Thursday, June 28, 2012

More Like Falling in Love

What comes to mind when you hear the word "missions?"  Maybe you get a picture of a bunch of white people traipsing into a foreign land pounding down people's doors and force feeding them religion.  Any takers on that one?  Maybe you think of people who go overseas to "fix" another country; those who want to provide clean water, schools, and medical care.  Is this really what missions is about?  While I don't think I have all the answers about how to do ministry overseas, spending time in southeast Asia has opened my eyes to new perspectives.

In recent months as I've talked to people about how Patrick and I want to go into missions I've gotten a lot of blank stares.  What does that really mean?  What does it look like to bring the gospel to people who have never heard it?  Why would we even want to do that in a country that is predominantly Muslim?  These are all good questions, and I hope that over time friends and family will start to catch the vision for the work we want to do and the ways we feel like Jesus is calling us to serve him.

I'll admit, I used to think missionaries were people who wanted to go crashing through the jungles of foreign countries to re-create their churches from back home.  In fact, there are mission workers who fit that stereotype of wanting to build brick and mortar buildings with steeples, sing hymns, and wear white robes in the services,  but I'm not convinced that's what Jesus meant when he gave the great commission.  He didn't say "go build church buildings and sing hymns."  He said, "Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."  (Matthew 28:19-20)

When we move into the mission field we have no intention of bringing organized religion with us.  All we want to do is introduce people to Jesus and share with them what he's done in our lives and what he can do in their lives too.  We're not concerned about creating a church that looks like the ones we attend in the U.S.  We're about bringing glory to God among people groups who don't know him yet.  If the people we get to know and talk to aren't interested in Jesus, we have no intention of beating them over the head with the gospel.  Everyone has a choice to make about who God is, and our only job in the process is to present Christ as clearly as possible.  After that, it's up to them.

The thing is, Jesus wasn't all that interested in religion either.  In fact, in scripture we usually see him berating the religious leaders of the day because they lacked genuine faith.  I think what Jesus is interested in is having a relationship with his followers.  People can sit in church pews seven days a week and sing hymns without really knowing Jesus.  On the other hand, people might have never heard "Rock of Ages" but still be passionate about Christ.

There's a great Jason Grey song titled "More Like Falling in Love," I think it really sums up this idea.

He sings that our relationship with Jesus should be:
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

When we share Jesus on the mission field or at home we're not interested in placing new burdens on people's shoulders.  We want to introduce them to the one person who can remove those burdens and bring them joy and hope.  We're not about making people Christians.  We're about teaching them how to be followers of Jesus.  We're totally in love with Jesus and simply want to share that love with others!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Knowing Nothing

Do you ever read or watch something that completely turns what you think you know on its head?  A couple weeks ago we started watching a video series by Carl Medaeris called "Engage," and it's all about how to engage culture as you share your faith in Jesus.  The paradigm Carl shared had our heads spinning, and gave us more than just a little to think about.  I love that kind of stuff!  I love being challenged in the way I think so I can not only learn more about myself, but also about other people.

In the sessions we watched, Carl discussed how stressed out people get about trying to "evangelize" people from other religions, because they don't know anything about those religions.  I know the feeling.  It can be incredibly intimidating talking to someone from another faith background when you think you need to have all the right answers.  But wait, isn't that making it all about us when we come at it from that angle?  Isn't it supposed to be about Jesus?  Whoever said I have to have all the answers?  The point Carl was making is that we shouldn't try to argue people into the kingdom of God.  When we think we need all the right answers, our pride gets in the way of doing anything even remotely productive.  We have to start with what we know, and that's Jesus.  

I absolutely love what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."  Amen!  I know how downright terrifying it can be to share my faith with someone who doesn't agree with me at all.  I tend to put all sorts of undue pressure on myself, when really all I'm doing is taking back a burden that Jesus never meant for me to carry in the first place.  Funny how we all tend to do that sometimes...  

Engaging people and sharing the gospel isn't about winning an argument, it's about simply sharing what you know about Jesus through the way he's working in your life.  Wow, that's not so hard after all!  I might not know every detail about every doctrine, but I certainly know my own story pretty well.  I can tell you the things that Jesus is doing in my life on a daily basis, and I bet you can too.  That's where the power lies.  You can talk about doctrine till you're blue in the face, but if your life isn't a visible demonstration of what Jesus can do, who's going to listen?

One other thing that Carl said is, "Jesus is the missionary, we are just pointers to him."  How true.  It is the Holy Spirit who draws people to himself.  John 6:44 says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.  It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.'  Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me."  Doesn't this take the pressure off?  We are not ultimately responsible for someone's decision to follow Christ.  If we have shared our faith and lived our life in such a way that represents Jesus well, we have done what we are called to do.  We can leave the rest up to God!

