Saturday, July 17, 2010

Special Delivery with Love from Home

Last night I received my first care package! A shoe box, wrapped securely in duct tape, with my name on the top, contained a tremendously loving and encouraging note from the Malchuks, two boxes of tea, and two tins of classic Wintston-Salem Moravian cookies. The box arrived just at the end of my pizza-and-salad dinner with Pam and Jayne, so I was thrilled to share my hometown treasures with them! Jayne had made a pot of Somolian Chai with cardemom (Wendy, I will bring some back for you), so as we sipped, we broke into one of my cookie tins and ate half the cookies within.

I told the girls about Old Salem, the baking store, and how it is a joy smply to pass the open doorway during the day and smell the baked goods. I told them about the Moravian cookie factory five minutes from my house, where you can watch through the glass as a bunch of women roll out the dough so thin and cut out the different shapes. They were impressed by the flavor and the daintiness of the fragile crisps, and I promised to share with them the Morvian side of my town when they come to visit.

It was good to have such a thoughtful reminder of home, and as I share my cookies with my new friends, I have stories and memories to share too... not just about the history, culture, and place, but about the people who have made it so precious to me - who have really made Winston-Salem my home.

Thank you, Malchuks, for this special gift.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Family Bible Hour"

Jayne goes out every night to her friend Odette's house from 9-10 for Bible study and prayer with Odette's family... where I come from, it's called Family Bible Hour. She wanted me to get to participate, and since their house isn't really accessible, they decided to move it to Jayne's house next door to mine last night. I didn't really know what to expect, but I figured it would be safe to take my Bible and leave my shoes at home... I was right - I'm learning!

Odette and her husband, Jean Baptiste (yes, really) came in with their two youngest children, who are two of the most confident, approachable, and spiritually strong teenagers I've ever met (they remind me of the Malchuk kids, actually). I realized during our time together why they are like that.

Jayne got out her djembe and Odette grabbed a tambourine, and with that the band was assembled. You see, Odette and Jean Baptiste are Congolese, and moved here five years ago as refugees. Yes, this was African Family Bible Hour!

It began with the reading of Psalm 100... in French, then in English. And then, after a prayer filled with Hallelujahs and Merci Jésus, we did as the Psalm said - we made un bruit joyeux - a joyful noise! We sang in French and some African language or Congolese dialect... Jayne, the brilliant linguist, was faithful to translate for me, and thankfully most of the songs were simple and repetitive enough that I could pick it up and sing along. I didn't even care if I understood the full translation though, or if I could keep up with all the unfamiliar sounds, because I knew it was worship that was for the ears of our King, who can understand every tongue. The teenagers stood and clapped and stepped to the rhythm and even took turns leading the songs. I played with harmonies, rolled the beautiful words around on my lips, and tapped my fingers on my knee to the rhythm of the djembe.

The last song we sang had words in French that I could actually translate for myself - words like la victoire, ne sépare, and l'amour de Dieu - words from the beloved and familiar passage in Romans 8. Since it was a rather wordy song, I flipped in my Bible to the verses and read them silently. When the song was over (and all the songs were extremely long, with improvised harmonies and Spirit-led prayers throughout), Odette opened her Bible and asked us to turn to "Les Romains huit, vingt-huit à trente-neuf," which, much to my delight, I understood to be the passage I already had opened in my lap. Again, it was read in French, and then Odette asked me to read it in English. Then we all spent some time studying and meditating on it, and then we were all asked to share what we learned.

Every person had incredible and encouraging and challenging things to share, and I had tears in my eyes as Jean Baptiste told about his time in a dark and terrible prison in Congo. "I was separated from my family," he said in broken English, "but I knew nothing could separate me from the love of my Lord." Because of this promise and hope, he was able to share the gospel with many of his fellow prisoners... I will never be able to read these verses the same way again, I thought.

"Can we sing an English song to close?" Odette asked me. Part of me wanted to say, "No, more French!" but I realized they wanted to honor my language too, so I sang the most beautiful simple chorus I could think of, "God is so good... God is so good... God is so good, He's so good to me..." Amens, Hallelujahs, and Merci Jesus! filled the air as they picked up the chorus too. We held hands and prayed and sang it again and again, in at least three languages. I was overwhelmed by the powerful sense of the presence of the Father, his Word, and his Spirit in that room. All the heaviness that had been so dark on me all day was lifted and I felt so richly blessed.

