kid in the village. .. This is it. We aren’t naïve. Life in the village will be just as difficult, if not more difficult than the journey that got us to this place. Adversity doesn’t go away. We thrive in the midst of it as God’s power becomes perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9) How beautiful is the upside-down nature of this glorious Kingdom?

Our team has a blind guy, another guy who has serious vision loss and an extremely difficult time walking up the mountain due to balance issues, some white folks that don’t do too well speaking Narnianese. . . . Thrown in with a whole lot of other natural limitations. There is no way the kingdom of this world would have selected this motley crew . In God’s Kingdom though, down is up and we charge ahead.

And it is that Kingdom that was inaugurated in the most humble, unimaginable way 2000 years ago. An angel comes to Mary, a savior is born. The God of this universe becomes a baby emptying himself of power and riches. A poor family gathered in a barn and eventually ran away as refugees for years to follow. But the story didn’t end with defeat or human frailty. Interestingly, servanthood and vulnerability drove God’s Kingdom and continues to do so. . . .But that Kingdom was climaxed in this baby now a man defeating sin and death, giving all new life. Again, it is with this authority and Kingdom-ness that we go up the mountain this weekend. Our weakness is His strength. Death and gloom in east Narnia continues to be introduced to the light of God. Merry Christmas ya’ll.

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Language, Friends, and Serving in the Face of Oppression

Well we’ve been in Narnia for a little over 2 months now and this Friday marked our 35th day of language classes. There were some pretty big holidays and the election thrown in there somewhere so we’ve had to miss more than we would like. Needless to say, we are trucking along with 3 hour sessions in each of our classes and we have a house helper who knows no English. She is here 6 hours a day and that forces us to use all the Narnian we can.

There is a shop owner at the corner that I’ve been able to talk with pretty much every day and he enjoys the fact that I’m learning the language. He actually looks forward to my visits and wants me to continue to ask him questions about topics I don’t know anything about. I got him to explain the political situation here, how people vote, and what political parties exist. So far our conversations center around sports, the news, and just general life in Narnia. He listens to the radio 24/7 at his little shop operated out of the bottom of his house so he always has something to say. I am thankful to have a friend who is so willing to talk with me and drag me farther along in the language. The shop owner’s wife has really warmed up to Janessa and spent time painting her nails the other day why her h husband and I chatted away about Nelson Mandela.

And if you missed the memo . . . Janessa is pregnant. After so many years of trying to have kids without being able to, she got pregnant only days after being in Narnia. She is about 12 weeks along now. We’re thrilled to be parents and are looking forward to raising a villager.

Serving in the Face of Oppression

A topic I have been meaning to write on lately is serving in the face of oppression while being people with extreme wealth and access to power. The very people that we are serving here in Narnia could be labeled “poor” and some certainly would be put in the category of “oppressed”. I hate . . . absolutely hate using these words as they instantly label people by their most negative quality. For me it is like choosing the worst thing about a person and saying, “yeah we work with those people.” Molested, raped, stabbed, torched . . . if any of those experiences happened to any one of us, I’m confident we wouldn’t want to be reminded of them. Regardless, we do serve in the midst of people from very difficult circumstances and I have been thinking lately about how the “Tys and Janessas” of this world could really distort and abuse their power and oppress the very people they are trying to serve.

Many of you are probably quite aware of how missionaries have abused their power, colonized entire societies, and done atrocious things in the name of their Christian faith. While I don’t see nor have seen overt colonization happen in my 12 years of mission service, I have definitely seen missionaries oppressing the very people they serve. I have seen ministries, several actually who do the following:

They seek out and help a group of people in difficult circumstances. They take these people into their ministry a very critical stage of their lives (drug addicted, orphaned, poor, right out of prison, you name it) an basically shelter them from the rest of the broader society that they (the missionary) views as evil. As these “oppressed” individuals begin to get healed and whole it becomes the desire of the ministry to keep these folks inside their little ministry and protect them forever. The missionaries often don’t realize it but they actually imprison the group and these very people begin to complain when not in the presence of the missionaries who have given them their life’s bread. So yeah, they are trapped and while the missionaries think they are freeing people, they continue to enslave them. Further, this ministry can sometimes become the family business. More oppressed people in the commune means more pictures, more sad stories, and more missions money rolling in. Yep, I said it.

This can be done with so many different groups of people across many societies. The “oppressed” become Lennie’s rabbit in Of Mice and Men who are rubbed to death. It is the “white man saving the Indian” sort of thinking and it surely happens all the time. I’ve seen it with my own eyes (that was sort of a joke). My bigger point here is not just to become angry and point the finger at these wanna-be colonizers, but to ask ourselves “Am I oppressing the people I serve? Could I, yes I, be the colonizer?”

I have recently met the poorest family that I have ever known. They stayed in our house this weekend and I could tell that they had rarely if ever been in someone’s house with running water. We live modestly here and tried to keep the cheapest budget we could when we talked with our mission organization. We are very conscious of these things. But I now have poverty glaring me in the face in a very different context than where we were in the States. How will I respond to my friends who can barely survive from month to month?

Another girl we just met lives a couple minutes’ walk from our place and she is totally alone in our neighborhood. Her husband left her while she was working overseas. And he left her for her little sister. She now has a 10 year old son, no job, and no husband. This is a freaking disaster in Narnian society. She literally has no future. Her family has rejected her and some distant relatives are giving her enough money to pay rent and for her son’s schooling.

I’m not stupid. Yes, seriously, I’m not. I get that some of my new friends are my friends because I have money. I’m from America. And can anyone really blame them? I also know that we are genuinely friends and I want to love and serve them with all I can. That is why all the questions above are so relevant. It is personal.

If we can’t ask ourselves these hard questions and really allow the Holy Spirit to search deep within us on a daily basis, maybe we are not actually as free as we think. Oppression can be distorted truth on all levels. We have to be able to ask ourselves these questions. The goal is that we will be led to servanthood. No task something we are too good to do. Every person matters. Every task assigned by the Lord. And freedom is the cry of the oppressed. Not colonization or removal from society . . . freedom from the chains of sin that hold every person and society in bondage.

Ok, so that is my deal right now. Wanting to glare into the mirror of God’s Word and asks the right questions. I have been thrown into a new environment now where Janessa and I have so much power and money compared to the broader society here in Narnia. I can’t remember ever being in this position in my first three and a half decades on this earth. That sort of responsibility deserves a humble response, soaked in prayer, and fueled by God’s Spirit of freedom. Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost. What an example we have to follow. Here we go again. . .