Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Love love love

Well, I am back in the western world. I arrived Saturday morning, and after staying awake for 31 hours, I promptly took a nap, attempted to get coffee, and went grocery shopping. Let me tell you - after two weeks of my arch-nemesis in every meal, muesli has never tasted better. So long, eggs! May you never cross my taste buds again.

But I realize you don't tune in for my opinion on the worst of all breakfast foods. You are actually here because you care about how my trip went.

If I had to think of one word to describe the last two weeks, I wouldn't be able to. True to promises we got from God, the last two weeks of outreach were a grand finale, like the moment of air time at the end of a ski jump, and entirely different than everything else we did. In other words, it was unbelievably busy, incredibly powerful, and insanely humbling.

This outreach has been extremely varied. We worked with trafficked women in the big city, with families in rural Cambodia, with all ages in both town and in the villages, in a predominately Buddhist nation and a predominately Hindu nation. We did evangelism and discipleship and preaching, teaching and health care and community development.

Our team leader said she's never led a team that has done so much on one outreach, and believe me, I am intensely grateful. Even now, thinking back on what we did these last three months, I can't believe I did them. Hiking ten hours to do a medical camp in an unreached village? That was me? Teaching English in a nation still recovering genocide? You mean I actually did that? I worked on building two houses - even laying a foundation on a steep, steep mountainside! As one of the lecturers from DTS said in worship - "What the heck?!!" How did that even happen?

I think one of the things I really learned the last two weeks was the contrast between words and deeds. An author once wrote, " words are wind," but I don't think I truly understood that until reaching Cambodia.

There are many NGO's at work in Cambodia now - UNICEF, UN observers, anti-trafficking groups, mine field clearing and community development groups - but many of them are so specialized that as they work with a people group, they help only one facet of that group's needs.

The first two weeks in Cambodia were spent in  Battambang, a small town where so many NGO's were based, we were told to be cautious of telling foreigners of our faith. But in the second half of our time, we were in Bavel commune, a village center about 90 minutes from Battambang and 45 minutes from the Thai border.

For all outreach up to this point, I always knew what we do the next day. In Kathmandu, the missionaries there had a schedule of how we would help everyday. There were even days in the schedule to get individual marching orders and then do them. In Dadeldhura, the missionaries were laid back and in the middle of governmentally-instigated upheaval, but would always tell us by the night before ministry what we would do that day. In Battambang, we always scrubbed walls in the morning, taught in English in the afternoon, and did evangelism at night.

Not so in Bavel. We knew the general objectives - service in four villages over the course of twelve days. That was all we knew, though. We were the first team to be sent into this area, the translator had never been to the four villages, and the non-YWAM pastor overseeing our service would come and go, seemingly at random, and leave what our service looked like up to the local village leaders. We were literally flying blind with every village we went to. In the morning as we would pile into the tuk-tuk to go to a new village, we had to be prepared to teach English to any level, teach computer skills, teach basic health and sanitation, do a two hour children's program, do a one hour open air, have a sermon prepared, and be ready to sit with old folks in a hut and carry on small talk with a survivor of genocide.

The first village was fairly easy - computer classes to a group of teenagers who had learned Microsoft Word a few years ago, and English to elementary students who didn't know the alphabet. But then it got harder. Every successive village was farther and farther from our home base and closer to the Thai border. The third village we visited was referred to as "ground zero" for child trafficking in the region. This village was founded in 2004 for the remaining Khmai refugees still living in Thailand. The refugees were resettled in jungle far away from paved roads, as the closer properties were all controlled by the politically influential - rich corporations, governmental employees, soldiers.

However, as soon as the village was founded, the wealthy began claiming all the land around the village, leaving the refugees with very little land on which to support themselves. Even if a family has a surplus, the roads are so bad that any produce would spoil by the time it reached the market. However, the land doesn't produce enough food for the large Khmai families to survive, so the parents move to the Thai borders to work, leaving children behind. But because they were refugees, there was no family network to care for the children left behind. These children are perfect prey for a trafficker. Promising food or a reunion with their family, they lure the kids away from the starvation and neglect of the village to the abuse and mistreatment of modern slavery.

In addition to this poverty, the region of Bavel was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge during Cambodia's civil war. The Khmer Rouge covered the area with land mines to protect themselves from the government, but when they stopped fighting, the mines remained. Areas close to town have been cleared; in more remote villages, it is best to stick to the road.

A church was planted at the same time as the village - our supervising pastor had hidden in the area while fleeing Khmer Rouge soldiers, and had a care for the new residents. However, in the past five years, three pastors had died: one from malaria, one from another illness, and one from stepping on a mine. The church had not met for two years - since the last pastor passed away.

Imagine you are an idealistic young white girl who can speak six phrases in the language. Imagine riding into the village after a two hour tuk-tuk ride. Imagine yourself seeing signs with declaring "minefield cleared by ..." and children with bellies distended from malnourishment. And now realize that this is not a movie set, that this is not a temporary situation, that this is LIFE for the people staring at you warily from underneath the thatched roofs of their huts.

There are no words for some situations. There are no platitudes, no blessings, no comforts to be had from mere words. Sometimes, there are only actions.

I feel like I speak love a lot. I say things that make other people feel warm and fuzzy and valued for a time, but my actions don't follow the implications of my words. And one of the main things I learned in Cambodia was the truth that I have been speaking for the past three years. It is a truth that I've known intellectually, but not experientially. I have been confronted with the cold hard truth that love is an action. Love is a verb. Love is a going out of one's way to serve and value another. And above all love is a way of living. It is not a once-in-a-while, if-I-can-be-bothered, just-let-me-finish-my-mocha, there-will-always-be-injustice-so-why-the-rush choice of convenience or pity.