And now I can't wait to join African Family Bible Hour again next Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

To be a sheep...

I love planning Bible study for Women's Club on Tuesday! I have to word the stories very simply, in short sentences, with lots of pictures, for the women to understand. This makes me study the Bible so much more, because I have to concentrate on the very core message of each story and think of the clearest way to accurately translate it into "Beginner ESL." Here was my lesson today, about the Good Shepherd and about being his sheep:

Luke 15:4-7 -

A man has 100 sheep.
1 sheep runs away.
The man leaves the 99 sheep.
The man looks everywhere for the 1 sheep.

The man finds his 1 sheep.
He puts the sheep on his shoulders.
He carries the sheep home.

He tells his friends, “Rejoice! My sheep is home!”
He has a party. He is very happy to find his sheep.

John 10:11-15 -

A bad shepherd runs away when bad things happen.
A good shepherd does not leave his sheep alone.
A good shepherd cares for his sheep.
A good shepherd dies to save his sheep.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.
My sheep know me.
They know my voice.
They listen to me.
They follow me.
They do not run from me.
I know all my sheep.
I love them.
I will look for them
and I will find them.
I will die to save them.
Psalm 23 -
The Lord is my shepherd.
I do not need anything.
He lays me down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet water.
He heals my soul and shows me the right thing to do.
Even in dark, bad times, I am not afraid.
My shepherd is with me and keeps me safe.
He makes food for me to eat when I am in danger.
He blesses me and I am so happy!
I will have love and goodness all my life.
I will stay in his house forever.

Monday, July 12, 2010

You know you're a missionary when...

The weekend flew by in a whirlwind of beauty and delight, and now I find myself alone and quiet once more. The Three Rivers Festival downtown gave us plenty to do, from viewing the Chalk Walk to smelling the flowers in the Botanical Conservatory, to eating all sorts of wonderfully greasy and sugary foods in Food Alley, to listening to a Jars of Clay concert from across the street under a nice shade tree.

We even managed to give ourselves a tour of an empty, grand cathedral, go swimming, and eat at my now all-time favorite Fort Wayne restaurant, Granite City. While we waited for our food, Laura and I started a game of "You know you're a missionary when..." which ended with things like:

- when the thought of eating an American cheeseburger thrills your soul

- when the reality that your refugee housemates don't use soap to clean their dishes doesn't phase you anymore

- when your rice cooker is ALWAYS filled with rice

- when you get giddy when your out-of-town friends come to visit so you have someone to speak to in full, complex, English sentences

- when your greatest self-concern in prayer is if you should focus on serving one people group or be an "all nations" advocate.

It was fun to have Laura talk as though I'm a "real" missionary... I still consider myself a "Padawan" - a missionary-in-training. But the more I'm here, the more comfortable I am with the position. It feels quite natural, and I think that is how it is supposed to feel. What is a missionary, anyway, except someone who actually tries to follow through on what Jesus called us all to do in the first place? "Go and make disciples of all nations..." "Go, sell everything you have and follow me..." "Let your light so shine before men..."

Yesterday at church, the youth pastor and his family announced that they had been in youth ministry for a while, and now "God is calling us to full-time missions." Now, because I grew up in church I know that when he said "full-time missions," he meant a support-based overseas gig, but this time, it just sounded weird to me. (You know you are a missionary when the churchy jargon becomes more strange and less comprehensible to you.) I was in youth ministry for two years, and I only had about 15 kids, but it sure felt like full-time missions to me! It made me a little sad to think that he didn't view that as a full-time mission, in the strange and exotic - and yes, even dangerous - world of teenagers.

And now that this man and his family are moving to Mexico to serve, I don't think that makes him a better or more significant or more full-time missionary than he already was... any more than my going back to Winston-Salem to teach Sunday school and ESL, mentor some teen girls, and drink coffee with the people in my community will make me less significant as a missionary. My goal will be the same as it is here: to build authentic, trusting relationships through the love of Christ in order for others to come to know him and grow in their relationship with him.

You know you're a missionary when you realize that your mission field is wherever you are.