A Getaway Plane, a Virus, and Resurrection

At 11:07, near Gate 75, I nearly fall asleep while typing, wondering if there is any point in even trying to capture these thoughts in a meaningful way. It is not only a moment of personal exhaustion but also of worldwide panic. If I don’t concentrate on something, though, I’ll fall asleep and miss what could be one of the last planes leaving for my other home.

It was supposed to be a flight out of Syracuse originally, then JFK. But at the end of a crazy day, I’m in Toronto, because the chances of actually getting back to Brasil from here seemed higher.

It’s only one day sooner than I was supposed to leave, and there is no denying the conviction that I need to get out before the door closes. As wonderful as the past 8 months of home assignment have been, the time has come to leave. Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, my American home is not the place to wait it out.

After my dad and a friend from church dropped me off, I verified that the flight was still on time, then paused, overwhelmed with gratitude and relief tinged by uncertainty. The normal emotions of saying goodbye and heading off alone were accompanied by slight guilt for leaving a place and people that I love in a time of crisis.

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Holding back tears, I wished my phone had enough battery left to watch the video of “Confidence”, the song four friends played and sang as a going-away surprise in church yesterday.

A woman walks down the hall many yards away. From that distance, her red coat looks like the one a friend has been wearing all winter. For a split-second, my heart jumps with a thrill of joy, then falls immediately when I realize that my friend, who I said goodbye to less than 7 hours ago is back in Lowville, and we won’t see each other for three years.

And already I miss her and her family so much that my eyes fill with tears, prompting the question,

“Why am I even doing this if it hurts so much?”

But now is no time for reflection or meditation, or meltdowns. I must stop thinking about friends and family and all the special memories shared in recent days. That will have to wait.

So I go into travel mode instead, and get in the Air Canada line to check my bags.

Having pushed aside the grief of departure, I suddenly remember how much I love airports.  As liminal places, where transition is the norm, not the exception, airports facilitate both reunions and farewells, and are portals for people embarking on new adventures.

If I lived in a city with an airport, I would go there frequently to get work done. It would be an ideal place to think and pray and write, with plenty of events to watch and people to meet during study breaks. Despite certainty that a direct flight was the wiser choice this trip, it was actually rather disappointing that this new flight eliminated my 11-hour study time during the intended connection in Miami.

But back to Toronto. In less than half an hour, in addition to checking two 70-pound suitcases, I was able to:

  • Chat with an endearing family from Johannesburg, South Africa, whose holiday in Canada was cut short and who were very enthusiastic to hear that I’ll be doing Bible translation.
  • Meet a lady who has to have a layover in Brasil and is hoping not to get stuck there as she attempts to find a way home to Chile in the midst of cancelled flights and closing borders.
  • Help an Asian man figure out how to make water come out of a fountain. He expressed his gratitude enthusiastically with a series of bows and a huge smile.
  • Encourage a young, exhausted-looking mom of a two-year-old boy, who had to cancel travel plans to visit his daddy in Trinidad.
  • Talk with a man heading to visit his family in Pakistan, where, according to him, they are safe from the virus.

Did I mention that airports are delightful? Besides the thrill of every takeoff, I love meeting people, hearing their stories, making connections, and sharing Jesus.

Did I also mention that airports are confusing? Staying up all night to finish packing didn’t contribute to mental clarity.

Three proofs of my exhaustion:

  • Trying to go through security with the baggage cart.
  • Misinterpreting the gestures of an agent, thinking he was telling me to dump my water, which I was planning to do anyway, when he was actually directing me to a different door.
  • Walking through security with my sneakers on the whole time, never even thinking about taking them off until other people were putting theirs back on.

In my defense, by the time the sneakers incident happened, I was focused on a new temporary life mission: Cheer Up as Many Security Workers as Possible in Two-Minute Encounters. Most of them seemed really grumpy and irritable, which totally makes sense with all they must be dealing with recently.

Unfortunately, the only joke that came to mind was one I made up today with a reference to the book of Habakkuk. Since that would not be universally appreciated, I stuck with smiling and making an extra effort to be grateful and friendly.

The security workers must have been almost as overtired as I was, since they didn’t notice my sneakers. Or maybe they simply chose not to say anything out of kindness, because this is not a typical night in a typical airport.

Today, nearly everyone who is flying is facing unexpected circumstances or life changes or cancelled plans because of a global crisis. And that goes for people who aren’t in airports as well.

A virus so tiny we can’t see it is changing our world in ways so huge they cannot be denied.

We are fragile, vulnerable, formed from the dust to which we are destined to return.

Yet disease and death are not invincible superpowers. They will not be the end of the story for anyone who is in Christ Jesus.

As He said to Martha, four days after her world had fallen apart, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” John 11:25

If we believe in Jesus, we have eternal life today, right now.

We, as people of the resurrection, have the opportunity to breathe Jesus’ life to those who only sense the death and darkness, the chaos and confusion of these moments.

What words of life and hope and joy can we speak to people around us?

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The Friday before coming back.

In the midst of isolation and social distancing and separation, will we encourage others, intentionally building bridges of relationship in new and creative ways?

Even though our specific situations and responses to challenge and loss vary, can we be honest about feeling some combination of frustration, fear, anxiety, grief, or other messy emotions?

Can the solidarity of knowing we are all facing sudden unprecedented change connect us to the rest of humanity in a way that wasn’t possible before?

Will we have the confidence to believe and declare that Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, is still at work in and through our lives, and in this chaotic world?