I am not required to change the world - though that would be quite nice. I am mot required to change a country - though that is a definite possibility. My responsibility is one thing, and one thing only: to love people as God loves them. One at a time, individually, practically, and in every way.

Let's be honest. I am only 19. I have no great influence, no great wisdom or wealth. But I do have hands and feet. I have knowledge and time and a heart. I have all I need to touch a life.

Because my team went to the village, a church now meets where no church met before. A ministry now exists for orphaned and abandoned children. And people have remembered who they are and what they can do.

I don't claim this for myself. I know I couldn't have done it alone. What I do know is that none of it would have happened without ten people being committed to love.

And I think that may be the most important thing I learned on outreach.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Where Ever I Am With You

We are far, far from home
But we are so happy!
Far from home, on our own,
But we are so happy!

I realized I owe y'all an update of some of my adventures from the last two and a half weeks. So here goes.

Tribhuvan International Airport is a strange place to fly out of as a woman. While the men are required to go through multiple levels of security on par with the strictest TSA standards, women breeze through a metal detector (shoes and belts intact), get a quick pat down, and a glance of a passport gets them on the plane. Not the safest, but convenient if you happen to be one of the fairer sex.

In Thailand, I got my first taste of a tropical monsoon. We arrived at night, and were able to get some Pad Thai in a food court that had exclusively Thai customers (except for our team of 9). The next morning, as we prepared to load the van that would take us to the Thailand/Cambodia border, a giant thunderstorm broke loose over the city. It was the hardest rain I'd ever seen in my life - at least, until I'd seen a storm in Cambodia.

Our days have been full, cleaning a mission school in the morning and teaching English in the afternoon. At night, we would go out into the town and do evangelism, but the flavor of the evangelism is much different from what we have done in the past.

In Cambodia, the police can and will shut down a religious meeting if it is too loud. You are not allowed to hold open air evangelist events, not allowed to go door-to-door, not allowed to perform dramas in public locations. Cambodia has embraced the idea of religious diversity, but to be Cambodian is to be Buddhist.

In Nepal, the tricky issue is to covince Hindus of Christ's exclusivity. Buddhists need to hear of the love of Christ. Hindus will more easily accept the concept of Christ's divinity, but Buddhists need a demonstration of commitment on the Christian's part. This is not to say that one technique fits all - rather, it had been a paradigm shift from our ministry in Nepal to one so heavily based in Buddhist philosophy.

On one of our trips into the central market area, I had the opportunity to try durian. For those of you not in the know, durian is a tropical fruit that Asians appear to be crazy for. It comes in the center of a sharp, spiky shell. The smell is quite distinctive, and can be smelled from long distances. It is not especially appetizing. Durian tastes like some mild tropical fruit. However, it is the consistency of cream cheese and
has the aftertaste of rotting fish or Vegemite.

I have to leave this internet cafe now, so I'll just awkwardly sign off and pretend it was graceful. Tomorrow we leave for villages, so it is possible my next post will be from Thailand. Or possible Australia.

every moment but this one

As a forewarning, this post will be a jumble of conflicting ideas and crossed threads of thought. I have been thinking about all sorts of things recently, so they may very well come splashing out of my brain in a fountain of less-than-inspired writings.

I was listening to one of my favorite bands in the micro from Bangkok to Battambang in an attempt at normalcy, when one of the lyrics caught my attention.

We live in every moment but this one.

On DTS, there is no time truly spent by oneself, at least on the Perth base's regime. When base rules state that outreach teams must always be in pairs, preferably threes, a starving introvert such as myself must find increasingly creative ways to grab some solitude. These range from the simple - plugging in an iPod during a bus ride and ignoring the world - to the more elaborate - finding an equally human-weary companion, and spend your free day ignoring the other.

As I listened to this song, I realized that I was also compensating for time by myself by dwelling a lot on both the future and the past. I was letting myself focus on past times of struggle and future stresses. And thus, when the lyric was repeated, I received something of a challenge.

How does a wayfaring introvert balance the need for escape from constant companions with the desire to live "in the moment," as the cliche goes?  How do you go on with the last two weeks of outreach while resting in the knowledge that if the past six months were hard, the next four years will be harder? How do you balance the "I love you but I cannot bear to see your face right now" with the knowledge that in four weeks, I may never see "your" face again, and should treasure each passing day?

This is where my quiet times have proved increasingly necessary.

You see, Cambodia is hot. I would say that I feel like a fish out of water, but that's exactly wrong. I feel like a land-dwelling mammal in a sauna. Except this mammal must keep the majority of its skin covered by heavy, suffocating clothing. The nights are full of mosquitos. Who am I kidding? The mornings and afternoons are also full of the pests. If all the animals in Australia can kill you, all the animals in Cambodia are out for blood. Specifically, yours. You sweat in your sleep, and when the fan turns off every two hours, you wake up in a little puddle. The food is plenty of rice, and shrimp and mushroom broth served with twigs and leaves.

Not that I complain. I've had my quiet time for today, and I freaking love Cambodia. I am so blessed to be here, and to be caught up in the beginnings of an amazing work here in Battambang. But if you were to catch me before my time with God, I'd probably grunt something unintelligible about mozzies and shamble off to take my anti-malarial pill.

