dignity

I once had a friend tell me a story about a pastor he knew in Africa who was explaining to his congregation why my friends’ organization was going to partner with them. The pastor asked his congregation, “Describe to me how we get water.”

“We get our buckets.”

“We walk to the water pump.”

“We put water in our buckets.”

“We lift the water to our heads.”

“We walk it back home.”

“We take it down from our heads without spilling.”

Then the pastor asked, “What is the hardest part out of that for us?”

The congregation replied, “Ugh, lifting the water to our heads. It is very difficult and the water is heavy.”

“That is what our friends will be helping us with. They will be helping us lift the water to our heads, but we are responsible for the rest,” the pastor told them.

The reality is difficult circumstances bring about scenarios that are less than ideal for God’s people who were born into a life meant for dignity, safe from others who – knowingly or unknowingly – rob them of that God-given dignity.

As a body of believers, it is our responsibility to support, empower, encourage…and delve into God-given talents and gifts to discover solutions specific to countries, cultures, communities and individuals. It is complex. Very complex. But that complexity shouldn’t frighten us away from what could restore dignity that has been taken away through varying conditions revolving around the epicenter of poverty.

Be bold. Be stubborn. Fight for Kingdom restoration.

Sustainability is hard to mull over. There is a lot to consider, specifically how it is defined, by who it’s defined by, with what perspective and what it looks like in real situations. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by just how many things I’ve been a part of, what I’ve seen and how God has directed my heart to fight with my friends who I love. God’s heart is for them to consistently feed their families. God’s heart is for them to send their kids to school.

I’ve heard sustainability is educating children so the cycle doesn’t continue with next generation.

I’ve heard sustainability is a ministry paying off debt to free up funds to run the ministry.

I’ve heard sustainability is income generating activities that will bring income into the ministry, so they are not dependent on external funding.

Plus a million versions I have not heard.

The reality is not every community or ministry that receives funding from foreign sources wants to maintain that funding until the end of time. Arguably, they do exist and I’ve met some of them who would prefer that route, but that would lead into a wholly different post concerning enabling, bad uses of funds and dependency.

We should want the best for those that we call friends, and anyone else in similar situations, who were not graced with the privilege of growing up where we did. Their political corruption, war, natural disasters, droughts and a myriad of other things are not of their own doing. They did not choose poverty. What we should fight for is dignity restored through their unique and beautiful gifting given by their Creator to use those talents in generating their own income and empowering their community to be a community of people that does not have to rely of foreign funding.

What IF we used the trillions of dollars given in ‘aid’ to actually research what businesses would benefit each community, what is marketable, what could effectively be exported if the market isn’t large enough within the community, build those businesses and create consistent income? What would our world look like if there were consistent jobs in communities that are shackled by poverty? What IF we actually listened to those international communities and supported their OWN vision within their cultural context? What IF we hung up our American perspective at the door and saw with different eyes? What IF we all actually worked together across denomination lines and pooled our resources to accomplish it? What IF it was actually believers supporting believers and we truly looked like a Kingdom community?

It seems unbelievable, but if we don’t work toward it, we’ll never see it happen.

Don’t become paralyzed by the need.

Don’t become paralyzed by the many years it will take to accomplish and the commitment it entails.

Create jobs. Keep families together. Maintain dignity.

And see Kingdom transformation throughout.

The community my friends’ organization was choosing to partner with in Africa did not want magical funding for eternity…they just needed a lift up. Because it was coming in partnership and because it was coming through relationship, the community was able to maintain their pride while they were doing the rest.

Probable solutions would take another million posts and a plethora of knowledge that I don’t have, but wisdom and discernment is everything…what I am currently reading is ‘Poverty of Nations’ by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, who happen to be an economist and theologian who wrote it together. I would highly recommend reading along with me, you can catch up…I’m only on chapter 3 at the moment. I would also suggest finding organizations that speak your same language and fight for the things God has called us to fight for in our world. There are many people out there doing very good things to create jobs, export product and work toward sustainability.

 

announce

Starting off a new season of blog posts as a Lenten practice with friends is a big undertaking. One post a day. 47 days. Cue the proverbial gasp. We did it 2 years ago and we are all in for another round of community building, growth with Jesus and throwing it all out into the universe. To start…I’ve decided to let my missiology geek flag fly high and proud.

