Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Narrow Road

I chose the narrow path
less trod and
not well-worn
Entangled in briars and brambles
I knew my skin would be torn

As I ran along
voices whispered
taunting, jeering, mocking
my decision
to take the narrow road

But another voice penetrated the darkness
a blanket of hope laying
over all my fears
Gently reminding
this path leads home

As I ran I oft stumbled
was quick to falter and fall
Soon I understood why this path
seemed empty
and unworn

For in the moments
when I could
no longer even crawl
strong arms reached out
to carry me to the throne

(Original poem by Katy Owens)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sacrificial Savior or Tolerant of Treachery?

I cannot tell a lie...there's a lot of the Bible I haven't actually read.

As a young child, I think I once aspired to read the entire Bible, but probably didn't make it past Joshua or Judges. And while I do read the Bible quite often now, I find myself sticking to the New Testament more often than not, there is just so much in Acts and Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians and James.

I was reading through Romans and read Romans 1:17, which says "the righteous will live by faith." This verse is cross-referenced with Habakkuk 2:4, also stating that the righteous will live by faith. I flipped over to Habakkuk to check it out, and ended up reading all three chapters of the book.

Honestly I don't remember ever reading Habakkuk before, which is quite a shame because it's a pretty fantastic and very insightful, convicting book. 

In verses 1-4 the prophet Habakkuk complains to the Lord about the injustice of the world. He asks how and why God can simply "tolerate wrong," why he allows injustice to prevail, justice to be perverted, destruction and violence to rule. 

His cries to God are ones we have probably all echoed at one time or another. When disaster strikes, we wonder, where was God? We ask why He allows so much evil. Why are buildings burned, guns shot, knives drawn.

In verses 5-11 the Lord responds to Habakkuk's complaints. He says, "I am going to do something in your days you would not believe, even if you were told." How great is this response? I think there was just a hint of sarcasm and sass in it.

He starts by explaining to Habakkuk that what He has planned is so amazing, so incredible, Habakkuk wouldn't be able to believe it. His feeble human mind couldn't wrap itself around the awesomeness God had planned for the nations. 

But the best part, and I think the key part, is the second bit of God's answer, "even if you were told."

Even if you were told. 

God is God. The Great I Am. In Exodus 3, when God sends Moses to set the Israelites free, Moses asks who he should say sent him. God's response is, "am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you."

God's plans are so great, so complex, we couldn't understand them. The vast goodness and glory of God's plans are far beyond our comprehension. Not because we are inadequate or inept or stupid, but because, quite frankly, we are not God. And even if we could understand His master plans, we still aren't God, and so what right do we have to demand to know? 

I think what God is saying to the prophet, with a shake of His mighty head, is, "Oh Habakkuk, my dear son, are you God? No. You don't know what great things I have planned. And even if you did, you wouldn't be able to believe it. I'm God. Trust me. I've got this."

And just to back that point up, God promises to use the ruthless, dreaded, evil Babylonians. 

Despite the answer he receives, Habakkuk isn't done. He wages his second complaint in verses 1:12-2:1. He asks God why He tolerates treacherous people, why He is "silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?" Why God allows the wicked to prosper and live without mercy, destroying the nations. 

In the Lord's second answer, verses 2:2-20, I think God is pointing out that the people have chosen to live this way. They have chosen sin, destruction. They have chosen to labor for themselves rather than the glory of God. They should be silent before Him, but instead they choose to live for themselves rather than honor and revere Him. 

Man has chosen the despair, destruction, and evil Habakkuk complains about, because man has rejected God. 

In verses 3:1-19, Habakkuk acknowledges the awesome splendor of the Lord God Almighty. "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord." He talks about the great wrath of the Lord, the wrath that must be satisfied, and was satisfied by Jesus on the cross. Habakkuk talks about the greatness of the Lord to set His people free, also done through Jesus on the cross. And Habakkuk ends his prayer saying the Lord is his strength and salvation, his source of joy no matter what happens in life. 

In the here and now there is destruction and wickedness. Evil things happen to people who don't deserve it. The clearest example of this to me is the recent shooting in Connecticut. In the midst of this utter tragedy were the cries demanding to know, where was God, why did He allow this? Why did He tolerate this injustice and evil? 

He was comforting parents and families, welcoming children into Heaven, strengthening those too weak to stand. He is always there, always fighting for His people. He does not tolerate injustice, He does not stand idly by. 