8 Things I Miss About the Village

Two of the most frequently asked questions as a missionary is finishing up home assignment are,

“Are you excited to leave? and “Are you excited to go back?”

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No one has ever asked me both of those questions, however. It is either the first or the second. I finally figured out that the reason either one of those questions seems complicated is because answering both questions is the only way to give an accurate picture without oversimplifying the situation.

So are you ready for both answers?

No, I am not excited to leave. Saying good-bye to family and friends that I love is always painful and hard and sad.

Yes, I am very excited to go back. I love the friends and the life God has given me in the jungle and even while I have loved being here, have missed being there at the same time.

After explaining that paradox to some friends a couple weeks ago, someone asked what I miss about the village.

Well, the biggest and obvious answer is my friends who live there, but here a few specific descriptions, in no particular order, of things I miss.

  1. The effortlessness of spending time with people. Rather than calling to schedule something for the next day or week, or ask if someone is home so I can go visit, all I have to do is leave my house and walk around the village until I find someone sitting on benches outdoors or in their kitchen houses. Due to their culture’s natural hospitality and acceptance, and almost 3 years of intentional relationship-building, I am welcome to just walk in, sit down, or join in whatever activity might be happening, no questions asked, except for the traditional question like the one you ask friends when you first see them each day, “Did you wake up?” This lifestyle of togetherness and community is a wonderful way to live.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
  1. The look of delight and pride on the face of one of my best friends when I get things right in their language, or ask an insightful question about the culture. She has invested countless hours in patiently teaching me, and we have grown so much together, as teacher and student, and as friends.
  1. Little children yelling at my door during my third or fourth shower (cool-off technique) of the day, “What are you doing?” Well, they can hear the water running, so they know I’m showering. They just want me to hurry up so I can let them in to come play with my toys. The funniest occasion was when the little girl who tries to take charge of every situation, yelled in the most demanding voice a 4-year-old could muster, “Hurry up and let us in, cuz these bugs are biting us!”, as if there were no other houses in the village where they could escape the bugs, and I was a horribly neglectful person for failing to grant immediate refuge. These little friends make me laugh so much. I thank God for all the children He has placed in my life who enjoy spending time with me.
  1. The peace and stillness after the generator is turned off, normally between 9 and 10 pm. After everyone has gone to bed, with the background music of singing birds and insects, it feels like it is just Jesus and I alone, with no one else awake in the world to interrupt our time together. Many nights I step outside for a minute or two to gaze at the starry Amazon sky that He created. Even if the day might have been filled with stress or physical pain or discouragement or tears or a sense of failure, the beauty of that sight never fails to fill my soul with wonder and stir my heart to worship our Creator and Saviour.
  1. Not needing to deal with money or shopping or errands or appointments for months at a time. 
  2. Seeing brightly-colored parrots and macaws fly overhead as I walk across the village and remembering again, with a thrill, that I live in the real, live, Amazon rainforest.IMGP9652
  1. Being engaged in a lifestyle of ministry in which I am reminded on a daily basis that I do not have what it takes to do what Jesus has called me to do. That is true in the States as well, but it isn’t quite as apparent. In a culture that I am still becoming part of but will never completely belong in, my incompetence and weakness is very obvious to everyone. I’m not strong enough or brave enough or smart enough or organized enough or healthy enough or spiritual enough. Whether it is my inability to adjust to the heat, cope with stress, pronounce words, keep bugs out of my food, use a machete, handle a complicated cultural situation, or trust God instead of worrying, I am in way over my head in the village. And this is good. Abiding in Jesus comes more naturally when we are constantly confronted with practical examples of the reality that we can do nothing on our own.watching ee
  1. The daily suspense of waking up with no idea what could happen on a given day, but knowing that if I am in the right place at the right moment, there will probably be exciting culture events or interesting conversations to participate in. Knowing that I’ve missed out on lots of events and conversations since July increases my anticipation to return and jump back into language and culture learning with my friends. Every day in the jungle is an adventure!

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Remember the Red Rose

This is the post in which I share a story from nearly 6 years ago that I have been too ashamed of to write down or tell anyone. So if you have other things to do, feel free to stop reading. Just kidding. Hopefully the lessons God taught me using a red rose will help or challenge you.

Last week was Valentine’s Day, as you probably noticed. I went to Wal-Mart to buy pizza toppings, the last phone card needed for this home assignment, and the thinnest socks possible for bug protection in the jungle. I hadn’t been in the USA in February since 2013, and had forgotten what a commercialized holiday this is. Flowers and chocolate and sappy cards, oh my!

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Still, I remember enough of North American culture to know that February 14 is a day when emotions run high, hearts are especially fragile, and hidden pain resurfaces.

So, standing in the candy aisle, a random urge from the night before to buy a Valentine’s gift for someone, didn’t seem like the best idea. Even expressions of friendship can be taken the wrong way when you don’t know a person well. And I am no longer comfortable enough in the American culture to navigate social situations and holiday expectations skillfully.

That insecurity prompted a flood of other fears. In my heartfelt desire for friends and acquaintances to experience Jesus’ love and believe in Him as their Saviour, do conversations end up being directed by me, and not His Spirit? Do I say things that push people away from Jesus instead of draw them towards Him? Do I try to run ahead of the Holy Spirit instead of walking after Him as a follower of Jesus? What if, whether here or in the village, in efforts to connect and serve and be a friend, I just mess things up?

As these emotions stirred in my heart, I gazed at the overwhelming number and style of candy boxes.

And a small voice suddenly whispered, “Remember the red rose.”

Even a siren or a snake or a stampede of army ants couldn’t have gotten my attention any quicker. I hadn’t thought about the red rose for a long time.