“The South African missiologist David Bosch wrote, ‘Mission is more and different from recruitment to our brand of religion; it is the alerting of people to the universal reign of God through Christ.’ In other words, mission derives from the reign of God. In that respect, the ideas of mission and Kingdom are irrevocably linked. Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ. Mission is not primarily concerned with church growth. It is primarily concerned with the reign and rule of the Triune God. If the church grows as a result, so be it.” (Five Habits of Highly Missional People, Michael Frost)

This is one of my favorite quotes on the sovereignty of God, our role and what we are charged with to further God’s Kingdom on earth in the here and now, not the wait until later and heaven is just gonna come variety.

Announcements don’t discriminate on type or a timely arrival. They come before a big event or after the occasion. They are happy. They are sad. They are expectant. They are difficult. But they always are used to inform and guide.

The announcement we are held to proclaim is that God reigns over the entire universe. He sacrificed his son. Holy Spirit is alive and active. His power is not limited and his love is not earned. He is life in a desolate wasteland. He is light in suffocating darkness.

“Jesus refused. ‘First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!'” (MSG Luke 9:60)

As believers we get comfortable and content with where we are at and what we are doing. But realistically, as believers and followers of the God who reigns, we should never find ourselves in a cycle of contentedness or comfort. It’s a dangerous cycle, void of growth and transformation…ours and God’s Kingdom.

As believers we tell ourselves that actions speak louder than words, which I do agree with, however, trustful, honest words are not to be relegated to the massive shadow of action. Honest words come in the midst of a loyal relationship within a community. There we find where true announcement and proclamation of the reign of God fosters transformation.

Words fall on deaf ears if all we do is walk around shouting the truth of God and moving around without investment of self and time. It’s about accepting you are placed and then genuinely loving those around you. If we get stuck believing in only the numbers game of evangelism, we lose the opportunity for real discipleship and real relationships. We miss the real message of God’s reign through Christ. We ignore how Jesus did life with those around him. And quite honestly, you miss out on all the fun to be had while building towards God’s Kingdom on earth…together.

While I was in Russia last November, the relationships God has allowed me to pour into consistently have opened up a myriad of opportunities to announce God in the lives of those that I care deeply about. Abundant opportunities to point to the Storyteller and the Story. In that case, it was the demonstration that led to a deep relationship which in turn led to a honest announcing through the trust and openness that had been built.

“Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ,” explains Michael Frost.

Announcement cannot exist without demonstration. Demonstration cannot exist without announcement. They are forever entwined as portals to build God’s Kingdom.

peace

I struggle with peace. I think it is because I crave it so much.

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A cross cut out of a bullet from the wars in Liberia, West Africa.

Everywhere I look and every situation that blocks my path is conflict, selfishness, gossiping, people hurting people, and then expanding into countries fighting countries and the injustices around the world. My heart breaks for those struggling with thoughts so plagued with being alone that their mind convinces them they should end their life in this world. There is so much pain in this world.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just what comes up every year at Christmas. This is not a guilt complex I get once a year. This is what I think about, and the things I have to yell at to be quiet so I can fall asleep at night. Things are happening to people I love that shreds the fabric of my soul.

I don’t just say I am passionate about orphan ministry in our world. I know the names of orphans in our world. They are real to me. They have personalities and characteristics…they like to make me laugh and trust me with their words. But it is not them I worry about, because I know they know we love them and they are not alone. My mind drifts to orphans in all countries who have no family to guide them, or worse…abandoned by family because they think that is the best way for them to survive. No child should ever face those issues. Where is their peace?

I have held children with discolored hair due to malnutrition. It is impossible to walk away from those moments unchanged…doing your best to not punch someone in the throat with the anger that bubbles up. There is plenty of food in our world to sustain our population, and we have children and whole families going hungry. Where is the peace in hunger?

I get nauseous when I think about the young girls that are sold into sex-trafficking. Doesn’t anyone realize that if the industry demanding those girls ended…they would no longer be sold? Is it really that hard to keep it in your pants, so these girls would never know that pain and could stay with their families? It seems so simple, yet in a world plagued and suffering under the temptations and realities of sin…this is our world and where is the peace?

Peace on earth is unrealistic until the day all evil is wiped out. Anyone else ready for that day?

Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ He knew that belief in him would cause division, and he knew it would come at a price. He was more aware than anyone at the evil in this world as he hung on a cross, put there by the religious people of that time.

But he also knew what belief in his father’s Kingdom meant…

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [Revelation 21:3-5]

Jesus himself knew the struggle we would have, so he points us toward the coming Kingdom. He says a day will come that this will all be cleaned up, and while I am gone you can do something about it. Hear that, because we are not meant to sit on our asses and do nothing until that day comes.

