Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Still Without Sufficient Words . . .

Well, we're back now. The most common question to me has been: "So, how was it?" My most common response: "I don't have the words yet." And then I say words that are so inadequate: amazing, incredible, unbelievable, indescribable -- all words that have no descriptive meaning. Last night someone asked me for a "one-word takeaway" from the trip. Again, couldn't come up with one word, but the phrase that best encapsulates the way I feel the more I think and pray is this: The local church is the hope of the world. Anyway, as I continue to come up with additional words, I thought I'd share some of the thoughts I've had upon re-entry:

Now what?
Things have to change.
This is really hard to be back.
So much stuff everywhere.
What steps can I take today?
I miss my team.
I'm totally disoriented.
God, what would you have me do now?
How can I go back to the way things were?
Would it be better if I just didn't see the things I saw or know the things I now know?
I have taken so much for granted.
I am so blessed.
What have I been complaining about?
Why do I have four watches?
When do I get to go back?
How can I make sure my daughter gets this?
I need to focus.
I need to dream bigger.
One foot in front of the other.
Maybe a party would help.
I need some tea.
How long will it take for me to forget?
Please let me remember.
God, please show me the way.
I'm 35 and I'm just now getting this? Ugh.
I wonder if this Zambia soccer shirt will hold up in the wash.

(Also, I did add some pictures to previous entries, which I couldn't do while in Zambia because of a relatively slow internet connection.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Didn’t Know Until I Knew

On Saturday, our team flew from Lusaka to Livingstone for a two-day trip to see Victoria Falls and experience a day safari. Before we left, though, we went to George Complex, a community of 200,000 people near Lusaka. Many of the women and children there walk more than a mile everyday to get clean water. As a result of this long walk for water, most of these girls can’t go to school. They carry 20-liter containers on their heads and babies on their backs. Girls as young as 8 carry these containers. We visited that day because those who live near the Pentecostal Church in George Complex were receiving clean, safe water for the first time. A bore hole was donated by people from Willow Creek Community Church. This bore hole will serve about 1000-2000 people who live in the village. We met many of these people. Many were children. They were beautiful, with deep dark eyes and smiles you wouldn’t believe were possible.

There are things about these children that are different than the children we know. Many of them don’t have shoes. They wear clothes that are too big or too small, or clothes that are out of season. Many are orphans or have only one parent to care for them. At the most basic of comparisons, though, they are the same. A woman and her daughter stood near me. The mother asked if I would take a picture of her and her daughter. The daughter immediately became resistant, asking her mother why she would do this! How embarrassing! I asked her, “How old are you?” She said, “Seventeen.” I said, “Ah, I can see why you don’t want to be anywhere near your mother!” They both laughed so much they bent over. Not so different.

It was an incredible celebration. Government officials were present, pastors were present, community leaders were present. Families were there. Mothers, fathers, children. Once the bore hole was “commissioned” by the member of parliament who was there, the mothers and girls began to pump the water into buckets they had lined up. Fresh, clean water flooded out of the pump and we all danced and sang, praising God for what he had done through his church. I took hundreds of pictures of the water, the children, the mothers, the pastors, and our team.

The meaning of this didn’t really sink in until later that day, though.

As we flew to Livingstone, I reflected on my experiences in the last week. We had three days of incredible teaching in Ndola where we taught about the importance of demonstration of and proclamation of God’s kingdom. In other words, pastors should preach, yes, but they should inspire and equip their church should also be out in the community addressing the needs of the community, like feeding the hungry, caring for those with HIV/AIDS, loving orphans and the most vulnerable people. Without these things, there is, as Richard Stearns would say, a “hole in our gospel.” After the teaching, we went to the Ndola market, an experience that won’t ever fade from my mind. I wrote about it several days ago and it sparked so much heartbreak and questions, and yet, was a harvest for God’s work. The day after we went to the market, we visited the little children at the New Hope Christian Centre and sang I Love You Jesus Deep Down In My Heart. And the day after that, we went to the bore-hole dedication.

So, here is what I realized – my math at its best:

I had heard this. I thought I knew what it meant. . ..until I knew what it meant. You know?

Friday, September 17, 2010

I Love You Jesus Deep Down In My Heart

We had a day off from teaching today and were reminded of our love for Christ through experiences outside and inside of our team. First, we went to Chifubu, an area in Ndola to see the New Hope Christian Centre. The pastor and volunteers there care for 130 (or more) orphans, many of whom are HIV positive. They sang to us -- I Love You Jesus Deep Down In My Heart. They hugged us and touched our arms and legs. They seemed to want nothing more than to hold our hands and rub our skin. We played catch with a ball made out of plastic bags wrapped together. As a group of children stood around me, I asked them their ages and names. They stared up at me with big brown eyes. I asked them how they liked their new water system, that gave them clean water. We stood and took each other in. At one point, I asked them: "Who is Jesus?" They were silent, until one brave little girl said boldly: "He is God!" Then we sang together: I love you Jesus, deep down in my heart, I love you Jesus deep down in my heart.