It happened in 2014, the summer that Brazil hosted the World Cup. Lots of ministry sprung up that year, some of which focused on outreach to women working in the sex industry, as well as prevention of human trafficking, which escalates in places where major sporting events are held. One ministry initiative was Festa na Rua (Party in the Street), a monthly event held in a different urban location each time. One evening that I had signed up to help, my Brasilian dad found me a ride with a young couple who were heading towards that area of the city, to spare me the normal 2 or 3 hour commute by public transportation.

Enroute, we were accosted by a street vendor. It is very common for Brasilians to go into business, selling candy or bottled water or other small items on the streets. Drivers stopped at red lights are viewed as potential customers.

This businessman was not peddling any of the common commodities, however, but was selling red roses. This was the first time I had seen a flower salesman at a stoplight.

And I suddenly felt an urge to buy a rose. “What kind of crazy idea was that?” I wondered. Sure, I come up with lots of crazy ideas on a regular basis (don’t ask my siblings), but this one seemed especially odd. Why in the world would I buy a rose?

For one thing, I had never made a habit of buying from street peddlers, and, less than halfway through missions training, I was on an extremely tight student budget. Also, I’d be helping set up for a party, and taking public transportation back home at midnight. A rose would get ruined. And what would the people I was riding with think of a strange American who randomly bought a rose for no logical reason?

But a small internal voice insisted, “Buy a rose!” I didn’t listen.

The light changed to green, we drove on, and I suppressed the feeling that I had made a wrong choice, distracting myself through conversation, and the building excitement for a Party in the Street.

The group heading up the event had a well-laid plan. We talked, prayed, and headed out to the designated corner, loaded down with food, soda, decorations, music, gift bags, and excitement to see God work.

Our location was a neighborhood known as “Luz”, the Portuguese word for “Light,” yet a place of darkness, where women work in an industry which devalues and dehumanizes them. Unimaginable stories of hopelessness, tragedy, poverty and abuse, in many cases, drive women to places where instead of receiving compassion, they are often judged and stigmatized.

Our desire was to bring light into this dark neighborhood, and connect with ladies working there. We prayed that they would sense that we loved and valued them as individuals, and start to believe that Jesus loves and values them and has a purpose for their lives.

It was an unconventional and terrific party! Many people who stopped by seemed excited about the refreshments and small gifts and the chance to socialize.

One of these was a lady we’ll call Annabelle. After listening to her story and sharing a bit of mine, I asked Annabelle the question which had been suggested by the party coordinators as a way to turn the conversation towards Jesus, and lay the foundation for the Gospel message to be shared.

“What was the most memorable or meaningful gift you have ever been given?”

Her answer came without hesitation. The most meaningful gift Annabelle had ever received was red roses.

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My heart sank with the realization I had messed up big-time. God wanted to use me to give Annabelle another red rose as a tangible expression of His love, to show that He saw her and knew her story and her heart. The small gift of a red rose might have proved to her that God’s big gift of salvation through Jesus had her name on it as well.

But I had disobeyed the Holy Spirit, classifying His voice as a “crazy urge”. Choosing common sense over the illogical, propriety over spontaneity, safety over risk, a seat in the boat over a walk on the waves with Jesus, I didn’t buy a rose. What seemed like an insignificant incident became a significant regret. If only it would have been possible to go back to that stoplight, buy the rose, and give it to Annabelle.

She still heard the message of the Gospel that night. I pray that she still sensed Jesus’ love and compassion during our 15-minute conversation. But she didn’t receive the rose. And I missed out on being the delivery girl for what could have been a meaningful miracle.

As a daughter of God, I already know I am loved and valued, yet I still need the Gospel just as much as anyone else.

So what is the Gospel? The good news about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Even though we were all born sinners by nature, wanting to do things our own way, with a bent toward sin and away from God, He loved us so much that He sent Jesus, His only Son. Jesus died for you and me and for the whole world, regardless of our job or background or belief system. He took the punishment for our sin to bring us back to God, as His children, and give us everlasting life.

But not only did Jesus bring me back to God when I believed in Him for salvation from sin; He continues to draw my heart back to God whenever I turn away. Being in vocational ministry and living in a jungle does not exempt me from ignoring God’s direction or believing lies or living in fear of what others will think. So Jesus continually calls me back into the light, when it feels safer to stay in the dark corners of the nearest comfort zone rather than walk by faith.

God is still transforming my heart and renewing my mind. He graciously used the red rose incident as a catalyst for growth and change.

Since then I have been more aware of His still, small voice, and obeying it, sometimes even without being 100% sure of whether it is the Holy Spirit or a random urge. While it’s still a struggle sometimes, I’d rather do something that appears crazy than risk missing out on being part of something God wants to do in another person’s life. Although it often means embracing the unknown, jumping out of the boat, and redefining comfort zones, I’m all in. 

So on February 14th, while not overly excited about the commercialism of this holiday in our culture, I bought and delivered the box of candy embossed with a shiny red rose, along with a small bouquet of fresh flowers.

Did those Valentines’ gifts become miraculous tools used by God? I have no idea, which is fine. That’s God’s business. But I do have faith that the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart of this person, praying that He will draw her to Jesus someday, and that my attempts of friendship might be seen as small expressions of His love.

In the adventure of walking by faith, in confidence that the mission is His, not mine, I’m trusting that God will keep me from messing up too badly as I continue to grow in grace, learning to recognize His leading in both the major and minor situations of life. I’m believing that as I live by God’s Word and abide in Christ, my conversations will be led by His Spirit not by my own agenda.

