Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Next Piece

She was ready to give up. The 1,000 piece puzzle with a nature scene was too daunting to even think about completing. I told her not to call it quits.

Two weeks later, I was hardly in the back door when Ms. Donna ushered me to the puzzle on the dining room table.

"Look at how much we've gotten done!"

Their progress had more than doubled. The remaining pieces were sorted by approximate color.

I went to work. We chatted loosely and ate chips while we fingered every single piece of the puzzle.

Some where instant fits. Others seemed to go to a different puzzle. Sometimes we'd get two or six in a row. Sometimes we'd have minutes where nothing worked.

Those were the worst. The times you begin to say, "Surely there's something better I could be doing with this Sunday afternoon. Why am I even here doing this? It's just going to go back in the box when we're done anyway."

And then you'd get a piece to fit correctly. Maybe even two. Or sometimes it would be more minutes before another piece worked.

Yet still hope had been renewed; we found the strength and determination to continue.

I began to pray:

God, I don't want to see the cover of the puzzle box. I don't know what the final scene will look like, and I'm ok with that. I just want the strength to be able to say, "I can do this for another day because I know You're with me."

Some puzzle pieces are instant, easy, obvious fits. Those are my favorites.

Some take a little more work. Some you're not even convinced belong to the right puzzle. Either way, I'm ready for the next piece.

I will complete this life puzzle, one lousy piece at a time.

The final product will be worth it.

<>< Katie

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jesus Worldwide: India

From Katie: If you know someone who would be interested in being interviewed or guest posting for Jesus Worldwide, I would love the chance to chat with them. I have no problem visiting the same country more than once. After all, we all see the Lord work in different ways.

This week I got to chat with my friend Kevin, also sometimes called Jesus Shoes, and his chance to be the Lord’s feet in India. It is hard to whittle six months down to a single blog post, so check out more stories here (including the play-by-play of the war against the rats).

Katie: How long were you in India, and what were you doing there?

Kevin: For six months I lived in north India with several other Americans as part of a discipleship program to help continue the work the Lord had already been doing through the local church as well as two American missionaries living there.

The town has a mission hospital and school, so all of our different roles were centered around those places. One person in pursuit of a nursing degree worked at the hospital. I was exploring the possibility of becoming a teacher, so I taught and assisted in music classes, taught math to several sixth grade students, as well as history.

We were also involved in the local church. For me that meant writing the Bible study for the church youth group, discipling the guys of the youth group, teaching guitar lessons as a way to build relationships, and modeling mature Christian behavior.

I feel like that’s one of the biggest needs there. The church is there and it has some numbers but within the church there is a lack of discipleship. The older believers do not put much effort into training new believers, and the younger believers do not have much in the way of adult role models as far as how to walk with Christ and how to grow their faith.  

Not that I have arrived as a believer (nor will I ever), but I have been walking with the Lord and there are a lot of practical things I could share as well as life experiences to pour out into them. 

Katie: What is the relationship between the Christian hospital and school and the rest of the community? 

Kevin: The area I was in is definitely hostile towards any kind of evangelism, as is most of the country of India. Normally one might think going to an area like that might not be the best of ideas but in this case the church is welcome and respected. It’s almost like the church has earned the right for its voice to be heard. 

The Gospel initially came to this area with healthcare. It’s a very rural area in India that’s difficult to travel to. It’s not as difficult now as it was 30, 40, and 50 years ago. The Christian hospital was the first healthcare in the town and because they were providing healthcare to the people there, the locals welcomed and responded to the Gospel. 

After some time the people working at the hospital began noticing a lot of preventable diseases and began to realize that if these people had education, they would not be seeing those patients. So they started a school, and it was the first school in the area. It started off teaching basics but also things that allowed students to go on to universities.  

There are now multiple hospitals and multiple schools in town; however, the best healthcare comes from the Christian hospital and the best education comes from the Christian school. 

