Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Enough

I was born with hands meant to be calloused and a heart too big for my body.  I've been told more times than I can count, "You are such a servant," and it came from a lifetime of thinking that's just what I was supposed to do.  What started as a survival skill became a habit, and then a joy as I saw the benefits of doing for others as you'd want them to do for you.  Lately though, I've discovered there is such a thing as a limit to how much one can do.

I work at an in-patient youth rehabilitation facility where kids between the ages of 12 and 17 come to live for at least 35 days and work on learning the skills they need to be and remain sober.  They're on everything from heroine to meth, marijuana to acid, hydrocodine to hash and alcohol.  Most kids get it first from their parents and then make friends who take them to new heights in their drug dependency.  The kids you see on the street and call "punks," those kids who get kicked out or drop out of school and are still on the street selling, dealing or doing drugs five years later... it's easy to judge them.  It's harder when you spent 30 hours a week with them as they work through treatment.

About one month ago I was in an in-house Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting.  A routine meeting we hold once a week, and a client, I'll call her Anna*, spoke up when we started discussing fears.  Anna faces 7 felonies, more than $200,000 in restitution and in a very short amount of time she turns 18, at which point she'll no longer have any insurance or support.  This girl who dons a nose piercing, radiant long black hair, a magnetic smile and sharp eyes that reveal deep wounds when the right subject is approached, spoke up.  She expressed a deep desire to get sober, but an even deeper fear of whether she'll be able to handle it when the tragedies of life come her way.  Later that night, I took my Bible to her room and before I had a chance to open my mouth she grinned and asked, "Are you going to read the Bible to me?"  Turns out, this drug addict loves the Bible and knows quite a bit about Jesus, but doesn't have the guidance to do more than grab on to the scriptures she understands.

What began as my sharing a few Bible verses with her to ease some of the fears in her heart, turned into a routine of my coming to her room and reading to her before she fell asleep.  The other girls in her room started listening and asking questions, and it developed into a full-fledged Bible study within days.  For two weeks I was able to share scripture with these teens who were recovering from drug addiction.  I was able to answer questions and share God's Word.  It was short-lived, however, and it came to my knowledge that due to work policy, I was no longer allowed to share the Bible with the clients or enforce one particular religion.  As disappointing and hurtful as that was to hear, their reasoning behind it is more than understandable, and I certainly don't hold any grudges or resentment toward this facility for their policy.  Still, you could say it felt like God was clipping my wings.

As one with a natural desire to serve, whether it's making you dinner, babysitting your children, running errands for those struggling to do it on their own, or serving the poor breakfast, I discovered how easy it is to become prideful in those acts of service.  The attitude of "look at all I'm doing!" is easy to adopt unless the credit is given to the one really responsible for my ability to do these things.  Instead of "look at all I'm doing" I acknowledge that God gave me these two hands and the free time, or time management abilities, and the money to serve.  He calls me to serve, I'm just doing what he's asked me to do.  However, if I can't give him the credit, I struggle to see the purpose in such acts of service.

When I was told I could no longer read to these girls, could no longer enforce one religion or another, I went home, and after a couple of days of thinking about what this meant, I finally just lay on my bed and wept.  I thought of every girl, cried out to God and demanded to know why on earth he'd put me in such a position to see all of their pain and not allow me to show them the Healer.  Why must I love and keep my mouth shut?  How can I love these girls and not tell them the truth?  We're supposed to take the light we have and let it SHINE, not hide it under a bowl.  How is it love if I withhold the truth from them?  I considered Matthew 25 and how Jesus talks about giving a cup of water to the thirsty, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming a stranger, visiting the sick and those in prison and how doing so for the least of these is like doing it for Him.  James 1:27 says the religion that is pure and undefiled before God is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and keep oneself unstained from the world.  But what if I do all of that and don't tell them about Jesus?  Doesn't it make all of it pointless?

Not necessarily.  I'm learning that while I cannot read the Bible to these girls, I can still show them who Jesus was by loving and serving as Jesus loved and served.  I may not be able to share scripture, but I can live it out for them and show them how it leads to Life, no fear of death, and joy from within that cannot be extinguished no matter how painful or difficult life becomes.

I simply have to trust that it's enough, and that God will work out the rest.  Just because I'm not there to baptize them, doesn't mean I can't be a significant influence in whether they decide to want God or not.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The First Call


Last weekend I attended the International Church of Christ World Discipleship Summit in San Antonio, Texas.  Disciples from ICOC churches around the world came together to worship God and learn about how to draw nearer to Him and move forward in advancing the kingdom (Matthew 28:19).  Four other disciples and myself drove from Washington, through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, and finally into Texas and, 9 hours later, into San Antonio.  These are some of the pictures I got on the way along with the various kinds of weather we encountered.

Montana

Montana

Montana

Wyoming

Wyoming

Colorado - just north of Denver

West Oklahoma

North Texas

North Texas

 South Texas

South Texas 

It’d be an understatement to say that we received an incredible opening act of God’s majesty, glory and splendor to our four-day conference.

