October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
(This letter was written by another one of our staff on the trek Spenser, and despite his many disclaimers, he is an incredible writer and this letter gives you a taste of what a blessing my team was to me in shaping my faith and perspective)
My Dear Friends,
October 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
A summation of a summer’s worth of lessons:
1. Stop trying to “fix your life” to be closer to God- learn how to turn to God and be quicker to repent. God is the one who can change hearts, not you.
2. Stop idolizing “the call.” You know God’s heart, so take actions. Don’t sit in periods where you are waiting for some divine sign to plan your trajectory, rather don’t be afraid to make right/wrong decisions. The gravity of your decisions aren’t important, what’s important is your flexibility.
3. Love simply. Do small things with great love. It isn’t necessary to have wisdom before love- we don’t have to know all the theology behind the bible to share the good news of the gospel. God works fully through love and most of the time that just means being with people and sacrificing your time.
4. Lose the control complex. As you draw near to the Kingdom, the Kingdom will draw near to you and restore all the broken parts of your life. You need to trust God more than you trust your own plans. You need to trust Him with the lives of your family, relationships, friendships, and you need to trust that restoration comes from obedience. Seek first the Kingdom of God anyways.
5. Lament. It’s okay to not be okay and be in periods where you demand God to be who he says He is. Affirm God’s character by crying out to Him and lamenting for the ways that humanity has broken His image.
6. Reorient your perspective of God’s provision. See your “talents” as gifts you’ve been entrusted with from God for a purpose, and money as being given to you for opportunities God has in store. Bring all of who you are to God– if you are a musician worship loud, if you love to cook then build community through potlucks, whatever it may be there is a way that you can bring glory to God through your talents. Stop seeing everything as yours, it’s not about you, it’s about the Kingdom.
7. “I am because you are”- apply this mindset to everyone you encounter. There is a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. “A person is a person through other people,” so treat one another accordingly.
8. Honor the Sabbath. It is a command for a reason. Allow for boredom and allow for time to sit at God’s feet and just be with Him. Work from rest, not for rest.
9. The paradox of who Jesus is makes Him real. We would never worship a God we could figure out. Appreciate God’s mysterious ways, even when they challenge your perspective of His goodness. He gives and takes away for His glory.
10. The moment is now. Living in the moment doesn’t mean that you live like there’s no tomorrow- or that you gratify all the desires of your flesh for temporary satisfaction. It means living in the faith that God has our futures perfected and that He cares deeply about each and every one of us to where we don’t have to worry about our future in the present. We just need to be present to His presence.
October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
24 things World Christians wish North American short term missionaries would quit doing:
1 Talk about your “rights” in our country
2 Making sure you know how privileged you are compared to us
3 Act like you know more about our own country, city, town, or neighborhood than we do
4 Make us feel like we’re getting a free ride, lunch, or the true offer of the gospel because of your good graces
5 Demand we keep your schedule
6 Impose on already present ministry because “your way is better”
7 Give more glory to being North American than Christ
8 Truncate the gospel with short sighted quest for “soul winning”
9 Minimize our challenge while grumbling about yours
10 Offering up bobbles, beads and trinkets so we’ll listen to you
11 Be loud
12 Use fear tactics which are contrary to God’s grace
13 Speak ill of other Christians
14 Create a sense of obligation through your generosity
15 Overstay your welcome
16 Use high pressure sales tactics
17 Talk more than you listen
18 Plant your flags on our soil
19 Asking us to submit to you
20 Lie about how you will help us in the future
21 Dismiss our search for truth by insisting we accept your version of it
22 Pretend to be our covering
23 Making us make short term salvation decisions
24 Making discipleship exclusive by addicting us to your resources, materials and methodologies
This question was posed by my mentor Janna, and these were the responses read to us after becoming short term missionaries ourselves. Cultural sensitivity is important. As we take a posture of listening to the cries of the global church, I pray they would continue to humble us by teaching us how to steward our privilege well.
