Recognition and Redemption

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.”
Romans 8:22-24

 

Stand Firm

September 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

This may be the most discouraging piece you read today

June 25, 2014

I cannot sleep because I am terrified. I try to close my eyes, but losing one sense heightens another and the foreign sounds around me are too overwhelming. I can’t decide if my reality or my imagination is worse. I am bathing in my own sweat due to the extremely hot temperature. My body is going numb either due to the painful position I am making it endure on these uneven planks, or because there isn’t a square inch left on my body that isn’t swelling due to bug bites. There are rats scurrying around my head, and cats with claws out fighting on the roof. I want to breathe, but then I inhale the scent of the sewage water below me and then I want to puke.

June 26, 2014

Our dinner was pounds of chicken heart and liver, and because our host only owns a rice cooker, it was boiled. To honor our host in Thai culture whatever is served we must eat, and ultimately through eating meals and accepting their “grenjai” (generosity), we build trust. Cia and I ate our dinner, gagged multiple times and had to eat our own throw-up for fear of breaking trust. This was a special meal prepared for us by Yaay Noi, but I know that she knows we didn’t enjoy it. How am I so weak that I can’t endure a meal, that I have no decency to appreciate her labor? In 2 hours it’ll be 9 o’clock and my stomach is turning because, inevitably, it’ll be time to sleep.

June 27, 2014

I waited 9 hours for the sun to come up, and I when I say 9 hours I mean the 60 minutes of each of those hours were counted. I have never desperately begged God for light.

June 28, 2014

You don’t know fear until you’ve survived a rainy night in the slums. As if I wasn’t already near pass out exhaustion having not slept the last 3 days, today I am on the brink of insanity. The rain on the tin roof sounds like a man is beating a trashcan above our heads to make sure every crevice of this room is filled with the sound. As the rain pours on and on, the sewage water under us is rising up to meet us, and by morning, maybe we will have drowned in it. Or maybe the floor will give out first and it’ll be quick.

In the west, we are Gods of our own realities. We have resources like money and time to take care of ourselves, and our network and friends for emotional relief. When we ask God for prayer requests, I think that deep down we all know that if God doesn’t come through, it won’t be the “end of our world” because at the end of the day we still feel we are the ones in charge of our realities. Is that real faith? How many times in our lives do we actually put God in a place to be who He says He is?

I am not writing this piece to strip my communities of their dignity, rather I am writing it because this is their reality. It’s a reality that I will get to choose out of when the summer is over and I am back in my life in privilege in America, but for Yaay Noi life will go on in the same state. In this context, I am really beginning to understand why scripture says the Kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor. God is God of their lives because He is the only one that can truly deliver them, and He is the only hope they can look to.

But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay
– Psalm 70:5

Today I learned what true surrender means because tonight I had to sleep, and I had to trust that God would keep me alive so I could even see morning.  I don’t think I have ever been put in a position of where faith is all I have, and where faith has to be enough.

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all
 -Isaiah 7:9

 

Home in the Margins

September 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

June 24, 2014

The trek revolves around the idea of incarnational ministry- as God took on flesh and gave up His place of privilege and power to reconcile us to God through Jesus’ birth, we were to give up the privilege of being American (give up our resources, our network and friends, and choices) and step into the harsh realities of poverty to build relationships with the poor from a place of servitude.

I will be spending my summer at a ministry site named the Ruth Center. The Ruth center ‘s goal is to work alongside slum communities in Bangkok to improve the quality of life for the elderly abandoned in society. The center also restores hope for the abandoned elderly by enabling them to find community amongst each other, and giving them a space to worship. There are about 14,000 elderly in the Prawet district alone without family or basic resources. Most of them have severe diabetes and as a result suffer from blindness or are losing their limbs. And of the 14,000 less than 200 are receiving a $13 monthly pension from the government. So I will be living with a host grandmother this summer, and serving/loving her.

YAAY noi

Yaay Noi is open, loving and very trusting. Up until this point I have been so consumed with my part in this trip that actually meeting her shook me back into the reality that this is HER home, and she is making space for a complete stranger in HER life. We call her a diva because she is extremely girly and sports an enormous pair of sunglasses that cover half her face. She prefers to match her headbands to her shirts, and it is pertinent that we wear powder and lipstick around her. She also is a prankster, and loves to crack jokes at any point in silence. She doesn’t know very much English, but she knows basic commands because we are not the first set of foreigners to live with her.

Yaay Noi’s home is a two room shack with a makeshift “patio”. The walls seem like panels of a cardboard box, but made with slightly sturdier material. The roof is comprised of various pieces of tin that fit together like a mosaic, and the floors are made of uneven planks. This whole structure rests on top of stilts that keep the house above the trash and sewage water below. And yet, this is home. Not in any sense of the way that I define the word, but currently it is the only thing in her life showing her any form of allegiance.

This may be the first day at my actual site, but poverty already looks like a different picture than is painted in America. My Thai grandmother has possessions, she just doesn’t own property. She doesn’t go hungry, her meals just aren’t extravagant and excessive. She lives a life of simplicity, not of luxury. And now I have to wonder, if the picture of poverty painted in America is one that just keeps us from asking about deeper issues we just don’t want to deal with. How this frame begs different questions of class structures, racial oppression, and skewed politics. Already, poverty looks a lot more systemic than I thought it would.

Love or wisdom?

September 9, 2014 § 1 Comment

June 22, 2014

Love or wisdom- which comes first?