I don't know why He didn't stop that man from shooting those children and teachers. No one does. But I know He is God, and I know He loves His people and He has not abandoned us. I know He is a good God who understands the suffering of His people, and in the moments when we can barely stand, we can rest in the assurance that He is good, He is loving, and He has a great plan far to incredible for us to understand. We can trust Him, because He is God. We can rejoice in our Savior, because He is our strength and our salvation. 

In God we trust.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Christmas gift to you - the innocent faces of beautiful children. Kids are such a joy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Baby King

My best friend, Katherine, has a new little niece. Born just a few days ago, the baby is tiny and innocent. Though I haven't met her yet, I've been stalking the (many) pictures of her on Facebook, and she is absolutely beautiful.

Babies are so small, so helpless. They cry, eat, poop, sleep, smile, wave their tiny arms, and look absolutely adorable. They can't feed themselves, sit up, much less stand, express their needs or desires with anything more than a cry.

I can't imagine what it would be like to be a baby, not able to do anything myself, to depend on everyone around me for my every need. To not be able to help myself.

While singing What Child Is This at church, I was thinking about this. We talk about Jesus being a baby, how He was born of the virgin Mary. Little baby Jesus seems normal, makes sense, because I've grown up thinking and talking and celebrating this infant God.

But think about it. Imagine if you became a baby. You left your home, your family, entered a strange, dark, place. You're already in unfamiliar territory, and to add to it all, you become an infant, helpless and entirely dependent on a teenage mother.

Jesus offered us the greatest sacrifice when He came to earth and died for us. But that sacrifice didn't start when He was beaten and killed, it started when He became an infant and was born like any other human.

As a baby, Jesus couldn't do anything. It really shows how fully human He was when He was on earth. He was just like any other baby, needing to be given food and have His diaper changed. That must have been a little surreal and strange for Mary and Joseph! Changing the diapers of the Messiah. I can't even imagine.

I also can't imagine how that must have been for Jesus.

From King to kid, how humble Jesus was and is. To choose to become so helpless, to choose to relinquish all His power and might, to choose to be one of us. His sacrifice was so much more than dying, it was living too.

He lived for us, He died for us.

He asks the same of us.

We shouldn't just be willing to die for Christ, okay with giving Him everything. We should be living for Him too, giving Him every moment, every breath, every desire. Jesus gave us His life, we should give Him our lives in return. Not out of obligation, not out of guilt, but because He loves us so much how could we not love Him too?

He is King. Today we celebrate His life, the beginning of His beautiful sacrifice, and the beginning of an even more beautiful story of the truest love ever known, a story that continues being told every single day.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Say You're Sorry"

Just found this on my desktop, an old blog I meant to post. I can't remember if I ever did or not, but it's as relevant now as it was when I wrote it. Thank goodness for Grace.

It's often easy to forget. To forget that I'm broken, sinful, flawed. To forget that without God, I am nothing. To forget that daily I need to repent of my sins. That daily I need to ask forgiveness. That daily I need to take off my heavy burden of pride and sin and pick up His cloak of humility and righteousness.

Even that concept seems too much, though. Righteousness. God hears and answers the prayers of a righteous man. I feel as though I can never be righteous, though. It seems like too perfect a goal to achieve. Like I can strive for it, like perfection, but it can never be truly reached until Heaven. And who am I to call myself “good” or “righteous?”

That seems prideful. And pride is my greatest sin, my greatest struggle. It's so easy to get sucked into a trap of thinking I'm better. I have a better relationship with God. I feel called to do things, I've heard His voice, I haven't committed many of the “big sins.”

But wait. No. There are no “big sins.” For we all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. No matter what we've done, said, or even thought, we've all fallen. No one is perfect. No one is flawless. No one is whole.

Sometimes I think I focus so much on the love, the beautiful, wonderful, matchless, free love of Jesus, that I fail to think about the “messy parts.” Who wants to think about the not as pretty moments, the parts that aren't so nice and clean and happy?

It's nice to focus on love, grace, and mercy, forgiveness and goodness. But there's a whole other side to this that I know I frequently fail to think about as often as I should. I forget to think about my own sin as often as I ought. And most of all, I forget about repentance and confessions.

My prayers primarily revolve around thanks, praying for family members, friends, my own walk with God/my struggles, and general just talking to Jesus about whatever is going on in my life. I just don't think about asking for forgiveness for sin, unless I have done something really big. I find myself often thinking that I don't really sin that often, what would I have to repent for?

I read or heard someone saying that if they were praying and they had nothing to repent for, then they were concerned.

I should be really concerned, then.