And one of the things I am 100% sure of is that whenever I do mess up, or even choose to disobey, like that afternoon in São Paulo, our loving Heavenly Father will always forgive, and continue to use me, not because I’m perfect, but because He is so perfect that He is powerful enough to use weak and broken ones to accomplish His work in this world, despite our failures and mistakes.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

A Christmas Letter (2016)

Greetings! Please excuse the unanticipated silence on this blog. While an update of what has been happening the last few months might seem the most logical way to re-open communication, I will save that for later this week.

Since Advent, as a season of anticipation and preparation, can also lead us into times of reflection and reminiscing, here is a letter written in 2016, but never mailed or shared until tonight. 

abia

It is 11 PM in the jungle.  Some of the villagers have already gone to bed.  Those who remain here in the meeting-house sit in chairs or on benches, everyone waiting for someone else to lead out in a dance, but all of us too tired to actually do so.  As we sit here, listening to the loud music, swatting bugs, waiting for midnight, drinking coffee to stay awake, and wondering if there will be more dancing, my mind skips across a couple thousand miles to a much more familiar Christmas scene.

Squeezing my eyes shut and sitting on my hands, I am instantly transported to Bethel Church of the Nazarene, imagining myself there with all of you tonight, just a few hours ago.  It is easy to picture the candles in their little wooden holders on the walls, the placement of the wreaths and poinsettias, the familiar Nativity set and Christmas tree.  I can imagine Zach leading the traditional carols and playing guitar, and hear Pastor’s voice talking about who Jesus is to the Architect, the Painter, the Doctor, the Teacher, the Composer, the Florist.  And then I see the candle.  You remember the one. You saw it this evening. That candle which persists, every single Christmas Eve, in remaining unlit.

One small light.  No one will miss it.  Except they will. One small light.  It won’t make a difference.  But does it make a difference?  It does.  Everyone notices that candle more than the others, because it is not shining.

And this year, I realize that I am one little light, missing from your midst, no longer shining with all of you into the darkness of Lewis County.  But I’m not that candle, standing in its normal place but neglecting to shine.  I am a candle that God called and sent to a different dark place, a village in the Amazon rainforest.

This is not just my calling, however; it is our calling. I am a light that you sent here, in partnership with God. Even though some of you knew you would really miss me, and that even my little light could have made a difference shining with the rest of you in Lewis County, you chose to walk in obedience to God, and step out in faith with me. Although it was hard to say goodbye, you sent me out from among you, through the doors that God opened, to the place and the people He put on my heart initially, and then on all of our hearts.

We are a family, a community, a body.  Every time a member leaves, whether temporarily or permanently, it makes a difference and leaves a gap, an empty space in the candle stand. At least a couple dozen names come effortlessly to mind, of those who have left our church and continue to be missed, both for who they are and for the ways they served as part of the body of Christ.

In my case, my leaving necessitated “quitting” Good News Club ministry, the ladies’ prayer group, piano playing, Christmas drama planning, VBS, caroling.  There’s one less person to vacuum and put away chairs after a fellowship meal, or carry dishes up to the pavilion.  Many of you get one less hug every single Sunday.

And I was obviously not indispensable, because the ministry of a church is not dependent on any one person, no matter how involved they might be.  Jesus is the Head of the Church, and He is faithful.  He fills needs and provides other people to serve.  Many of you stepped in to fill the small gaps my departure caused.  And if a thread or two was left hanging, they weren’t essential threads, as all of you continue to reach out, serve and make a difference.  While I was not in any way necessary to your team, I was part of it, so, as happens every time someone leaves, the team is not exactly the same as it used to be.

Your sending has been financial as well.  The money you gave in several generous offerings, and that some of you individually give each month, has been God’s tangible, physical provision to build my house and keep me here, and pay for all the needs this past year.  I know money is often tight and it’s hard to pay the bills and care for families, yet you selflessly set aside hard-earned income, giving to Jesus by giving to me and our village friends. 

And you know what?  This Christmas, I hope you don’t miss me too much, because hopefully you are mostly thinking about Jesus, the first and best Christmas gift, sent to all of us. I pray that you are rejoicing in His birth, and longing for His return. Hopefully you are busy sharing Jesus’ love and hope with those in Lewis County who still don’t know Him. Hopefully you are focusing on special times and memories and treasuring the people who you are with this year.  But, admitting to some Christmas homesickness here, I do hope that just once or twice during the Advent season, you have noticed my absence, and missed me just a little bit.

Because here in the jungle, even though I am loving this Christmas and feeling so privileged and blessed to spend it with these new friends, I miss all of you like crazy.

Christmas and Advent will never be the same without you. For me, the important externals of Christmas are not the caroling and traditions and liturgy and special foods and decorations, as wonderful as all of those are.  The important externals of Christmas are family, and shared experiences worshipping and celebrating and remembering Jesus.  And you are my family.

First and foremost, of course, Christmas is about Jesus. But it is also about celebrating Jesus with family, reaching out to others as a family, and making special memories with family.  And ever since I was 6 years old, that family has been you.

But the sadness of missing all of you and being faraway at Christmastime is easier to endure remembering that the celebration in Heaven someday will be bigger and better than any Christmas celebration in any culture.  And how exciting to realize that, by God’s grace, we pray and believe that our obedience will result in more brothers and sisters joining us as part of His family, as part of the kingdom, as part of the universal church.  And everyone would surely agree that this makes a few tears and a little homesickness all worth it, for the glory of the One whose birth we celebrate, who is worthy of all the praises we could sing and any gift we could ever bring.

