A most interesting Tuesday

The computer screen flickered to life. As the dial twisted on the speakers, a soft buzzing crackled in the chill autumn air that warned of a coming storm. The window overlooking the street gave a beautiful view but a terrible draft. She opened an internet page and typed in where she wanted to go. Of course, it wasn’t really where she wanted to go, simply a page that showed her the life she wanted as she struggled not to live vicariously through the pictures and thoughts of others.

With frayed nerves thanks to ealier stress, she opened her inbox, only to discover a most mysterious message. It was not hte content, for that was simply put and clearly stated: How are you? We are thinking of you and praying for you. Hope things are well. The usual nonsense from a person reaching out but with nothing specific to say. It was the sender that made the message curious.

Her heart lept in fearful joy. She had never expected to hear from this person, but here they were, inviting her to communicate and expressing friendly love. Her hands rushed to the keys and she hurriedly typed out a reply. She had never typed so fast as she did now, almost afraid that the message would suddenly disappear and with it, the relationship. Frantically and joyfully she replied that things were well, if not a little difficult now and then. She had few complaints, a job, a shelter, love and a little hope. All her plans had come to naught and she found herself in a place completely foreign even in its familiarity. But she was well enough, interested and slightly unsure about what strange blessings the future might hold. In her excitement, she wrote a short novel back to the friend whose community she had missed. Anxiously, she pressed down the button to send and waited. Lunch went by, a phone call, a few hours, and then with one forlorn refreshing of the page: there it was! A reply to her own! Greedily she ate up the words, about the school, about the family, the state-side meetings, the beauty of a place she’d never been and all the questions he had for her.

Ecstatic about the response she wrote a second reply for the day–longer, more convoluted and more open. Perhaps it would be too much, too soon in the early correspondence. But he had asked and she would answer. He had a daughter of his own, he served in ministry most of his life, surely he wouldn’t mind her mentioning a few questions about God and ministry. If anyone could understand, surely he would be one for the job. So she wrote back, clicked “send” with a little more confidence and then waited.

She went to work, went to a friend’s, drank too much coffee and drove home far too late in the evening amid hail becoming snow. And when she arrived at home, what sat there, waiting for her? A newsletter about the school that she had requested, complete with pictures of smiling children and a list of ways to serve.

A most discouraging morning ended with a most encouraging night. Becuase Uncle Wally wrote me, totally out of hte blue, and totally unhindered by the fact that I had broken up with Anthony–who is almost a part of Wally’s family. I could have cried, I could have jumped for joy. I told Ghena about it over coffee tonight, laughing about other things and feeling the ache of the stitches on my temple. And I was so humbled and honoured that Uncle Wally and Aunt Joan are praying and thinking of me–all the way from Papua.

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Reconciliation [or step one]

It’s a pretty difficult subject to wrap our minds around and even harder to put into action.

I podcast sermons from a pastor in Texas: Matt Chandler * who one might associate with the resurgence of Reformed Theology and the “new Calvinism.” In a lot of his sermons, including the two or three I’ve listened to while running in the past week, Chandler makes his listeners flip back from wherever he’s preaching to Genesis 3. Why? Because Genesis 3 is where the whole world fell apart. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the fall is viewed as a rupture in relationship between man and God, between man and woman. It’s not so much a fall from grace as it is a broken relationship, like an extreme argument between friends or lovers; one which will take years and hard work to overcome.

The beauty of the Gospel, simply put, is that God wanted to reconcile with his beloved. He reached down and sent his son to be the great sacrifice not only of atonement but of his desire to be reconciled with warped, lost creatures. It’s sort of like the time I took Coy out for milkshakes on my own dollar, even though he’d thrown a fit and been disobedient the whole day long. We got milkshakes and walked around the town center in the blazing afternoon heat simply because I wanted to restore our relationship. I sacrificed a few dollars to the burger joint and my clean shirt to the sweaty walk. But I did it because after nannying for three summers, I loved Coy like a little brother. God loves us quite a lot more than I love Coy and so instead of a few dollars, he sacrificed himself to repair our broken relationship.