There is a tension to everyday. It would be easy, so easy to mentally shut down and power through my remaining time here in the middle of underdeveloped South East Asia. But this is my call, and even were I here against my will, I am not my own. The crazy stuff I've done - hiking for ten hours to an unreached village in remote Nepal, preaching the Gospel in front of a crowd of 200 men outside a Hindu temple, building a house for parapalegics, worshiping God in pagan temples, washing walls in Cambodia, teaching English in a nation shattered by genocide - has not simply been me. Every person who contributed to my outreach fees; every person who prays for me; every person who bought cookies or attended a fundraiser has, in a way, come with me to Asia. You have been a missionary without leaving your state.

Today was a hard day. "It is your day off," you might say. "How could you have a hard day?" Today was my last day in Battambang. For the past two weeks, I stepped in to teach English when the regular teacher had a family emergency. At first, it felt strange investing time in students I would only know for two weeks. But today, when I stopped by the youth center to say farewell to them, two of my pupils had bought me a going away gift and written letters so I could remember them.

I felt so ashamed. All I did was buy them a fifty-cent icecream cone and go for a walk with them. Yet they were crying as we parted.

I had no idea that a mere two weeks could make such an impact to someone's life.  How can I live in any moment but this one if this moment could so impact some one's life?


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Last post from Dadeldhura

The past two weeks have been quite busy here in Daldedhura.  One of the most striking aspects of life here is the contrast between the lives of believers and those of the predominantly Hindu population. In Kathmandu, those who surrendered their lives to the Lord had an immediate and striking change in their lives.  Since the culture is overwhelmingly Hindu, conversion can mean separation from family and friends and can carry life-threatening impacts.  Here that commitment comes with a price and has an immediate impact.  This is because of the striking differences between Hindi and Christian worldviews. 

For instance, we understand that Christ does not differentiate between rich or poor, men or women, slave or free.  His death on the Cross was for as many who would come, without regard to those distinctions.  This flies in the face of Hindu teaching that these distinctions are the result of your birth or caste in life; you have no hope to change this at all - it is your fate and must be accepted.  When people in Nepal hear the gospel, they understand the impact on centuries of life. The gospel will drastically change the social, economic, and spiritual landscape. What results is the violence between Hindi and Christians we have seen in India; it plays out similarly in Nepal.

What this also means in Dadeldhura is that believers can become isolated and cut-off from fellowship with the body.  It also makes it difficult for believers who need assistance as your community is now smaller.  This led to a couple of great opportunities to strengthen and encourage fellow believers and testify to God’s grace.  During our first days here, we hiked for two hours to visit a family that had been without fellowship for two months.  We were blessed to be able to visit and worship with them, share communion, and encourage them.  We also spent time on a couple of building projects.  One was for a pair of paraplegic women who live near the church in this area but are unable to attend regularly because of the house they live in.  We helped prepare a new foundation for their home.  The other project was for a Hindu family that lives next door to the base where we stay and have become friends with the family who runs the base.  We helped to clear their property in preparation for doubling the size of their home.  Both were wonderful opportunities to bless those people.

People in the Dadeldhura area are noticeably more reserved than in Kathmandu. People are very shy and wary, making for hard work in sharing the gospel.

The mission clinic that we came to assist has had a five-year contract with Nepal to run the clinic.  That contract just ended and the group has been asked to turn over the clinic to the state.  There were complaints of proselytizing and accusations by some of financial mismanagement.  It sad, as this clinic (which has been doubled in size to treat more people) will now likely become a hospital for the wealthier citizens in the area, abandoning those from the lower castes whom the clinic has been serving without regard to caste or ability to pay.

As a result of these changes, medical equipment that had been donated for the expansion was packed up to be returned to the manufacturers or sponsoring organizations. On the way back to Kathmandu, the shipment was seized by the police and the driver was charged with theft and jailed. In addition, the doctors and nurses who serve there have been asked to find other lodgings. 

The state has also forbidden them from providing care except in the case of severe emergencies.  As a result, we helped pack over 60 kilograms of medical supplies and medicines into a remote area north of Dadeldhura.  What was supposed to be a one hour jeep drive and a four-and-a-half hour trek became a ten hour trek in the dark.  (I can now claim that I have summited on of the (lower) Himalaya peaks as a result!)  I have much more to share on that trip, but it will have to wait for another time. We were the first Christians to come into the area and I was one of the few Caucasians many had seen. Most of my group could easily be mistaken for natives or south East Asian. It lead to a few tense situations, one in which I was mistaken for a doctor by a local women.  I was quickly surrounded by others reaching out to touch me, begging for help.  I was reminded of the crowds pressing in around Jesus, reaching out to be healed.

While they are disappointed in the closure of this clinic, the staff is looking to purchase land further north of Dadeldhura where they can establish a new clinic. The area is undeserved medically and spiritually.  They need to find property they can purchase, which means gaining favor with the local people.

By the time you read this, we will have made it back to Kathmandu for a few days before we leave for the final portion of our outreach in Bat Dambang, Cambodia. Hopefully our trip will be without incident and much shorter than the 23-hour trip over.

One final thing - because we have had to walk everywhere while Dadeldhura my feet are in extreme pain. The team has been praying for them regularly, but after our ten and seven hour hikes to and from the village where we did the clinic, I am really looking forward to a foot massage of epic proportions.

You can see there a great many needs in the area. Please pray for those living in Dadeldhura and those who remain to serve them, especially that they will be able to establish a new clinic north of the area and continue to serve and give Hope to the people living there.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

From Lady June, in her own words from June 5

I will keep this brief, as I have another busy week ahead of me.

