Thursday, March 14, 2013

Moment or Movement (part 2 of Counting the Co$t)

 I feel that we, as the body of Christ are at least as accountable as they are for the lack of cost counting going on. I think that we (Christians, teachers, missionaries, etc) sometimes get so excited about someone accepting Christ (which don’t mistake me, is DEFINITELY something to get excited about) I think it’s very easy to get caught up in the world of exploding church numbers, converted refuges, youth groups outgrowing their building, and salvation on the mission field. But are we truly giving people a chance to see the true meaning of become a Christian. Of Christ living IN us. Do they understand that their salvation will be “worked out” over time and through many trials and tribulations. Has anyone told them that sometimes being a Christian is not glorious, rewarding, or even moderately comfortable, but sometimes it is suffering, sacrifice, and perhaps even despair that clings to the hope that Christ is at work. Do we allow people to see this whole picture? Or do we paint a pretty picture to “make God look good” so that people will want to be on His team. Seriously? It blows my mind that we think we need to make God look good, and yet I see it a lot, and I shamefully admit I am no exception. Ironically while counting the cost is a biblical principle, putting an all positive slant on God or Christian living is not. In fact the bible says we will take part in the sufferings of Christ and warns that we should expect to suffer/sacrifice for our faith. I think we often blow by these verses attributing them to monks & martyrs when perhaps God means for us to be applying them to movies and modesty.

If you been following this blog you know I spent the better part of 2012 in a rural village in Guinea-Bissau (West Africa) and let me tell you what, I didn’t see a lot of moments where people were overcome by God and in an instant tore all the animistic charms from their children, smashed their little idol huts, stopped lying, cheating & stealing, became gentle and faithful husbands, etc but I did see a lot of MOVEMENT. I saw a lot of movement toward Christ. I saw believers questioning the status quo in their culture, cutting charms off their children,  refusing to participate in the anamistic ceramonial washing after an unmarried woman gives birth, and loving those who persecuted them for their faith. I witnessed believers in various stages of their faith journey taking steps to make their life look more like the teachings of Christ. Truely allowing the Holy Spirit to renew their mind. And isn’t that the point?

I would like to be clear about something. I’m not saying that God doesn’t ever change a man’s heart overnight. I’m sure it happens and who am I to say how God moves in someone else’s life. But I am suggesting that I think we should be aware, as a Christian church, that we can get really caught up in these glorious "moments" which are often quick to fade awaywhen the fruit which the Holy Spirit truly produces in someone’s life shouldn’t be confined in a moment but worked out in a movement.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Counting the Co$t (part 1)

The biblical truth God revealed to me through my Guinensee friends

Picture this. You're sitting comfortably in your pew trying not to let your thoughts wander to the errands you need to run after church. Your pastor begins to preach, and boy is it a great sermon. Ya know, the kind that gets everyone stirring, but not because they're bored, because they're uncomfortable, in a good way! You begin to think about your life, and you know you've gone astray. As he brings his sermon to a close the pastor invites all who would like to accept Christ as their lord, or to recommit their lives to Christ to come forward. You know this is you. You should go... but just then the man next to you stands up. You're pretty sure he's a Christian, or at least he's been attending church every Sunday for about a year now. He comes to church with his child, dressed well, and knows the part. He clears his throat and everyone direct their attention toward him. "Good morning everyone. I would just like to say that I've been coming here for about a year now. I've learned a lot about God and his love for me, and I know I need his forgiveness in my life. The thing is, I really love going to the clubs to get wasted and dance provocatively with women on the weekends, and I know God doesn't like that, so if you'd like to pray for me I'm just going to continue to think about this a little more." Shocking isn’t it? Not so much that someone would think those things, but for someone to actually say them seems absurd, almost ludicrous.

When I think about what the reaction may be if this were to take place in my own loving congregation, I'm not sure if there would be a deafening silence or an audible gasp. My church family is fantastic, but the perspective here doesn’t' reflect a lack of love by our church families, but rather a distorted perspective on conversion. You see in our culture I think we relish this magical defining moment where you decide to live for Christ and overwhelmed with spiritual enlightenment and live happily ever after. It seems we sometime mistake a proclamation of faith as a step into faultlessness. But the reality is that many, though emotionally stirred in their heart and perhaps truly moved by the spirit, are indeed longing for the God sized whole to be filled in their lives, but never commit with their head. Which produces a group of people rather easily enticed to get on the train but then after some rough track, have decided this train is really not for them and are quickly ready to get off at the next stop.