Because I am a sinful person. I am in need of forgiveness daily. I need to repent daily. I need to recognize my sins, my failures, my faults, and then ask forgiveness of them.

It's good to recognize one's own sin and weakness, and the resulting salvation in Christ.

Howrah Bridge, Ganges River

Everyone liked to stare at us. So I stared back with my camera!

Howrah Bridge

Ganges River. We weren't supposed to take photos, but I couldn't resist!

So beautiful

Flower Market

Beautiful, Beautiful Children. Precious in His Sight.

Breakfast from a street vendor

Street view

Closing Remarks (South Asia 9)

South Asia changed me. In the short span of a mere week, I became a different person.

I have a higher tolerance for gas station bathrooms, because nothing will ever be as disgusting as some of the toilets I used in South Asia.

Chilly showers are definitely not pleasant, but also not the end of the world, and I appreciate the seemingly endless stream of heat from my shower-head so much more.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, water from the tap, and food that hasn't been fried three times are some of the greatest gifts to my United States world.

A few horns, a little traffic, and slightly crazy drivers are nothin, and I'll never complain about a three-hour flight again.

I have a deep appreciation for clean streets, not piled high with dirt and trash.

I am thankful to live in a country privileged enough to recycle my water bottles, or better yet use my own water bottle because even our tap water is clean, not have to crush my water bottle after using it to ensure it isn't filled with dirty water, super-glued shut, and sold as "new" to unsuspecting buyers.

I am more aware of seeking to live for Christ each and every moment, not to have times where I'm zoned in only on me, but to always be aware of the people around me in need of Jesus and willing to go to them, whether I'm busy or not. Definitely a work in progress, but I'm trusting the Lord to change my heart to be more others-centered.

I am so focused on me, myself, and I. My comforts, my time. But in reality it's His time, His life.

In South Asia I experienced more joy and fulfillment than ever before in my life (see The Heart of Jesus) through serving others.

I have always been someone who serves, I like to help people, like to make people happy. I like to give gifts and love on people, but so often serving is become an obligation. I want to, but I don't like it in the moment. I'm glad to help mom by washing dishes, but don't necessarily enjoy washing them.

In South Asia I experienced utter, complete, consuming joy in serving. I wanted to wash laundry. I wanted to wipe off dirty faces, I wanted to give my time and energy to the "least of these." That experience was completely, 100% from God, and I am so grateful to Him for giving it to me, for allowing me to see His heart and serve Him through serving in South Asia.

It was such a blessing to see Him so clearly, and to experience Him too. By loving and serving I was able to also understand God's love for me more clearly. I was able to give to people who couldn't give back, just like God gives to me so freely without expecting anything back, and often not getting anything back because I am selfish and sinful. But He loves me anyways, He loves me always.

South Asia taught me about true joy, true love, and true service. I was able to see Jesus in so many different ways and so many different places. It was wonderful to see His faithfulness and truth halfway across the world.

He is the same God today, yesterday, and forever. He is great, He is beautiful, He is loving.

I will never forget that trip, and Lord willing, one day I'll be able to go back.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Scars and Stories, Slaves and Salvation (South Asia 8)

“Joy unspeakable that won't go away, and just enough strength to live for today.”

Our last full day in South Asia we went to an after-care home for girls and women rescued out of the sex-slave trade.

I honestly didn't know what to expect, but I did anticipate it being the hardest, most heartbreaking day for me, because human trafficking is an issue that breaks my heart so much.

But as with every day and every moment in South Asia, God surprised me yet again. Once again, He showed me Christ's prevailing story of redemption and it was a beautiful experience full of joy, not the sorrow and heartbreak I expected.

The home was more like a tiny village, a big concrete wall enclosing the place, creating a little world of safety and healing. There were buildings and houses, drying laundry hung on ropes strung between trees. They weren't barracks full of rescued girls still scared in an in-between house as they waited for the next thing. It wasn't a halfway house, it was a new life, its own little world.

There were little girls and adult women, we were told there were girls as young as four, I think most of the girls we interacted with were between ten and 18. There were a few babies and toddlers, the children of many of the women.

As soon as we got there the younger girls were already grabbing our hands, pulling us around to play and dance, putting their arms around our waists. We tried to teach them a line-dance, they tried to teach us Bollywood. In the end we just danced and jumped and laughed around, a mix of Bollywood and ballroom with a little swing thrown in.