I’ve been a disciple of Jesus Christ for almost a year in a half.  September will be my 18-month mark.  When I arrived and surrounded myself with the other 18,000 disciples, I learned things about myself I hadn’t expected to learn.  When it came to attended the classes, God threw open a door in my heart that was an answer to many prayers over the past 8 years.  A scary one, but it was an answer nonetheless.

World Discipleship Summit - On the Mountain of the Lord 2012

 One of the classes I attended was called Helping the Helpless, led by Mark Ottenweller, the director of HOPE worldwide (www.hopeww.org) , a humanitarian effort founded, led and run by disciples within the ICOC.  He’s the kind of friendly guy children flock to and people seek out in a crowd.  He shared about his journeys in Africa and Haiti and said specific names of children he grew to know and love.  He shared how great the need is in those areas, and how the Bible calls us to serve to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:35-40).  It wasn’t a class to condemn us for not serving yet, but to inform us of the need in the world and what the Bible says about these needs.  God took my heart in his hands, and called to me.

I listened to the call and thought, a week in Haiti with the HOPE Singles Corps in October is exactly what I need and want to do.  The sermon that evening with all 18,000 disciples echoed the call, and I listened a little more closely.  As the days progressed, God made it abundantly clear through the sermon’s preached, the scriptures given, the points made, and even the songs sung, a week in Haiti would be good, but it wouldn’t be enough.

After a 34-hour road trip from San Antonio back to Washington State, and a day of fasting and multiple days of prayer, I’ve discovered what I believe my mission is.  I believe, with all my heart, God’s called me to love and serve the youth and orphans in Mexico and South America.  Before I went to this conference I’ve had a desire to learn Spanish, not for any other reason than I thought it might be useful someday when I travel or perhaps when I work with Latino kids in my line of work.  I bought the Rosetta Stone package, units 1-5, and found learning another language a lot of fun!  I love Spanish.  I love learning it, and while I’m only about a quarter of the way through unit one, I’m discovering that the challenge is a joy for me.  When I felt called to Mexico and South America, it no longer seemed strange that I would be so adamant in the deepest part of my gut to learn Spanish above the other more romantic languages I could’ve picked.  It’s not enough for me to show up and build a few houses and leave.  I have a much deeper desire to serve, a desire to commit and reach into the cracks of the world where many youth fall and many more adults are too afraid or lazy to go.  I want to love these kids as Jesus would, protect them, clothe them, feed them, simply serve them and give them hope in something, someone, bigger than the political tyranny that corrupted their country, the rebels that killed their family, the violence and unrest that makes it impossible for them to go to school or even step outside their home without getting shot.  Let Jesus’ character radiate through me in my service so they’re drawn to the Savior.

The more I pray about it, and the more I run it through my mind and do research, I see this is a peek into the relatively near future.  I have a plan to prepare so when God does call me, I’ll be ready to go.  I’ll finish my BA in human development, sometime in the next 3 years or so, and in that time spend at least an hour a day learning and practicing Spanish so by the time I get my degree I’ll be fluent.  I’m hoping there’s a way I can get more education on the Latin America culture as well.  Once a year I’ll join HOPE volunteer corps or HOPE singles corps and travel wherever they’re going to love and serve and spread the gospel.  I’ll do whatever I can to learn about the culture, perhaps take a short vacation to the region to get a better idea of what’s involved, and for the rest of the time I’ll pray, fast, praise God, obey His commands to the best of my ability and repent when I fail, dive into His word and continue to have faith even when I don’t feel like it in order to resist the devil’s schemes.

Isaiah 58 is a scripture I’ve been leaning on tremendously having since heard this call.  Verses 6-11 in particular stand out to me.  If I “loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, break every enslaving yoke” (v.6), “divide my bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into my house, clothe the naked, and don’t hide from the needs of those around me” (v.8), God will, “make my light break forth like the morning, heal and restore me speedily with the power of a new life, my righteousness and relationship with God will go before me conducting me to peace and prosperity, He’ll cause His glory to guard me, answer when I call, say “Here I am” when I cry out, make my light rise in darkness and my obscurity and gloom become like the noonday” (v.8).  If I, “take away from my midst yokes of oppression wherever I find them, take away the finger pointed in scorn at the oppressed or godly, take away every form of false, harsh, unjust and wicked speaking” (v.9), “pour out that which I sustain my own life for the hungry, and satisfy the need of the afflicted” (v.10), God will, “guide me continually, satisfy me in a drought and in dry places, make strong my bones, make me like a watered garden – like a spring of water whose waters fail not, He’ll rebuild my ruins, and rise up the foundations of buildings that have laid waste for many generations” (v.11).

Things I’ve been yearning for, He promises to do in response to my having faith and loving those He loves.  I do not know when my call to serve will come.  I do not know how long that call to service will last.  I pray God allows me to serve here in my hometown until I finish my degree, and in the meantime I’ll keep listening.