So why does this happen? Are they just bad people? Flakey? Faking? Perhaps none of those at all. But rather they don't think about the way that this Christian “religion,” which is actually a  relationship with a living God, will need to affect their decisions in town Friday night, or in a Tuesday office board meeting. The problem then is that when these moments arise, they're willing to explain away their choices and we so often accept their blubbering attempts to justify blatant sin. Or, perhaps they do all the right things for a while but at some point they are tired of juggling a balance, between their two desires.. The cognitive dissonance caused by the conflicting interests (to grow closer to God and to lead a self serving life) is more than they can bear, so they gradually grow distant from their church friends and stop showing up on Sundays, until you don't see them at all. So why does this happen? Why are these people leaving the body of Christ to serve themselves? They didn't count the cost my friends. It possible that they were misinformed and didn’t know it. Or maybe they approached it like that bill that’s been laying on the table for 10 days now and is about to be late but you can’t bring yourself to open it because you’re just so afraid you don’t be able to pay. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear to me. They didn't count the cost.

Though it may be socially unacceptable in our own church culture, it seems to me that counting the cost is a biblical principle.

The Cost of Being a Disciple (from Luke)

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. 34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.


( be continued)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Amish Country, West-Africa & the ¼ mile in between

A standard ¼ mile high school track spanning over 4,000miles from Lancaster, PA to Catel, Guinea Bissau. That would be impressive, would it not? Or maybe you’d consider it impossible. I certainly believe God is sovereign, ruling over all things, and therefore if He decided tomorrow that the ¼ mile track at CV high school should stretch out until it reaches the clinic of Catel, he could certainly do that. But that is someone else’s story. Here is mine.
Watching the beautiful sunrise as I sipped on morning “coffee” (my hot, coffee flavored, powdered milk beverage) and had my quiet time before heading down to the clinic to treat fungus, STDs, burns, and maybe even suture up a machete wound. Then after clinic head back to the house to hand scrub the tye-dye ankle length dresses I had soaking in a giant basin on the veranda since the day before, go visit some friends, come home and cook diner, get water from the well and shower, and then maybe go lead a kids worship night at church, participate in singing worship with other missionaries at our house, or back out to visit friends in the village until bed time. Of course there were many variations to my daily routine  including but not limited to catching public transport and going to a local market to do some shopping, women’s bible study, going to buy meds in larger villages such as Ingoré  or São Domingos, doing clinic visits for those who were too sick to make it to the clinic, hours spent chatting under my favorite mango tree, warga (gunpowder tea served in 3 separate rounds in tiny glasses sometimes mixes with mint or coffee and always with lots of sugar) and the list goes on. I dare not leave out my favorite past time of Catel, just sitting and being with people. But I think I’ve pained the picture for you.

 That’s a “typical” day in Catel, where I ended up, but how did I get there? If my memory serves me correctly it began after a long winded guilt trip and concussion education because I unsnapped my life vest during a few minutes of the six hours we spent out on the Susquehanna “river” (that was so low we had to get out a few times to drag the boat) kayaking that afternoon. As we pulled out my partner in lifejacket crimes, and longtime best friend and EMT, cautiously began asking if I had plans for the evening then continued to explain that she’d forgotten he signed up to walk/run in the Relay for Life even being held at a local high school with LEMSA (the ambulance company she works for). I laughed in disbelief wondering if she forgot we’d just spent all afternoon in the scorching sun kayaking, before realizing she wasn’t kidding and she wanted me to go. So after over a decade of friendship and since it was for such a great cause, a few hours later I found myself wandering around the track at Conestoga Valley High school looking for the familiar faces of LEMSA personnel. Though it’s amazing how difficult it can be to find a group of people who can’t be more than 1/8 mile away from you at any given time on a quarter mile track, we eventually caught up with them and Meg introduced me to those I didn’t know from the ER, including Sean Fitzgerald. Sean’s a cool guy. He love helping people,  is always cracking jokes and, as I would soon find out, is up for almost anything.
How exactly do you occupy your time while you circle around and around a ¼ miletrack? Chat of course. And it was during the course of that conversation that Sean shared he’d recently been accepted to serve in a clinic in Guinea-Bissau with Eastern Mennonite Missions.  Now the truth is I’m a nurse, a math and science kind of girl. Geography, however, is not exactly my strong point. Though it’s fairly safe to say a country with a name you’ve never heard is most likely in Africa, one never can be sure, so I shamefully needed to ask exactly where Guinea-Bissau was. But as the night went on and we began discussing missions and Africa I was re-awakened to my passion for both of the prior and began to pray for patience, having just graduated from nursing school seven months before and began a RN-BSN program a mere 3 months prior, it was not good timing to be thinking missions. Or so I thought. And so when we left a few hours later, though I wanted to keep in touch with Sean and try to offer support in whatever way I could, though Sean mentioned calling EMM for information I had zero intention of pursuing this and in fact repeatedly reminded myself and my best friend that though God has been stirring in my heart for some time to serve in missions in a larger capacity, now was not the time.

