Tuesday, February 15, 2011

These Strange Ashes

Since I’ve been home the number one question that people have asked me is, “What are you going to do now?” Big question. I have no idea. I have been stateside for three weeks now and have been up and down emotionally as I am working through the highs and lows of transitioning out of an intense season of life and returning “home” to the familiar. How does one end one season of life and start up a new one without spending time reflecting over the experiences, the emotions and the spiritual lessons? This is where I am now, stuck in between the ending of one season and the beginning of another. Where does one even begin to start processing through all that I’ve experienced in the last two years away from home?
Several months ago my parents mailed me a book they thought would be helpful for me to read as I entered this period of transition, and I’ll admit that it has been a helpful resource over these past three weeks. The book is entitled “These Strange Ashes” and is the account of Elisabeth Elliot’s first year of missionary life in the jungle of Ecuador. I have found comfort reading her honest words about the struggles and the guilt and the expectations laid out for the missionary life. It is intriguing to me that while I was in a different part of the same continent, in a different time and doing a different work, that we experienced some of the same challenges in the day-today life, some of the same spiritual lessons, and the same division of the heart. Elliot writes,
“It is hard for a young person with high ideals to learn that people cannot be hustled. They cannot be hustled into the kingdom of God, and it is well to remember Christ’s own descriptions of that kingdom: leaven and seed, things that work slowly and out of sight. We long for visible evidence of our effectiveness, and when it is not forthcoming, we are tempted to conclude that our efforts had nothing to do with the kingdom.” (p.135, “These Strange Ashes”)
I spent the majority of the two years I spent away from home, working in areas where I am not gifted. Starting a ministry from scratch is a difficult feat in and of itself, and we were a small team. For someone who feels the passion of the Lord rising up within her as she teaches and disciples young women to know and understand the word of God better, it was a long and emotionless season of ministry sowing the seeds of evangelism and not be able to “hustle” the people along to the stage of discipleship. So having left the ministry without discipling a single person, (at least discipling as we understand it to be) it is easy to then conclude that my efforts to serve the Lord were somehow in vain. My biggest fear is that God had no other purpose for me in these two years other than “obedience for the sake of obedience”. That all he wanted from me was to do this because He said to do it. As I sit here and process and I ask God the meaning of it all, I fear that I will receive no other answer, no other explanation that will give purpose to all of the trials and hardships that I endured while being a missionary. As I read through Elliot’s own experiences and trials I connected with her in her honesty of not loving the work that she was doing. She explains that it was not hard at the end of her term to leave the region she worked in during her first year of ministry;
“It was not hard to accept, and to leave the big, gloomy thatched house in San Miguel with its admixture of memories – the births, deaths, struggles, failures, losses and all the days and weeks of common, ordinary missionary life when I accomplished nothing visible or tangible, when I often wasted time and wished I were elsewhere and allowed my thoughts to go off in all directions except where they belonged.” (p.143, “These Strange Ashes)
I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent a good deal of my time in Peru wishing I were home, wanting to be doing other things that would seem to give more real sense of accomplishment. I worked out of obedience, but not out of love, and not out of desire to “save the world for Jesus”. Does that make me less of a missionary? I’m not so sure. When I think back to Jesus’ teachings and all the times he said, “If you love me, then obey my commands”. I’ve come to understand that I can love the Lord with my obedience just as well as I can love him with my words and my actions.
So now, three weeks into being home I continue to spend time thinking through all I’ve experienced, praying that God will speak to me during this time of transition and give me purpose now that I am home.
As for me and this blog? Well, now seems like a good time to wrap it all up. I’ve appreciated this outlet to help me share what I couldn’t take the time or space to share in my newsletters. So thank you to all of you who took the time to read it, and cared enough to share in this experience with me.
Most sincerely,

Sunday, January 23, 2011

When all is said and all is done

After approximately 750 away from home, I have made it to my final day in Peru. What a strange feeling to be at the end of this big adventure and to be saying goodbye to everyone I have come to appreciate here. This past week in Lima has been filled with lunches and dinners with friends, birthday parties and sightseeing. My roommates wanted to take me to the Park of Magical Waters – or a huge part with huge fountains, and I won’t lie it was impressive. We made stops throughout the week at my favorite restaurants and I’ve tried to make it through all of my favorite Peruvian dishes. Friday night I had my second going-away party, but this time it was just with the ADIEL pastors and their families. It was a lovely night of delicious desserts, laughter and good conversation. The pastors took time to pray over me, thanking God for my time here in Peru and praying over the new season of life that I will soon be entering. We joked, played games, said our goodbyes and that was that.

