Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Teaching with Grace

Several months ago, my pastor preached a sermon about parenting. 

In Colossians 3:21, fathers are commanded: "do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." Likewise, Ephesians 6:4 says "do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in training and instruction of the Lord."

As I was listening to the sermon, I was overwhelmed by how these truths about parenting in justice and love are so applicable to me as a Christian teacher.

As teachers, we often get so caught up in the fast pace and requirements of teaching that we forget that our students are not just some product on an assembly line. Rather, they are souls that we have been given the honor of shepherding for a time.

The Grace of the Gospel

Something that is unique about Christianity is that I am not "required" to be kind to my students because I want to earn a gold star or need my good deeds to outweigh my bad. 

Instead, as a Christian, I am able to look at the failings of my students knowing that I failI can look at their misbehavior and rebellion knowing how I rebel against my God in my sinI can look at their weakness and frustration knowing that I don't have it all figured out either.

But thankfully, as a Christian, the good news is that I am not left to steep in weakness and sorrow, and I should not leave them there either. 

I may not have it all together, but I know who does. I know that when my classroom begins to fall apart, I have a sovereign King who holds the universe and everything in it together. I know that despite my dark heart and selfishness and brokenness, I am dearly, deeply, unconditionally loved. I am convicted to repent of my rebellion and am covered and forgiven. I am shown grace. But I have not just been shown grace. I have been given grace. I have tasted the sweetness of this grace. I did not just experience grace when I initially recognized Jesus as the sacrifice for my sins. I experience grace on a daily basis when I continue to mess up and am still welcomed back into loving fellowship with my Father.

God is Just    

So, as a teacher, should I not extend both accountability and grace to my students? Thankfully, the Christian God is not a willy nilly god that allows us to do whatever makes us feel good. We know what a classroom like that looks like. We would not say, "Wow, what a great teacher." We would think "Man, does that teacher really care about her kids if she is not going to hold them to any kind of standard?"

Our God is one of standards and of justice. Would He truly be good if he was not just? Does a good parent not tell his child the right way and lead him in it? Likewise, how can a parent communicate his child's worth without love? These two things go hand in hand: Justice and love.

When we only discipline our students and do it out of our own need for power rather than showing them the grace and love that has been extended to us, we exasperate them.

Your Students Have Worth

As Christians, we believe that ALL human beings, regardless of age, race, or influence, have worth. We all have worth because we are made in the image of God, the mighty, gracious, loving creator of the universe.

Start treating your students like they have worth. 

If you are a believer and you antagonize your students and blame them for everything, stop. You are an ambassador for Christ. Reflect the gospel that has been shown to you. Exhibit the grace that you live by.

I used my notes from this parenting sermon to construct some discipline guidelines for me to remember as I seek to show my students the Gospel by disciplining them through love and justice. 

May your students enter and leave your classroom knowing that they have worth and hope. May they be edified and filled. May you be salt and light in the dark, fading world that they are experiencing. May they leave you with an understanding of grace.

I Will Not
I Will

Discipline you harshly

Speak with kindness and self-control

Shame you

v Address your disobedience privately
v Discuss how your actions are bad, not how you are bad.

Highlight every misbehavior to
break your spirit

Work to see the best in you and be gracious when I don’t

Discipline you without reason

Talk with you openly and often about the “why” behind our rules

Discipline you inconsistently

Make clear expectations for everyone and uphold them daily

Discipline you out of selfishness

Remember that your misbehavior is not a personal attack

Discipline you unevenly

Spend the majority of my time affirming your positive behaviors

Discipline you without forgiveness

v Ask if we are on good terms after I discipline you
v Be intentional about showing I forgive you

Discipline without love

Tell and show you that I care about you and have high expectations for you

Discipline without listening

I will ask you questions and give you room to explain your actions

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Not a Slave

One of my students was caught skipping on the last two days of school. He skipped his finals to hang out in the woods. When discussing this decision with him, I said "Man, I'm sure those moments of freedom were great, but now that temporary freedom is exactly what is enslaving you. You are now a slave to the consequences of what you thought would be so freeing (not to mention he was literally held captive since he had to serve in school suspension). 