But our relationship with God wasn’t the only thing that was damaged in the tragedy of Eden. Adam and Eve suddenly broke apart. Their intimacy was destroyed, and we’re living in the aftermath. We see it every day. My BBC headlines that come daily to my email are always about people ruining one another. Today a French national was abducted by gunmen in Mali and a student opened fire at a university in Hungary. We’re all torn apart, we hide in our broken, flabby skins; we get defensive because we’re so afraid of being open; we lash out at others, criticise them and shout because we are so terrified of our own depravity and the awfully humbling fact that we can do nothing about it.

I want to go to another country. In many ways, I want to go to a place where women cover their heads, the men grow thick, unruly beards and the imam calls for prayer five times a day. I don’t want to go because I feel strongly about women’s rights or education or the “fight” against “terrorism.” I want to go because I think that Jesus offers a better answer. People are always jumping down one another’s throats. But in Jesus we have this great shift in the reality of the world. There’s reconciliation–with God and with each other. I want to take that offer to others and share it with them.

But reconciliation doesn’t happen in one conversation. It doesn’t happen in a day. The US is still dealing with the effects of the Civil War. My Grandad would never have even called it that. If we can’t even decide on a name 150 years later, we clearly still have issues. And have you ever heard of Africa? The entire continent is awash in conflict between clans, tribes, and races. The Muslims themselves are still warring over who should have been the right successor to the Four Righteous Caliphs. Roman Catholics and Protestants maim and kill each other in Ireland. Netanyahu still raves about Palestinians and Jewish settlements… the list goes on.

People are working for peace in these things. But the problem is, they’re missing the most important element. They are missing Jesus. The forgiveness, the freedom, everything that Jesus offers us is essential for reconciliation. Without him there is no lasting reconciliation, there is no peace.

But even with Jesus, we are still humans and reconciliation is hard work.

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* Matt recently suffered a seizure. He is back at home with his family; please keep him, his wife Lauren and their children in your prayers.

Never Thought I’d Say It…

[I apologize for the fact that WordPress didn’t publish my post! Sorry to have kept you hanging!]

…but I am tired of all this traveling. And I am very happy to be here at home, in my parents’ living room, watching some dorky SciFi show while looking at the Colorado Non-Profit Association. It’s nice to be in one place for more than a week.

Last week I met with a man who works in the inner city of Pittsburgh. He works with youth and younger kids. We sat on the back patio, at a picnic table under a low hanging blue umbrella that htreatened to poke me in the eye when I sat down. There was construction going on, so we had a somewhat disjointed conversation in the beginning. At the end, he asked where I wanted to go next. I shrugged, almost nervously, but mostly just becuase I didn’t know what else to do. So I shrugged and said, “you know, right now, I think I just need to go home. I need to go home and sit, and pray, and think.”

He smiled, stood up from the table and handed me his card. “Of course, that makes sense. I’d have been more worried if you’d done the opposite.” He walked ahead and opened the heavy door to the large brick building that fits so perfectly in downtown PGH. He put his hand on my back as I walked in and made some more encouraging remarks. We laughed in the elevator, he introduced me to the office who were some of the funniest people I have ever met. And after he pushed a lot of information into my hands, he walked me back out to the elevator and sent me on my merry wand’ring way after telling me that God would work out whatever it is he wants.

And now I’m here. In Colorado. In the living room. And it’s freezing. We might get snow. There is white on the mountains when the clouds lift and the foothills make an appearance. It’s lovely.

August 26th: Multipurpose Towels and Borscht

I still get water all over the floor when I take a shower here. I am doing a bit better, and I actually kind of like being able to hold the shower head in my hand while I wash my hair. Keeping it from splattering the walls and onto the floor, well, that’s something I haven’t yet mastered. Every morning, after finishing my warm shower (which takes several minutes to heat up, but eventually comes!), I reach to the metal hook on the wall that is covered in a fresh coat of shower water that missed my head, and I grab a pink or brown or blue towel that hardly covers my body. I use it first, to wipe off my face, since I need to see. And every morning I am greeted with the sensation of sandpaper rubbing against my cheeks. It’s like when Joshua tries to kiss me when he has a few days’ stubble—only worse. At first it bothered me. My cheeks don’t need this daily scratching! But this morning, as I dried my feet, even while the scrapping sensation continued, a thought occurred to me. These towels are multipurpose! Not only do they dry one’s skin, but they exfoliate! No longer do I need Neutorgena’s expensive “daily cleanser with exfoliant”! Instead I can use bar soap and get the same effect when I dry off! Cheers to Russia!

