amazing love

My daily rhythm changes with the tide of incoming teams from the States. Team in country? I am occupied and my day revolves around them.

And I love it.

I love their enthusiasm. I respect their perspective of what Haiti looks like to them. I am genuinely anxious for God to move in them while they are here. And I am always expectant of the relationships God will create and continue throughout a weekend a team is in country with us.

But the best part? I get to take them to the villages of the Pastors we support.

That’s right, ladies and gents, I get to play with kids.

May 26 started off with a gathering of prayerful people before breakfast, a lazy journey to load the bus and off to visit Paula Coles, which is one of our GO Exchange partners. Paula is a courageous, stubborn, delightful woman who has such great vision for what Haiti could be in the world through art, accessories and clothing. All with recycled materials she makes these incredible bags, pillows, wallets, computer cases, iPad holders…so much! Clearly, it’s a good stop. Today I told her, “If I walked in here and there just ‘happened’ to be a blue/lime green/black accessory bag in here I think I would say to you, ‘Paula I need to make a purchase.’” Her response? Perfectly timed, by the way, “Then there will probably be one in here the next time you come.”

Next stop: Leogane. And hang on to your hats, because Leogane is always a doozy. And when I say doozy…the Holy Spirit is going to be moving.

Pastor Claude’s kids are wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Well, I am a bit biased because I’ve got a buddy at Leogane who I am always excited to see, and who is always looking for me when the bus shows up. Oh, that Chales. Stealing my heart. It’s really not fair. But completely fitting in the context of the Kingdom I serve.

And that day was no different.

I was sitting on one of the pavilion levels, and he immediately saw me and sat next to me taking my hand and scooting to where his entire right side touched my left side. Someone brought a speaker and the next thing I know, ‘Happy’ is blasting throughout the pavilion. Kid are dancing, Americans are boogying and Pastor Claude is bouncing his shoulders with kids on his lap.

All I could think was that this song is so appropriate for this exact moment that I don’t want it to end.

20140527-080611.jpgAnd then it got better.

Coloring was involved. After Chales had finished coloring his mouse, I needed to check with Pastor on a few things so I was standing talk when I realized my left side had turned into an excellent place to write on the coloring sheet.
As I look down I realize he is writing his name out, ‘Chales Herode.’

Then next came, ‘to Stephanie.’ Then ‘global,’ referring to Global Orphan Project. Quickly followed by Claude’s village name and Leogane. At which point it was handed to me with the biggest grin. So proud of himself. And I was so proud of him. It wasn’t perfect writing, but it was perfect to me. (Side note: Said picture is currently residing on my ‘Wall of Awesome’ in my room at Jumecourt.)

I always let Chales lead me. After all, I’m an in the moment gal. He’s not done me wrong yet! Yet…

20140527-080539.jpgHe is leading, and I’m following and he sees Pastor reading out of a picture Creole Bible. There are a lot of kids crowded around the Pastor, so he sees an older girl looking at another one, and starts watching her read the pages and say what the stories are about.

But he won’t let go of my hand. So here I am awkwardly standing behind him, trying desperately not to be in the way of the Bible viewing and he won’t let go of my hand, then tightens his grip.

While the speakers start playing…

Amazing love, how can it be?
That you my King would die for me.
Amazing love, I know it’s true,
And it’s my joy to honor you in all I do.

When was the last time you felt the presence of God in such a tangible way that it took your breath away?

Honestly, that question is for you…because down here I’ve lost track in the best way possible.

It is hard to describe the supernatural spark that happens when you find God’s amazing love legitimately flowing through you to love a child you barely know and are not related by blood ties.

It truly is amazing love.

Love that is unconditional, and flows freely from our Savior.

I didn’t make a connection with Chales. Or Johnny. Or Takyra. Or Alyosha and Kostya in Russia. Nothing I could ever do on my own could create that feeling. It is unexplainable.

20140527-081709.jpgFive days later I found myself at Leogane again, and showed Chales a photo of his picture hanging on my wall in my room at Jumecourt. You would have thought a celebrity had walked into the compound. His face lit up like a Christmas tree, his smile was the BIGGEST I have EVER seen it, and his countenance…friends, he knew he was known and loved and our friendship isn’t just about me showing up to hold him for a couple of hours. It was absolutely a moment that God was not only in…but supernaturally creating. It was beautiful.