So it would seem that I am a gift this year.  A great big Christmas present without a gift bag or wrapping paper.  There have been many times I feel like God could have picked someone better, sent a better present to these precious people.  Why did He send me?  There are certainly missionaries out there who are more intelligent, more talented, more resistant to bugs and bacteria, more determined and faithful.  But the fact remains, that He uses weak and unlikely vessels to accomplish His purposes. We are the ones that God chose to give to these people, for His own reasons and plans. We are the gift.

Thank you for sending me. I love you. 

And just so you know, I am already hoping to spend Christmas 2019 right there in Lewis County with all of you – hanging up the greens, singing Christmas carols, playing piano if needed, going to the party and Advent activities, enjoying lots of snow, and most of all delighting in special moments with all of you, celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Saviour.

So, please, keep up those traditions, and don’t go anywhere!

(Unless God sends you to some other place where the light of Jesus still hasn’t shined or where the Bible has not yet been translated or where there is a need He calls you to meet. In that case, you should definitely go).

Merry Christmas!

Luke 1:76-79 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

 

 

I’m Already Going

à tere unkaliá.

I’m already going. I’m on my way.

One week left. In seven days I’ll be leaving this jungle village, leaving all of you. Oh, it’s not a permanent good-bye. But nine months seems like such a long time.

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As this picture shows, I actually already left. Wrote this blog on June 10th, but just posting now.

Entreat me not to leave you. Where you are, I have come. Where you lodge, I also lodge. Your people have become my people.

Today I ask you, my beloved village friends, how can I leave this place of learning and becoming, where my mere attempts to talk or use your simple everyday tools like machetes result in laughter and memories and an occasional minor injury?

How can I spend nine months separated from you who have become my teachers and friends while I have, to some extent, in the process of learning your words and your ways, become one of you?

How can I say goodbye to you who have put up with me, given me the most delicious fish the world has to offer, and appreciated the simplest of my homemade cakes more than any other group of people ever has?

How can I leave my little house in the jungle, whose thatch roof and dirt floor in the kitchen delight the depths of my being in a way I never imagined architecture could?

How can I bid farewell to the stunning Amazon night sky that never fails to remind me of the greatness and power of our Creator and Savior?

Saying goodbye to you who are still longing for the Word of God in your language pierces my heart like a sharp deadly arrow that your people used to use.

While I desperately need a break from the heat and some of the physical and emotional challenges faced in recent months, I find myself reluctant to say goodbye to the intensity of life here. The incredible mixture of persistent pain and extreme grace has kept me clinging desperately to Jesus while falling deeper in love with Him. Why would I take a break from that?

But that “other world” where I was born and raised is part of God’s purpose and plan, just as essential to my calling as language and culture acquisition in your world is. Rest and different ministry opportunities and time with family and friends are other ways in which Jesus will show me His abundant mercy and grace. 

So I’m already going.

As a culture that values family relationships and honor very highly, it is easy for you to understand that I miss my family. You have expressed your happiness that I will soon see them again. I love all of you dearly, but obviously I also love my parents and sisters and brothers and grandparents and nieces and nephews and church family and other friends, and it isn’t right to stay far away from all of them forever.

A nephew was born five months ago that I haven’t yet seen. I am excited to meet him and hold him and watch him grow. I am excited to once again spend family time with my family, as you have graciously allowed me to spend almost three years with yours.

All the accumulated memories and shared experiences and solid friendships have already caused me to cry repeatedly at the thought of saying good-bye. When I told some of you about my tears and sadness, it totally made sense to you. Why wouldn’t I cry? While I’m excited to see my family, obviously I’ll miss you like crazy while I am far away in their land. And of course you’ll miss me just as much, especially when you see my empty little house. Goodbyes are awful. Togetherness is precious.

To my four-year-old friend:

Yesterday I almost cried when you and your cousin were here playing with my toys and sucking lollipops and saying the cutest, funniest things that little boys could say, wishing I could store these moments away for safekeeping like the treasures they are.

When I come back, you and your cousin won’t be four anymore. How can I leave?

You are a master of sass and sarcasm, in a tonal language that lends itself to such. There are so many stories to tell of the many ways you have brought me joy.

Like the recent day when you looked down at your feet and then at mine, exclaiming, in your most sarcastic tone, “Your feet are STILL white?”

And I rolled my eyes and laughed with delight. Yes, small friend, my feet were white on the day I met you when you were one year old, (how is it even possible that you were just one and now you’re four?) and they were still white last year, and last month. They are still white today, and as much as I wish that the tropical sun would change their tone to a lovely shade of brown like your feet, my feet will most likely still be white when I see you again in nine months.

Because I’m on my way. If I don’t, I won’t get to see my bubbly, blonde niece, born just three weeks before you, while she is four.

Her personality is similar to yours in many ways, I think. Teller of stories, roller of eyes, one who delights in life and makes people laugh even when she isn’t trying to do so.

But I know your personality better than hers. I need to spend this season there, to be present in her life, and get to know all of my nieces and nephews again, after being separated for much too long. They are already counting down the days until their “Tia Paulette” arrives.

So on Saturday, I will tell each one of you that I’m already going.

And each of you will tell me. “Go.”

Some of you will add, “Go well.”

There will be tears on both sides. But it will be okay.

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This week will be difficult physically, as I know my back will rebel against all the cleaning and organizing and lifting that remains to be done. It will be difficult emotionally as all of us face the upcoming farewell.