This morning I went to my last church service at La Vina del Senor, and after enjoyed a nice lunch out with my roommates. It’s a gray day in Lima and while I am tired from swimming in details and coordinating lunches and dinners and birthday parties, I’m very content with this last week in Peru.
For now my bags are packed (mostly) and my goodbyes said (almost) and now I just have one more evening ahead of me. How will I be spending my final hours you ask? I’m going to the Peruvian Circus! My roommate Elly is taking me to a Peru-style Cirque du Solei show in downtown Lima. Not a bad way to end the day! The show is called something I can’t pronounce and is based on Peruvian culture and history. Elly and I will be going alone as Meredith and Raquel are on their way to Chincha to help with a medical missions team from the states that is helping out one of the ADIEL churches here. So tonight it is just the two of us. Well I’ve only got about an hour to finish up my packing and get myself down to the circus tent, and then I’ll finally get to start the long trip home. Tomorrow morning a taxi is coming to pick me up at 4:00am to take me to the airport. My flight leaves at 7:00 and will take me to Miami, where I will go through customs, and then on to Dallas. Oh joy for international travel. I would love prayer as I travel tomorrow, that there will be no trouble checking my bags, or that they simply won’t get lost, that there won’t be trouble going through customs and that I will have a save flight. I’m so excited to be seeing you all soon. (and sorry about the lack of pictures recently, out internet in Lima has been a little funky. I'll post some pics once I get back state side)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Birthdays Celebrated and Lessons Learned

I suppose it’s inevitable when you get to the end of a season of life not to look back and notice all the things you wish you’d done differently. We go through life learning, making mistakes, becoming better people because of those mistakes, but that doesn’t help relieve the pain those mistakes caused. Such is life. As I finish this season of living overseas I can’t help but to take a mental catalogue of my two years and see the mistakes I made, choices and attitudes, successes and failures. I wonder how many wasted opportunities to make friends, practice my Spanish, or simply love someone well are part of these two years. Why is it that when we find ourselves in a situation where we can chose the comfortable route or the needed route, we so often chose what is comfortable?
I celebrated my 25th birthday this past Sunday, and since it was also my last day in Tarma, my birthday was paired with my despedida (going-away party). It was a lovely evening of seeing friends and contacts one last time, laughing and enjoying food together. I was humbled by the number of people who showed up to tell me goodbye. People that I’ve spent these past years trying to encourage to read the Bible, learn to love Jesus, and participate in our ministry. People whom I taught English to, and who have taught me Spanish, people with whom I lived my life in Tarma. I was humbled because as all these people took their turn telling me goodbye I realized how I had failed to love them well. I can justify my overall attitude and behavior in Peru by the circumstances that brought me here and the circumstances that divided my attention between my life here and my life at home, but in the end, aren’t the strong of heart expected to go above and beyond their circumstances? I wonder if I just accepted them and managed to live as best I could with them. I said goodbye to Tarma thinking about my list of things I would have done differently. On the top of that list would be to have invested myself and loved these people more. I’m sure I loved them fine, and sufficiently, but I could have loved them better, dying to self and loving them in a way that no one else has loved them.
So what do you do when you end a season of life with a long list of regrets? I suppose you tack that list to your mental bulletin board and vow to learn from your mistakes and make your future better because of them. I suppose at this point, 5 days away from returning to my own home and own culture, that is all that I can do.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

With only 2 weeks to go, almost.

Come Monday, I will be down to my last two weeks in Peru. One week will be spent in Tarma helping my team with a week of summer workshops, and one week in Lima wrapping up legal ends (terminating my visa, paperwork etc.) and saying goodbye to the pastors of the ADIEL and the other ReachGlobal families. It has definitely been an interesting process to “transition out” of responsibilities, routines, and bedrooms. Wait, bedrooms? Yes, one of my goals before leaving Peru was to move completely out of my bedroom, and help Elsa move in. My room is a little bigger than hers, so it would make sense for her to have it once I’m gone. But I thought, why not take advantage of the “manpower” that is here and make the switch before I’m gone. So this week was spent swapping bedrooms, and then I began the work of turning Elsa’s old bedroom into the team’s new ministry supply room. Having sold my bed to some friends in town, I have been sleeping in a sleeping bag on a mat on the floor that I roll up each morning to continue the work of organizing the new room. We have several boxes of items that we have not seen since moving to Tarma last year, so this has been a great opportunity to downsize the general “stuff” that is around our house, and make an accurate log of the ministry supplies that we have to work with. This has been a fun project for me for several reasons. One, moving out of my bedroom was a large step towards making my way home, and transitioning out of my life in Tarma. Two, I love to organize things. When I was a little girl I would go to the grocery store with my mom, sit on a couple of packages of toilet paper and organize the shopping cart. So I guess I’m destined to organize things. I also love to get rid of stuff, whether it be throwing it out, giving it away or selling it. I love to downsize, and initiate the “less is more” policy whenever possible. I hope to wrap up the store room project this weekend and move on to our week of workshops before finishing out the week with my birthday/going-away-party. More to come on that front in a few days.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy New Year . . . 3 days early

Since the time-honored tradition of making resolutions for the approaching new year is upon us, I figure I’ll try to get a jump on the sentimental moments and start hashing out what summed up 2010, and what I promise-to-myself-that-I-will-do-no-matter-what in 2011.