Not all of the students are Christians. Some of them are sent there by their parents who want them in the best school and are able to afford it. It was interesting because they are in a situation where they hear the Gospel on a daily and their teachers are believers.

It was also interesting because the school has the learning center, the ability, and the space to help special needs students which is not common in India. It’s not a large program at a tradition school but they have the space to offer to students who are struggling which is unusual. 

Katie: How did you see the Lord work while you were in India? 

Kevin: I saw Him work in lots of ways. 

While we were there we made a point to let students know we were available and if they wanted to talk about things or study the Bible together, we would do that. There was a teenage girl who was on the very edge. Her family situation wasn’t great but through the work of one of the other Americans and their building a relationship, this girl came to faith in the Lord. Her life has really changed, and we’ve been able to watch her grow through email updates from the missionaries who are still there. The Gospel is bearing fruit in her life, and she is being changed. It’s really amazing. 

Another way was through the relationships with several students. Many of them are young and as they’re growing into adults they need to know that they’re loved. Just like here in the States, I saw a lot of bad parenting. Parents weren’t being parents, and their kids wanted attention and deserved it.  I could never fill that role, but I could at least give the kids some attention. They weren’t just seeing me but they were, hopefully, seeing Christ in the ways that I treated them and the ways I treated the people in my house. 

Typically in the local culture, the women do everything in the house and the men do not help. It was funny for them to come into our home and be seated, and then for me to make them chai that would actually be good. It’s not that difficult to make good chai; I enjoyed turning that cultural norm on its head.  

Most of the time you try and respect their culture. Guys and girls don’t really spend a lot of time together in public. Even if they’re married, they don’t show any affection in public. Coming from a small, private college in the rural South, you get used to there being affection all of the time. It was a big adjustment but it’s something you do because you have to. 

Another way I saw the Lord work was in my own life. You don’t go to a place like that for yourself, at least you shouldn’t. There are a lot of needs for the people there, but ultimately I think the biggest mark left from a trip like that is on you as the person who went rather than the people who are there. I would definitely say that was true for me. 

Katie: What are some challenges you faced? 

Kevin: We faced all sorts of challenges; you’re always going to have them. 

For example, our plane ride was followed by a fifteen hour bus ride from Delhi. It started snowing while we were on our way. About three miles from our destination, the snow was a foot deep, and the bus finally stopped. We had to wait for a four-wheel-drive vehicle to take us the rest of the way. We were without power for our first two weeks. Our tap water went out, and our main water source in town went out. 

The house we stayed in was old and not very well sealed, so there were rats that lived in there. We declared war against them and won! Not without losing some sleep first. It was kind of scary at times. 

The church was also challenging in that there was a lot of immaturity among believers. In the New Testament we read Paul’s letters to various churches, specifically the letters to the people of Corinth, and he’s pretty angry. You read it, and you’re like, “Why were they doing that? They were crazy!” 

I saw a lot of those kinds of things happening in the church. We would see things, and you want to react in ten different ways, but you can’t. It was a challenge to know how to love the church because for those problems to go away it isn’t going to be something an American outsider does to change it. It’s going to be the Holy Spirit changing peoples’ hearts. I can tell someone that he’s sinning but until he breaks down and says, “Yes, I’m a sinner. I’ve been doing this, and it’s not right,” no words I say will make a difference. 

Katie: What can we learn from Christians in India? 

Kevin: Well, we definitely won’t learn punctuality. 

One thing I found that was essential was the church’s commitment to study and meditation. The maturing believers there study the Bible, not just the Gospels or the New Testament but the all of the Bible, and know and understand the details and to meditate on them. The spiritual discipline of meditation is huge. It’s something that’s being ignored and that’s not ok. 

The focus they have on study is something noteworthy and worth doing ourselves. If we’re not really studying the Word and knowing the God we follow, then what? 

Katie: How can we best pray for our brothers and sisters in India? 

Kevin: It’s hard to speak for the entire country with a population of a billion because my experiences are limited to one small town. 