There was this one little girl, probably nine or ten years old, who attached herself to me and was by my side (or rather kept me by her side) almost the whole time. She grabbed my hand almost as soon as we got there, put my arm around her shoulders, and dragged me off to show me around.

Then we joined the dance party. We jumped and spun and twirled. She tried, vainly, to teach me the Bollywood steps. We didn't speak the same language, but it didn't matter. Gestures and smiles spoke more than I would ever have known they could.

At the end of our short time at the home, two of the girls did a dance for us. They couldn't have been much older than my 12 and 13 year old sisters, Lauren and Ashleigh. They looked so sweet and happy, innocent, reminding me again of my sisters, who have known no real or deep hardship in their short lives.

It was crazy to realize what has happened to those girls. I had to remind myself what they had all been through, because they didn't act like it. There was so much joy in the dancing, so many smiles, an abundance of laughter. They danced and played like these unspeakable things had never happened to them.

Many of the girls had scars on their arms, a few on their faces. I looked at one girl's arm and saw what looked like a very poor tattoo of the letter R. One girl, who was probably around 12, had a x-shaped scar on her face, beside her eye.

They were all such sweet girls. My little friend was so skinny and tiny. I simply cannot fathom that at one point she was raped multiple times a day, by man after man after man. And that after experiencing that level of abuse, she can ever smile again.

But she seemed so innocent, and she did smile so much. There was so much joy in her bright eyes. She was so, so beautiful; so full of life. All the girls were like that, beautiful and joyful, only their scars telling the stories of their abuse and abandonment.

I expected a veil of sadness deep in their eyes, whispering of the unspeakable things done to them, but the veil seemed to be gone, lifted. Not that I think it was never there, not that they aren't broken and bruised still, but it was so very clear that they've all been completely set free. They have been redeemed. Christ's salvation and freedom was so apparent in their countenances.

It really emphasized that Jesus is the only hope, the only true bearer of joy and life. All the organizations and homes we visited while in South Asia had that hope and joy, because they are all founded in the blood of Jesus, not the failing inability of man.

It's so beautiful to see, and a truth to be found anywhere and everywhere, not just in South Asia. No matter what, hope and joy are only found in the love and blood of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Heart of Jesus (South Asia 7)

Before going to South Asia I was mentally preparing for a very difficult trip. I expected to come back to our hotel and cry every night. I thought it would be so overwhelmingly heartbreaking I wouldn't be able to feel or experience much else.

But it wasn't like that.

While in South Asia I saw so much of God's goodness and grace. And His love.

Love and joy were the central themes of the trip for me. Recognizing again and again that loving God, being loved by Him, and showing His love to others are the absolutely most important, the only things that truly matter.

We started our Saturday there going to mass at the “Mother House,” where Mother Teresa lived. This is a popular place for people visiting the city to go, and a very popular place to volunteer. There are a number of charity homes for the destitute and dying around the city, started by Mother Teresa. People come to volunteer at them, sometimes just for a day, for a few weeks, or a few months.

Though we only volunteered for a day, I really wish we could have done it longer. Quite honestly, it was one of the most fulfilling, joyous days of my entire life as we got to serve and love people who really couldn't do anything for themselves.

The guys and girls were in separate groups. Our group went to the “Ray of Hope” home. This home is for severely mentally and physically disabled girls.

Really, they're all women. But they are so disabled they are like girls. It was strange to interact with people so child-like, so helpless, and realize they are physically adults. It was like caring for giant babies, many couldn't talk, walk, or really even move.

A few were more mentally mature and could walk around, talk some, and interact with the volunteers. Seeing their interactions, I saw the name “Ray of Hope” was the most perfect name for this place.

It sounds depressing, the situation these girls are in, helpless and broken. But it wasn't. There was so much joy there. When we arrived the full-time volunteers gave us a short tour of the facilities and told us our duties.

As we walked around we got to meet some of the more functional girls. They were all so happy and so excited to see us. They hugged us, grabbed our hands, touched our faces.

This wasn't a sad place for the broken and unwanted to be fed and clothed, this was a beautiful place for the broken and now very-much wanted to be loved by people who truly cared.

There were volunteers in our group who had been coming to Ray of Hope for weeks and months. One girl had just graduated college and come to the city specifically for the purpose of serving through the Mother Teresa homes. She had been there for three months and would be in the city for another month. After that she planned to travel to Nicaragua to serve similarly.

It was so neat to see people serving simply for the joy of serving. They had no obligation to that place. It wasn't for money, a resume, or to check off the “community service” box on a college application. They were there simply to help others, and in that action there was a joy that I've rarely seen before.