It's ironic that many things that we think are going to be so exhilarating and freeing actually become the very things that enslave us.

As I was reflecting on some things God put on my heart over the past year-- some areas I need to grow and change in-- I realized a theme. Almost every item on the list was something freeing
-payoff and avoid debt
-live simply-- without constant need or want for more.
-live healthy and be active
-give joyfully 
-do not use people to fill emotional needs
-learn and grow

It's as if God was saying "Brianna, don't be a slave to any of these things."... To debt, materialism, other people, poor health, my own selfishness. 

As Christians, we are called to be free. Ruled by nothing of this world. Yet, even as believers, we still seek. Many appeals of the world seem so freeing: money, sex, self-image. 

I have to admit that I quickly slide into a place of entitlement and desire for liberation: "I'm free in Christ. I shouldn't feel oppressed. If I just did this, said that, bought another, I would just feel so much better." Or would I? It certainly feels like it sometimes. I've realized that the more I want something, the more I'm invested in it, and the more it matters to me, the easier it is to convince myself that it will truly make me feel free to have it or do it. This desire is put upon a pedestal, above everything else, my idol. Like tunnel vision, I can't see anything else around me. I forget that I'm called to something else... to someone else. 

Ephesians 6:24 struck me this morning: "Grace to all who love our Lord with an undying love." An "undying" love. Woah. A living, sustained, consistent, unshakable, "undying" love. This is how I want to love the Lord. So I thought, what does that mean? 

It is biblically so clear that God is concerned about the condition of our hearts. He does not want a robot or a rule follower or even a type A teacher that writes down everything God wants her to do then checks it off the list. He wants me. All of me. All of my love, all of my passion. He wants that pedestal. He wants to be at the end of that tunnel, with my eyes fixed upon Him.

Interestingly, the rest of Ephesians 6 is about slavery, obedience, and resisting the Devil. Slaves are commanded to obey their masters with "sincerity of heart" just as they would obey Christ; not to win favor but to "do the will of God from [their] hearts." 

As Paul writes about ways to defend ourselves against the schemes of the Devil, he exposes the plot: 

"For our struggle is not one against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Notice the words used here: struggle, rulers, authorities, powers, forces.

These words point to the fact that Satan's work is a work of oppression. He has power and ruling in this area. This is a work in which he has authority. It may have a veil of simply being about flesh and blood, but he is actually the puppeteer; the master. And what are we? The slaves.

As a defense, Paul tells us to “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist" (Ephesians 6:14). 
And what does truth do? Based on what Jesus said, "you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

We are not called to be slaves. What I instinctually want to write here is "we are called to be FREE!" And then run along joyfully in my liberation and bliss. 
However, the opposite of enslavement is not just freedom in this case. It is so much more:

We are not meant to be slaves. We are meant to be sons.

The spirit does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." Romans 8:15

So you are no longer a slave but God's child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:7

Jesus came “to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Galatians 4:5

This is huge for me! It explains how I can deal with the same sin over and over again, thinking I have surrendered it to God, fulfilled all of the right things to do on my checklist and voila it should be gone! I should be free! So why do I fall right back into it? 
This goes back to that concept of God being concerned about our hearts. As I struggle with a recurring sin, I go through every avenue to fix the sin. But my heart is still obeying that master. Instead, God wants me to seize my sonship and recognize who I am IN HIM. Not in myself. When I look at my sin through the eyes of a daughter loved and accepted by Christ. Adopted. Made clean. Sought after. Not just freed but made an eternal heir of the King... The sin starts, little by little, to be exposed for what it is. A snare. A master. But as a daughter of the King... 

I am not a slave. 

Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. Romans 8:35

Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Confined. Mirrors all around. Myself. That's all I see. I am stuck. Feet firmly planted. Not planted. Stuck. In goo. I struggle. The goo snaps my frail foot back in place. I beat the mirror. Wishing it would shatter. 
I know. I know of a world beyond these reflective confines. The mirrors mock me. I long to look past them, but the more I gaze, nothing changes. 
The same, sessile, lonely image looks back at me. Empty. Despondent. Dull. Dead.

In my mind, I reflect upon what I know to be true. A reality beyond these irredescent walls. Reflect- as if it is a memory. It is not a memory. Memories are in the past. This is present. It is real and true. But I cannot see it. It becomes fiction to me.
Which side of my walls is actually fiction? 
The outside of my shiny confines, or this funhouse in which I am trapped?

The illusion. This fake, man-made falsehood. An impostor for substance. It surrounds me. And I cannot break my way out. 

I give up. I gaze at my reflection. Become consumed. Entranced. It is all I have to gaze upon. So I fixate. Everywhere I look I only see me. Naturally, I begin to believe everything surrounds this singular point. Every wall around me has an image only because I am here providing it. This is all there is. I am surrounded... By me. I am the definer of all purpose and existence. All reality has me at its center. 

I gaze upon the cold, reflective images of myself. Accepting that this is all there is. 


my calling returns: 

A pull away from this place. A desire to shift my gaze. A hope that there is something beyond me. 
An open space. A fresh gaze. A place of freedom. 

I stop looking around me, realizing that what I am searching for cannot be found horizontally. 
So finally... I look up. 

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Leaving Early But Not Running Away

It was late. I was folding clothes, doing something to occupy my mind. I was restless. I had returned home from Guatemala the night before. My time up to this point had been filled with hugs and quick conversations, trying to fit a month into 20 minutes. My body was tired, brain confused. 

As I folded clothes I remembered the worn hands of a new friend, graciously instructing me as she squeezed out what seemed like gallons of water that I had failed to extract from my hand-washed clothes. I cleared my mind and went back to mindlessly cleaning. 

I thought about my "Partner in Christ," Emily, and the adventure that God had planned for the rest of her time in Guatemala. I stopped thinking and returned to my tasks.

I didn’t quite know how to process the days that had led to my returning home, and I just wanted some time of "not thinking." 
I knew that I had made the right decision. Although my heart desired to be in Guatemala, I knew that returning home early was what I had to do. I had prayed about the decision for many days, as well as every other decision. I had never prayed so much. Emily prayed with me as we tried to determine where God wanted us to be. I knew it was the right decision. I just felt so full of emotion. Everything happened so fast. I cleared my mind and continued cleaning. It was empty and silent.

"Second Timothy 4. Second Timothy 4. Second Timothy 4. Second Timothy 4. Second Timothy 4." 

Ummm... Well my mind was clear. "Second Timothy 4." "Second Timothy 4." It was like I was repeating song lyrics or had a children's rhyme stuck in my head. Except it was different because these words were nothing I had heard recently or would have any reason to think about. "Second Timothy 4." "Second Timothy 4." 

If you know me, you know that I am not one to "over spiritualize" a situation. I am going to assume everything else first and then narrow it down to maybe being from God. However, this moment was so clear and distinct to me that I picked up my Bible, said a quick prayer asking for guidance and discernment, and began to read Second Timothy 4.

This chapter has provided deep encouragement over the past few weeks as I have struggled through my definition of ministry, my materialism, my own fleshliness, and my duty as a Christian.

Here are some things that have jumped out to me from the chapter and have been significant:

Jesus is a Judge
In the very first verse Paul describes Christ Jesus as the “judge of the living and the dead.” 
If you are looking for love or acceptance or grace, the God of Christianity is the very source and definition and image of all of these things. His love surpasses anything we can even grasp. But do not forget that He is a judge. He is just, which is a part of what makes Him good. Therefore, He judges. To say He is only love and is not a judge is to segment His character and very nature.

