Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sad, Expectant, Unsure, Excited...

I'm at the airport in Miami waiting for the first of three flights that will take me to Mundri. How do I feel? Well over the last two weeks I have repeatedly gone through a variety of emotions. I have been sad, expectant, unsure, excited, tired, joyful, etc.

The two months I spent as a missionary in residence at WEPC was a special time for me. Even though I was ready to get back to Sudan, I was sad that my time in Richmond was ending. I said goodbye to my Bible study and the staff of WEPC not knowing when or if I will be able to spend an extended period of time in Richmond again.

This is a picture from about four years ago. While I was working at DuPont, Nomex, the product I was working with, turned 40 years old so the plant was opened up to family members of employees. Since my parents couldn't come I invited the girls from my Bible study, and four lovely ladies came! We are pretending to turn valves that were assembled in a random configuration and aren't really connected to anything. =) It was on the wall of my friend's house and I scanned it while I was in Richmond. Good old memories from Richmond and now lots of good new memories.

I got to do all my favorite things in Richmond from dinner at Sticky Rice to afternoons at Maymont. My last night in Richmond I saw Limitless at the Byrd Theatre. When I was boarding the train to Philly I ran into a friend from church who was headed to DC. Small world.

When I got to Philly I moved in Larissa for a few days, and we were roommates again. It will strange living in our house in Mundri without her for a few months.

After leaving Richmond I visited a few universities to check out some Master's Programs in International Development before landing back in South Florida.

My last week in the US with my parents I packed and organized but we also got to take a walk on the beach as a family and I got to enjoy my mom's home cooking. Today at the airport once I passed security, I looked back to wave to my parents, and they were jumping up and down and waving their hands in the air for me. =) The picture below is the sunset from the backyard of my parents' house.

My time the US was wonderful. I'm ready to travel and hopefully I didn't forget anything important. Pray that my luggage makes it to Uganda unscathed and that my flights all go smoothly. Pray also that the Massos and I won't have any problems finding each other in the London Heathrow airport.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A More Complete Picture

Those who have been reading my blog for a while know that I do not consider myself a writer, and I struggle to turn my thoughts into words. Ideas and questions often circle around in my mind over and over again. Those thoughts are refined as I read scripture, hear the preaching of the word, and have conversations with friends. In the end I may have gained a deeper understanding of some aspect of God’s character, but more often I come to terms with another one of the paradoxes of God and faith.

Well that is the story of my last two months in Richmond.

I left for Sudan with questions. Questions about hope, redemption, suffering, development, love, and worship. I returned two years later from Sudan with more questions.

My heart was tied up in those questions. It left me uneasy. At first I had the feeling that if I just did the right things, read the right scripture passages, talked to the right person, I would be able to process my time in Sudan and I would have answers, or at least a clear path forward. I was asking God to reveal to me and our team the right ministry strategy. A ministry strategy free from sin or at least that did more good than harm. The complexities of cross cultural ministry in a country recovering from war were weighing heavily on me, and honestly leading me down the road to disillusionment. Why do anything at all in Mundri if everything is tainted by sin and wrong? Why share my hope in Christ if I can’t fully understand what it looks like to have hope in the midst of desperate circumstances? I was both full of pride, believing I could figure it all out, and afraid of being judged in ministry and failing.

As I was processing these thoughts, I had the opportunity to attend a women’s Bible study at my church called Wellspring. That Tuesday, we studied Psalm 88. The title of the study was Dark.

I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

If you are familiar with the entire text of the psalm, you know it doesn’t get resolved. The psalmist doesn’t get any answers from God. But as we studied Psalm 88, I was comforted by the knowledge that taking my questions to God is worship. Psalm 88 was written to be sung as worship to our sovereign and all-knowing God. I can ask God questions about hope and suffering and ministry as worship.

I will call that part one of what God was doing in my heart regarding ministry. Part two came through conversations about Mark 14:3-9 when Jesus was anointed in Bethany.

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

I had read the same passage as part of my lent readings a week earlier, but when I read this passage in the midst of a conversation about ministry in Africa, God showed me something different. That day the first thing I thought after reading Mark 14 was that everyone has ideas about what you should do in ministry. The people present with Jesus saw a woman act out of love to worship Jesus, and they reacted by saying that she should have loved in a different way, by giving money to the poor. Jesus however saw her heart.

That was good news for me on that day. That was freedom. Freedom to serve out of love and worship. Freedom to prayerfully seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and trust that God is at work. Freedom to know that all ministry is tainted by sin, but to still act and do something out of love.

After two years in Sudan and having some time away, I was evaluating a lot of things. I don’t know who I thought I was thinking that other people hadn’t already asked these questions.

I am still asking the questions and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, but I also have the freedom to act in love trusting God to redeem a ministry tainted by the fall. Broken things are being redeemed here and now as a foretaste of the complete redemption to come. Everything sad is coming untrue. That is good news for Sudan, our team, and for me.

I will end with a passage that a friend shared with me from 1 Corinthians 4:3-4. It was both convicting and freeing.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

I am continuing to learn of the power, freedom, and beauty of the paradoxes of God.