It is clear to me that I still have so much to learn about Jesus.  As soon as I start to think I know much, he reveals himself in a new way that leaves my head spinning.  He also leaves me humbled, and for that I am thankful.  So rather than debating and arguing about different faiths, we can approach others with a humbled heart and an earnest desire to seek Jesus wherever he may be found.  We're sure to be much more effective in sharing the gospel when we do so with an open heart!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

So Long South Carolina

It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since we moved to South Carolina, and already it's time to move on.  In a short time we've made some lifelong friends whom we will miss dearly when we leave.  The past year has been packed with wonderful memories, and I'm so thankful for all of God's provisions.

We've been blessed with incredibly godly friends, good jobs, a great church, and awesome neighbors.  There were often times when we weren't sure how God planned to use us while we were in South Carolina, and in a lot of ways I feel like the last year was just a wonderful time for us to draw closer to Him.  It's been an incredible year of spiritual growth for both of us, and we are now looking forward to the future and how we can continue living out our faith as we move to Kentucky.

Tomorrow is moving day, and I'm hoping it will go smoothly and quickly so we can get on the road back to Louisville.  Here's to beginning yet another new chapter in our lives!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saying Goodbye to the Best Part of Beaufort

Tonight was a rough night, because we had to say our final goodbyes to some of our very best friends in the world, Shane and Melia.  God brought them into our lives last fall shortly after we started attending Seaside Vineyard Fellowship, and we were instantly friends.  It was one of those situations where we just knew that these people were going to change our lives.
Over the past year we've had so many adventures with Shane and Melia and have had an absolute blast.  We've traveled all over South Carolina checking out cool beaches, hiking, bike riding across Hilton Head, and oh so much more.  We've spent hours just hanging out playing Wii Mario and laughing at old episodes of "The Office."  No matter what we're doing together, it's always fun and there's always a ton of laughter, often to the point of tears (those are the best moments in my opinion.)

Top Ten Favorite Shane and Melia Moments in No Particular Order
1.  Going to Columbia for my first UK basketball game.  Shane's family sends them loads of UK gear so they were able to outfit our whole group with wildcat shirts!
2.  Chowing down on an e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s pizza in Savannah.  Seriously, the picture doesn't even do it justice.
3.  Having game night with our small group and playing Mario on the Wii.  When Patrick stopped working they lent us their Wii so we spent two weeks straight playing Mario.  (Video games aren't good for people with addictive personalities!)
4.  Cutting Shane's hair on our front porch.
5.  Sitting on the bench where Forrest Gump was filmed in Savannah.
6.  Checking out the Sheldon Church Ruins and other beautiful parts of South Carolina.
7.  Canoeing!
8.  Standing in K-Mart doing one of those recordable storybooks for a friend who was deploying.
9.  Taking contemplative pictures.

10.  Eating Brusters ice cream (sadly I don't have a picture of any of these many occasions, but they were certainly memorable.)

Obviously we spent plenty of time goofing off, but we also spent hours together studying God's Word and encouraging each other in our faith.  I have been so inspired by the way they live out their faith and are constantly looking for ways to serve the Lord.  It's not often you meet people who are so genuine in their love for others and their willingness to sacrifice for them.    

I'm so thankful for their friendship and all the ways we were able to share our lives with them.  While we have to say goodbye for now, I know it's not forever.   There are plenty more adventures to be had, and I'm excited to see how God brings us all together again!

Adventures in a Postcard

We spent a lot of time exploring the beauty of southeast Asia, and we were all under the general impression that we were standing in a postcard most of the time.  Pictures could never do justice to the beauty of God's creation!  We hiked mountains, swam in waterfalls, drove through jungles, and played in the ocean.  This trip certainly was a busy one, and we were able to experience so much!  I'll let some of the pictures speak for themselves.

We visited the Bird Park in Bali and saw tons of cool species!
The boys got a surfing lesson
We hung out at the Monkey Forest where monkeys climbed all over us!
The market or "pasar"
Some quality time with my niece Esther!

We made friends with the family that lives in this house and sat on their porch eating coconuts one afternoon.
Enjoying a rare perspective of the land
Sarah and I were invited to a 5 year old's birthday party...there were at least 100 kids there!
Some much needed time with my dear friend :)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Building Bridges in Southeast Asia

We had an incredible time overseas just getting to know people and hearing their stories.  We learned so much about how to engage people and begin building relationships with them, and we had so much fun doing just that!