October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
It took a partially paralytic grandfather sharing his testimony with me to make scripture come alive and teach me the true value of what we hope in.
Today, as a special treat, we had “A” come visit us for our last team times with all the grandmas and grandpas. This made our visits a little more special because since “A” can speak Thai and English, there were finally no communication barriers and we weren’t mostly using our sense of body language or limited Thai knowledge to communicate. So today, I heard Da Tam’s story of coming to faith, and it was so beautiful I actually cried.
One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said,” Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
I have read that story countless times- I’ve even performed it in Sunday school plays, yet I don’t think my eyes were ever opened to the truth of the hope present in this story until I heard Da Tam’s testimony. He had the noose ready and was ready to commit suicide until P’Noi shared the gospel with him. 10 years ago a leg surgery left him basically paralyzed below the knees, and he said that most of the reason he came to Christ was because of the story of Jesus and the paralyzed man. He told us that everyone wanted so desperately to see this Jesus because they had such a strong faith (strong enough to lower their friend from the roof) that he could heal the man, and he needed to see Him too. To hear that from someone on the brink of suicide, and who spends his daily routine struggling to get around, that because of Jesus he still has a reason to live and that he knows through Jesus there is healing, man that just gives me overwhelming hope. It’s amazing the implications that reading scripture in different contexts, or seeing it come alive through others’ eyes can have on our own faith. Scripture is so rich.
This whole experience reminded me of a bible study we had as a team during our mid-project retreat on Mark 8:27-38.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Suffering. Rejection. Death. Resurrection. 3/4 of those terms is not what the Jews expected their Messiah to look like at all. So much so that Peter rebukes Jesus after he begins teaching these things, which is also ironically after he also proclaims that he believes Jesus is the Messiah.
Get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.
What does Jesus really look like to us? Or more importantly, which Jesus do we know? Do we focus on divine things like submitting to God’s authority and denying ourselves and taking up a cross, or do we focus on human things like following Jesus without suffering, wanting power and control, and to fix the broken systems in our world?
I think about Da Tam and the suffering he must be going through to want to take his own life, and yet, what he hopes in is worth so much more. I’d say most of us are stuck on focusing on the suffering, the rejection, and the death pieces that we ultimately forget to look towards the end where it mentions the resurrection- the promise of life. As I continue to ponder on these things, I am reminded that the idea of the Messiah becomes superior to me in itself because these are in no way human fashioned ideas of what a God looks like.
October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
July 20, 2014
Today during listening prayer I remember getting an image of sunflowers in a field. Not wanting to share that image with the group because it made no sense to me, I quickly asked God for another image…and instead He gave me a verse:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing
Later, after receiving this verse, I was really surprised that I had been so demanding with God in that moment. I began to ponder on the original image, thinking that it had been really rash for me to dismiss it so abruptly, and only one word seemed to connect the dots between both messages: grow. I sat back, closed my eyes, and began to reflect on my weeks with Yaay Noi and The Ruth Center. And all of a sudden, I was filled with so much overflowing joy. Real, concrete joy- so much so that in this moment I knew exactly that joy was the perfect word for this emotion. In my impatience to jump to the next image, or arrive at the revelation without the lesson, I realized I almost missed the joy in the picture that God already had for me. My restlessness was causing me to miss God.
I spent time thinking about how much joy my growth in God had given me this summer. There is so much beauty and mercy in the fact that we can grow in our God- that this relationship is two-sided. Even though this summer has been all about being and living in the present, and being intentional with communities, I still skip over that fact too much. My mind is always in the future, yet God has so much more for us right now.
There have been so many ways I have tried to “grow in God” in the past- whether it be through fasting, making promises to try and be better, or trying to be more in scripture, but now I honestly think that God is the only one that can draw me near to Himself. I have learned to be so dependent on grace because the ways I try to work for my salvation don’t work. Instead, they leave me with a false perception that any work I can do could somehow be worthy of God. As if He doesn’t love me the same on my worst and best day.
