Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Blessed Despite My Unwillingness

            Have you ever been asked to help someone out at some future point in time and responded with an “I’ll pray about it” answer, hoping that the person would be appeased with the fact that God could work it out if He willed but really wishing they would forget to ask you again? Did you ever go home and just kinda “forget” about doing said nice deed? But have you ever said that and then God really did work it out despite your lack of inclination? How did you feel then? Did you cheerfully do the duties that you promised you would pray about? Well, obviously I am asking these questions because it happened to me. And I want to tell you how good God is despite my big mouth!
            At the end of my blog in August (wow, that was a long time ago!) I was recovering from a bloody nose I got (figuratively speaking) when God seemed to slam the door shut in my face. I was unsure of the exact reasons why He had closed all the doors, but I had to trust that it was in His perfect plan for my life. That is way easier to say now than it was at the time. Anyways, I ended up staying in Houston at Reach the World Next Door missionary training school for two months. The irony of this all was that originally I had not been able to be there because of prior commitments, but with the recent change of plans/broken nose on the slammed door I just happened to be free as a bird! The timing could not have been any more perfect. Sound familiar? Well, I was there to help just as the classes were getting ready to start. This allowed me time to share what I have experienced and give advice on where I have seen failure and success. Also, this was a good time to weed eat!!!! Not that I enjoyed it more than all the class planning sessions, but… At the end of September I was really feeling a pulling at my heart to return to my North Dakota family and work at the church school (which I had been offered a job earlier in the summer but was going to Asia, but since that changed I had more open plans). While I was working at the church school, I got a call from a local public high school asking if I could help translate for a student who had just arrived from Mexico. He spoke very limited English and the teachers spoke little or no Spanish. I was called on a Tuesday, went to interview with the school on Wednesday, and went to my first day of school on Friday! For the first time being hired to a “real job” I think it was rather quick. So on a cool October day, at the age of 26, I attended public school for the first time in my life. Talk about culture shock! I was surprised to find out that just about a week after I started the translating job two students arrived from Indonesia. They did not speak English, and unfortunately I did not speak Indonesian. But Google Translate does! So I started learning the “type frantically fast in simple English” language so I could communicate with them. I would not recommend learning and depending on this language, but it works in a pinch. Then I got the email asking to go on a mission trip to Asia. I wanted to go so bad but replied that I did not feel it was the right time, but that I would pray about it. I had just started a new job and did not have money to buy a flight or hotels so I kinda just wrote it off as a “NO”. Life continued as normal (remember that normal for me is probably crazy for most people). A few weeks later another email was sent asking again if I wanted to go to Asia on the mission trip because there was funding for my whole trip. A little embarrassed that I had not really committed it to prayer, I responded that I would ask my boss at the public school if I could leave. I figured the worst he could do is reject my request. Much to my surprise, he right away told me to go. There was no hesitation, but only reassurances that if I was ever back in the area they would be happy to hire me again if possible. That left me about two weeks to get my visa, flights, and travel plans ironed out. Oh! And all the Christmas gifts for the nieces and nephew finished and sent off. No biggie! This time I really had to pray that God would get stuff done for me. So two weeks later I had a visa, plane ticket, and a cleaner sewing area.
            The trip to Asia was a rekindling of my missionary spirit. God knew that I needed to go there at that particular time. I was in charge of organizing the interviews and photos of all the workers for our ministry in the country. I got to hear their struggles, trials, and victories in their work for the Lord as medical missionaries and church planters. I got to hear plans for future areas of training for missionaries as well as industries to keep these training centers open. I can say that I am truly blessed to be able to look forward to having a bigger family reunion in heaven one day soon. As the time came to a close in Asia, we all said our sad goodbyes and headed home.
Unfortunately, just a day after my arrival in America, my roomie from Asia and I both got sick. Even though we were hundreds of miles apart now, we were both experiencing the same problems. The worst part was thinking about the upcoming trip to GYC. I was this close (imagine my thumb and pointer finger about 1mm apart) to staying home and skipping out on GYC. But God had other plans for me. He let me feel somewhat better the night before I was supposed to leave for Phoenix just so I would get into the car and start the 32 hour trip without the possibility of turning back. I would like to report a smooth road trip, but I was miserable. I was either freezing or burning up and felt nauseous almost the whole way. Praise God none of my Christmas dinner was reviewed in the car. Finally, we arrived in Phoenix with but few hours of sleep.