When you have to do something it becomes a task, a chore, something you're doing out of obligation. When you want to do something it is fulfilling, joyous, there is a desire to be there, it was like that in Ray of Hope. Women who desired to love and serve those who could not help themselves.

There was so much laughter, so many smiles.

An absolutely beautiful thing.

That delight of serving, I found that in Ray of Hope. Experienced more joy than I ever have in my entire life. Felt more fulfilled than I could possibly describe with words.

We went into “classrooms” to spend time with the girls. The first room I was in had seven girls, all blind or almost blind, most of them confined to wheelchairs or sitting on a bench or on the floor.

The most you could really do was try to interact with them. They couldn't talk, though a few could make grunting noises, wave their hands in the air in response.

I could hold their hands. I could clap, say their names because that was one of the only words they would recognize. I could pat their hands against my own, rub their shoulders, stroke their hair. Most of the time they didn't even respond.

The girls were deformed and disfigured, some only had one eye, their hair cut very short so they all looked like little boys. No, they were not beautiful by the world's standards. But in the moment when they would respond to touch, to the sound of hands clapping in time to music or the sound of their own name being said over and over, they were the most beautiful girls in the world.

Their faces would light up, a hint of a smile dancing on their lips. They would bob up and down, wave their arms, make sounds of joy and excitement. That moment was filled with so much joy, it was so beautiful.

I couldn't stop smiling. I didn't stop smiling the whole time we were there.

There was this one little girl who loved dancing. She sat in her wheelchair chewing on her hands and just watching people, but when you started clapping with the music, and then dancing along, she got so excited! She was transformed, a smile bright across her face, waving her arms in the air in, totally consumed in the excitement of the moment, the simple act of people dancing around the room.

So much beauty, in a place you would probably never expect to find it.

It would have been easy to be filled with sorrow and pity at the girls in the home. You could see them and wonder what their purpose is. Think they can't contribute to society, they can't think or invent or give or do really anything. You could cynically say that. Those are valid questions, understandable concerns.

But here's the thing. Money, status, health, all these things aren't important. Love is.

Giving and receiving love, that is what makes life full, abundant.

No those girls will never get better. They will be fed and have their diapers changed for the rest of their, probably not very long, lives. They can't do anything, they can't love anyone.

But they can be loved. And loving and serving those girls was legitimately the most fulfilling experience of my entire life. My heart was bursting with joy.

That's what life is about! Loving and serving the “least of these.”

If you are capable of giving love, that's your role. We are filled with Jesus' love so we can go out and love others. You don't need anything else, the greatest commandment is to love one another, and the religion God finds true and faultless is loving the poor, the broken, the lost, the orphaned, and the widowed.

And if you can't give love, then your role is to receive love, which fulfills those giving the love. And serving at Ray of Hope, I was fulfilled.

Sure, it was uncomfortable helping the girls onto the toilet. It hurt to have my hands scratched by very sharp fingernails. It wasn't enjoyable to have saliva rubbed onto my face, to change diapers, wipe up spit, tear apart meat and fat with my fingers to put in a girl's mouth. But I didn't feel a moment of discomfort or a desire to get out and not be there.

That was totally God, working through me. Of my own strength, I couldn't have served there so joyfully. Of my own strength I cannot serve and love anyone unconditionally and fully. But as Christ fills me up, I can pour into others.

Jesus would have been at Ray of Hope.

He would have been there, tearing up pieces of meat for little girls, wiping their mouths, cleaning their clothes, patting their hands, stroking their hair, dancing before their laughing eyes. He would have been laughing and smiling too, loving and serving unconditionally, because that's the heart of Jesus.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

All the Children of the World (South Asia 6)

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

So goes the ever-popular children's song speaking of Jesus' deep love for children. We had the wonderful opportunity of truly experiencing that love and joy firsthand in South Asia.

We went to a school in the slums that provides food and a education for young kids from the slums.

I don't know the name of the school/organization or too many specifics of what they do with the kids, but they provide the kids with at least some schooling, as well as bread and soymilk. I'm pretty sure they make the soymilk themselves.

My initial expectation after being told we were going to visit the slums was that we'd see incredible and intense poverty and leave probably feeling overwhelmed and maybe even a bit frustrated by the enormity of the issue and a feeling there was nothing we could really do to alleviate it. This was not the case.

There was so much joy in that school.

I mean first of all, the kids were just adorable, as little kids generally are. It was such a blessing to interact with them, to play games and sing songs.