I see peace in beautiful sunsets, mountains, oceans and lakes…because I see a reflection of the beauty of God. The same reflection we are supposed to be as believers.

I see peace in the laughter of orphans.

I see peace in the smile of a child holding a bottle of juice as though it is liquid gold.

I see peace in a community that is committed to fighting together for injustice…setting aside their differences and arguments to fight side-by-side for God’s Kingdom.

I see peace in messages from International Justice Mission when they have rescued more girls out of brothels.

I sense peace in the quiet moments God knows I need to rest…even when it is forced rest.

But I will never be at peace in this world. No one will. It’s impossible. There is too much war, suffering and indifference at both to bring peace. God is the only one who will bring real peace. But there are so few in the world who are willing to stand for change…real change. God-directed, Kingdom-focused change that will transform this world. I ache for the peace of that transformation. We all should, because too much is not right in this world…which is why each of us needs to figure out where God has called us individually and as a community to make things right where it has gone so very wrong. Let us be agents fighting for peace, so that we are seen as a reflection of the one we serve.

simplicity

Every time I get back from a mission trip, I wonder how I look to other people.

Sun scorched? More freckles? What do they see in my eyes? Am I more serious? Do I laugh more? Less? Do they mistake my ‘tired’ appearance for the real struggle of transitioning back to the selfish culture we live in? Do I look like God has marked me?

I should.IMG_1139

Because every time…every single time I surrender to God and follow him, he marks me in the global mission field.

It does look different every time, because God needs to change me differently every time. And sometimes I’m not even prepared for what he has in store. Last year in Haiti, I was definitely not prepared. This year…I knew what I needed, and thankfully for once, God and I agreed on my opinion.

Simplicity.

Community.

And hard, sweaty work to make me forget all of the things that I need to do, are expected of me and distract me from my calling.

I needed the simplicity of no cell phone, no internet/email and no one needing anything from me…immediately. The only agenda I wanted was playing around in God’s Global Kingdom work and being with my team, my community, for 8 solid days without any of the add-ons we think we cannot live without.

Honestly, I needed a time out. And I’m starting to think it was not long enough.

That first day in the back of a pick-up truck on the way to a worksite…I took a deep breath for the first time in months that was actually healing. It cleared my brain, my heart and washed away the sticky cobwebs of frustration that like to weave into the corners of my soul. The colossal amount of sweat cleared my eyes, and flooded out the tension and stress that had gathered in my muscles.

I felt free. Finally.

Free to be me.

And I pray in the midst of that freedom those our team was around saw the joy of God in our community, instead of wacky Americans. Or maybe both. But that we shared a piece of ourselves with them, as they did with us.

217391_672439952772791_558712428_nToo often we let our culture and those around us dictate what we think is right and wrong. Too often we silence the voice of God to listen to the things that attract our attention. Too often we tie our joy and contentment to things instead of the One thing. Too often we allow ourselves to get lost in the shuffle of this blip in the timeline of the world, in an American culture that has no depth or richness of character. (Yes, I just said that, and I meant it.)

The arrogance of the American culture saddens and frustrates me. We think ourselves so much higher than ‘third world’ (I hate that term by the way) cultures simply because we have everything we could ever ask for…and more. I mean, honestly, just compare bathrooms, right? *sarcasm* It drives me insane when people rate the standard of living by bathroom standards. Get over it, people. Count yourself lucky that you even have running water, and squat once in a while.

When we let our arrogance for American culture lead our opinions of other countries, we miss out on the beauty, community and amazing ways God is moving. We miss out on the simplicity of living only for Him.

I desperately needed God’s simplicity to take over, and strip off the barriers that had been pushing me into a box to see again the reality of how God has built me.

IMG_0873God built me as a missionary. God built me to be flexible. God built me to be comfortable in other cultures…with languages that are not my own. God built me as a passionate woman who cares about those that others ignore, and who knows what it feels like to draw others to God’s Kingdom work. God built me to be stronger as a part of a team, a community, instead of alone. God built me to be stubborn so that something inside me would withstand the pressure of this world. God built me to cherish how he speaks through scripture, even in the moments when I completely geek out.

God built me with a long memory so that I would know his heart for long-term restoration and transformation. God built me to love relationships so that I would see the tremendous value in discipleship and pouring your life into another.

God built me to love in radical ways because it makes no sense for God to have an ounce of love for a sinner like me…but he DOES and it is UNCONDITIONAL. Period.

This is who I am. It’s not complicated. It’s simple. It’s a work of God.

Marked and called by the living, universal God who asks us to follow him wherever he may lead.

This is who I am.