We stayed in host homes in a small village, and in the afternoons we spent time walking through the town chatting with anyone who spoke English.  Of course, we knew a few pleasantries in the local language, but not much past that.  I was surprised at the incredible hospitality of everyone there.  We were invited into several homes for tea or coffee and were able to spend quite a bit of time learning about what life is like in that village.

Along the way we met many people who were interested in teaching us new words or sharing new foods with us.  I also got to hold lots of babies!  Children on their way to or from school were eager to be in pictures and to shout out the few English words they knew.  We got a lot of "Hey Mister!" even when they were talking to Sarah or me.  I guess they haven't learned the word Mrs. yet.  We made friends with one woman and her children, and we visited her several times during our stay in the village.  She spoke excellent English so it was fun to be able to ask a lot of questions and learn all about her life there.  I even got her address so we can stay in touch.

I'm learning that everything about ministry is relational.  Jesus was all about building relationships with his followers and allowing them to know him on a personal level.  Shouldn't we be doing the same thing?  How can we expect to share the gospel with people we've never taken the time to get to know?  I've come to realize that doing missions is an incredibly slow process, especially in Muslim communities.  On this trip we took a few baby steps in sharing Christ and that was to being building bridges with people in the village.  The mission workers who are there full time will continue getting to know these new friends and over time will share the gospel.  We were but one small step in a long process.

Actually this was incredibly humbling.  On mission trips you typically want to go, share the gospel and be able to see people coming to faith in Christ right then and there.  How eye opening it was to learn that's not how things work here.  In fact, the missionaries we spent time with have been there for nearly a decade and have yet to see one person come to faith in Christ.  They might not see a lot of fruit from their labor, but they know that God is faithful, and they are incredibly blessed in their ministry.  We were blessed as well to be a part of their greater work within this country!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Expecting Bigger Things

Usually when I read through the stories of Jesus' life I am amazed at how dense the disciples were.  I tend to think that they had a serious advantage over us today because they actually stood in Jesus' presence and saw first hand the miracles he performed.  How then were they still so clueless about who he was?  I'm humbled to realize that I do the same thing even today.  How often do I witness for myself the enormity of Jesus and still don't fully comprehend who he is?

This morning I'm reading in Matthew of the time Jesus calmed the storm.  The story is found in Matthew 8:23-27.

"Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, 'Lord save us!  We're going to drown!'  
He replied, 'You of little faith, why are you so afraid?'  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  
The men were amazed and asked, 'What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey him!'"

One thing I love about this passage is that when the disciples thought they were perishing, they turned to the one person who really could save them.  At least they got that part right!  Surely they must have known that Jesus wasn't just a regular guy.  There was something different about him, and even though they didn't quite understand what it was, they knew that they could trust him with their very lives.  

Clearly the disciples were terrified during this storm, but when they woke Jesus asking him to save them, I wonder what it was they expected him to do.  They were surprised when he actually did calm the storm, so what was it they had anticipated from Jesus?  They had witnessed plenty of miraculous healings and exorcisms, so why was this scenario different?  I think perhaps it was because everything they had seen dealt only with the people whom Jesus was healing, not forces of nature.  So when Jesus rebukes the wind and waves the disciples got a glimpse of how big God really is.  They asked Jesus to save them from the storm, but I doubt they expected Jesus to get rid of the storm altogether!

Does God ever do this in your life?  You ask him for something seemingly small and he shows you something much greater?  What kinds of things do you ask of God?  How does he show up in your life?  Are you ever surprised at how God works?   I realize that whenever I ask God for something, He's always bigger than how I usually expect him to show himself.  If we all understood the enormity of God, would we ever be surprised at the way he works in our lives?  I doubt it!  Maybe one thing we can learn from this passage is that we can expect big things from God, because he is always faithful to show up in big ways (even if it's in ways we don't anticipate.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Called to be Witnesses

The primary purpose of our trip to southeast Asia was to learn.  Learn about the culture, learn more of the language, and learn what it looks like to do ministry among a majority Muslim population.  I absorbed so much in the last two weeks, and I feel like I've just barely scratched the surface.  Our ultimate prayer throughout the trip was that God would open our eyes to show us what he is doing in this beautiful country.

I've had this mindset that until missionaries go to a place, God isn't there yet.  How ridiculous!  Before we even left I felt like God was already showing me that He is in fact doing great things there even before anyone shows up with the Gospel.  I needed to be reminded that God doesn't need us to accomplish his global purposes, but he allows us to be used.  We learn from John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."  Clearly God is already at work in people's hearts, drawing them to himself long before they even hear the Word.