After visiting the children, we drove 4 hours to Lusaka, which is South of Ndola. On the way, we passed goats, chickens, markets, speed bumps, restaurants, barber shops, farms, mud huts, people walking, people pushing bicycles loaded down with bags of charcoal, fuel stations, storefronts, police checkpoints. We paid 500 Kawacha to use the bathroom. We ate potato chips in the car. We stopped once because someone on our team wanted to buy peanuts from a woman selling them on the side of the road. He ended up with more peanuts than we could ever consume, even as a team. We stopped at a restaurant called The Fig Tree Cafe and got Coke and jumped on a trampoline. Yes, a trampoline. Got some video of that. Didn't really expect it. The long drive gave us an opportunity to get to know each other better as a team, to delve into deep questions and issues. What fun it was. The way God works in each individual's life is so unique.

The sun set in red again behind us as we pulled into Lusaka, a city of 3 million people. Lusaka is home to the University of Zambia, which has about 4000 students. We went to dinner at The Gondola, an Italian restaurant in Lusaka, where we ate pasta and pizza and ice cream cake for dessert. So far, what we have seen in Lusaka has been extreme diversity. Tomorrow, we go to a bore hole dedication. This will be a great morning of celebration. We will be wearing our new, hand-made African skirts, which the pastors in Ndola gave to us as a gift of gratitude. After that, we will fly to Livingstone, Zambia for a two-day trip to see Victoria Falls and into Botswana for a day-long safari. Please pray we can get back into Zambia from Botswana! Monday, we fly back to Lusaka for teaching Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The children in Chifubu summed up my feelings about these experiences today best: I love you Jesus deep down in my heart. I do.

New Eyes

At the market:

Smell of fish in the enclosed building
Rising persistent
Hope, a little baby girl with huge, black, unblinking eyes
A kitten crying on a roof
Women carrying babies and children tied to their backs
A woman carrying five live chickens in a blue plastic bag, their heads poking out
Two girls the age of my daughter following closing behind as I walked
Thousands of people, no space
Obama shirts and bags
Soccer t-shirts
Searching for fabric
Wooden spoons
Urine troughs
A red sunset like none you have seen
The "God Knows Shop"
The "Abba Father Restaurant"
Words of welcome: "Welcome to Zambia!"
God in the eyes
Bare feet
Cartons of milk-like substance
Canopies overhead
Cars in all and any direction

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Groans Words Cannot Express

We just returned to our hotel after going to the market in Ndola. I cannot believe what my eyes have seen. It is as if I have lost something I loved deeply. My heart is heavy, broken. And yet full of mercy and love I don't comprehend. Parts deep inside of me ache. My soul groans. My mind races with questions and flashes with images.

Tonight I can only turn to the Holy Spirit for help. "[T]he Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26-27)

Intercede, Spirit of God, and let your will be done, whatever it is, whatever my role.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Confessions and Commitments

I must start with a confession. I already told my team, at dinner, so I feel comfortable sharing this here. Every night when I go back to my room after dinner and before I go to sleep, I eat a little bag of chocolate chip cookies that I brought with me. Why do I do this? I don't do this at home. When I was a kid, each afternoon after I'd get home from school, one of the first things I did was to grab four Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies out of the bottom drawer in the kitchen. I wrapped them in a paper towel, poured myself a glass of milk, and smuggled this treat into my bedroom to eat. Now, here I am 15-20 years later, in Africa, a grown woman, eating miniature chocolate cookies before bed. A feeling of home, I guess.

Here's another weird thing. Tonight for dinner, our team went to a restaurant called Deja Vu (a French word, as you know). As we entered, we were greeted by Hindu gods and goddesses. From the menu, we ordered chicken spring rolls, fish and chips, nann bread, roasted chicken, and lemon chicken with rice. Near our table was a silver disco ball hanging from the ceiling and a stage for performances. The music playing over the loudspeakers included: Lionel Richie, Michael Bolton, Toni Braxton, and Rascal Flats. Yeah. Have I mentioned to you that we are in AFRICA?

Most importantly, God did amazing things again today in Ndola, Africa at the Jubilee Centre. No words adequately describe the transformation, the dreams, the struggles, and the worship. The impact was in the eyes of us all as we walked out and headed home or to our respective places for the evening. Something was different. We had identified the needs in the communities in Ndola: medicine, clean water, HIV/AIDS help, better leadership, better roads, and more. But we also identified and gave thanks for the life-giving elements of the communities: the trees, the streams, the markets, the clinics, the schools, the people, the churches. And we committed to being leaders who will equip and inspire our congregations and our teams to address these needs. Something shifted in our hearts and we all agreed together that there is at least one identifiable step we can take to stop our analysis-paralysis. We committed to show up and serve and be examples to those we lead.