We first went to their little school house, just one small room with one window letting in a little light. They stood in a semi-circle and sang us a song in Bengali or Hindi (I'm never sure which one, but those are the two languages people generally speak, other than English). Then we got to sing them a song. We did Father Abraham, stomping and clapping, shaking arms and legs, spinning around.

The kids filed out of the school house over to the kitchen next door. They sat in two rows on the patio to await their daily bread and soymilk. For a few awkward moments we weren't sure what to do, but then a few of us sat down on the ground with them and tried to (in very poor Hindi) ask their names and attempted to share our own. I think most of the kids spoke Bengali, because they just looked at us and didn't respond!

It didn't matter that we couldn't talk to each other though, little kids are easily entertained and quick to smile and laugh. With some clapping, smiling, and sunglasses, we were soon playing with the kids.

They loved our cameras. Arik and I both had ours, and the kids absolutely loved to see their picture on the screen! Their faces would light up as they laughed. Two little boys I sat down beside just stared at me as I snapped their photo, until I showed them the image of themselves, they wouldn't stop smiling after that!

We handed out their bread and soymilk – two slices of white bread and a glass of warm milk in a metal cup. It was crazy to think that might be one of the only meals they got that day. It definitely put my own life into perspective a bit. I'm blessed to have so much.

We kept hanging out with the kids for awhile. It was honestly so neat to connect with and love on those kids, even though we spoke different languages and came from completely different worlds. Love truly is a universal language, and little kids love clapping and guessing games more than anything.

Their laughter and smiles were so beautiful. Honestly they were some of the most beautiful, joy-filled children I've gotten to play with. It was so simple. Sunglasses and the “guess which hand has something in it” game made them so happy.

I know in the long run we didn't change their lives in the sense that we got these children out of poverty. Whether we'd been there that day or not, they would still have gotten to eat and go to school. But we still got to show them some of Jesus' love for that morning. We still got to show that we cared. And we got to experience the simple joy of Jesus' love through them as well.

We got to see Christ's heart for the little children, and the purity of a child's happiness in a laugh and a smile. 

People and Perceptions and Gracious Providence (South Asia 5)

I've always been able to see the beauty in things. That's something I always try to do with my art. I love taking photographs of the unnoticed things; the small things, the people, moments, places, things that aren't often appreciated or considered “beautiful,” and make them beautiful.

I believe that though there is incredible brokenness and sadness, and yes, ugliness, in this world, because of Jesus and His love it is still a beautiful world. I think God has allowed me that perspective, just to always see beauty, and in South Asia I saw so much beauty.

Something I've been praying for awhile now is to see people the way God sees them. Some individuals are just difficult to love, they're annoying or gross or strange, they aren't easy to talk to or care for, and especially not easy to love. But everyone, everyone, is precious in God's sight, and I desire to be able to see them that way, to love people through Jesus when I am unable to on my own through my sinful, human nature.

I prayed that in South Asia too – to be able to see everyone as Jesus sees them, precious and beautiful and deeply loved.

It was so cool, because the minute I prayed that prayer, everything got a little brighter. The colors got more vibrant, each person's face became more beautiful. Not because anything had actually physically changed about them, but because my perception had changed. It was a pretty incredible moment, definitely straight from the Lord.

It's amazing to realize how much God loves us. I mean in South Asia there were so many people. Just everywhere, I don't think I've ever been around so many people all at once in my life. Maybe in New York City, that's about the only thing I could compare this city to. A very dirty, poor, even more packed with people, New York City.

So many people, and to realize, Jesus doesn't just “love everyone,” He loves everyone. Every single one of the billions of people in South Asia is loved intimately and personally by God. It's not just some blanket of love that generically covers the country. He cares so deeply for each individual. That's so much love!

Remembering that completely shifts how you see people. They're not just a person, they are so important, so special, so loved.

When you meet a stranger on the street, they don't have a lot of value to you in a relational sort of way. I mean, you know nothing about them, you can't place a value on the sort of person they are or the difference they make in people's lives. But when you meet your sister's boyfriend for the first time, though you don't know him, so he's a stranger, he has value because you know how important he is in your sister's life.

It should be the same way whenever we meet someone, we know how incredibly important they are to God, and thus they should have value to us. We're all “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are all loved by Jesus, and we are all oh-so-precious in His sight. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christian on a Crowded Bus (South Asia 4)

“It isn't easy to be a Christian here,” said Sumit, one of the South Asian Cru staff guys.

“How do you show everyone on a crowded bus you're a Christian?” he asked us.