We spent a lot of time with current mission workers who helped show us how to see the fruit of their labor.  In countries like Indo where, until relatively recently, there have been few missionaries, it would appear that very little is accomplished there.  You just don't have people becoming believers everyday.  We were introduced to the concept of 0 to 1 vs. 1 to 1000.  The idea is that in many countries with a long history of missionaries who have paved the way for new generations, loads of people are responding positively to the gospel.  You might have hundreds or even thousands come to faith in Christ at once.  On the other hand, in south east Asia where there are many roadblocks in missions, that foundation is still being laid.  Relationships are built over time and Jesus is introduced to a few people at a time.

This was a stark reminder that missions is a slow process.  When you read missionary biographies you learn of people who spent years, decades even, in remote areas with no fruit at all for their labor.  It's not until years later that the seeds they sowed yield a harvest.  In many ways the workers in Indo are still waiting for the great harvest, but we know that someday it will come.

During one of our team devotions one of our new friends said something that stuck out to me.  He talked about how we are called to be witnesses, and how we usually take that to mean we speak out for Christ.  If you think about the word witness, though, you realize that it means to observe or see something happening.  So when Jesus calls us to witness, we are called to see what He's up to and be a part of it!  How cool is that?  So part of our calling during this trip was to find out where Jesus was and how he was already working in the lives of the nationals.  What we found was pretty incredible...

Experiencing Southeast Asia

A typical house on stilts
It would be impossible to write about everything we saw and experienced overseas in just one post, so I'll be writing several entries to try to give you a glimpse into our recent trip.

To begin I just have to say how awesome it was to finally set foot on this country's soil after planning and praying about this trip for so long.  It's been over a year since we felt called to missions, and this trip was something of a first step toward that long term goal.  For those of you who were praying, THANK YOU!  Everything went smoothly throughout the two weeks we were there, and I know it was only because our team was covered in prayer the whole time.  What an incredible blessing it was to know that we had so many dear friends interceding for us!

Hanging out on the front porch
Before getting into the more profound aspects of the trip, I thought it would be fun to fill you in on some of the interesting cultural things that we experienced.  This place is unlike any other country we have visited.  Of course it shares similarities with nearby southeast Asian countries, but much of the culture is unique to this country.

It can be difficult to prepare yourself to travel to a place like this since absolutely everything is so different from the way Americans live.  The best preparation was to simply pray that God would give me grace and give me patience and understanding of the new culture.  One of the hardest parts of the trip was simply being uncomfortable most of the time.  I'm so spoiled at home with comfy furniture, and there most people don't have much, if any furniture in their homes.  Rather than lounging couches with fluffy pillows, we would sit on the tiled floors of people's homes or porches.  That certainly takes some getting used to, especially since you have to constantly be aware of your feet!  It is rude to have the bottom of your feet facing toward anyone, so you typically have to sit with your feet underneath you or to the side.
Bathroom: laundry, bucket shower, and toilet

Another adjustment was the whole bathroom situation.  I'm thankful that, at least for now, I live in a country that has toilets and showers!  Toilets in Indo generally consist of a hole in the floor (referred to as a squatty potty) and a bucket of water you can use to flush with.  It's a good idea to carry toilet paper with you, because it practically doesn't exist there.  There is often a hose next to the squatty potty that people use to rinse off with.  And then there's the shower.  Rarely will you find an actual shower; generally you will have a tub filled with cold water and a smaller bucket that you use to dump the water over yourself.  The cool water can be refreshing after being in the heat all day and you certainly use less water, but I'm still grateful to be able to take normal showers now that we're home!
Sheep wandering the village streets

The places where we stayed were in fairly rural areas so there was plenty of livestock to be seen everywhere.  A misconception I've always had was that roosters crowed once a day, in the morning, when you actually want to get up.  Where I got that idea I have no clue, but I couldn't have been more wrong.  Apparently roosters "go off" quite early and tend to sound like they are moments away from death by strangulation.  Not the most pleasant way to wake up if I'm perfectly honest.  But they don't stop after one or two crows.  They go on all day and are quite loud! 

Our bedroom in one of the host homes

Possibly the biggest challenge for me was the language barrier.  While there is a national language spoken by the majority of people, but most also speak a language specific to their people group or geographical area.  I've learned how to say a few things in the language, but not nearly enough to have an in-depth conversation with people who spoke no English at all.  This brought on a lot of frustration since I wanted so badly to be able to communicate!  We definitely have a lot to learn...

Delicious food!

One thing I loved about this country was the food!  They eat a lot of fried rice (or nasi goreng) and fried chicken.  One of our favorite desserts was tehran bulan which is somewhat like a very thick crepe with chocolate, peanuts, and sweetened condensed milk.  Needless to say, we didn't lose any weight on this trip!

There are a million other little details I could write about, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what it was like in southeast Asia!  It truly is an incredible place, and I can't wait to go back!