I am thankful for the roots of friendship that have grown deep in our hearts, and can’t be uprooted by distance, or by wild pigs as often happens to the manioc root in your fields. It would be far more painful if you didn’t care that I was leaving, or if I was eager to get away from you.

Although it won’t be an easy week, it will still be a good week. We will treasure these last days together. We will fit in a few more study sessions, go to the gardens a couple more times, and sit around talking in our kitchens, reminiscing about the past and looking forward to the future. The opportunity to talk about goodbyes, relationships, language progress, dreams, the Bible and God’s work in our lives makes transitions so much easier than they used to be.

For while I cannot yet string your words together with perfection and skill, in the way you string beautifully-crafted coconut shell beads into traditional necklaces, at least I am finally able to string them together in grammatical and logical sequences that communicate thoughts and feelings and ideas in ways that can usually be understood.

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Looking with wonder at one last cloud of Amazon butterflies.

After a few more heart-to-heart conversations and after the last goodbye, I will step into the leaky boat that normally smells like fish, cross the White River, and leave you, for now.

I’m already going. I’m on my way. Ã tere unkaliá.

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The view right now from my kitchen table here at the mission base.  As of today I have exactly one week to get this apartment all cleaned, organized and packed up as well.

The Corn Speaks Again!

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I am the corn.

Whatever this means for today, for 2019, and for the remainder of the days You give me on this earth…

Dear Lord Jesus, I am available!

Another year is just about over; 365 days of adventures with Jesus to treasure up and ponder. Just like the last day of 2017 and 2016, this morning found me trekking through the jungle with friends, harvesting corn from their gardens and watching them work long hours to prepare tasty traditional dishes.

As usual, I reflect on the work of God in my heart and life, thanking Him for His good gifts of joy and suffering in 2018.

Please check out this story I wrote that was published online by Ethnos360, along with a few pictures from our village, including one of a dear friend.

And The Ear of Corn Speaks!

 

 

The Babies Someone Wanted

We forget many conversations almost immediately while others impact us so deeply that the words are etched on our minds forever.  In March, a friend, sitting on my kitchen bench, started an unforgettable conversation by saying, in a quiet, anguished voice, “I killed my baby.”  In response to my questions, she told me as much of the story as I could understand.  It wasn’t her choice.  My friend’s father-in-law didn’t want the baby for some reason, and said that she had to follow the cultural procedure of burying the baby alive and leaving it.  She told me how it’s cries grew weaker until it’s little life was over, and how she cried because she wanted and loved her baby.

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A few days ago (12-18 – it was about three weeks ago now), the little elderly grandma in our village told me a similar story from her youth.  In her case it was her own husband that didn’t want the baby and said it had to be buried.

On Monday, as part of ACL practicing, I decided to spend one of the hottest hours of the afternoon lying on the cool tile floor of the bedroom while listening to audio recordings.  That conversation with the grandmother was first on my review list.

So much for my scheduled hour of listening practice.  Three minutes and 18 seconds into the audio recording, I was bawling so hard I had to hit the pause button, and never did finish practice time that day.

These dear ladies still carry the weight of strong negative emotions decades after their babies were buried.  The emotion they both named was sadness, but their comments and facial expressions lead one to suspect the possibility that pain, trauma, bitterness, helplessness, guilt and anger also reside in their hearts. 

These women each lost a baby.

Babies they nurtured in their wombs for nine months, babies they wanted and loved, babies they were not allowed to keep.

I cried so long and hard today.  I cried for the countless babies in this culture who were left to die over the years, before the Gospel came.  I cried for the mamas who loved and wanted their babies, and still have not been comforted.  I cried for the dads and grandpas whose hearts were hardened toward these precious little lives.  I cried for the people groups that are still living in total fear and bondage, as my friends were just 42 years ago.  I cried for the sorrows and fears and questions that my village friends still face.  I cried about my own fears and insecurities.

If these things grieved my heart so deeply, why would I write about them and risk bringing sorrow to you?  Even as I write this, I’m not certain I will post it.  This is the third time I have written about similar cultural topics and my reactions, but the first time I have had the courage (or audacity) to post.  Perhaps the time has finally come to share this part of my heart and ACL adventure.  You want to know why?

First of all, because it’s hard to cry alone. 

I need you, my family and friends, to come alongside me in prayer.

Will you please pray that Jesus will fill me with courage and hope?  I’m not very strong or brave, friends.  Monday proved it.

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As a result of the power of the Gospel and the changes that Jesus has already brought to this culture, the practice of burying “unwanted” babies ended years ago.  Praise the Lord!  By His grace, some of the enemy’s lies have been vanquished by Truth, and many dark places have been illuminated.

But it would be naïve to think that all is now well in this village and culture.  Yes, there is evidence of true joy, hunger for God, and Christian fellowship.  Yet darkness and lies and bondage and pain still exist among this precious people.  And how could it be otherwise?  They don’t have the Word of God in their language yet!

I want to make it very clear that I am not judging this culture or saying that it is worse than North American culture.  Our culture also has dark and tragic aspects that grieve my heart and would shock people from other countries.  Just as no individual human being is perfect, no people group is perfect.

Every people group has wonderful characteristics, and I prefer to share the parts of this culture that I love and appreciate and participate in.  But it would be dishonest to pretend that life here is completely lighthearted, one cool jungle adventure after another.

And that is the second reason I might actually post this.

Because you are part of the ministry team God is using to reach these people, so you need to know at least some of the hard, heartbreaking details. 

How will you be able to pray knowledgeably for us if I never tell you that this culture, like all others, is contaminated by sin and marked by darkness? 