God made those Kingdom connections and he nurtures those connections in order to further his Kingdom on earth.

The good thing is…I am only on week eleven and there is plenty more time for God to nurture some amazing love down here and it truly is my joy to honor God in all that I do.

 

 

 

 

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prayer

“Stephanie, where do I go to pray for you today? I’m sitting at my table, coffee in my right hand and my Bible in my left.”

It’s not every day that you get emails that start with those words…so many emotions in those simple words. The reality that someone cares enough to intentionally sit down and pray for me is one. But also someone who cares enough to put some spiritual muscle behind sending me a Bible verse, or three because it couldn’t be narrowed down, that is only for me.

It is all a part of being known. Isn’t that one of our basic human emotional needs? To pray for me is one thing, but to know them well enough to pray for me without a litany of prayer requests to read down requires us to know one another.

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And very clearly we are friends who know one another, because she knows that I would care that she was also drinkin’ her mornin’ cup, or five, of joe. Birds of a feather and all…I’m writing this while drinking a delicious cup myself.

My precious friend ended up sending me the best Bible verses, and she wasn’t the only one last week.

A group of us participated in an experiment last week. Pray for one person each day, and send them a Bible verse. Simple enough, right? It started with a spreadsheet, because they are cool. Then some of us forgot, which meant others got two verses in one day…but it wasn’t about our crazy lives and forgetting to email, mostly because we were intentionally praying for each other every day for seven days.

Which at this point, I should also mention, that NONE of us like to pray out loud. When we are together and it is ‘time’ to pray. Crickets. Crickets. Crickets. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.

Prayer is a lot of things though…a thought, a whisper, a doodle, a word, a song, a painting. We limit our connection to God when we see prayer as something only done at meal time or ‘church’ events. We also limit that connection when we think only Pastors have the ‘right’ prayers. There is no ‘right’ prayer. There are no ‘right’ words. God takes all of them, and more so, knows your heart. It doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth.

Despite our aversion to praying out loud, this week we found a new way to connect through prayer and it was exhilarating. One day, I got scripture that I had significantly connected to while in China about loving people that are hard to love. For whatever reason, only God knows, it led me to spending a lot of time last week praying for China, the folks I knew and the Americans I traveled with for a summer.

It was also eye opening. Without knowing prayer requests we quickly realized we were left to how well we knew each other and what was happening in our lives, especially with the added piece of giving them a part of God’s word. Prayer is a connector to God first and foremost, but we also found that prayer is a connector to each other as well.

Without our connection to our God and Holy Spirit, and without strong relationships that we can depend on…we are left alone, hopeless and cut off. That, most assuredly, is not a strong community of believers, and definitely not one that the God of the universe will use to restore His Kingdom back to wholeness.

At the start of our week of intentional prayer, I was nervous that some would ‘forget’ or worse…not get into the whole prayer every day thing. For some it pushed on the boundaries of our comfort zones, because Bibles were being opened daily and prayer life was getting a jolt. However, our God is a God of grace, love and mercy – the relationship kind, and he SHOWED up. Big time.

We ended up going above and beyond simply prayer and scripture, and found ourselves encouraging each other. Even finding God encouraging us while spending more time in His word. Some found themselves lending an ear in situations, as well as all of us thinking about each other all week. We were connected, and it was a beautiful picture of community.

Don’t be the person this week that says, “I’m praying for you!” and then make it a side thought. Be intentional. Desire a community. Be connected to God through prayer for the sake of those around you. God will show up. God will work through junk. God will make the relationships around you stronger. God will enhance your discernment. It doesn’t even matter if you know what to pray for, because I guarantee you that God knows what that person needs more than a list of prayer requests would tell you.

God worked in us so much this week that we are going to be working to fill in the holes of relationships with each other that God shed light on last week. The good news is it will involve food, conversation, and of course, coffee.

silence

**Forewarning: this blog post completely changed from ‘Silence is beautiful and we need more of it…’ following a really ‘happy’ blog post, to what you read here. Beware, it wasn’t me…it was the one I serve. If you are looking for beautiful silence, probably find a different blog…because the silence you read here is a bit dangerous.**

Amos. He’s in the Bible, I checked. It helps when God keeps bringing scripture forward from this obscure book everywhere. His name in Hebrew also means ‘burden’ as in lifting or carrying a burden. Appropriate for a prophet I think, because with the words they are burdened with from God…they cannot rest in silence.