This is the peace we inherit- trusting in God’s power to draw us near to Himself. Instead of trusting in my own abilities to bring me closer to God,I just need to invite Him to do His will. God loves us in our sin, our filth and brokenness, and instead of trying to “be better,” I want Him to teach me how to practice repenting quicker and turning to His power to heal my broken life faster. What a joy it is that He desires to meet us right where we are, right in this very moment.
What a joy that we grow.
October 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
(This post was written by my team’s staff worker: Christine Brinn about halfway through the Trek)
Many thoughts are swimming in my head and I find myself trying to find answers to the systemic problems that surround me. I’ve been here before, feeling stuck inside myself, yet the familiarity doesn’t make it any easier to confront. Every day, I see the broken systems with more clarity. How do I respond knowing that I’m part of the dysfunction? I am propelled into deeper questions to a battle in my being to either rid myself of my skin and privilege or to use my power to solve and change all that I see. At this moment in time, I feel stuck and unsure if my presence in Bangkok as a white American Christian is a good idea at all. Lord, open my eyes to see.
Yaay Noi (Grandma Noi) said that she goes to church because the “pu chai falang” (foreigner white men) give her hugs and dote on her. Is it good news that Yaay Noi’s experience of Christian community perpetuates perceptions of an American Jesus?
When P’Noi became a Christian, her family rejected her for following a “foreignher’s God.” And Yaay Pensri’s walls are covered with 13 posters of a light-skinned Jesus. Is it good news that the Messiah is known as the white man’s God?
Today I joined a group of blonde South African students as they spoke in the park to a gathering of Thai children – most of whom were wearing Buddhist charms around their necks. The short-term missionaries talked about the Israelites while Pat and Pao (my 10 and 12 year old neighbors) simultaneously begged me to let them play on the playground. Is it good news to ask children to sit in the hot sun and try to make sense of seemingly random stories translated by strangers speaking a foreign language?
Yesterday, Yaay Pensri (my host grandma) explained that all the neighbors give her food for “Suay” (my Thai nickname, which means “Beautiful”). She also explained that when I’m not here, they don’t extend the same generosity. Is it good news that Yaay Pensri has enough to eat only when her daughter who reflects the “beauty” depicted in skin-whitening ads comes to stay with her?
I want to scream and somehow convince each child, each grandma here, “My God, my Lord, my Savior was not a white man!” I want to explain, “My God is not an ATM! He came in power, but His power is not of this world. It is not the power of the US Dollar or the privilege of being a half-white movie star. My God was rejected by the world and came in humility. Yes, he came, he lived with you and ate with you and sat with you, but he did not have my white skin, my American accent, my round blue eyes, or my light colored hair! Please forgive my people, for we have fashioned Jesus in our own image!”
I want to rid myself of this whiteness so that I can be more “effective” in bearing God’s full image to Thai people – and yet I realize even that desire stems from my own privileged narrative that I am “needed” for God’s kingdom to come. Lord, forgive me for my pride. Forgive us.
Forgive the ways that I – that we – in the West have placed ourselves at the center of your Global Body. Forgive us for getting in the way of your Spirit and your kingdom. Forgive us for going our own way, for “responding to your call” without listening first and seeing how you are already at work here. Forgive us for the pride of thinking that we are needed – that our “expertise” is needed, that our “theology” is needed, that our ideas are needed, that even our resources and offerings are needed. Lord, teach us to STOP and get out of your way. Show us the ways our actions and our good intentions perpetuate a false gospel that relies upon the charity of the West. Oh, that we would stop talking and listen!