How will you support us in the battle if you only know about the triumphs and not the defeats? 

How will you hold the ropes for me personally, your sister and daughter and friend, if you don’t know what makes me cry, or sometimes want to run away? 

Can I be very real with you, friends? Even though the very reason for being here is to shine Jesus’ light into this dark place, my own fears and insecurities show that darkness is still trying to claim a stronghold in my heart. 

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After two years of great fun, hard work, and dependence on Jesus, I can speak well enough to discuss serious topics and investigate slightly more profound aspects of this culture.  Thank you, Jesus!  But suddenly, since September, new questions have begun to trickle into my heart and mind.  On Monday that trickle turned into an overwhelming and unexpected flood…

What if I discover unspeakable hidden customs, not from this culture’s past, but from their present reality?

What if my trusted friends start telling me unbelievable things that shock and grieve me?

What if I can’t handle it? 

What if I’m not strong enough?

What if I don’t know what to say? 

What if I don’t have what it takes?

And, you can guess what happened next.  I started bawling again, this time out of fear instead of sadness, until the Holy Spirit quieted my heart with the realization that while my questions are real and valid, there is another question that trumps every single one.

“What if God’s grace is enough?”  And I worship God through the tears.

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That question is not a true “what if”, my friends.  The blazing truth revealed by that question answers all of my fearful questions.  Of course I’m not enough for these things.  And I don’t have to be.  Jesus didn’t bring me here because I am qualified or tough or have what it takes to do this job.  He brought me here because I am a weak, foolish, fearful vessel, and that is the kind He loves to use to demonstrate His power and glory and sufficiency.

God’s grace is enough. 

God’s grace is enough for me and for all my fears.  His grace is enough for the elderly little grandma and for all her grief.  God’s grace is enough for you, and whatever you fear or grieve today.  God’s grace is enough for this whole people group, for my home culture and your culture, and for all people everywhere.  And isn’t that the good news we celebrate this time of year?

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  Luke 2:10-14  (emphasis mine)

Will you please pray for me with regards to all of this? 

Will you please pray for these sweet elderly ladies whose hearts need God’s healing and peace? 

Will you pray for this people group as a whole, and for each individual, that Jesus’ light will shine brightly into the darkest hidden places, bringing freedom and life and joy? 

All of us, wherever we live and work, are in a battle.  Light versus darkness. Truth versus lies.  Good versus evil.  Faith versus fear.

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What kind of darkness do you encounter in your community?  I would challenge you not to turn away from the lies, the tears, and the needs around you.

We who walk in the light do not need to fear the darkness.  Ask Jesus to show you the dark places where He wants you to shine.

And please feel free to comment or e-mail me with how I can be praying for you about these things.

A Wednesday Poem

Because Wednesday was the day this was written, and I can’t come up with a good title.

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I don’t want a life I can handle.
I don’t want a job I can do.
I want to stand on the Impossible’s brink
And see it accomplished by You.

I ask not that the path would be easy.
I ask not that the tears would be few.
I want to run this race so hard that I stumble,
To be picked up and carried by You.

Send me giants to slay by Your power.
Give me mountains faith only can move.
Clear a path through the sea and destroy every foe.
So the victory brings glory to You.

Let the world see Your power in weakness.
And give credit where credit is due.
This weak, trembling servant could do nothing alone.
But yearns to be used greatly by You.

 

Disturb Us

It takes a certain amount of faith to ask God to calm a raging storm in one’s life. It takes greater faith to jump into the wild sea while the storm continues, trusting God with the results.

Sometimes I ask God for the Impossible, believing wholeheartedly that He will work miracles. Time after time I have seen the Impossible become reality, thanks to His amazing power and grace.

But other times, despite God’s prompting, I am too afraid to get out of the boat, to jump off the cliff, to take the first step down unknown paths that could change me forever. I am terrified to lose sight of the land, even if that is the only way to find the stars God intends for me to reach, the only way to shine in the darkness, so that Jesus Christ might be clearly seen.

In the words of one of my favorite Rend Collective songs, did God make us and redeem us for “so much more than this”?

What impossible things would Jesus do in and through me and through you, if we would obey Him in every area of life, whether or not His will makes sense?

If we were to follow Him with courage, hope, and love, how might God reflect His glory and the beauty of the Gospel to the world?

Wrestling with these questions over the past several days, I have been deeply disturbed and unsettled by their implications and by my oh-so-little faith. In His faithful mercy, the Lord brought this prayer and blog post to mind, challenging me once again with His truth and His dreams and His worthiness.

One Little Light

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While organizing old documents on my laptop, I came across a prayer, written by Francis Drake, apparently, although I do not remember who he was.  It was on a document called “Whole Milk Yogurt”, oddly enough, which contained a yogurt recipe, two paragraphs of a journal entry from 2013, and this prayer.  The only more random document I opened this week was named Staff Meeting, in a folder entitled Head Start (my former workplace).  The “Staff Meeting” document contained only a recipe for Salmon Cakes, with absolutely nothing related to work or staff.  I am quite sure that Head Start never held a meeting teaching us how to make Salmon Cakes.

Hopefully this little anecdote about my poor organizational skills will make you laugh and feel better about your life, because I can’t imagine that any of you have documents more randomly…

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Night at the Orchestra

November 1st, exactly one month ago, was my last day at home in Itapecerica da Serra, and definitely the most memorable last night on record.  After we had all survived the excitement of Camila’s wedding, my brother Antonio suggested doing something fun and special to celebrate before I headed back to the jungle, and together we decided that visiting the Sala São Paulo for a concert would be just the thing.  Since these plans were made a bit on the last-minute side (as most brilliant plans are), it took some effort and planning to coordinate everyone’s schedules, but Antonio worked it all out for the family to go.  Our dad, who isn’t actually a big fan of classical music, and preferred to spend the evening babysitting his adorable grandson, passed his ticket on to Danilo, our married brother.  So it was the five of us that went.