Tomorrow is our last day teaching in Ndola. We head to Lusaka next. God is not done with us yet though. We "press on to take hold that that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me . . . One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which Christ has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This is the day the Lord has made.

Today started off in an interesting way. I had no hot water. I stood outside the shower door trying to encourage myself to step in, just for a second. I could do this. It wasn't that bad. Nope, couldn't face it. So, I washed my hair using a drinking glass: filling it half with hot water (the hot water in the sink was working), half with cold water, and then pouring it over my head in the sink. I could not face getting in the cold water. I was able to shave halfway up my shins with cold water and no soap so as not to offend anyone who might get a glimpse of my lower leg or ankles in my long skirt. Then, none of the outlets in my room worked so I couldn't dry my hair. This is not such a big deal given the length of my hair, but you know how it is when you are used to something. We are so privileged and take so much for granted.

It was our team's first day teaching and I have not yet identified the words to describe the true heart of the experience. We arrived at the place we are teaching at about 7:40 a.m. Already there were 150 pastors from the surrounding areas. Most were men, but there were many women too. Most of the women wore traditional African clothing and the men wore suits. We started the day with about a half an hour of spirited worship. The people in Zambia speak Bemba and their songs were in Bemba and English. I could hardly contain myself as I worshipped our great God with these brothers and sisters from the other side of the world. God blessed me simply by allowing me to stand in their presence.

Worship was followed by an introduction and then a devotional about faith and works, called "Faith that Works: Extending Christ's Redemptive Love in the World." Our team member, Judy, led the devotional. The best line from Judy's teaching, in my opinion, was her description that separating works from faith would be like separating heat and light from fire. I have not tried that, but believe it would be an impossible task.

After Judy, Pastor Lawrence, the Executive Director of the Jubilee Centre, with whom we are partnering, taught about the Integral Mission of the church: the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel as a way to transform lives. The most impactful statement Pastor Lawrence made was in the context of Christ's authority. He quoted Abraham Kyuper saying: There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry out: 'Mine!'" Pastor Lawrence went on to ask whether, when we see a child begging on the street, we feel compelled to yell: "God's!" Do you? Do I?

By the time we took our first break, I knew that my life would be changed forever just by being with the body of Christ in the truest sense in which I have experienced it. I could have left then and there feeling the fullness of God for many years to come. There was meeting Josephine, the pastor of a church and mother of four, the oldest of whom is named Wisdom. And, another Josephine, the wife of a pastor and mother of seven. Or Matteo, a pastor to whom I asked what he liked to preach about most. His answer: Tithing (said with a smile). He questioned me on my age, allegedly believing me to be in my early twenties (loved that . . . well, sort of). Or, the man whom, after I told several stories I have experienced that illustrate ministries at Willow Creek combining the demonstration of God's love and the proclamation of the gospel, said "Thank you for your message. You touched my heart." Or the two pastors with whom I took a picture, and they each held one of my hands. The stories go on and on. And this was just one day.

All I can really do after experiencing God's wonderful, diverse creation like I did today is to say thank you. Thank you, Lord, for this day. My heart is full. My hands are open. My soul is at peace. "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24)

Monday, September 13, 2010

One Worldwide Voice

Our teaching team made it to Ndola, Zambia today, having left home at 8:09 a.m. on Saturday, September 11th. We have already met a number of interesting people and survived four flights -- Chicago to Washington, D.C., Washington D.C. to Dakar, Senegal, Dakar to Johannesburg, South Africa, and Johannesburg to Ndola, Zambia. Our teaching starts tomorrow, so we can relax a bit tonight and prepare. Just outside my room there is a rooster that crows every few minutes. I thought they only did this in the morning? It's 2:30 in the afternoon! Anyway, we ate at a Portuguese restaurant last night as a team and with an amazing pastor from South Africa. When we arrived in South Africa, what struck me most was that it could have been anywhere. There were tons of billboards, car dealerships, mini-malls, and McDonald's. Some of this was slightly depressing because I was expecting something more "foreign." But, what happened was that I realized how alike we humans are. How much we are connected and how important each one of us is to God. Here I was on the other side of the world and I couldn't have felt more at home. Nothing felt foreign.

And, this morning before we left for the airport, I thought about our team and thought how much we need God to guide us in this precious place. My attention turned to Romans 15:5-6, a lesson to all of us and a reminder that we are all God's children.