Amos is the book of the Bible right after Joel and before Obadiah.

Who the hell is Obadiah?!?! I said the same thing, and he only had a page in my Bible, so I felt a better about not quickly recollecting his words. Bible fact of the day: Obadiah is the shortest book in the Bible with 21 verses.

Have you heard of minor prophets? Well, they weren’t minor because they were less important…they are just smaller books. Isaiah had to be wordier, he was predicting Jesus…a lot!

We blogged about prophets earlier in our Lent journey, but it is important to note that God called prophets to speak, and to not follow the beliefs and ways of the nations they were calling out. Then they had the beautiful opportunity to proclaim the message of salvation and coming glory…the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Amos’ carried a message for God’s people to return to his ways…instead of their current perverted sense of religion and complete lack of justice.

Amaziah, priest at the shrine at Bethel, sent a message to Jeroboam, king of Israel: “Amos is plotting to get rid of you; and he’s doing it as an insider, working from within Israel. His talk will destroy the country. He’s got to be silenced. Do you know what Amos is saying? ‘Jeroboam will be killed. Israel is headed for exile.’

Then Amaziah confronted Amos: “Seer, be on your way! Get out of here and go back to Judah where you came from! Hang out there. Do your preaching there. But no more preaching at Bethel! Don’t show your face here again. This is the king’s chapel. This is a royal shrine.”

But Amos stood up to Amaziah: “I never set up to be a preacher, never had plans to be a preacher. I raised cattle and I pruned trees. Then God took me off the farm and said, ‘Go preach to my people Israel.’ [Amos 7:10-15 MSG]

Acts 18They wanted to silence Amos’ message against greed, injustice and self-righteousness.  Their society was incredibly materialistic to the point that the wealthy were setting themselves way above the peasant class, and only using their wealth to improve their own gain.

Amos gave a message with absolute clarity that God hated evil and was going to punish injustice.

Thinking of anything familiar?

Our culture has pigeon-holed us into a corner that makes us feel like our beliefs might offend someone. That we should be quiet and that we have no business forcing our beliefs on others. Even when those beliefs include setting right the wrongs in this world.

I had lunch with some students today, and one was sharing that she wasn’t going to Tweet during the showing of the Bible Series anymore. When we pushed her for why, she said, ‘I lost 4 followers because I was tweeting about the Bible.’

If we live in a world where God’s message and conversation are no longer welcome, are we really okay with not push against those enforced boundaries? Do we let it slide and decide we shouldn’t use social media to spread the message and truth of God? Do we sit in our buildings, our homes…in silence?

Let me just say, it’s against my nature to let it slide. It is, however, in my nature to push against boundaries and has been since I was a toddler. Just didn’t grow out of it, I guess.

And I am definitely not perfect, by any stretch of the word.

But when it comes to my beliefs, who I serve and why I serve Him…I’m sure as hell going to push back on anyone who says I shouldn’t be sharing.

I believe in being in relationships with others, and that God created us for community.

To learn from one another. To share our stories with one another.

I am not intrusive with my beliefs. (At least I don’t think I am…maybe I really am one of the crazy ones others find intimidating.) But you could say I am intrusive with my actions, because I am going to care about people that no one cares about. I am going to love people that some say I have no business loving. I am going to talk about the reality of God’s Kingdom. I choose to embrace my God given missional impulse. And I am going to fight against the injustice in this world, because things in this world are really screwed up and God never intended it to be this way.

Stand up. Do not be content with silence. Speak God’s message through relationships that matter. Choose to see the world through God’s eyes, instead of the eyes that are conditioned to our culture.

Amos called out God’s people for not caring about the things that mattered and I think we can learn from his lack of silence.

Care to join? Think wisely…you might just be told you shouldn’t.

ate

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Chinese. If you hang around me enough, you will hear me talk about my constant search for good Chinese dumplings in the US. I will eat Chinese food for lunch AND dinner.

Pick your dropped jaw off the floor, because I will prove it…if you buy.

Mexican. I cannot get enough of the white cheese. Seriously, it’s addicting. And don’t even get me started on guacamole! Oh. My. Gosh. I could eat a bushel of avocados, but when you add the rest…step away from the bowl. I’m not kidding.

