As I Skyped into the Russia celebration today…I may have videoed myself…and it ‘might’ be 20 minutes long. No one has ever accused me of being short winded…especially when the Holy Spirit starts putting words into my mouth. This may not be the most flattering angle, but it is the words that count. So do me a favor and listen without looking.
Several years ago God started a conversation in my heart and it overflowed into conversations with several people in our Russia community.
At the time God had been teaching me the importance of language within church ministry and that we should all be speaking the same language. It was simultaneous with changing the language of ‘doing’ mission to more accurate language of mission being who you are in your every day, walking around life.
At first it started with a tension I felt every time I said ‘mission trip’ in reference to our time with our friends that happen to live in a Russian orphanage. It didn’t feel right every time I used it and it took awhile for me to realize why.
Think about all the connotations that go with ‘mission trip’: building things, youth trips, VBS camps, medical trips, relief after natural disasters and a myriad of other thoughts.
At one point during our yearly travels to Russia, we had thought we were doing VBS, but looking back, we could have literally traveled with no activities and it would have been a great visit. I’m actually really proud of how far we’ve come in not taking a lot of ‘stuff’ and buying what little we use there to pour into the local economy. This year is the fewest amount of checked bags we’ve EVER taken.
In the tension I was feeling about what the hell we were doing every November, the reality was that our time in Russia was no longer any of the ‘normal mission trip’ categories. We were not there to entertain or occupy the kids, but we were there to love them deeply and continue our friendship. Frankly, we were there to talk, eat, hang out and eat some more with tea about four times a day, because Russians are some of the most hospitable, warmest people that love spending time together that I have ever met throughout the world.
Through the years, God had taken our idea of ‘ministry’ and grown it into genuine friendships that have been invested in and nurtured for many years, and will ultimately continue as far as God would have us go. The commitment is strong and passionate for those of us who truly feel called into this relationship…and we are a stubborn lot.
We’ve seen the kids we love go to university or technical schools, get jobs, and have their own families. We’ve also seen the not-so-good stories of kids that have followed the not-so-excellent example of their parents before them. Yet, once called into this piece of someone’s life, God doesn’t mean for you to exit. God means for you to walk alongside…for the long-term. Rest assured this type of ministry will test you and your endurance. It will challenge how you think. It will create a different perspective that you never intended to gain.
It was about five years ago we started changing our language and calling our time in Russia a ‘visit’ to our friends. When people ask me why I am going to Russiaeach year, I tell them I am visiting my friends. ‘Oh, how wonderful you can make that trip,’ they say. And I always reply with, ‘It is a blessing to be able to visit them.’
Through the year-ish that it took us to actually change our language, I am most proud of the fact we actually sat in the tension of the wording ‘mission trip’ not feeling right, and then praying and discerning the ‘why.’ We could have sat back and decided that’s just what is the norm for what we are doing, but it didn’t accurately describe what we were as a community with our friends who happen to live in an orphanage in Russia.
Who really wants to look at their friends and tell them they were a ‘mission trip’?
I think the first time I really thought about that perspective, I was wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Velikoretskoye Mission Trip’ and one of the kids asked me what it said. As I sat in front of my friend, I was tongue-tied as to how to explain a ‘mission trip.’
At that moment I knew God needed our language to change.
Speaking the same language is important, and we’ve had confusion on the congregation level of people understanding what we mean. I’m pretty sure some thought it was a touring trip, and it is no where near that because we spend as much time as possible with our friends. Long days of travel lead I to long days every day as we make the most of our time together. There are several of us who will animatedly educate others as to why we don’t take ‘mission trips’ to Russia, and we love those conversations.
As I sit on the plane for the first leg of travel on our way for this years’ visit. I am aching to see my friends…to wrap them up in my arms, whisper I missed them, talk with the older kids as they struggle through knowing they will leave the orphanage, see the older ones who have left and catch up on their lives…and spend one of the most amazing weeks out of my entire year. The pause button that was hit about this time last year will be unpaused very soon, and I cannot wait for our yearly visit.
Life becomes a twisty, twirly, albeit beautiful, mess when the multitude of directions you are pulled in straddle nations, culture, language and lives that have somehow found their way to intersect with your own.
There is a tension within me has continually escalated for many years. I want to be in so many places at once. I feel fractured into pieces that continue to lay divided, always seeking that next opportunity of Kingdom purity that forces them to pull together into a version of whole. Those moments come in conversation, photos, storytelling and being present with those I constantly wish I could be with in person.
When I take time to stop and slow down…or am stuck on a plane without distraction, because the headphone plug doesn’t work to watch a movie…I am forced into a time of reflection that I, admittedly, tend to avoid. For the last several years, my life has felt like a constant revolving door of relationships. Some for a weekend, and others that will literally be for a lifetime, yet all of them keep entering and exiting on a regular basis. Which is hard when you are someone who values relationship and being present with each other over literally everything else.