For the country as a whole, that the Gospel would pour out because it’s what’s needed. 

In the small town where I spent my time there are a lot of cultures and religions mixed together. Tibetan Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and people that mix them all together. My greatest prayer would be for them to know Christ.

Also for the church to be unified and truly be the body of Christ, to be unified and love each other. And that true discipleship would happen because that’s what we are commanded to do: make disciples. I would definitely pray for that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Life Without Music

Earlier this week I had coffee with a delightful woman whose family does not listen to much music. My understanding is that it's a sound issue where they can't handle the volume level. They went to a concert and had to leave because the sound stimulation was too much.

I tried to envision what my life would be like without music. I almost always have music playing. If it's not on, there's probably a song running through my head. Concerts are my family's bonding activity.

We've gone to the same multi-day Christian music festival for nine years. Our record is six Mark Schultz concerts in one calendar year. We sit around quoting "As Is" by Peder Eide as if "Samson was a long-haired, arrogant womanizer" is a perfectly logical thing to say in conversation.

If it weren't for music, we'd probably have to watch movies or take up karate like normal people.

When I talk about Lifest, I tell the silly stories: the standing ovation earned by a water bottle, the mud so bad our van had to be pushed into the parking lot, using my lawn chair as an umbrella, etc.

But I think about it, I think about worshipping with Phillips, Craig, and Dean as the rain gently fell on my face. I think about kneeling on fist-sized gravel to stretch my arms up to my Abba Father like a child wanting to be held. I remember Peter Furler (when he was in Newsboys) talking about God's perfect timing only to have a nearby train interrupt his sentence.

Can I worship without music?

I love how the Lord gets my attention through songs I've heard a million times. I get a taste of heaven when strangers unite as a family to sing praises to our Father. I didn't perform "My Savior, My God" in ASL in front of a crowded room of Nicaraguan believers; I worshipped my Savior, my God with my hands.

Through music may be one of my favorite ways to worship, but it's certainly not the only way.

To affirm or encourage someone, that's worship. To serve and love on someone, that's worship. To hug someone, to squeeze a shoulder as you pass, to look someone in the eye. Worship. To genuinely ask how someone's doing, to sit down and share life over a cup of coffee, to bring lunch to an under-employed freelance writer. Worship. To dance, to play ping pong, to sign, to make copies, etc. they can all be worship. (My thoughts on this have been heavily influenced by TASTE Worship--check it out).

In Guatemala, there was a day I was "forbidden" to sing and sign. I worshipped that day. I removed flecks of orange paint from a brush and bucket, and it was worshipful.

Can I worship with music?

Last summer, I remember running through the park arguing with God about being twenty minutes late to a forty-minute show. He brought to my attention that I was not approaching the concert with the right heart.

It wasn't the first time.

How often do I attend a concert just to add another artist to my repertoire? How often do I absent-mindedly sing along without realizing what I'm saying?

These questions hurt because I am ashamed of their answers.

Even at Christian concerts, my heart is not always in the right place. I've sung along, I've waved my arms, I've screamed at the top of my lungs, and I hate to confess it has not always been for the Lord.

It happens under a rain-free sky. It happens in a crowded, dark auditorium. It happens in my church on Sunday mornings. It happens to me more often than I care to admit.

I voluntarily took a day this week and turned the music off. I washed dishes in silence. I drove across town in the quiet. I worked without any accompaniment.

It was weird and awkward at first but then it became peaceful.

That's worship.

Weird and awkward at first. Uncomfortable and strange. But then peaceful, wonderful, and necessary.

Whether you're a person who loves to literally feel the beat of the drums or just prefers white noise in the background, take some time this week to worship with the radio off.

Let me know how it works for you.

<>< Katie

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

(Not) Getting Murdered

No matter how many times David said, "We're not going to get murdered," I was still scared.

He was my navigator telling me to drive two miles down a dirt road in the dark.