Today was my first day of rest in two weeks, and I can whole-heartedly say that it was needed. This past week, we went to the most prominent Hindu temple in the area to worship and proclaim God's name. To give you an idea of the esteem this temple is held in, many villages in this area have poorly maintained or non-paved roads leading to them, while the temple had a nice (by US standards) asphalt road leading up to it. At least, nice underneath layers of cow dung. I went into the innermost sanctuary, a foul, closed room that reeked with the stench of decaying offerings thinly masked by the heavy clouds of incense. Carpets of flies covered everything. I was praying and interceding in the chamber when three Hindu priests walked in. Fortunately, they did not appear to speak English - the awkward encounter would have been worse had they known what I was actually saying. As it was, they rang their worship bells and then left.

I also have helped build two houses - one I was actually carving into the mountain's rocks to clear an area for the foundation of the second floor - home schooled some missionary's children, learned how to cook a Nepali delicacy, and visited an entirely self-sufficient village to fellowship with new believers. The hike down took two hours, and we didn't eat lunch that day.

There is an amazing couple who came to Dadeldhura with us. Chelsea cooks, and Ashok (ahh-shook) translates. They are amazing people, and it absolutely hilarious to hear Chelsea speaking Nepali in a fake English accent.

My team is weird, God is good, I love my life, and miss you all.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Arrival at Dadeldhura

While it may have been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone, such has not been the case on the road from Kathmandu to Dadeldhura, Nepal (shown on the map here as Dandeldhura).  After a 23-hour drive (which was originally estimated at 16 hours), a forced stop at night in an area thick with rabies-infected monkeys to allow the bus engine to cool down, her team made it to their destination. 

Since A. Turtle is at the outer edges of access and unable to update her blog, she has asked me (Dad) to fill in for a bit.
Having come to Kathmandu, Nepal with the full Compassion outreach contingent from YWAM’s Perth, Australia campus, the G24 has broken into three smaller outreach teams.  A. Turtle is now in Dadeldhura, on the western edges of Nepal for about three weeks.  The other teams have gone on to outreach in India and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

While in Dadeldhura, Sarabeth and the rest of her cohort will be assisting with medical and arts outreach in the local area in addition to helping with some community development projects.  The area is very rugged and she says that about 10% of the view out of her window is of the Himalayas.  That ruggedness is typical of the places they’ll be getting to – and all on foot.  Lots of walking and hiking wherever they go.  Sarabeth would like prayer for this as she’s been suffering from sore feet already and even with a good pair of shoes, it takes its toll on the tootsies.

She has already noticed a difference in the people – although they are still friendly, they are more reserved than in Kathmandu and usually just want to practice their English.  It would be great to break through this reticence and establish friendships with the people in the area so they will listen and hear the Gospel.

Although this area of Nepal is high mountain desert with elevations around 5600 feet, the area is right at the beginning of the monsoon season.  This has the potential of washing out roads and making travel all the more dangerous.  Sarabeth told us that the roads were paved at their best and washboard gravel at their worst.  Our prayer is that the return to Kathmandu is safe and without incident.

The Turtle has been enjoying the work they are doing and the opportunity to get to know the people and understand their needs.  They visited a temple earlier this week and spent time praying there, asking the Lord to break down strongholds and open the hearts of the people.

The hospital where they will be helping is operated under a contract with the government of Nepal by TEAM, a medical missions group.  That contract has not been renewed, but TEAM has been asked to continue operations until someone else can be found to operate the facility.  There have been complaints of proselytizing and financial mismanagement.  Please pray for the entire medical staff and people supporting them that these issues will dissolve and they will be able to continue their work in this area.  With the government focused on writing a constitution, it is difficult for them to focus on providing health care for this area; it is one of the only hospitals and clinics in the area and is currently doubling the size of the hospital in an effort to provide more services.

That’s about it for now.  Thank you for your prayers and support!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Kathmandu, Nepal

I am sitting in a building smaller than my room in Seattle. Outside, the sun is baking a half-cement, half-dirt street paved with garbage. Six computers cluster along the walls, and a young teenager controls the internet access from behind a small desk in this airless room.

I've been here in Nepal for six days. The rational part of my mind reminds me this is 12.5% of my time in Nepal, but time is not so linear here. A day contains a lifetime in a moment, and frankly, I'm in love. If every nation has a gift for the world, Nepal may have gone overboard in preparing for this global Secret Santa.

But before I go off in raptures of ecstasy, let me tell you about it.

Kathmandu's international airport is underwhelming. When I arrived off the plane, we stepped on a bus which drove us to a brick building with a sign boldly proclaiming "Welcome To Nepal." This sign, coincidentally, was an advertisement for an outdoor supply company. Inside, Tibetan monks jostled with Hindu gurus, Western hippies, Korean tourists and returning Nepali nationals as we filled out visa forms and slowly inched our way toward the immigration desk. Although we had been required to fill out customs forms declaring if we carried more than one camera, cell phone, 200 cigarettes, or clothes beyond what we were personally using, there was not any attempt to check those forms as we staggered out of the airport.

Outside, rows of taxi drivers waited a chance to "help us" by carrying our luggage. Fortunately, we were all able to keep a hold of our belongings - if one of the taxi drivers was able to hold a bag, we would have had to pay in order to get it back. We tumbled into two large vans which drove us to our hostel, Applie Pie Expeditions (APEX Inn).

 I share a room with Emilly, the amazing girl from Brazil. It's quite cozy - two small beds are located only a foot apart, with a small set of shelves to contain two image-concious women's clothing, makeup, and accessories. Kathmandu sprawls outside our window, and on the more clear days, we can see the mountains just a few miles away.

Kathmandu, in case you didn't know, is a very polluted city. While the sky often looks like an overcast Seattle day, it is, in fact, the haze of dust and emissions from this bustling, lively city. Officially, the rule of the road is to keep left. In practicality, the one with the loudest horn, least fear and heaviest pedal-foot gets there the fastest. Streams of mopeds and motorcycles clog the road, rushing through every possible break in the traffic, and pedestrians bravely face this madness just to cross the other side.