Tonight at dinner we met up with the Bible teachers for the Boaz Project. These great women go in weekly during the school year and tell the children Bible stories. There were two women who spoke English, and one who didn’t (between them they cover 6 orphanages). For the woman who didn’t, we had Nickoli (Kolya), to interpret. As well, David had invited two of his friends from when he lived here: Artom (sort of pronounced Arteyom), and Katya. They are married now, they must have gotten married just after David left. And they are the most precious couple. Artom is the typical Russian, tall and gangly with a narrow face—but an uncharacteristically cheerful smile. Katya is sweet, with a trim little figure and a darling face framed in a cute bobbed haircut. She actually reminds me of Amanda. And she has this wonderfully sweet demeanor, but is a bit more jumpy and outgoing when she gets excited about something, which also reminds me of Amanda. (Kitchen Woman? Josh? Remember this?)

The meeting was fine. Mostly to check in, see how things were going. We had dinner at this place that was mmmm…. Okay, on food. We ate there the other night, and honestly, I don’t want to be picky, but nothing sounded good tonight. Until we found borscht on the menu. So I ordered a Caesar salad (unfortunate), and borscht. Artom looked at me from the other end of the table and said with his friendly grin, “borscht, Sada? You are going to have a real Russian meal?” I shrugged, giggled embarrassed as everyone’s attention turned to me, and said “I’m going to try it.”

Oh. My. Word.

It was delicious! I mean, I was freaked out at first when it showed up. I knew it had beets in it, but did it have to be so red? I was thinking: cabbage and beets: probably more cabbage than beets: probably greenish with red slivers floating. Nope. Red. But it was good. I’m getting it tomorrow night.

After dinner some of us went for a walk. Artom and Katya had asked David for a walk (it’s what you do to spend time with each other here, like coffee in the states). Artom invited me “Sada, I think we are going for a—mm—walk. You like to come with?” I could have jumped on him and hugged him. A Russian! Wanting to spend time with me? Well, I hope David doesn’t mind my intruding on your time together, because here I come, dangit! And then David asked me himself if I’d like to come, and then Kolya was invited. So I grabbed a sweater (which they thought was funny, but it is quite chilly here after so hot in Denver!) and we set off.

I saw the town, again. I saw the Assumption Cathedral, again. I saw the lookout, again. I saw the Golden Gate, again. But this time I heard all the stories about these places. Katya was very excited to tell me about them when she discovered I like history. Kolya was only too happy to translate. (Which was encouraging, because we had a very awkward moment when we first met.) It was great fun to be included. It was so good to have an actual conversation with people, and to have people want to talk with me. I mean, it was wonderful! I had been feeling lonely, and really displaced. All I could see of a future life in Russia was dull and dreary grey skies, with no one to talk to; a bitter, lonely existence. But nooooo, not after tonight! If I lived here, I might have friends! Who would have imagined? And they were so excited to talk to me, it seemed. So who knows? This was very encouraging. And I’m not saying that I’m going to move here, I’m still not positive if God is calling me to Boaz. Please pray about  that. But tonight made it seem so much more feasible, so much more… possible.

Artom seemed very excited when he invited me for the walk and I accepted. When I told him I was cold, he smiled and said, “you know, David told us a secret. He said you want to come live here, for a whole year. So you must be prepared. This is not cold.”

Well, Artom, you made it seem much more possible for me to come. You and your wife were very encouraging. I think I could handle the cold. Now let’s just pray and see if this is really from God, or if it was simply something in the evening air. (or in the borscht? Teehee)

Privyet!

I am in Russia!

I have been here for two days now. Yesterday we got to the hotel and then went to our interpreter’s house for desert and tea. I have a delightful post about my plane flight and meeting Victor and Svetlana. But that’s on my computer, which, as usual, is dead. Not sure how we’ll charge it, since it’s being grumpy.

Today we met with three directors from various orphanages/homes. It went well, although I must admit I had a hard time focusing when the director would be talking with Svetlana. It’s exhausting not understanding much of what is going on.

We also went to a children’s home today and played with the kids for just over an hour. It was great fun, though difficult as I can’t say anything to the kids. Conversations go like this:

Ever: Sara…… (lots of Russian in high pitched boy’s voice)

Sara: da?

Ever: Da.

Sara: da, da, da

followed by lots of laughter.