It was kind of like driving on ice in that I didn't exactly have complete control of the car. And it was kind of like terrifying in that we were smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Did I mention it was nighttime and we were alone? Well, except for the truck following us, driven by the murderer.

For two miles, the conversation essentially went:
Katie: We're gonna die.
David: No, we're not.
Katie: We're gonna get murdered.
David: We're not gonna get murdered.

Yet still I kept driving.

I trust David, and I trusted he wasn't really leading me down a dangerous path.

If I trusted David, how could I be so fearful?

Well, I was in a very scary situation: I was driving down a dirt road with my brights on but not in complete control of the car, in the middle of nowhere to a house where I've never been, at night, with a guy who is older, bigger, and wiser than I am, and we were being followed. Maybe not the smartest decision of my life.

In ASL, the words for FEAR and TRUST are opposites. You can't sign them both at the same time (I tried). Fear and trust cannot co-exist.

Yet still they did in my car.

Still they do in my life.

I'm in a scary situation. After four long years I graduated with a degree that lacks a defined job at the end. I'm working as a freelance writer and not making enough to pay for food.

But if I say I trust the Lord, how can I be so fearful?

I am not the driver and not the navigator in this life. I'm just a passenger letting the Lord take this car wherever He desires.

But that doesn't mean I'm doing it quietly. I'm crying, I'm protesting, I'm convinced I'm gonna die. I have dug my heels into the ground, literally shouted naughty words at the Lord, and nearly punched someone in frustration.

That isn't trust. That's protesting. That's complaining.

God and I have this conversation regularly:
Katie: This is scary.
God: Just trust Me.
Katie: I want to but I can't. I'm scared.
God: I love you perfectly. Please, just trust Me.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot merge fear and trust. Something's got to give.

On Saturday, I surrendered to trust David, let go of the fear, and kept driving.

The dirt road did eventually end. Surprise: we didn't get murdered! The truck following us was driven by Cody who, turns out, is not a murderer. (Well, if he is, he's a very bad one since he didn't seize a perfect opportunity).

The road forked and BOOM there was a house with lights on, the door open, and the host and hostess inviting us in.

Daily surrender to trust the Lord doesn't mean this bumpy path of unemployment is going to end. God doesn't promise a smooth journey. He does promise that He'll journey with us.

So far, He has.

Life ain't great. But still every morning the sun rises (proof enough of God's faithfulness), I'm still breathing and, eventually, I can pull myself from the five layers of blankets. Some days come with more self-confidence than others but each day a new chance to proclaim His faithfulness even in the desert.

I protested with David but kept going. I'm protesting the Lord but still stepping forwards in obedience.

What's scary about obedience is the lack of control and the lack of knowing where you're going.

The house David, Cody, and I arrived at was home to a family who welcomed us with open arms, fed us a delicious dinner, and let us raid their game room.

This is less than half of their game collection.
Worth it.

If we continue in obedience, God promises that some day we will arrive Home to His open arms.

Luckily, we don't have to wait until then. In every step we can cling to His perfect love. In obedience and even in failure, He's RIGHT THERE.

That is hope enough to keep on truckin'.

Putting one foot in front of the other and taking each day one step at a time,
<>< Katie

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jesus Worldwide: Philippines

From Katie: Summer 2010 my then-roommate Jennifer got to spend eight days in the Philippines visiting Jamsell, the child she sponsors through Compassion International. These are her photos and stories as she told them to me. Her biggest regret is not journaling more, but she can't wait to go back in a few years when Jam is older. <>< Katie

No matter how many photos or videos you see, you don't realize how real poverty is until you get there. I returned to the States asking, "Why do I have this? I don't need it." The first day we learned about how Compassion is combating poverty in Jesus' name.