"Why did the chicken cross the road" was never a more pressing question than here and now.

In our first day, Christians in the city organized a scavenger hunt for the team. We ran through a city with a list of objectives - get a picture praying with a Tibetan priest, find a Hindu temple, find a place where Hindus offer sacrifices, barter for something in Jawalakhel's open bazaar, catch a micro to Thamel, get a picture eating lunch. This list would have been fun and challenging under ideal circumstances, but add in language and cultural barriers, and the ensuing day was more fun than a micro full of YWAMers.

In terms of the actual reason I'm here, it's been super exciting to see God at work. On Friday, we invaded an athletic field and Hindu festival to do an open air. I ended up sharing a testimony in front of 200 men who had gathered to watch a volleyball game.  In the course of the four days we've bee engaging in active spiritual warfare, we've seen 10-12 people accept Christ, including a young Hindu girl who brought all her friends to us the next day to hear our message for themselves. It's really neat to see how open people are to hearing about Christ - there's been a few instances where they don't even know the name!

During intercession, we've had some amazing promises from God about His plans for Nepal - that it will be a beacon to India and China, a city on a hill, His footstool and that Nepal will be a nation known for Him. If you all could be praying for Nepal as we work, we would all really appreciate it.

There is a great deal of spiritual darkness here. Some of the girls have come down with sicknesses and feel a lot of attack from the Enemy.Please pray for our team to have confidence in our identities in Christ and for a release of the pressure. It has been a struggle at times to connect with God and hear His voice.

I need to be going now - I have some shopping to do and I need to hang out with these awesome people :
Peace, love and keep rocking,

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Metaphorical Resonances

I'm sitting here in the dining room on base while waiting to start the day. I'm listening to the wonderful Bruce Cockburn on my iPod, but I can hear the cafe blasting Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in the background. The conflict of musicality is surprisingly appropriate to my mood this week.

I feel like this week has been a week of conflicting duality. On the one hand, I've experienced such incredible things as getting my prayer language, God giving me the physical hugs I'd been asking for, and being healed of something after prayer for the first time. But on the other hand, I'm feeling dry. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I am pretty much a zombie at this point. (Walk, watch me walk like a zombie ...)

So the contrast between what may be the most famous organ piece written and an obscure artist's album inspired by St. Augustine is a pretty good metaphor for my topsy-turvy, mixed up mindset.

Speaking of metaphors, it has not been lost on me the accidental symbology of my imminent departure date.  The school will be flying out of Perth in two Sundays, leaving on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. My school is primarily female (only one male student, poor chap!), and will be leaving to spread the gospel on the anniversary of Christ sending the women to spread the news that He had risen.

Coincidence? I think not!

Outreach is quickly approaching, and my excitement is growing. Over this last weekend, $9,000 came in so that ALL our school will be able to go! My current problem is locating a place I can put a bag of clothes on outreach. Because we will be dressing like the people in Nepal and Cambodia, I will have no use for my tank tops, shorts, and most of my tee shirts. I'm sure you can understand why I'm not too keen to backpack with absolutely useless items as a result. I want room for sanitary wipes. ;)

This week is focusing on missions, and I hope to tell you more later.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

System Overload

A Note of Explanation: Despite the rather ominous title, this is quite the positive post. However, I tend to imagine my brain as capable to handle only a certain amount of crazy busy before it starts dreaming of electric sheep. Thus, I also imagine it giving me status reports in a polite, electronic voice - "all systems go," " system overload," "low fuel," "system failure," etc.

Well, this week is pretty much jam-packed with craziness. In addition to all my funds being due in two days' time, I have a group research project to work on (read: start) and a militant atheist to follow up with, not to mention the fact that I won't be speaking until Saturday except for evangelism and keeping up with supporters from home.

But I do need to tell you the cool things God has been doing around here. We'll go chronologically.

Week 8 was all about evangelism, and is my favorite week so far. The speaker somehow managed to combine all my passions and experiences in speech and debate in his teaching of how to share the Gospel. I'm telling you, it's majorly exciting to realize that your background in analyzing strangers to persuade them to your side can actually be used for good! And yes, I know I was told that inside the league at almost every opportunity. Some people are just slow learners.

For application that week, we did street preaching. All American prejudices against showing my hand aside, it was an incredible time. We were in Northbridge on Thursday night as usual, and just had a whole lot of personal testimonies and presentation of the good news. That night, two people prayed to repair their relationships with God! That was a first for our team!

The next day, Ian resurfaced. Remember the false prophet I mentioned a while ago? Yeah. So one of the girls in my school, Nicole, is from Germany. She was sitting in the city centre, reading a book, when she happened to over hear the conversation of two women near her. It dealt with one of the women's children, and Nicole felt she was supposed to talk to them about Jesus. This was not on any base evangelism day, just on her own.

Anyway, as soon as she decided to talk with them, Ian walked up to her and started staring at her intensely. Nicole tried to ignore him, but the second time she made eye contact, he started speaking about how she and her country had killed so many people, and how she had to come Australia to kill more. Nicole told him that Satan had told him that, at which point Ian walked away.

Nicole was then able to share with the women, who asked her for prayer into the situation.

On a side note, I really like the philosophy of evangelism here in YWAM. It can essentially be summed up as "effective evangelism ends up bringing the subject closer to Jesus than when the conversation started." It definitely takes the pressure off, as I am no longer expected to hit people over the head with a pre-canned "turn or burn" speech, and can instead focus on actually getting to know and care for that person.