In the US we take our food very seriously…but the seriousness is not in whether or not there is food on our tables, it’s found in the fact that we have CHOICES of food. There are so many that go hungry in this world that it completely blows my mind that we have so much that we get choices.

Not every country has choices, it’s just been in the last few years that you hear of something other than Russian food outside of Moscow. And it’s definitely not a question of which Mexican restaurant you want to eat at…there’s only one.

I eat a lot that is bad for me, and I eat too much of all of it. I have a group of friends that is known for their amazing small group snack choices. The yet another that we stuff ourselves into oblivion when we get a night out together.

Relationships are made stronger over breaking bread together, and God created us to be in community…but…we have a tendency of over doing it. I know…pot…kettle…kettle…pot.

But the same is true for my relationship with God. I consume things that are not good for me and my relationship with him. It’s downright damaging to what we have.

Here’s the poster couple for actions that damage relationship with God:

For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.  When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. [Genesis 3:5-6]

Talk about ruining it for all…their (yes, Eve AND Adam, they BOTH ate it) hunger for things that God said they didn’t need made it rough for all of us.

Put your brain in that moment…when was the last time you KNEW something wasn’t good for you, and that it would drive a wedge between you and God. A raise of hands? Ok. All of us.

But we do it anyway. Adam and Eve ate that damn apple, folks…but when are we going to take responsibility for holding up our end of our relationship with God? When will we stop partaking in things that are bad for us?

We can blame the first couple for the sin in the world all we want, but they are not still eating the same apple. It has passed down through the generations and we’ve willingly snarfed it down.

I ate it. You ate it. They ate it. Now is the time to stop letting it come between us and God, because something even tastier came…bread and wine, anyone? Let’s eat some Jesus instead…

relief

Tuesdays are the odd mission day in the office. No ‘local mission’ folks around…it’s just me…global girl. The mission geek with even weirder  ideas.

However, when people are calling into Grace Place for emergency relief in the form of food, clothing or utilities…they don’t care what I do…they just know I’m the voice they get on the phone. Technically, Tuesdays are not Grace Place days, but it’s really hard telling someone who has trouble getting rides to come up here that today is not the day.

Really, they just want to be heard. And when someone needs to be heard it doesn’t matter if I am planning a Family or Haiti mission trip. So my ears open. My heart constricts. And I hope that Jesus comes through the cracks of my imperfections.

Today found me in the parking lot talking with a woman about the expensive things that food stamps do not purchase while loading her groceries from Grace Place. Toiletries, laundry & dishwashing detergent, paper towels, toilet paper…could you image not having toilet paper in your home because you don’t have money to purchase it? Or not being able to grab a paper towel in the kitchen? Try it for a week. I bet most of us would cave before a week was out.

The folks that are getting groceries from the WCC food pantry are forced to make hard choices about their money, and most of us have no idea what that is really like.

As I was waving goodbye to her, one of the women I’ve been able to get to know over the last two years was walking in to pick up groceries. It was an amazing blessing to yell her name, and greet her in the parking lot with a huge hug. She is a beautiful woman with 6 kids, who has had the WORST luck in the world over the last several years. I won’t go into detail, just know that every time I talk with her I am burdened to pray for her family. As well as the times that God just brings them to mind randomly.

I cherish the time I am able to be a friend to her, because that is how God asks us to work towards his Kingdom. To listen. To talk. To encourage. And most of all…to make her feel like the God she believes in is still active and alive in her life.

As we were talking today, she said, ‘Is there any voucher or coupon you all have for meat? We haven’t had any in weeks.’

By the grace of God and his inevitable timing, someone had donated a gift card to Hy-Vee and I was able to pass it on with a ‘Go buy some meat, friend,’ while hugging her goodbye.

The mission department is an extension of the church that exists because the hearts of the congregation are overflowing with gratitude and love for their Christ. It’s an honor to be used by God for the hugs, and encouragement that go along with it.

pain

You would hope something as wondrous and miraculous as God’s mission wouldn’t bring hurt, pain or anger. But when you have people that are serving from a place of passion…our humanness enters in, and all hell breaks loose.

It’s ugly.

It’s painful.

It hurts.

But what can we really expect when we are dealing with sin? Because it we were all serving from the perspective of putting God and others before ourselves…there wouldn’t be pain in mission work. And at what point did we try to fool ourselves into thinking sin can bring about characteristics of God?