Within a few weeks Sean had contacted me saying EMM was looking for at least 2 medical providers to go to Catel and perhaps a nurse. I remember the moment vividly. I was once again with my best-friend Meg, but this time I was riding shotgun and we were headed down Rt 1 on our way to the beach. Having overheard the conversation about EMM wanting to send a nurse she said “I’m pretty sure you’re going to Guinea-Bissau.” Shocked at her confident observation, I confessed that with each short term mission trip I had gone on God has grown and grown my heart for missions until my friend from nursing school basically drug me out of Malawi, and my calling to missions was clarified to return to Africa after a few trips to non-african 3rd world countries but I was stubborn and continued to explain the 100 reasons why it couldn’t be me, not now, I knew nothing about Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese, Sean or EMM, I was in the midst of a RN-BSN program, I was just getting acclimated to my RN role in the Emergency Room, not to mention that the team was leaving in December and going required raising thousands of dollars that I did not have and the list went on. Looking back I wonder who I was trying to convince. It certainly wasn’t my friend. Perhaps myself or even God. I didn’t yet see how He was at work in this, how He was about to fulfill so many of my desires beyond but what I could ever imagine.  Less than 2 months later I was sitting on a picnic bench in Salunga with EMM staff, thrilled and terrified to be signing up for the next adventure God had led me to… Catel, Guinea-Bissau.

In the roughly two months in between the relay for life event where I ran into sean and the day I officially decided to go I prayed,prayed, and prayed some more. I First prayed that God would give me patience and help me forget about it, then that God would lead me to His will, next that he would tell me if this (Guinea-Bissau December 2011) was the mission to which He was leading me, and then finally as I began to step out and coordinate things with EMM I continuously asked for Him to confirm that calling. While I didn’t get the burning bush or stone tablet I was looking for, one thing I repeatidly hear from God during this time was that if I could think of one reason which was not rooted in fear not to go, then I shouldn’t go. “But God, what if I can’t find a job when I get back?” Fear. “What if I can’t find enough supporters?” Fear. “What if I don’t know enough or have enough experience to treat people there?” Fear. Though some of these fears were legitimate concerns, they were all fears. Thus though terrified, dumbfounded and completely clueless, I stepped out and told EMM I was interested in going. And one by one the obstacles began to fall away as God opened door after door, and began to combat many of the fears that I’d wrestled with up until this point.

Little did I know, on that warm summer evening after a long day on the river, that with each passing lap on the track God was nudging my heart closer to the next chapter He had for me that brought the greatest joy of my life. As with most catalysts for spiritual growth, that journey was not without times of pain and trial but I saw God move in the hearts of many of my Guinensee friends, in my own heart, and most of all he vibrantly illuminated the deep and ever growing calling that He put in my life for missions.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Family Fun

... with my Guinensee family that is!

Fatimata and her youngest daughter Nene
This picture was taken at the end of a long a difficult week for Fatimata, and the night before I left. I stayed at their house late into the night until another friend convinced me I really had to get some sleep before my long day of traveling. Miss them like crazy, cherish every moment we get to talk, and continue to pray for their salvation.
Mai Sambu & I  October 2012
 Mai is such a dear friend and I remain encouraged and hopeful for the work the God is doing in her life along with the amazing transformation I witnessed in her life and in the lives of those around her during my time in Catel. I pray for our Father to bless and keep her as she cares for her family and continues to speak into the lives of those around her.
May she rise up to be a God fearing leader of the women in Catel.

My boy Eva

Ana and Eliza having fun with Lia :)

Benson and Eva
So many great memories of these 2. Them sneaking food off the plate as I'm cooking it, bathing in our wash tubs, coming down to keep me company in the clinic on rainy days, finding them with huge chunks of out hot pink Santex (Antibacterial soap) mashed into their head after I told them they had to wash their hair every day to get rid of the fungus, them coming to jumbai on the veranda like adults, and of course my newest memory is all the stories I've been told about Eva telling his mother she can stay with the rice but he's going to America to see Terianne.
These two warmed my heart and I continue to pray for them.

"Little" Eliza, now so grown up, came along with
the other kiddos to say good-bye.

Sunday 28/10/12 - Children from Sunday School came to sing to me while I was waiting for a car to Senegal
When they all returned to the church Chad tried to encourage Eva to go, and even tried to carry him over, but Eva refused.
Then as we embarked on the public transport van, Eva suddenly plunged for the door and started yelling my Blanata name. How can a 4year old understand such a time? It broke my heart. I miss you little buddy.    <3

Fatimata, myself & Adramani
Not the best photo quality, but the 2 best friends ever. Better than I could have ever asked for!
Saying Goodbye was terribly difficult but God will carry out his plans and I continue to pray for them every day.
So thankful for all of the language, culture, and life lessons learned with both of them.
What a blessing