On the same note, I still suck at starting conversations with complete strangers.

That weekend, I started emailing with a young man I had encountered on outreach with the drug kids of Perth. This particular gent was not part of the gang, but because he was on break from working in the mines and his best friend ran with that group, he was out with them too. Bonus points for run on sentences, OK?

When I first met him, we spent a while arguing about the Bible and the difference between absolute Biblical truth (do not kill) and cultural Biblical truth (don't wear anklets with bells on them). The weekend after week 8, I discovered a Facebook message from him, wanting to continue the argument in person sometime. Granted, this request was phrased in terms of the "intellectual challenge" I presented, but I figure any opportunity to talk about God while using the skills I learned in debate should be seized upon.

Piled on top of that lot, I became very I'll during week nine. It didn't become apparent until that Wednesday, and I still don't know what it was. It involved a fever, sensitivity to light and noise, lethargy, dizziness, and a hoarse voice. I'm pleased to report that I didn't miss a single class, but don't assume that I was present for them. I sat in the back of the room, alternatively bundled up and not, trying not to fall asleep or fall over while the teacher taught.

I'm very glad that I wasn't incapacitated until Wednesday. Tuesday was my shift for Hands-On Compassion, and it seemed like my team would finally be able to visit the detention centre, which had opened up for the first time for the previous group. It was not to happen.

However, I think God never actually wanted me in the detention centre. I'm almost 100% certain I joined the Priceless group to give me a greater heart for city people. Every week we haven't been allowed in the jail, we've gone to the city instead.

Last Tuesday was pretty incredible. That morning I'd dressed as closely to my Northwest normal as I could, complete with hair, make up, and matching weather. The fact that it was overcast seemed enough to make my day pretty awesome (it is the simple things in life), but when we went into the city, we ran into a group of cybergoths and punks who were just chilling on a corner.

It was my first time having someone try to sell me drugs - pot and speed - and it was really heart-breaking to hear a 17 year old state calmly that drugs are the only reason people like me talk to people like them. It was a great time - I had a conversation about Bach and classical music theory with an older punk man who called himself "Vomit," but the thing I really was impressed by that week was how diverse and wonderful city people are.

I have another update to write, so I'll let this one die now.

Thank you for your prayers!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Evangelism 2/21

As I sit here on my smartphone at 7:40 am, I realize that I don't have a smart introduction to this post. I think I may need to get some coffee which, as we all know, is the source of all wacky, jacked up inspiration.

Thursday nights here in Perth are dedicated to evangelism. Work duties are rearranged so that by the time 3:30 pm rolls around, the base is ready to be completely shut down.

This week was very tiring, for reasons I'll get into in another post, so by the time 6:00 rolled around and it was time for evangelism, I was feeling almost disassociated from my own body. You know that feeling that you're experiencing everything from the other side of a thick glass wall? That was me on Thursday night.

My school's assigned area is in a part of town called Northbridge. Northbridge is full of ways to distract oneself  - gentleman's clubs are right next to nice Asian diners and fancy clothing boutiques. Bars and arcade centers jostle for attention with art galleries, backpacker's travel agencies and hostels and a university. In short, Northbridge is the place to go if you are looking to fulfill any number of lusts.

Going on in Northbridge right now is the Fringe Festival. If you were to take Seattle's Folklife Festival and add theater, art showcases, freak shows, and institutionalize the alternative lifestyles present there, you would have the Fringe Festival. There is, no kidding, a tank of water with people dressed as mermaids inside it.

When we got into the festival on Thursday night, a group of film students had set up a green screen and were airing a number of short films on a giant film screen in the centre of an amphitheayre . They would walk through the crowds and get innocent passersby to step in front of the green screen and act the main roles of the short. When one of the students approached our group, my friend Azera jokingly volunteered my services.

She didn't expect me to actually do it.

There are pictures and someone recorded part of it, but I haven't gotten copies yet. When I do, I'll be sure to post some here for your entertainment.

But in all seriousness, being totally ridiculous on a giant screen helped me get in the evangelism mood. That night, we were supposed to hold up "free prayer" signs in an attempt to attract the attention of the denizens of the festival.

That begs the question - is there a time when it isn't free?

But I digress. I was standing in an area near one of the beer gardens. Of course, they aren't "beer gardens" at Fringe, they're "the fountain of Acquarius" and yes, there is a literal fountain involved.  Inside the area was a good old fashioned band playing music that was a mix of big band swing, klezmer, and all-Americana folk. Nothing sounds quite like it, especially when they started playing that song from the Aristicats.

Erinne and I were bravely holding our sign, and there were no takers. I approached one man who was standing nearby and asked if he'd like prayer. He said yes, that he was alone that night, and wanted to go to a Chinese art film that was showing for free, and would I go with him? I told him no, but that I'd pray he'd find someone. :P it was hard to pray for him after that, but I did soldier through it.

After that uncomfortable incident, Erinne and I decided to apply teaching from that day and surrender our right to reputation. To translate, we started signing and dancing to the kelzmer/swing/folk band's music. It was incredible to see the total change. As soon as we started actually being fools for Christ, people started coming up to us! There were also a couple of videos taken as well... :P

In addition to a couple of people who just wanted a good life, we got to pray for an ethnically Asian Jew and his well-mannered atheistic friend who told us that he applauded our guts for offering prayer, but wouldn't tell us anything we could pray for lest he mock our convictions (!).