"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Johannesburg, or Ndola, or Chicago, or wherever, may God give us a spirit of unity as we follow Christ Jesus. After all, our goal is to use our hearts and our mouths to glorify God. Imagine how much better we would be at that task if it were in one worldwide voice.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Five Marines, A Waitress, and God

I have heard people who are confounded by something in their lives explain that God’s ways are not our ways – that there must be an explanation for pain or suffering or joy, for that matter, that we just don’t understand because we don’t see the whole picture. We see only a sliver in time. But, God sees everything. There are so many things we don’t get. Every once in a while, though, God reveals to us what he means when he says: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)

Earlier this week, I was sitting at the San Diego airport for what seemed like an eternity waiting for a flight home. I’d had a hearing that morning in federal court and now had turned to continuing to prepare for my teaching in Zambia next week. I sat at the airport bar/restaurant with my laptop on a long counter that faced the terminal. I was making great progress, both on my powerpoint slides and my hamburger when five young, muscular men sat to my right in the remaining seats at the counter. They were all about 18 or 19-years old and full of energy and curiosity. I concluded from listening in on their conversations (they were really close, okay? I couldn’t help it) that they were brand new marines and were on their way to basic training. Their hair had not yet been shaved off. They slouched and talked with anticipation about “getting there.” One of the men with them was older (just barely) than the others and he appeared to be the one in charge of getting these young men to the right place. He had fire-red hair and impeccable posture. He informed his charges that they could spend $13.00 a piece on food. Remember: we are at an airport. A hamburger alone was about $9.00. By the time you add in a drink, a tip, and fries, you’ve surpassed your allowance. And for these still-growing men, eating a single hamburger would be like eating a couple potato chips.

I have to admit, these men fascinated me in away that was totally unexpected. I have been reading Sebastian Junger’s book War and gaining a whole new perspective about the boys we send to war. (Not to leave out the women, but the book focuses on men.) Junger was embedded with a platoon in Afghanistan for a year and tells the stories of firefights and battles and loss and killing and camaraderie and bravery and loneliness and friendship and optimism followed by pessimism, or the other way around. I began to think that the men sitting next to me were the men I was reading about in Junger’s book, but before they were trained, before they went to Afghanistan, before they experienced things that would change them forever. They were so full of life and anticipation.

As I was sitting there, I felt very strongly that I should buy their lunch. I could give them a little breathing room in their food funding. Maybe they could buy a couple candy bars or power bars this way. When the waitress came by, I asked her to bring their check and that I wanted to pay it. I talked softly and told her not to tell them; I wanted them to feel appreciated. But I didn’t want them to know who was buying because then it turns into a thing about me instead of them. She said she’d bring me the check and told me they were on their way to basic training. We talked briefly and near the end, she said almost off-handedly that her son was leaving for Afghanistan the next day. I was still too busy thinking about the guys next to me, and said something silly like “Oh, wow,” and nodded sympathetically.

About this time, some agitation started to rise from the end of the counter because the waitress had disappeared and had not returned with the bill. The men needed to pay and leave so they could get to their flight. They were saying things like: “where is this lady?” “what’s she doing?” Finally, she arrived and they asked for the bill, but she informed them someone had paid it. They expressed their surprise, each in his own way. “Wow.” “Cool.” “Nice.” Then, despite my clear instructions not to tell them it was me, she told them: “It was the lady at the end of the bar.” After getting over the fact that she called me a “lady” and the men, by not objecting to this term, implicitly agreed that this was an appropriate term for me, I wanted to run out because I really did not want their thanks. I mean, it was nice, don’t get me wrong, but now it felt like I’d done it for that reason and I started to regret doing it at all. I was disappointed and thought deeply about whether I really had paid to bring myself recognition. I concluded I had not, but was this just self-serving?

So, just to take a little breath here, let me say that at this point, I was thinking that it was a blessing to be in a position to do this for these young men. I thanked God for blessing me. My mission had been accomplished. The bill was paid and the new marines were on their way. I too needed to leave to catch my plane.

I got up to leave and as I walked out, I caught the eye of the waitress, who was tending to a table across the room. I waved, but couldn’t move. Not time to go yet, I thought, without knowing why. The waitress walked over to where I stood, paralyzed near the door. Our eyes locked. I said: “I wish your son the best.” I knew immediately as the words left my mouth that they were deficient. Before I could pull them back, or apologize for such a trite expression, I said: “Would it be okay if I prayed for your son? What is his name?” These words came out like a guided missile. They were the right ones.

Tears spilled out of the waitress’ eyes, poured down her cheeks. She pulled out a receipt turned it over and wrote “Jonathan” in shaky handwriting. She pushed the paper into my palm, turned, and ran out of sight.

God’s mission was not my mission. His thoughts are not my thoughts. His ways are not my ways. The difference between the two is the distance from the earth to the heavens.