From the moment my heart was dramatically busted open by a 9-year-old street kid who was struggling to fit into an orphanage culture of structure, my life has been a constant forward trajectory of obedience, calling and insatiable desire to see the wrongs of this world righted through working to see God’s Kingdom come to restoration.
The plethora of stories, where I have found my story and the story of so many others colliding, are overwhelming. The places I’ve been sent are at times so divinely perfect, that I struggle to catch my breathe.
I have discovered a version of radical love that I never knew existed. All through the relationships God has blessed me with over the last fourteen years of, stubbornly and obstinately, fighting to see children know their worth and empowered to claim their future, while eventually being assaulted by the epidemic of brokenness through poverty, corruption, violence, abuse, neglect and abandonment. It’s strange when a heart that is passionate for orphans rests in the tension of those children actually having families and the realities they face every day to provide water, school, food, safety, etc. Everything seems to morph into an unquenchable desire to see families stay together, despite their situations of social and economic poverty. Resourcing and financial supporting constantly keeps the turnstile of worldwide orphan care rolling, yet with perspective it eventually turns into job creation and higher education that pours dignity and life change into those you love deeply.
There are also the real orphans…the ones who have no where else to go and genuinely consider their caregivers as their family, and will continue to feel that the rest of their lives. Their brothers and sisters are the ones who they have grown up with. In most cases their parents are no longer living, in some they have chosen not to be a parent, others put in prison resulting in parents rights being terminated and yet still some are encumbered with sickness that keeps them out of the lives of their children. ‘Orphan’ is not a singular term. Over the years I’ve learned so much, but I have so much more to learn and absorb, and will continue to seek justice for each despite any definition.
Through that journey, God has brought so many people into my life that have taught, listened, corrected and inspired me. All are people who constantly sacrifice to be on the front lines of a Holy and physical war that is raging for God’s Kingdom to be known and perfected.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve sat with people all significantly and specifically called to be where God has them placed. It is hard, yet that assurance of being exactly where they are supposed to be and doing exactly what God has led them to be continually enforces they keep fighting for what is right.
I’ve been sitting under the response a pastor gave me when I asked him about struggles in his congregation. A surge of recycling has changed the dynamic of lives in families who used to collect those recyclables and turn them in for money as their families only income. In the shadow of that change are mothers that are taking their daughters to the local prison on the weekend as prostitutes.
Choices for the future are limited in an environment where income to pay for education is the only way to graduate high school. The fear in students who desperately ache to graduate is palpable when they see the short span of time until they age out of the orphanage at age eighteen and have only finished 7th grade. When they leave the security of the orphanage they have grown up in, how do they pay to finish high school?
The hearts of those on the front lines are so humbly determined at times that it manifests as a school principal willing to take on all the responsibility and voice as gangs attempt to extort the community, so the gang members do not come after any of the staff at the school.
There are literal life and death situations everyday. Yet it is not about getting caught up in the death, and everything about being caught up in REAL life and working to see God’s restoration and redemption.
My heart aches for the disparity between the majority and the minority of the world. Lately I’ve been thinking frequently about a bright spark of hope and newness of life in the innocence of a small baby, whose life was extinguished way to soon due to lack of medical care in his country. When consistent and quality healthcare is absent in a majority world nation it drives up infant death rates, among other illnesses that lead to death, that punch you in the face while simply looking at photos from three years ago while your friends remark that some of our friends have not survived their illnesses over the years.
No one can predict how God will change you and how he will lead you. No one can predict how many places God will leave pieces of you until you carry a constant feeing of being fractured. The control we do have is over how we respond. With ignorance, denial or avoidance? Or confidently acknowledging and following the Lord’s leading in presence, support and prayer?
The stories I carry are exactly what leads to that fracturing I feel and the absence of feeling like I belong in only one place. It also drastically changes my definition of ‘home.’ These all fold into how how I hear stories and then it becomes about how I tell stories. It all revolves around relationships. Yet for me, my relationships seem to be separated by extreme distance that is hard to maintain, and then there are those relationships that God has blessed to be easy to maintain and that makes my soul soar with being known, remembered and loved. It can be a gift to embrace so many cultures, languages and people…but it can also be painful to be fractured, so the moments of Kingdom purity become the soothing balm that merges all pieces back together while remain stubborn about why and what we fight for as we yearn for restoration and redemption.
Today I will be using my powers of prediction to guess what my friends in this crazy blogging challenge are talking about today…
Shawn will mention Superman at least 3 times, and that’s only if he doesn’t make the entire post about Superman.
Brian will talk about how much he loves superheroes, because, well that love is real, folks.
Heather will write that she thinks everyone else is going to talk about superheroes, all while she tries to deny how much she really loves them, too.
Linds will say that Gavin has a Batman fetish, but it can switch around to other fantastic heroes, too.
And well, me? There are 4 out of the 5 of us that love superhero movies so much we’ve been known to go at midnight when they premiere. I can neither confirm or deny that I may or may not be a part of that posse.