However interesting that experience was, I think my favorite interaction was with a man named Mark who was obviously tripping on something. He ran up to us and without any introduction, laid hands on us and started praying hedges of protection around Erinne and I, and to send angels with us, and to walk with us, among other things. After he finished praying, we started talking with him about what we could pray for him about. Because of the lighting and noise, Erinne and I have slightly different intepretations of what he meant, but the gist was that he and his girlfriend had split up, and that he had "lost" his two - year - old daughter in the process. This could either have been through death or from the girlfriend taking the daughter - it was hard to tell. Mark wanted prayer to find his daughter and to get off drugs, and I was so glad we had just finished the father heart of God week. When he left, he asked us to continue praying for him and his daughter.

You may be wondering why I liked this interaction. You may not, but I'm going to tell you anyways. The experience with Mark was *real* in a way that many conversations can only aspire to be. So many times, Christians get caught up in the desire to be good witnesses for Christ to the extent that they dive into religiousity. We ty to sell Jesus by saying that He solves our problems, so if we have issues, we conceal them to make Christ look more appealing to outsiders. Or if we do allow that we have a problem, it's the carefully cultivated prayer group problem. The one that lets others know that "I'm being honest with you" but in actuality simply blocks others off from the internal life that is desparately in need of grace.

Mark identified as a Christian, but he was frank and honest and didn't beat around the bush with his problem. He didn't say "I'm really struggling with this issue, and would like prayer for continued strength in dealing with it." He said " I've lost my little girl and cannot find her. And I need prayer to get off marijuana and cocaine."

That is integrity if I've ever seen it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Slum Survivor Redux

This weekend, the 2013 Compassion DTS went camping. This trip was not like the other DTS' camping trig the previous weekend, which was filled with ham-flavored crisps and canoes and swimming and sausages. This wasn't your all-American camping trip with a tent and a little air mattress, bacon and hot chocolate.

No, this was Slum Survivor. Take a normal camping trip. Now take away the tents. And the food. And the possibility of showers, the presence of deoderant, the ability to chill around a campfire in nice little fold-up chairs, and electronics, changes of clothing, and any non-prescription medicine.

Now it's starting to look like Slum Survivor. Essentially, SS is a simulated slum environment designed to give as accurate a picture of slum life in as short a time as possible.  In this post, I'm going to start by describing everything that happened, and then go on to discuss how it impacted me. Otherwise, my perspective may not make much sense.

Happy? Alright, let's boogie.

We boarded the buses at 8:30 am Saturday morning with nothing but the clothes on our backs and a few toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap. After a two-hour bus ride (listening to everything from Ellie Goulding to Coldplay and Lecrae) we arrived at the Reserve. I can't remember the name of this particular one, but trust me when I say it was in the bush. Really in the bush. After driving for fifteen minutes on a dusty red road, we arrived at the group camping area. Biting flies swarmed everywhere - we ended up "inventing" a dance that made us look slightly less dorky while serving to drive the pests away.

As it turned out, there were a few other families camping in the group site which we had reserved. The leaders could technically have turned them out, but as they had many small children, they decided the family's presence could only serve to increase the reality of our situation. On arrival, we were instructed to go swim in the river for forty-five minutes.

"Big deal," you might be saying. "It's a river. Get over it."

Calling it a river would be polite. Calling it a pool of standing, stinking, stagnant water would be more accurate. What little current there was was almost undetectable aside from the general migration of algae from one end to the other. Lest I sound like I'm complaining, it was actually quite nice, once you got over the slime. The swim essentially served two purposes: one was to make us dirty, the other was to tire us out. More on that later.

After swimming, we hiked back up to the site, where we were instructed to build houses out of the piles of garbage that had been brought along. These houses had to be wind-proof and water-proof, and at the end of 1.75 hours, the facilitators would come around to test them "by fire", as it were. Our outreach teams would serve as the basis of our slum families for the duration of the time, so we set to work. The slum house was surprisingly hard to build - by the time we started, our blood sugar was starting to drop. After all, when you go swimming for forty-five minutes, you tend to deplete energy stores. As we dragged wood pallets and giant cardboard boxes around in the heat, that fatigue began to worsen.

I get hypoglycemic quickly, so it could be that I was affected by the feeling of thinking through molasses sooner than the others. It really doesn't matter much.

During the time we were building, I started realizing how appreciative I was of my background in Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Surviving Camping Trips With My Family. Because our slum was to be built on a slope, we needed to find a way to brace the structure so that the walls would stay up when shaken violently.

Suffice it to say, more effort was spent on the walls of our hut than the roof. We figured that since it wasn't going to be raining that night, we'd do the bare minimum to keep from getting drenched when the facilitators fired water guns at us.

We passed that test, and then it was time for the challenges. Each challenge was designed to explore different realities of slum life: the first was a piggy-back obstacle course race in which the families competed against each other for rock melon (US' cantalope). Every family paired up in twos, and each pair had to complete the course twice, to imitate the act of pulling or pedaling rickshaws. At the time, we did not know what the prize would be, only that it was food. However, we were extremely motivated at this point: physical labor in the heat of the day with no food and little water had already started to seriously handicap us.

As I typed that last sentence, I felt seriously wimpy. It is so difficult to describe in words the challenges faced in SS. I guess I'll have to hope you'll get in the spirit as I continue to describe my weekend.

When the India team won that challenge, they were kind enough to share the melon so that everyone got a few bites. It was incredible how much of a difference two bites of fruit made! Everyone started smiling a little more, and felt more energetic. This was definitely a good thing as the next challenge was to: 1. Improvise a soccer ball, and 2. play a soccer tournament with the winner receiving another food prize. Team Cambodia all the way! We won the soccer challenge, and were given what was probably the most disgusting-tasting Gatorade I've ever had. Trust me on this one, guys, warmed Protein Gatorade is a thing only to be enjoyed in extremity, but it tasted amazing at the time.