So how do we, as folks created by God, set ourselves aside and serve with love, compassion and kindness?

Seek God’s heart. There is a great quote from Bob Pierce that always gets thrown around, and has been a prayer of mine for well over 3 years. ‘Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.’ Imagine what the world would look like if this were truly the prayer of people who love Jesus, and choose to follow him. I know it has changed me.

Embrace your emotions. It is what makes you so passionate about those you are serving, and where you are serving. Those emotions are God-given to ignite you to action where God has called you. It is exactly what makes a person feel connected to you, because you are invested in who they are as people, not what they are as projects. It’s called relationship. And God has created us to be in those relationships with others. And the beautiful thing is when we get it right on our end, it reflects our relationship with God for others.

Risk. Did I lose you? Does risk intimidate you? Does it outright scare you? It should, because when you risk your heart to work towards God’s Kingdom restored…all bets are off. Period.

Be courageous in stillness.  Afraid of silence? Be ready to accept it in abundance, because the only true thing that can heal your pain is the loving, compassionate Father who sent his son to die on a cross to wipe away the bad you have done in our world. And that takes time…to not run away from the quiet in an effort to increase the work-a-holic in you…and to embrace the quiet stillness of God’s balm.

Grace. At times I hate forgiveness, but the only time I hate forgiveness is when I have to give it to others…not when I am accepting it from Christ. Horrible, right? But it’s 100% true. How can we truly accept what Christ gave up for us if we are unwilling to bestow that gift on others? It is as if we are saying, ‘You see, Jesus. I don’t really think what you did was all that great.’ We are completely negating His death on the cross if we hold grudges…seek retribution…deny others grace. I completely admit to being a failure in this area. But I also admit, God is not finished growing my spiritual heart. I just don’t really like it…perhaps God would make my memory shorter so this would be easier.

Pain is beautiful in the shadow of our God.

But unless we are prepared to see it that way, we keep holding onto it in all of its black, crusty glory. Nasty, at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Everyone who seeks to serve God struggles with pain in whatever way it manifests. The true test of a servant is what they are willing to do with that pain.

surrender

There is this word that has been drifting in one ear and out the other pretty consistently for a couple of months.

Surrender.

Ah…so much in a single word. I’m stubborn. Surprised, right? It goes against my very nature to actually surrender to something. I give it all the fight I have in me sometimes. I’m human. And definitely not perfect. But if I cannot trust God enough to surrender in my relationship with him, where does that put me?

Some of my married friends would have an interesting spin on this word, especially when you add in ‘submit.’ It can mean so many things…I was feeling out people on Facebook earlier today for what they thought it meant. I got a lot of references to music, and some great humor. And then I also got this from a young friend…

Losing control and allowing God to step in.

We all want control. But what if…what if in wanting control, we lose a large part of God moving in our lives? What if we lose our chance to participate in His Kingdom work around us?

We put into place parameters, strategies, structure, planning…all to maintain control over the situations around us. Are we limiting God’s movement in those areas we try to control? Not saying structure isn’t good sometimes, just asking the question.

Mission trips and investing somewhere locally are the epitomy of surrendering so that God can use you in incredible ways. Talk to anyone who finds words that come out of their mouth in just the right moment. Surrender is a willingness to allow God to use you where you are…it’s mission, right?

It’s also about trust and faith. Do you trust God enough with your hopes and dreams and timing? Do you trust that it will all be okay in the end? Are you willing to merge your will with His? It’s intimidating when it involves things that ‘society’ thinks is right and normal.

A true relationship does not shut out surrender. It’s in different contexts, but always has an element of surrender on both sides. Even more so in a relationship with Jesus…he surrendered his life…for YOU. No relationship exists without surrendering part of who you are and becoming part of something bigger. Christ serves as the perfect example.

Here’s the thing…surrendering to God is scary. It’s a willingness to lose a part of who you are. But truly, you are gaining who God has created you to be. It may mean giving up the American dream. It could mean giving up the dream you have for your kids, and letting them figure it out on their own.

It’s surrendering the part of you that needs to disappear so you are drawn closer to God.

Obviously, I am still wrestling with this. But the bottom line is you are not giving up or tossing in the towel…you are accepting that God has more in store for you than you have for yourself, because God’s love makes it worth it all.