One of the best things about these big conferences, besides the spiritual revival it brings, is seeing all your friends that you didn’t know were going to be in attendance. When I got asked to work the booth I wanted to say “no” but somehow the words that came out of my mouth sounded a lot more like “sure, I can”. Throughout the weekend I was working at various times in the booth and that is when I could see that God was using me despite not wanting to be standing at only one booth and not visiting with friends. All throughout the weekend I was surprised by what God continued to do through my unwillingness:
1.                    I had just finished talking to a person about missions when Antoine told me that I needed to meet his friend, Florence, and pray with her. I shook her hand and started small talking with her. I found out that her niece, early 30s, had recently passed away. Since the passing of her niece, Florence had come to really know God. She had been pushing Him away despite her niece’s efforts to bring her back to God. Not until the youth was gone did Florence find her passion for God. She decided at the death that she was going to take the Bible and make it her life. Florence is especially passionate about spreading tracts and literature to all those around her. She asked if I knew of any place where she could buy more tracts to hand out. Fortunately, God had assigned my roomie (from the mission trip to Asia) to work in a booth handing out tracts for free. I took Florence to the other booth and explained how she had become so fervent in her work. She was beyond thankful to be able to receive the free literature. She then asked if I would pray for her. As she poured out her heart to share the struggles she was facing with her family life, I knew that it was only something that God could change. As I started praying for her, I could feel that she was also lifting her thoughts and prayers upwards. At the end of the prayer, she was crying, thanking the Lord for bringing us together at just that time. And to think I didn’t even want to be in the booth that night!
2.                    This time I wasn’t working in the booth, but my friend got pulled in even though it wasn’t her turn. As I waited for her to finished talking with someone, a girl approached me to ask if I knew anything about where artists could get involved in missions. I knew very little, but offered my assistance in taking her to a few other booths to ask. She accepted and we headed off to some of the other booths. I approached the Little Light Studios (LLS) booth in hopes that they could give her guidance while I went to look for charcoal ice cream and BBQ tofu! Immediately the LLS director took her in and started talking with her. I merrily went my way to appease my growling stomach. When I returned to our booth to get my money a few minutes later, the same girl greeted me again. She wanted to thank me so much for helping her find the LLS ministry. She told me that she was an introvert and preferred to be in her home away from people, but at the same time she wanted to be able to serve God. Preaching and teaching was not her style, but art was. She was then able to find her niche in the missionary work. We prayed together and she thanked me again. And to think, I wasn’t even supposed to be in the booth that night.
3.                    Friday is the day that GYC gets to be involved in outreach. I was going to go out, but then decided that I would stay with my friend who felt very nervous about doing door-to-door work. We made the decision to be intentionally praying for those who went on outreach. After we prayed specifically for people in the various groups, we decided to go get food for lunch. We passed by a hotdog stand that was selling veggie dogs. We stopped and chatted with the vendor then shared a My Language, My Life card with him. After getting our dog, we said our goodbyes. Then we went to the Mediterranean restaurant that we had planned on. The young boy working the register was so friendly and helpful. We ended up talking with him for at least 15 minutes while our food was being prepared. In that time we could see how passionate he was to study how to better help those who were less fortunate than he was and those who were not as blessed to have good families. We also found out that many of his family members in the Middle East could not speak English. It was the perfect opportunity to share another My Language, My Life card with him. He and the rest of his family (who also worked in the restaurant) were very pleased to receive that tiny card. And to think, we weren’t going to be a part of outreach!
4.                    The trip back home was long, but somehow it was a little more pleasant than the ride to Phoenix. We stopped at a gas station about midnight looking for a place to fill up (and empty). As I started chatting with the girl working there, I noticed that she was about to finish the book she was reading. When I got out to the car again, I told the others that I wanted to give her something better to read. After we found a book to share with her, I suddenly got nervous. I didn’t want to share it with her anymore. What if she thought I was weird and crazy (both might be true despite what she believed)? I said a short prayer with my friends and headed right back into the station. I talked with her for another moment and then presented her with the gift. She gratefully accepted the gift being offered. Then came the next hard part of asking if I could pray for her. I was expecting that this girl who had just been swearing moments earlier would be quick to reject my offer, but much to my surprise, she accepted. Then she opened up to me about her uncle who recently found out he has cancer. We prayed together and with smiles on our faces parted ways. I don’t know if she has read the book, but I can be sure that she had the opportunity to read something more uplifting. And to think, I didn’t even have courage enough to offer her salvation that I am given freely.
So as I reflect on the last few months of my life, and at the whole year of 2017, I have two specific prayers that I want to offer up to God:
1.     Lord, please help me to be more willing.