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For you to appreciate just how unforgettable our night at the orchestra was, you have to understand that after two years in the jungle, my soul was almost starving for beautiful, classical, live music.  I knew I missed it, but hadn’t realized how much until the hunger started to be satisfied, bit by bit, during October.

First came the chance to play a piano while waiting for an event to start.  It was only for half an hour, but oh!  A real piano!  It had been nine months since I had played an electric keyboard, and 14 months since I had touched the keys of a real piano, so this was a rare treat.  My mom and brothers sang along on a couple hymns, which was fun, and brought back special memories.

Just the chance to attempt to make music awakened something in my soul that had fallen asleep.  While I sing every day in my little jungle home, singing is not the same as playing piano – following the measures in a hymnal, four fingers at a time, blending the carefully-chosen chords and harmonies.  Delight!  Even now imagination brings back the beautiful sounds of the last few measures of The Solid Rock, when I finally played them correctly after several tries.

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The second magical musical moment happened when someone left a guitar at the house.  I can’t remember which brother picked it up first, but when he started to play…oh the beauty!  It almost made me cry.  When there were instruments at home, playing music used to be part of the everyday routine, so I had really missed listening to it.  Both Gustavo and Antonio are very gifted musicians, whose playing glorifies God in a remarkable way.  The beautiful melodies they create fill the hearts of those who hear them with wonder, joy, and worship.

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Sala São Paulo is a beautiful historic building.  Architecture is a type of beauty that I normally am not especially drawn to, but in this case it was impressive enough that I noticed.  And excellent acoustics for performances.  Our seats were behind the platform, which was terrific because we were so close to the musicians, and could see the conductor’s face.

And then we went to the orchestra.  The classical pieces composed by Beethoven, Hummel, and Rossini, and played by the world-famous Sao Paulo orchestra were indisputably another level of beauty altogether.  I told myself to remember and treasure each moment and measure, so that I could savor them later when in need of that type of beauty.  For although I am surrounded by beauty every day here in the jungle – the natural beauty of tropical plants, the linguistic beauty of a tonal language, the human beauty of smiles and friendships, a corner of my soul had been longing for another type of beauty for a long time.  That yearning was satisfied by a special night of music a month ago, and I am thankful.

Music, at least in my heart, does something that no other type of beauty can do, nourishing and speaking to me in a special way.  Music of the caliber we heard that night, instantly prompts my soul to step into God’s presence, worshipping Him as the Creator of all beauty, the One who deserves my love and life

As we listened, drinking in the beauty of our surroundings and the music, wishing it could go on forever, my thoughts drifted to a place where beauty will never end.  There, the music will be so glorious, that in comparison, I suspect that those brilliant orchestral masterpieces will seem as inept as my five-year-old self playing “Do a Deer” with one finger.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” I would venture to guess that these unimaginable things include music, one of God’s great gifts to us, and thus especially appropriate to offer back to Him in worship.

In the car on the way home, we talked about music nourishing the soul, and about the many types of beauty there are in the world.  We considered how all beauty points us to Jesus, and increases our longing for eternity.

Then my brother mentioned how deeply he was impacted by The Lord of the Rings movies.  I haven’t watched them, so this will be based on his comments, as well as I remember.

Antonio said that the movies do a masterful job depicting a world dominated by ugly beasts and malignant forces.  They show the power of evil in a way that makes you feel sick, drawing you into despair and hopelessness, because it seems impossible that the evil will ever be defeated.

But then, at the end, in the darkest hour, in stark contrast to the reality which has been presented throughout the entire movie, a good wizard comes and defeats the seemingly invincible evil.  Light and goodness and beauty prevail!

All of that is a copy and reflection of truth, giving us a small glimpse and understanding of God´s omnipotent power and authority.

All cultures and individuals are contaminated by sin, yet despite that knowledge, it is hard to see the darkness of deception, pain, and guilt in this people group that I love.  Hearing details of the war that the devil waged on them, the lies he used to cause the literal death of family members of my dear friends, triggered sorrow and anger.  I also felt the darkness of fear and doubt in my own heart as I wrestled to not react according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, depending on Jesus alone.  He used these hard situations to remind me of who He is and what He will do.

At the end of time, in a way even more remarkable than any movie could portray, our God will gloriously triumph over all the evil in the universe.  When all we can see and feel is ugliness and darkness and despair, we must remember His promise that in the end, the truth and beauty and goodness and light and power of Jesus Christ will prevail, making all things right and all things new.

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Last night with the family (some of them), until the next time!

And just as I finish editing this post, the generator turns off, allowing a beautiful jungle lullaby to be clearly heard.  The instruments playing tonight are steady rain on the thatch roof, voices of birds, and insect songs of a thousand varieties.  On November 1st, God blessed me with orchestra music and special family time.  And that night, I felt so loved.  On December 1st,  He blesses me with the music of nature and special time with Jesus.  And tonight, I feel so loved.

If I can live by the truths mentioned in this post, and rejoice in whatever types of beauty are part of each day, always keeping my eyes on Jesus, the One altogether lovely, my heart will never be truly hungry or afraid or in despair, though feasts of beautiful, soul-filling music might be few and far between.