That really stayed with me.

I guess in a sense it is easy to be a Christian in the United States. There isn't really persecution. I mean you might lose a few friends, maybe get beaten up, not get a job you wanted, lose a job, but the chances of being severely abused, truly persecuted, or even killed for your faith are pretty much nonexistent.
It isn't dangerous to be a Christian in America.

I think because of this we lose a little of how important our faith is. We take it for granted, that freedom of choice and speech.

We can talk about Jesus as much, or as little, as we want. And because of the principles upon which our country was founded and the culture, pretty much everyone knows who Jesus is and knows basics of Christianity. Albeit often very wrong, stereotyped, and not true basics, but they know something nonetheless.

In South Asia most people have never heard who Jesus is. They've never heard the Gospel, they don't know there's a God who loves them and sacrificed everything for them. Many have never even heard His name.

Here it doesn't seem to matter whether or not everyone on the bus knows I'm a Christian. In South Asia, it might be one of the only chances of those people knowing about Jesus.

There's a sense of urgency with the South Asian Christians that I find myself so often lacking.

We were riding in a cab once and at the end of the cab ride Sumit, who had been sitting in the front seat speaking to the cab driver in Hindi or Bengali the whole time, asked if we'd all pray real quickly because he had been telling the cab driver about Jesus, and they had prayed together and the cab driver wanted to know more!

When I get into a cab here, my first thought is not to share the Gospel with the driver. Actually, that's probably one of my last thoughts. This shouldn't be the case! Here I have at least ten, probably more, minutes in a car with a very captive audience. I should take that opportunity to have a conversation with the person, hear where they're coming from and what they believe, and then share with them the freeing truth of Jesus' love.

I should be doing that wherever I go, whatever I do. That should be my primary focus. How can I show Jesus' love and share that Good News with them?

I'm not constantly wondering how I can show people I'm a Christian. But I should be. I should be pursuing reflecting the image of God in everything I do. That could mean such simple things, like praying before my meal.

In everything I do, I should be showing I'm a Christian. Even on a crowded bus.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Real Problem, the Real Solution (South Asia 3)

I knew there would be poverty, I just didn't know how much. It was everywhere. I expected nicer and poorer areas, but instead the poverty was everywhere in South Asia.

Trash covered the streets, piled up in gutters and overflowing on sidewalks. The cobbled sidewalks were broken, there were layers of dirt over everything. The sidewalks were lined with little booths for street vendors to sell food, which doubled as a place to sleep at night.

There were people begging all the time. Little kids constantly walked up to us holding out one hand for money, the other hand held near their mouths to signify they wanted money for food.

Beggars sat by the corners and along the streets, asking for money. Many were missing limbs, a few were blind.

It was crazy to realize that these people had probably been begging their entire lives. Typically in the US, the homeless haven't always been homeless, and they could potentially get out of their situation. In South Asia, these people have always been beggars and always will be. There's no moving up, to fixing their lives, no getting back in shape. Though the caste system is technically illegal, it still plays a huge role in society and culture, it still dictates who does what, where they live, what and if they eat.

So different. And walking through the streets that first day, I honestly didn't know how to feel.

A group of 15 or so white people walking through the streets, what did we look like to the people who saw us? Just the stereotypical group of rich, white people, coming to gawk and feel pity for the poor people of South Asia. Coming to take pictures and take them home to rich America and show them off and say “feel sorry for these people,” “feel guilty because you have so much and they have so little,” “do something for them,” “feel pity for them.”

And I didn't want to feel that way. I felt like I should feel pity because that was the way I was supposed to feel. But I didn't feel like that was truly how I was supposed to feel.

I don't know if that made sense, there were a lot of feelings in that paragraph.

It's just that, what good does my pity do? Yes, I have so much, I am so rich compared to so much of the world. But what does me feeling guilty about that do for the poor?

I could come back from seeing so much poverty and give all my stuff away in a moment of frenzied guilt, but in a few months I'll realize I really do need a coat and boots and I'll have to go out and buy new ones. And what good does that really do for the poor in South Asia? What good does that even do for me, in the long run?

Here, in America, I've always been against the idea of working for money, wanting to have lots of it. I want to rely wholly on God and not be seeking fulfillment in the things of this world, but rather in Jesus.

If money doesn't matter in America, where pretty much everyone has it, why should it matter in South Asia where few people have it?

God showed me my double standard. He showed me I should feel sorrow for the people I saw, but not because they lacked money. Rather, I should be sad they didn't know Him.