2.     And when I am not willing, please still push me and guide me along Your path that You have already planned out for me so that I can learn to trust more in Your perfect plans for my life.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tabu (tam-bu)

            Each country has a culture: some more unique than others. Fiji is a country full of culture and traditions. This last week I had the opportunity to be a part of a very unique tradition that does not happen much even in this country.
            Death is such a harsh reality on this earth. It does not care who you are or what you have. One year ago, unbeknownst to me, my village chief died. Although I had not arrived in Fiji at that point, I was able to see some of the results of his death. All were prohibited to fish in our bay for one full year after his death. On April 27 we as a village celebrated the opening of the bay with a huge fishing celebration. Preparations began many days before; some were sewing new outfits, others were gathering and cooking, while the men went into the bush to find the vines and branches. Everyone participated in the event. Very early Thursday morning the action began. A team of strong swimmers dragged the ½ - ¾ mile long vine rope to the outskirts of the bay. By 6 AM most of the villagers were on the beach or in the water taking part. The village was divided into two sides and placed on opposite ends of the rope. Commands were given by the appointed leaders in the boats and on the rope ends to pull, wait, and rustle the rope. After hours of pulling in the two ends, the end was coming into sight. The fish were being led into and trapped in a small area. The only thing left to do was wait for the tide to go out and leave the fish imprisoned in the shallow coral reefs.
            The time had finally arrived. The excitement was growing as the head leader explained what was to happen: the first fish were to be caught and divided among all in the village. Shouts and cheers arose as the first spears were thrown! All hands were put to work as fish were being speared and thrown onto the uncovered coral. Men, women, children, and grandparents worked diligently to get all the fish into the boat. After the boat was filled to the brim, the waters were opened for personal fishing. Instantly, everything became free for the taking. Some used spears and nets while others used rocks and hands to capture the last of the fish caught in the low waters. Happiness could be heard and seen even as the rain began to pour down upon all. But the festival did not end there. The people went back to their homes to prepare for the afternoon ceremony. Beautiful dresses, tops, and sulus of brightly printed materials were to be shown off. There was an abundance of food and fellowship as the afternoon progressed. Gifts were presented to the deceased chief’s family in honor of his service to the village. The festivities continued on late into the night as stories were told and memories recounted.

            This may have been a one-day event, but the memories will stay with me forever. I got to see a village made up of different tribes and religions come together as one united family. This is my family.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Worth More than a Tabui


            Last night I had a very interesting conversation with my host family. Apparently, in Fijan culture, if a gentleman would like to court a girl, he must show that he is indeed interested. He must bring a present to the girl’s family to show that he is serious and can provide for her. I believe that in most cultures, more so in the olden days than present day, some sort of dowry was required in order to marry a girl. There may or may not have been a required pre-dowry payment in order to court a girl. I typically think about a payment including money, land, or even cattle (way back when). However, last night I was pleasantly surprised by the payment method. No, it wasn’t beach-front property or pearls or 500 coconuts, but a tubui! I think my mouth feel open at that point considering what that must look like. Maybe you could imagine it like this:
            Gentleman: (knocks on the door)
            (Father of young lady opens the door)
            Gentleman: Good evening, sir. How are you doing?
             Father: Fine, thank you. And yourself?
            Gentleman: Doing well, thanks.
            Father: So what has brought you to my house this evening?
            Gentleman: Well…um…I…would…um…like…um
            Father: Enough with it lad! Just spit it out!
            Gentleman: (Rather flustered) I would like to marry your daughter.
            Father: Ah! I had been wondering when this day would come. Tell me, son, how can I know that you will do well and respect my daughter? What proof could I have to be reassured of your truly devoted love towards her?
            Gentleman: Sir, the only thing I have to give is this. (Reaches into his satchel and pulls out *shing, sparkle, sparkle* a whale tooth)
            (Daughter is peering out the window. At the sight of the tooth she loses her breath.)
Father: (Gasp) Oh my, boy. It seems that you really have been thinking seriously about this, haven’t you?
Gentleman: Yes, sir. And I will care for your daughter and our children as if I had paid 100 whale teeth for them.
(Daughter, still peering out the window, starts feeling warm tears roll down her cheeks as she sees how highly her secret love values her life.)
Father: Well boy, (pause to hold self together) it appears that you are a fine, young, responsible lad. I would be proud to call you my son-in-law.
(Daughter bursts through the doorway to fall into the arms of her long admired whale tooth winner.)
The End