2010This was a year of all things unfamiliar. It was a year of firsts, a year of overcoming insecurities, fears and doubts and a year of having to depend more upon God than I’ve ever had to do in the past. This was a year of changing relationship and learning how to deal with that change. This year I, among other things,taught 96 English classes, traveled between Tarma and Lima 7 times, got sick twice, helped receive 3 short-term teams, learned how to cook Peruvian food, marched in my first parade, and taught a workshop in Spanish to educated adults, owned my first pet (Pacha), and lived in a land where yes means no and birthdays are about more sacred than life itself. It was a busy year full of ups and downs and in the end I had to work hard to get through this year. I praise God for giving me strength for each day and for remaining faithful to me as I try to remain obedient to him. So with all the pleasure in the world I say out with the old . . .

2011By this time next year I will be turning 26, I will have been married for 6 months, and I will hopefully have a job doing something that I will hopefully enjoy. I could be living in an apartment or a duplex or a house, and I will most likely be enjoying the small aspects of life such as, carpet, instant hot water, bathtubs, Subway, the change of seasons, and the ability to nest (as in stay in one place for a long time, not actually build a nest). In 2011 I would like to see myself using my Spanish on a regular basis in some form, I would like to have an idea about what I might like to “do” long-term and have started the process of making that career happen. I would like to take each day as it comes and never end a day without thanking God for his blessings. I want to learn how to cook a turkey and how to tile a bathroom. And if possible, I want to take a vacation to Boston, a city I’ve never been to. I suppose I ought to include the self-help goals of losing weight and working on character flaws and such, but really I figure God is in charge of molding me and shaping me so I’m more or less content to sit back and allow him to make me better than I am.

So out goes one year in comes another, and as I sit here and joke about our traditions and obsessions with the new year, I reflect on the consistency of God’s grace and faithfulness, how he has taken care of us and brought us through another year of life on this earth. May we all glorify him more, serve him better, and reflect his love more fully in the year that comes.
God Bless,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How does God call people to give their lives in missions?

John Piper says, “He does it, along with other influences, by the mysterious and wonderful awakening of fear-conquering desire for the work through the preaching of his word. He does it by helping us count the costs so there is no romantic naiveté about missions. And he does it by filling us with a longing to know these blessings to the full”. I would say that this is an accurate description of how God moves in the heart and draws people to the special calling of missions. I would also say that this is how God moved me so many years ago, first through the ministry in Mexico, later in Argentina and ultimately in my sorority in college. All “foreign” lands, all needing the love and truth of God and His word.
I was recalling this morning my commissioning the Sunday before I left home to give two years of my life to this calling, when I was asked, “Why do this? Why give two years of your life to this work?” I remember my response clearly – that beyond God moving circumstances and drawing me to this ministry, the greatest reason was that 60 years from now I didn’t want to look back on my life and wish I had done more. I used to be passionate, full of vision and possibility, not thinking about the risks but of the blessings. Maybe my response to Brian’s question two years ago was cliché, but it was true in my heart.
Now with only five weeks remaining in Peru I look back over my time and can’t help but to reflect and give an account of the two years I’ve spent in this church-planting ministry. Someone asked me once not long ago to describe in a nutshell my time in Peru. And as I thought about the question and gave my response, I couldn’t help but feel a bit discouraged at how I summed up my time here.
My missions experience in Peru has been passionless obedience, for the sake of obedience, to God’s call and God’s design on my life.
Where did that wide-eyed, passionate and visionary little girl go? Deep down I believe she is still there, but why did she leave me when I most wanted her to be present? As I think over my time here I have to admit that I am somewhat ashamed of my selfish grumblings and negative attitude driven mainly by dissatisfaction with where I am now that my formal ministry responsibilities have ended. I’m tired, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually and when it comes down to it, I just don’t want to be here anymore. How’s that for a super un-spiritual confession?

This morning I listened to a sermon by John Piper entitled “I Am Sending You Out as Sheep in the Midst of Wolves”. He preached on the passage of Matthew 10:16-31, and addresses the dangers, and the blessings of living out a calling to frontier missions. As he spoke and dissected the passage, as the blessings greatly outweighed the dangers I was convicted of my selfishness and lack of desire to be here. He notes that the first blessing is “The Blessing of Being Sent by Christ” – what a great privilege to be called by Christ and sent by Him to do a good work. What a great privilege. How must Christ feel by my dissatisfaction of this great privilege?
I was speaking to my mom the other day and was struck when she reminded me that God’s timing always has purpose, that there is always reason behind when we leave and when we come home. She was right, and I needed to be reminded of that. I have five weeks left and I now am faced with a choice to continue living these last days grumbling about how I would rather be home with my family, friends and fiancé for Christmas, or I can remember the blessings of being here, I can pray with all my might that God would reignite the passion I once felt for missions and I can move forward in forgiveness and grace remember that God has reason behind His timing.
I humbly ask for your prayers in these final weeks that I would choose to be “the better man”, and press on in spite of missing my loved ones during the holidays, in spite of being tired, and in spite of feeling unworthy to be here. Pray that I would take every opportunity to share the love of Christ with those I am around and that I would not waste a single minute that I remain a missionary of Jesus Christ.