On the second day we visited a church partner of Compassion's. Our team split into groups of five to visit homes and pray with families. Five people lived in the walk-in-closet-size home we visited. They had one flat futon-sized bed where all four children slept and the parents slept on the floor with no cushions and minimal blankets. Their front door was made of a cloth, a bowl served as the sink, and they had an outdoor bathroom. However, there was a plastic drawer set and in those drawers were the cherished letters from the child's sponsor.

The third day was the hardest. We visited a larger (though still small) church and child development center. We were welcomed by children chanting and singing.

Every sponsored child has a folder with all of his/her information, letters exchanged, photos, report cards, etc.
We then visited an above ground cemetery that was filled with trash and homes. People were living in a place that should be reserved for the dead. The cemetery was surrounded by a wall that also had tombs in it, then there was a walkway barely wide enough for one person before another wall. People live in the small space between the second wall and a nearby creek that regularly floods the cemetery (and homes).

Between the second wall and the creek is the home of Princess. She wants to grow up to be a nurse and be able to move her family out of the flood plain. Right now their home serves as the cemetery market. At 5'5", I had to duck in order to enter it. They have bunkbeds with a board, tarp-plastic for sheets, and a pillow. They are lucky enough to have a tv that plays movies, but they only have one movie. Their house also contains trinkets and things they've found.

We sprayed Princess's family's home for cockroaches, left, returned, and prayed for them. While we were praying a dead cockroach fell on my head. When we left the area, children followed us out, surrounded us, held up "I love you" on their hands, and chased the bus as we drove away.

On day four we visisted another church and split into groups (each containing one guy) and lived with a family for the day. My family lived in a neighborhood with houses almost on top of each other it was so hard to move.

Our family had both a fridge and a tv. They are Christians and spoke openly about God's blessings. The mom painted fingernails for a living. Each manicure costs one dollar, and she typically did four a day. She made four dollars a day. The trip leader got a mani-pedi and paid extra for it; it was soooooo appreciated!

We rode a jeepney, a WWII bus-like transportation, that costs only seven cents but most people cannot afford it. It took us to a school on the mountain just to visit. It was small and packed with people. They loved to have their pictures taken and asked for autographs.

They color live chicks and sell them in order to make money.
The Philippines is ranked fourth in the world for the number of child prosititutes. This problem comes from pimps trying to have sex with children and parents selling their children due to poverty.

Day five we spent sitting in on classes at a school. We went over Bible verses, sang, and danced. For snack we had a choice between cheese or cookies and cream ice cream. I had the cheese ice cream. The students also made a craft book about themselves, and all of the girls gave their books to me.

Cheese ice cream tastes like graham crackers.
A lot of people are jealous of the Compassion children. Compassion supports as many children as possible but parents must put them into the program.
Day six was the best day ever! *squeal* It was the day we were all waiting for because we got to meet our sponsored children! Our sponsored children and their parents were standing on the steps with their project leader (translator) when we arrived and everyone recognized each other. We went to an aquarium in Manila and a huge mall/play area. At age 6, Jamsell understands English but does not really speak it. She was very quiet, but we began bonding over a silly game, laughing, and simple math problems. When we watched a movie, Jam fell asleep in my lap.

Their teeth were rotted out which shows poverty. Jam's mom Rowena told me (in English) about their family's hardships: they live with Jam's grandparents who don't want them but they can't move out due to financial challenges. I got to pray over the family.
We ate lunch at a McDonalds-like restaurant. I gave Jamsell a backpack full of school supplies, bracelets, and gifts including a picture frame that now has our picture in it and an umbrella that had been a gift from a friend at home. When they left, Rowena and Jamsell were still using their old umbrella because they did not want to get the new one dirty. I wish I would have included a Bible in the bag.

Our last day (day seven) we visited a church where it was so hot my camera lens fogged up. The children danced and sang in English. After the farewell dinner, children shared their testimonies.

They talked about how bad childhood had been but how it was a blessing because it meant they could be sponsored. If it had not been for Compassion, many of them said they would not be Christians. They said they could not wait to grow up and sponsor children of their own.