Also, I may have just bombed ALL predictions, because there is also a solid chance we all try to surprise each other and no one writes about superheroes powers.
All teasing aside, because I really DO adore my friends, what is really sitting on me is this:
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” [Hebrews 5:14]
Spiritual gifts. Our powers given to us as gifts of the Holy Spirt. It can come in so many forms, but this particular verse is talking about discernment. There are certain gifts that lean more into gifts of the Holy Spirit that others, but truly all pour from the Holy Spirit.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” [1 Corinthians 12:4-11]
There are also verses that refer to us all being of one body, and each part has its function. No spiritual gift is greater than another. Please hear that clearly…there is NO spiritual gift greater than another. Each of the powers of the Holy Spirit is used to further God’s Kingdom on earth and ALL are needed.
Each gift you have goes through different seasons of growth. Especially with the spiritual gift of discernment, there will be times you question if you are really discerning correctly and quite honestly, that is hard stuff.
When you have the gift of prophecy, it is going to get you into trouble at some point, because prophets are ALWAYS in trouble because they are calling out behaviors that are not Kingdom building and go against the heart of God. The words prophets use are equally hard for them to speak, because they know it goes against worldly social practices.
If this conversation is new to you, then I hope you seek God and see where you fit into the body of Christ. We all fit somewhere, and I guarantee God is looking forward to you using the powers he has ready for you through the Holy Spirit.
Spirituality is not other-worldly; it is found in our relationships, work, attitudes, illnesses and dreams. Simply put, spirituality is rooted in ordinary emotional, physical and mental life. The difficulty lies in achieving the concentrated attention needed to observe what is going on, moment by moment, in ourselves and around us, to uncover that spiritual dimension. […]
How is it that 3 months living in Haiti completely flew by before I knew it?
How did I so easily transition to living in the majority world?
How did it become home so fast?
When did I become the girl that is freezing on the airplane next to a sleeping aisle neighbor, so I can’t get to my hoodie?
Why was I so nervous to leave Haiti this morning?
I am anxious and apprehensive about being in the states and actually had the thought while landing in Atlanta that I don’t know if I could easily live in the states again even after 3 months…what’s going to happen after a year?!?! No one fret…just an initial panic at seeing so much wealth in roads, infrastructure, homes and businesses while flying above it all.
But the states are so unrealistic compared to the rest of the world. It is as though a facade has been put over what reality looks like and no one wants to peel back the layers to get to genuine community and incarnational life. We hide so much from each other, and we have the luxury to do that when most others in the world don’t even have the choice of that type of privacy. There is so much distraction and distortion that God is unreachable without real effort to wade through the clutter most of the time. Outside of the states, the veil between heaven and earth is so thin that it is tangible to feel, hear and touch the heart of God. Especially when spending most of my time around orphans.
My life is a symphony of roosters and goats, teams coming and going, songs and soccer cheers from over the compound wall, pizza as a special treat, language barriers, drivers, security guards and a lot of amazing kids.
But my life is also submerged in passionate prayers in Creole, Haitian worship, and Pastors who are not only living what they preach and doing extreme things for Jesus, but are also for sure on prophet status. As well as, kids living in children’s homes asking ME if ‘I love Jesus.’ The faith of these kids rivals and exceeds ANY American Christian. It will humble you to your knees, and it should.
Put yourself in the situation of an orphan asking you to pray for them. In that moment, the American gave a great response of ‘Of course! Will you pray for me?’ And I guarantee you she will pray her big heart out for him and God will honor those prayers in gargantuan ways. What a dose of Kingdom reality, eh?
One of my biggest global pet peeves are the ‘missionaries’ wearing T-shirts that say, ‘Bringing Jesus to ______.’ Are they truly naive enough to think Jesus isn’t already there? Really? That God had, in some version of warped theology, abandoned people in need?!?! That as Americans we possess enough of him that we could actually have something the collective ‘poor’ need?
This morning the Haitian immigration agent says to me, ‘Wer ou pahng?’ I had no idea what he said and had to ask for a repeat, while opening my translating ears. More enunciated, ‘Were you prah-ying? Your eyes were closed in line.’ Not realizing that I’d had my eyes closed, I said, ‘No…but I do pray. I just wasn’t praying in that moment.’ His response? With a peaceful smile, ‘That is good. Praying is always good at any time of the day. Any time of the day!’
Yes, sir, it is. Any time. And thank you for the reminder as I head to the states for my three month break. And by the way, here is the green immigration card you need from me, since you forgot to take it during our God conversation.
Where else would you receive such TRUTH while exciting a country from a GOVERNMENT employee?!?!
My temporary home that I gladly claim for the time that God has placed me there. Because today I became ‘that girl’ who gets asked, ‘Where are you coming from? Vacation or business?’
Haiti…I live there. And it also tends to be a good dose of reality for anyone brave enough to encounter God’s Kingdom in its purest form.
This is beautiful, and I felt very compelled to share…enjoy!