Now please, hold back your tears as you imagine this Fijan love story. So maybe not that serious. But on a serious note, there is someone who values you immensely; One who was willing to give more than some old plaque catchers for you. This story may sound a little old hash, but the truth is it can be new and fresh everyday. Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon? God would dig 100,000x deeper to find you. What about the moon? If some nice guy says he will bring the moon down to you, you should wait to see what God would do for you. He can create a whole galaxy of moons that are each unique. Why would He do such a thing for you? Simple. God loves you.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Giving it all up

     Can you think of one thing that you are very attached to emotionally? Maybe it is a family member, something that your great-great-grandfather gave to you, or a current job. So many times we hear that we must be willing to give up everything for God. That makes sense when it is something that obviously comes from the world. How can God be living in us when we are crowding Him out with things of the flesh? But have you ever thought about what if God calls you to give up something that is useful in your ministry work? Maybe you have a truck that is used every day to take sick people to the clinic, but God calls you to give it up. Perhaps, that college degree that could be used to teach others something specific must be put aside so that God can use you another way. What if He asked you to give up some of your missionary family? Recently, God taught me a good lesson about giving up what is not even really mine.
            Every class session the students are required to participate in a weekend-long survival campout. This usually happens in the bush where the students can have access to all the natural resources available. Due to many unforeseen circumstances, plans had to be changed this time and the campout was to take place at our lagoon-front piece of property in Honey Camp. Of the many changes that had to be made, the hardest to plan was the transportation issue. Normally, the staff members can travel quickly and freely between the campsite and home. However, even though distance wise the property is not far, the time to travel there is much longer. Friday morning the students headed out bright and early for their weekend retreat: the staff to join in the afternoon.
            Everything was going well until I realized that my missionary family had not arrived. They should have arrived around 5:30 pm and it was almost 6:30 pm by now. I figured that they had gone right at the fork in the road instead of left. This isn’t a big problem considering the road is a loop: just wait until they come full circle. But they were taking a really long time. I called back to home base and checked to make sure they had left. Sure enough, they should have been at camp already. The guys jumped into the truck to go look for them since it was getting dark and might be a little difficult to find our property on the lagoon. When news returned that they had not been found on the loop road, we started thinking about where they could have possibly gone. The guys went back out to check on the few roads that forked off the loop, but only to return with nothing. Panic was not setting in, just a bit of worry and confusion. My dad doesn’t get lost easily. He knows how to get to our property. Mom would have told someone if something was wrong. Despite all of the signs, we kept looking in hopes of finding them stuck on the side of the road or with a flat tire. I tried to call but all I heard was, “I’m sorry but the person you are trying to reach is not available at this time.” As the hours passed things started to seem more abnormal. By 10 pm I was starting to feel desperate. With all the stress of being in charge of the weekend, the lack of sleep due to all the preparation changes, and the desperation of knowing they had been literally minutes away yet did not arrive pushed me over the edge. My emotions burst open like an uncontrollable storm. Before midnight struck we had two of our local pastors, friends from phone companies, the police, the embassy, and many other friends involved in the search. It is not as bad as you think. Just go to sleep because you cannot control yourself right now. But I can’t sleep right now with this type of stress. What if…? What if…? And again my tears flowed freely. My body began to shake while everything seemed to be turning from bad to worse. My missionary sisters hugged me and held me to calm me down. They repeated God’s promises, sang songs, and prayed for deliverance for the lost company. God, why should I need to give up my family? They help people all over the world to be able to continue to do mission work. They are serving You in so many ways. They are Your missionaries. And that is when it hit me like a strike of lightning in the middle of that storm: They are Your missionaries not mine. In that moment I had to decide to give them up and submit it all to God. Perhaps, although my finite mind could not understand how, God had a bigger plan for their lives. A calm gently started to flow over me as I held onto God’s presence. Maybe I would never see them again, but only in earthly terms. That resurrection day will be all the sweeter as I see more loved ones lifted up to Jesus, the One who conquered death. That night gave very little sleep, but it did give an assurance that God’s angels were encamped around us. The next afternoon, tears once more fell as I got to hug those that I had considered lost.
            Can we really give up anything in this life? Do we actually own any item in this world? Or have we been loaned all of these many things from an infinitely loving God? Take care of what has been placed in your care, but also be ready to return it whenever God calls. It will never be a loss.