Would having money, a home, or even food actually make these people happy? Would they be fulfilled? No.

If Jesus is the only true source of joy and fulfillment, then He is all that matters. Not money, not possessions, nothing of this world matters, only Jesus and knowing Him.

It was really cool to have been given that perspective going into the trip. While of course, it was incredibly heart-breaking to see so many people living in such poverty, so sad to have so many little kids coming up to us begging for money, it wasn't hopeless.

It would have been easy to see so much poverty and fall into a sense of hopelessness at the enormity of the issue, and the fact that we, only there for a short week, couldn't truly change anything.

God showed me that I could do something – I could love people and I can tell them about Him, and that's enough. And those are all things I can do in the US as well, because everyone who doesn't know Jesus is truly poor and broken.

So that was my goal, my purpose, and my desire through the trip. Because the truth of the matter is there is hope, found in Jesus Christ!

The solution to the problems in South Asia isn't more money or more food. Those things are great, they make a huge difference, and of course I wish every one of those beggars, every one of those children, had a home and food, but money doesn't save you.

The real problem is not knowing Jesus, and Jesus' love is the only solution to that. Jesus is the only salvation, and so there was hope in all the brokenness because Jesus is greater than poverty.

Left, Right, Wrong Side of the Road? (South Asia 2)

While words simply cannot do it justice, I must take a little time and attempt to explain driving in South Asia.

Actually it can be summed up in a few sentences...

There are no rules or lanes, and few traffic lights. The only “rule” is to honk, excessively, loudly, and pretty much constantly.

They drive on the left side of the road, which automatically makes the experience a bit unnerving. You feel like you're on the wrong side of the road, sure a car will come barreling towards you, ready to smash right into you, because you're on the wrong side!

And as it turns out, you will quite often be driving forward into the glaring lights of an oncoming car that appears to be directly in front of you and in your lane, until (not a moment too soon) the cab driver swerves to the left and keeps on driving, so close to the car you could reach out and touch the other passenger's hands.

The cars are pretty much always that close.

And there are so many of them. Cabs, cars, rickshaws, bikes, trucks, buses, pedestrians, everyone is in the road at the same time. There are no lanes, you just drive wherever there's room, honking the horn incessantly all the while.

I'm pretty sure there is some sort of code/language of the horns only South Asians know.

As crazy as the driving seems to be, we only saw one “accident,” and it wasn't anything major. Cars bump each other, yeah, but no one really seems to get hurt. I guess when the driving is that intense, you have to pay attention. No texting and driving there!

The first few cab rides I felt like my life was in constant danger and I was barely surviving. But within a few days I had full confidence in the drivers and their abilities, I'm convinced South Asian drivers are some of the best (well most of them anyways).

Driving was quite an experience. Like I said, words can't really do it justice, but at least I tried. 

Arriving and Surviving (South Asia 1)

20+ hours of flying and a few layovers equals over 30 hours of traveling. The passing of time is very strange when you're on a plane, what started as merely many hours suddenly becomes passing days you didn't even realize had happened.

We left Denver in the afternoon on a Tuesday, arriving in South Asia (technically I'm not supposed to say the exact country) on Thursday morning. It felt like we lost a day, like it didn't happen, sucked into the monotony of plane ride after plane ride.

But we were finally there! Months of support raising, planning, praying, getting shots, and stressing out over Visa applications finally coming to life. Though insanely tired and a bit jet-lagged, we were all so excited.

It took me a little to realize we were finally there. When we switched planes in Frankfurt, Germany, and glancing outside everything still looked so normal, the roads and cars and high buildings. But the moment we arrived in South Asia, it was vastly different.

From the first moment we got in a cab (driving is crazy there) I learned my first lesson of the trip: give up. I needed to give up my expectations, my Americanized pre-conceptions of how things would look and be, just go with the flow, and let God work. And He did!

US and South Asia Cru!
Even while we were traveling I was able to see God's greatness. On our flight from Germany to South Asia, Tim and I sat next to a woman who was a Christian, from South Asia! In a country of billions with less than 1% Christians, what are the odds we'd be sitting next to one? Such a clear example of God's sovereignty over our trip and how His glory can and will (and was) revealed in everything.

He is so faithful, all hope and joy are found in Him, and it was such an encouragement to see how far His arms do stretch, and how His great love is found everywhere.

I wrote in my journal that night that I was “excited to experience Him and India through open eyes, heart, and mind.”

And thanks that we survived our first cab-rides.