Going back to the slum area, another challenge faced us. Crime and theft is a huge problem in slums around the world, so each family designated a thief to steal something from another family's slum house. Yours truly stole for Cambodia, and I took a pen that someone had foolishly left laying about inside the shack. Each family had to search for where the thief had hidden the items (a pen, a toothbrush, some toothpaste) and when the items were found, we had more free time while the facilitators cooked our dinner. Some people went swimming, but I went to the waterfall to wash my feet.

At dinner time, we ate rice and dahl in our families, then had intercession for the slums of the world. That was pretty incredible, but more on that later.

By the time we finished, the sky was dark and the stars were out. It was so beautiful to be so far out of the city that we could see the Milky Way. At one point, I was getting really annoyed about a bright light coming from the side, until I realized that it was the moon. In all honesty, star gazing was probably my favorite part of the weekend. It was good to be reminded of the unchanging beauty of creation even in the face of the physical challenges. Also, singing Disney classics and jazz standards by the light of the stars is just lovely where ever you go. It was a good night to be alive.

As we settled in to sleep that night, the babies next door started yelling. Imagine the angriest scream you've ever heard a child create. Now extend that noise for two hours. Just as we started to fall asleep, someone came into our slum and completely collapsed the roof on us. It took us a while to settle in again, but our screaming had awoken the babies again. And then the kookaburas started. And then it got cold. And then I slid out of the slum because I was on the slope. And then the ants started biting.

The next morning, we had quiet time, then more rice and dahl, and then we had an illiteracy challenge. For this one, we had to guess which pills were the "poisonous" or "safe" ones, with ten seconds and a basic table containing the new alphabet. The station with red and blue pills was unexpectedly hilarious.

After deconstructing our slums, we waited around for the buses to come back and get us. The leaders had told us we wouldn't eat until 5:30 that night (5 hours away). I was totally reconciled to that reality - I really didn't care that much and just looked forward to a shower by that point. I was thus extremely surprised and delighted when we made a detour for an good old, All-Australian barbie on the way back. I swear, friends, food never tasted as good as the burnt sausages and caramelized onions did.

So. Now you know the basics of what actually happened. Now I'm going to talk about my thoughts. I'm assuming that's why you've toughed the boring explanation out, after all.

In all honesty, this weekend was not the hardest thing I've ever experienced. Yes, it was tricky and uncomfortable and I had a migraine-strength headache the entire time. I've physically exerted myself to a greater extent on the same amount of food before. Yes, I was dirty. It was not as dirty as the weekend I was certified for Leave No Trace. Yes, we were camping without protection from the elements. It wasn't as uncomfortable as the time I woke up in a pool of water in the middle of a gullywasher in the Olympic Rain Forest.

But understand that this experience was limited and surreal. I only had to keep it together until Sunday evening. The roughly 1 billion people who live in slums are born into or forced into this reality indefinitely. The true slum dwellers aren't rewarded with rock melon and Gatorade for competing in games. True slum dwellers must acquire the food for themselves, and don't have handy supplies of clean drinking water just a few steps from their doors. They don't necessarily have toilets with seats. They don't necessarily have fancy REI sleeping bags and Northface jackets.

The thing about Slum Survivor is that it was patently unrealistic, and yet I found it challenging. You would not think that a period of two days in which you eat only two meals would incapacitate you as much as it does until you live through it yourself.

And yet, even if you ever have this opportunity, you'll understand when I say that it's just a waiting game. Even if you do it for a week, for a month, there's still that knowledge in the back of your head. "I have a home to go back to. My cell phone and two solid meals a day are waiting for me. There's a shower and shampoo and a mattress all at my disposal when I get back."

There's the knowledge of your privilege to keep you going. I'm ashamed to admit, but I gave in to fantasizing about "the first thing" I was going to eat when I got back - and I was only out there for two days!

No, Slum Survivor was not physically difficult to an extreme. But it was spiritually difficult. Why? Because by chance of birth, I am an American citizen. By owning two pairs of shoes, I am automatically among the "rich" of the world. Even when my family was experiencing financial difficulty as a result of the 2008 bubble, it was never a question of us not eating that day. True, we might contemplate many nights of ramen and no pizza, but that's nothing. There was never a suggestion of becoming homeless.

And as I lay there in the dark, listening to the child screaming and the kookaburas laughing, I realized how handicapped we are. We get caught in this mindset that one person cannot help. One billion people live in slums - what possible good could one person do? It's too scary, it's not my problem, those lazy lay-abouts ought to get jobs. Why should I exert myself to help people who just aren't working hard enough? The homeless steal from law-abiding, economy-boosting citizens. They shouldn't be rewarded for that, right?

"He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8.

If you want more, read Isaiah 58. Especially Isaiah 58:7-8.

Throughout the Old Testament, God describes himself as "the gracious and compassionate God" (Exoduss 34:6) who has a heart for the prodigal second sons, the homeless, the dispossessed. I once heard it said that if God says something once, He means it. If He says it twice, it's very important, but if He says it more than thrice, than Christians had better sit up and pay strict attention because God means business.

Preparing for this trip, I spent a lot of time reading about God's compassion and mercy. Even so, I was totally unprepared for the itsy-bitsy peek at what slum life is like. As I result of staring into that abyss, I am so thankful for the electricity in the room as I type, the food slowly digesting in my stomach, and clean hair. Yes, it's petty. Yes, it's simple. But if I had not experienced this weekend, I would be stuck in complacency, taking these things for granted.

And for that disruption to my nice, neat, first-world existence, I am truly grateful.