God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight
Philippians 1:8-9

During orientation, we were presented with this question and verse (which initially seemed like another pointless chicken and egg scenario). However, as we spent more time immersed in this verse as a team, we came upon the realization that the verse clearly states that we should love first, and if anything that we gain depth as an extension of that love. Maybe this is a trivial fact to dwell on, but this realization really hit me because it has severe implications on building relationships with people, especially those that are suffering.

In a generation of suffering, how much do we have to know about others’ suffering before we are able to love them? Backtracking to my preparation for the trip, there wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t asking questions to somehow prepare myself for the unknown we were entering into, as if that would make the experience easier or somehow help me “do a better job”. My questions, at their root, were also stemming from a place of selfishness. I needed to know how “bad” the conditions would be, what my host would be like, how hard it would be to learn Thai- basically filler words for the bottom-line question of how much of my comfort was I putting on the line. Ultimately, in my desire to be prepared, I was inherently trying to opt out of my host’s suffering.

We need to understand the gravity of the statement that Paul makes when he states that he longs for people “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” This kind of affection is like nothing we humanly know- it’s an intense, deep yearning. Most of all it’s impartial and freely extended to all. I can’t humanly imagine a love that imprisonment and persecution could not phase. The problem is that we often put people’s suffering on an arbitrary scale so we can have a better handle on experiences we can’t fully grasp. Our society champions the phrase “it could be worse” to opt out of sharing each other’s burdens, or it sets up (what I call) the suffering scale in order to define the “most tragic” suffering as the only kind worth supporting and hearing out. In this way, we partake in marginalizing the already marginalized. We need Jesus to teach us how to love people.

We love because He first loved
1 John 4:19

The fact that we are all partakers of grace  may be the only commonality I have with everyone I meet here on out- that fact needs to be enough. In a little less than a week I will be moving in with a host who knows absolutely nothing about me, except that I have agreed to spend six weeks in Thailand serving him/ her. This simple faith blows my mind and shows me that God has a lot of work to do in this heart of mine.

May we be people that love first, and gain insight from an initial place of love.

Fasting from self

August 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

June 19, 2014

Physical. Time. The last summer to spend with friends I would split paths with and would most likely never hear from again having just graduated. Simplicity. 4 shirts, 3 pants, 1 pair of shoes. 1 backpack. Stripped of privilege and access. Communication. Media and the outside world. Here and now. With no affirmation of action from peers-no distractions.

Emotional. Control. My future- the possibility that I may be returning to no future. No plan. No opportunity. Individuality. I don’t look the same without my style, without my stuff. Comfort. Familiar languages, foods, climate. No time orientation. Security. If I’m being vulnerable today, I am scared. So much unknown.

We fasted. We became hungry. We started to look to something else to be fed. We prayed. We confessed. We repented. We watched. We listened. We prayed more. We wept. We became angry. We were confused. We were touched.

There are periods of time where I just sit in silence and realize that the world is actually very quiet. We are a generation that is so desperate to hear God’s voice, but I wonder if He is always shouting and pleading with us through all the noise of our lives. Fasting from the noise, I have realized that I am too weak to even acknowledge my own barriers to God’s voice, I just expect Him to speak louder. He has granted a part of Himself to always be with me in my conscience, has allowed His own Son to suffer ultimate shame to death to become an intercessor, and yet I always feel like He is just “too far.” The beauty of grace is that God still desires to meet us where we are, but I believe we need to be consistently reevaluating if we are fully allowing ourselves to be placed  in a position to listen.

Deny yourself.

Rewind

August 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

How do I start from the beginning, when I’m at the end?

Sometimes I am tempted to assimilate back into my home culture and stuff my experiences in a pocket, praying that no one noticed my summer absence. I want to pick up a regular pair of shoes, dust them off, retrace a summer’s worth of steps, and then run the other direction back into my own security of ignorance. However, I know that will only last for so long, and surely the weight of what my pocket contains will eventually throw off my balance and begin to cripple me from the inside out.

On another hand, with this realization in mind, I am tempted to isolate myself from everything I know because this country and my own privilege now remind me of different avenues of oppression that systemically minimize the quality of life for families I have lived in solidarity with for the past few months. Especially a grandma that I love, and miss more than I can explain right now. I fear that my new convictions will be greeted apathetically by my family and friends, and they will use the cliche that “I have come back so ‘holy'” or “missions changed me” as an anesthetic from entering into my experiences. I fear that people just want the words, and the insider information. A pretty painted picture of another culture. Not the experience. Not the feelings. And certainly not the convictions that may cause an uncomfortable self-awareness. Not the ones that force people to dwell on their actions and the state of their lives.

This may be the tension I am currently sitting in, but I have also tasted the goodness of my God this summer and seen glimpses of the redemption that is to come. And due to these facts, I can’t help but give him the praise He deserves. So this whole account is a testament to the fact that I wholeheartedly believe the plans God has for our lives are MUCH bigger than our own plans.

While in Bangkok, my team and I participated in a communication fast to cut out the distractions that often prevent us from building community in America. Most of the posts for this period of time will be excerpts from a journal I kept, and quotes from scripture and other books I was able to read. I think I will be a slave to my computer for months if I copy everything in depth, so I am settling with the more significant ones in the hopes that if I spark your interest, you will be willing to endure some time with me to talk. Glory be to God, and I pray that you would be able to accept my account with an open heart and mind.

Commencement

June 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Phenomenal commencement speeches.