There was a good deal of pinching from some of the little boys who apparently don’t understand inappropriate touching yet. When I was yelling “nyet!nyet!” and running away, one of the teachers finally came up and snapped at them. I sat down, so as to protect myself and then was mobbed by children who wanted to sit on my lap. I had three on my legs at one point, all kind of shoving each other. And there were girls playing with my hair, boys trying to give me sunflower seeds straight from the flower, and more kids spitting the sunflower seed husks…. Jim shouted from across the yard (three time before I heard) “Sara, should I send some more kids your way?” Why not…. David came out finally after playing with Sasha who had a brain tumor and is now severely disabled (mostly blind, kind of deaf, etc).  He asked if I need help at one point when I was carrying two kids and one was pinching me. “Niyet–err–no,” I said and put them both on the ground. Holding hands we pranced off to play with some rusty climbing frame.

It’s great fun. Tomorrow we’re going to a “village” that has adopted or fostered several orphans as a community. It’s about a 4 hour drive…. woohoo for sleeping! I am sleepy so much the last two days. Call it the 10 hour jet lag, or the fact that I am trying to pay attention to a language I don’t know. Of course, with Russian drivers, the ability to sleep may be somewhat questionable. Yesterday we played this game that David calls “Pretending the Shoulder is Part of the Road.” I think we won, because we didn’t run into any pedestrians and we passed the bus that was bothering our driver. We also enjoy playing the “run through gaps in traffic to middle of the road, then wait for another gap” game. It’s one of my favorites, it’s even more high stakes than Mexico!

anyway. I should give David back his computer. I don’t know when/if I’ll be able to update again. We’re at a coffee shop right now, which is kind of Seattle-ish, and doesn’t do lattes correctly. 🙂 But they’re trying.

prayer requests: clarity from God, peace, safety, patience with language barrier, energy

love to all.

Bonjour!

Today is my first full day in France. We are currently in Honfleur, a small town in Normandy. It’s the smallest operating port in all of Europe. I am sitting in my window on the third/second floor of our house. My left foot is sitting in the gutter so that I could have the laptop on the empty window sill in front of me.  The view is gorgeous. I can see where the Seine River flows into the English Channel. With the slight breeze I can actually see the water rippling North towards England.

The buildings in the town look too perfect and old to be real. We walked past a home today that was built in 1627. In the main part of town we walked through the oldest wooden church in all France. The entire place is picqturesque in a way that I cannot put words too.

This morning a few of us attended Mass at Le Chapelle de Cote de Grace on top of hte hill. THe church is a small stone chapel that was built in 1600 to replace a church that the Duke of Normandy had built in 1023. It was quite a exerience as I hae never been to Mass before. We tried to follow along on the songs they had printed on a sheet and I think we did pretty well, all things considered. The priest is black, I had actually seen him in town yesterday wearing his collar. This morning he wore a white robe with a green mantle. H was a good speaker, I enjoyed his homily even though I could only pick out a few words!

One thing that I did hear him say several times was a word that sound like the English word “mission.” It got me t hinking about what our calling is as Christians. That’s something I’m thinking a lot about right now as I’m in a foreign country for the first time without a “missions” purpose. What does it look like to be a light to the poeple here when I can’t speak with them, and the group I’m with has incredibly different priorities than I do? Speaking of the group–I am praying to be patient with them and loving. They are great people, but we don’t share many of the same values–I was one of the lightest packers, I have no makeup, only two pairs of shoes and (gasp) almost all my clothes fit on four measely hangers! The other girls pretty much all brought two suitcases, and are much more fashionable than myself. That’s always been a hard thing for me–getting along with people who place so much value, time and effort on their looks. What does it mean to love the people with me, enjoy their company and yet be different in a way that is both obvious to them and maybe even the French people around us? What does it mean to live as a Christian when I barely got into a theological discussion earlier before being sick of it? (I find it difficult to talk about God with many people these days as I am still sorting out some of my own thoughts)

I think, as cheesey as it may sound, I just have to “act” differently. I gave up my spot in the shower line this morning–maybe that is a good start. I won’tt drink like everyone else (and take care of them when they come home ddrunk)–I think that’s a another good thing to do. And I jumped all over my KP duty today without being told. Maybe small things like that are the right place to start.

“My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long.” -Psalm 35.28