Perhaps if we listen, we might see our own idols. Perhaps if we listen to the P’Nois of the world – to the P’Plar and P’Aa and P’Paula and P’Mon and Yaay Pensri and Klue Muay and to the voices of the Global Church – perhaps we will find that we ourselves have believed in the same white man’s gospel that we’ve so readily proclaimed. If we stop and listen, perhaps we will realize that we in fact worship the sound of our own voice, and the choice to either steward or “lay down” our own privilege and power. We worship our great ideas. We worship our “right theology” and our ability to help. We worship financial security and the letters after our names. If we would only stop and listen, perhaps we would find that the gospel we live and breathe is in fact not the gospel of Jesus at all.
The other day, Janna and I were talking about how challenging it is for Americans to know even how to give a testimony. A student shared with me how challenging it was when I asked our team to tell a story about why they follow Jesus. Perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves why we don’t have testimonies of good news to share. Are we living in the kingdom? Who is the Jesus we are following?
On the contrary, a few days ago, Yaay Pensri told me about her older sister being sick. After praying for 4-5 months, her sister was healed and her sister became a Christian. It was so simple and easy for her to share.
A few days later, P’Noi (founder of the Ruth Center), shared how she prayed about where to visit and then had multiple divine appointments with grandmas who were uniquely in need of her support that day.
Why is it that we are so unaware of God’s movement in our lives? Perhaps we believe we don’t need God. Perhaps we’ve written our own gospel, fashioned our own Jesus. Lord, have mercy. Open our eyes to see.
Thank you, God, for P’Noi and Thai leaders in the church. Thank you for the guest speaker at church who is writing her dissertation on Asian church history. Strengthen these leaders, encourage them, lift up their voices. May we have ears to hear them proclaiming who Christ is. May we have eyes to see the good news of God’s kingdom coming in this place, and to surrender our own delusions of the gospel. May your kingdom come.
October 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
July 1, 2014
It has been a week! The combination smell of sewage, sweat, and mosquito repellant is the only one I know. My sun scorched skin leaves a tan that makes me unrecognizable to myself. I feel like I’m stuck in a limbo of time that forgets to progress and I am hyperaware of how dirty I am and how far away the thought of ever being clean seems.
I am also aware of the fact that at this moment I am hindering the work Christ wants to do inside of me and the redemption He has in store for these communities through my constant focus on myself. I wanted to hope I’d be immune to culture shock,but the height of my privilege compared to the depth of the systemic poverty I am now experiencing are just leaving me helpless to displacement, but most of all self-shame.
When I left America with my heart burning for Christ’s mission, I had no idea I would be so gripped by my own depravity while here. I see it: my pride, my self-righteousness, my love of control, my complaints, my desire to know, my lack of trust in Christ, my circumstantial joy.
I am seeing my idols, my brokenness, and my sin with new eyes, but as I truly begin to recognize myself for what I am, I also am becoming conscious of who God is. There have been many, many times in the last week I have questioned why God brought me here, and if I honestly am doing more harm than good by being here, but I have come to realize that where I am now is where God knows I need to be. Our God desires for holistic healing and redemption. It’s incredible to me that He doesn’t only desire healing for the communities my team experiences, He desires healing for everyone equally- including me. That is how abundant our God’s love is.
Reality is incarnation isn’t supposed to be easy: the Christian truth is Jesus still did it. His love went deep enough to be born in an animal pen and to be beaten, humiliated, and left naked. Clinging onto the truth, that love, I move forward.
We are so prone to accept only the “goodness” in life and think that God’s hand is only responsible for the positive, but in essence we would be missing out on half of the true gospel. As important as it us for us to celebrate in the truth that our God desires to have a relationship with us, it is equally important that we realize our own sin, and how desperately our world needs a savior.
The gospel is both death AND resurrection, pain AND hope, suffering AND celebration.
Both my recognition of my sin, and Jesus’ resurrection are equally necessary parts of sharing the good news. I find that as I sit in the tension of all my brokenness surfacing and look onwards towards hope, that both of these paths are intersecting with God being the end I am growing closer to.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”