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.

 

 

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!

 

 

A Roasting Pan Christmas

Last year during the Christmas season, I was in the city for just over a week.  On December 4th, I listened in to the service at my home church, connected through skype.  Hearing the familiar words of the first advent reading brought back so many memories.

To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

As the service continued, I too lit a purple candle, and turned off the ceiling light in my room.

Pastor prayed, thanking God for the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation,

That you would come not only to be our God, but to be intimately with us.

Partway through the service, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of all that needed to be done the next couple days before our team headed back to the village.  The light from one candle was enough to show the mess all around, prompting me to jot this note on a piece of paper.  “And I wish the room was cleaner.  There are reasons it’s not.”

But just as quickly as those thoughts came, they were replaced by a sense of quietness, stillness – a moment of peace.  What a blessing to worship God at the same time as my church family, in different places but connected through technology, singing the same songs and hearing the same words of Truth.

After a year, looking at the piece of paper used to take notes during that church service, I no longer remember if the following is something Pastor said, or a personal reflection.

Jesus, the light.  He came not only into the darkness, but into the messiness, the busyness, the rush.

And isn’t that important to remember?  Sometimes, my tendency is wanting everything to be perfect, neat, organized, and unhurried so that I can be ready for Jesus, with long periods of time to focus on Him, because everything else is done.  Truth is, that’s a nice thought, but it rarely happens.  Normally, it is a matter of putting aside a long to-do list, ignoring any messes around me, and allowing the peace of God to quiet my heart so I can focus on Jesus.  This is my reality, as a child of God who loves Him and lives to serve Him, but can still get far too caught up in the rush and hurry and demands of life.

This also has implications for the darkness and messiness of sin, which affects every person in the world, no matter how organized their outward life may be.   You see, we could never bring light into our own lives, or clean up the sin in our hearts.  But the good news is that my sin and mess and incapability and not having it all together didn’t disqualify me from anything.  On the contrary, the sin nature I was born with and my own sinful choices made me the perfect candidate for Jesus to come, showing that I needed Him, the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace.  The darkness and dirtiness of your heart won’t keep Jesus from coming into your life either.  Jesus doesn’t say, “If you clean yourself up and get rid of that darkness, I will come.”

Describing Jesus, the apostle John wrote,

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not…He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name…And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.  John 1:4-5, 11-12, 16-17

Jesus shines.  Jesus comes.  Jesus gives.  We are left with a choice: whether we will receive Jesus, or receive Him not.  Will we continue living in darkness, or begin walking in the Light?  Will we receive Him – the fulness of His grace and eternal life?  Have you made the decision to receive this free gift?

A few days ago, on a Christmas episode* of Adventures in Odyssey, I heard an illustration which relates to the subject of Jesus coming in the midst of our reality, no matter how messy or disordered it is.

The following conversation takes place between Wooton Bassett, a delightful, bumbling, friendly, eccentric mailman who is attempting to decorate his yard for Christmas and Bart Rathbone, Wooton’s neighbor who thinks he is just plain crazy.  Wooton’s young friend Colby is there also.

Bart:  “This place is a disaster area.  It looks like the junkyard had a garage sale.  And what is that anyway?”

Wooton:  “Oh, that’s my stable, but you know, it’s not done yet.  I can get the 2 by 4s and traffic cones to stand up okay, but every time we try to move it or put decorations on, the whole thing collapses.”

Bart:  “Decorations?  What decorations?  That thing ain’t covered with nothin’ but hubcaps, pop cans and oh…what is that?”

Colby:  “It’s a roasting pan.”

Bart:  “A roasting pan?  And what does a roasting pan have to do with Christmas?”

Wooton:  “Oh uh well you know, you see uh I’m using it to show that even though the world is uh you know full of sin and dirty car parts and…and roasting pans…well God still sent His Son to us in the middle of it cuz you know.  He uh he loves us and stuff and that’s why we celebrate Christmas.  Besides, won’t it look great when the lights are turned on?”

Although I suspect that Wooten hadn’t really thought through the meaning of his “decorations” ahead of time,  and was just trying to come up with an explanation on the spot, his words really touched my heart.  Okay, so maybe I’m almost as crazy as Odyssey’s favorite mailman, but please hear me out.

As implied above and pictured below, my apartment here at the mission base is not the most organized place you’ve ever seen.  It is a “base” after all, to which I come only every couple months.  That means a typical state of organizing, coming and going, trying to remember where I left things last trip, buying supplies to take to the village, and making notes of tasks that must not be forgotten.  So piles, clutter, to-do lists, half-packed boxes and chaos are part of everyday city life.

Thankfully, at home in the village this is not the case.  However, even there I’m not the world’s best housekeeper, and my adorable little thatched-roof house is never completely tidy and picture-perfect.

So stop reading for a minute and look around.  What do you see?  If it’s a picture-perfect, well-organized, Christmas-decorated, peaceful house, that’s wonderful, and I congratulate you.  But please read on anyway, in case another day finds you surrounded by a different environment.

Perhaps, though, your sideways glance revealed dirty dishes in the sink, laundry to fold, toys scattered everywhere, half-finished projects, an unmade bed, dismantled electrical appliances, piles to sort, gifts to wrap.  Well, then we’re in the same club, you and I.

Maybe the sounds around you would be better classified as commotion and hubbub than peace and tranquility.  If so, don’t worry about it, because whatever the roasting pans, half-packed boxes, and hubcaps of your life, Jesus comes right into the middle of it all.  It’s not about us having it “all together” so He can come.

Bethlehem sure didn’t have everything ready for Jesus that night.  Most of the people there completely missed His coming.  But God sent Jesus anyway, in the fullness of time, to a chaotic little town in the midst of a country seething with political unrest.  And in that time of darkness and disorder, a few people went to the manger, met Jesus, and experienced a moment of heavenly peace in His presence, away from the commotion of the rest of the world.

Let’s not miss His coming today, friends.  Even though He’s not here as a baby anymore, Jesus sent His Spirit back to this earth, and in that sense, He is here, Emmanuel, God with us, now and always.  As the old carol says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”  It’s not about whether our houses and surroundings are perfect for Jesus to come.  We just need to have a ready heart, open to Jesus.  At any time we can meet with Him, delighting in a moment of heavenly peace in His presence, away from the commotion of the rest of the world.

*  I would highly recommend listening to the whole episode.  The part quoted above is absolutely when you can hear the actors’ personalities, and the story has a great message.  Just go to the following website and click on the link for “The Popsicle Kid.”  The episode will only be available there for about a week.

https://www.oneplace.com/ministries/adventures-in-odyssey/listen/