When I seek to deny Him as judge, I am really seeking to eliminate my deserved judgement and accountability.

We Have to Step Up
Paul says, “I give you this charge:”
1.     Preach the Word
2.     Be Prepared
3.     Correct
4.     Rebuke
5.     Encourage

But why do we have to do this? Because...

“The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (3-4).

Woah. That is a big deal… Let’s think about what we do to “suit our own desires.”

Here are some typical comments from Christian and non-Christian friends that are worth discussing here:

·        You should not judge.
·        No one can say what is right and what is wrong.
·        If that is what they want to do, then that is their choice.
·        The Bible is just interpretation.
·        Doctrine is not important.
·        God is love. That’s all I know and that’s what’s important.

Read the verses above and then read the comments. See a problem? As believers, how can we say doctrine and truth are not important when we are called to preserve them?

I’m not convinced that we actually think these ideas are legitimate. Instead, I think we want to run away from the truth because it is in conflict with our own desires.  

My Confession
Let me admit that sometimes a part of me wishes all of these comments were true. If they were, I would be so comfortable.

I love to say what people want to hear. I love to make people happy and get their approval. I am a people-pleaser. Wouldn’t it be easier to never disagree with people, to celebrate with them, to never feel awkward or intolerant. How comfortable that would be?    

The truth is not comfortable. Real life is hard. When we have to deal with difficult reality, we build walls and create shiny distractions and hope that our self-constructed myth about “real life” will keep us pacified.  

I know that’s what I want to do. 
Before I left the States, I was feverish with excitement and zeal—knowing exactly what kind of living conditions I was willingly stepping into. However, when confronted with poverty that is visible, tangible, integral, it is not a fairy-tale adventure. It is scary. It is scary because it is real.
It is real to watch a fourteen year old have her adult teeth pulled because her family has no money to repair the rot that has overtaken them.

It is real to be a woman entrapped by entire days of nothing but washing clothes with your tired and aching hands.

It is real to wake up before sunrise to make tortillas to provide for your family— not to provide new Nikes and smartphone upgrades— but instead to provide food and a couple of outfits that your kids will wear until your worn hands have scrubbed holes into them hoping to rid them of the never-ending dirt and stains.

I found Christ in me wanting to be a part of this life. Knowing their struggle. Feeling their pain. Loving them through it. Experiencing it with them. But I found my flesh wanting to run. I wondered “what if this was real for me every day?”

It is real for me. As a Christian, I am without excuse. I cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot continually seek distractions from hardships. We have to face reality and endure it.  

As Christians we cannot run: “keep your head in all situations, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (5).

*Notice what Paul does here:
1. Identifies Jesus as a judge
2. Tells believers to be prepared, to preach, rebuke, correct, encourage 
3. Tells us what is at risk: Loss of sound doctrine and abandonment of the truth
4. Encourages us because he knows it will be hard

If we are called to preach the Word, then we have to crave the Word and come to know it.
If we are called to be prepared, then we have to know what is contradictory to the Word.
If we are called to rebuke, correct, and encourage, we have to know the truth and be able to identify it.

Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

So what have we been entrusted with? The truth.

So why, even as believers, are we constantly exchanging “the truth for a myth?”

The truth is hard. The gospel is hard. But you have been entrusted with much. Know that you are not alone in “fighting the good fight.” Paul writes in verse 10 that his partner Demas left him because he “loved this world.” I confess that I love this world, too. My flesh runs toward things of the world. Thankfully we are not left to our own strength. 

We will face harsh reality. We will struggle to cling to the truth. Hopefully one day, with strength from God (17), we will get to repeat Paul's words: 

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (7).


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"The Man with the Blue Eyes"

Here's a brief update on things:


Let me introduce you to Vicky. She walks me and Emily to the bus every day. She is our protector 😉. She brought this dress specifically for a picture with us 💗.

Amoeba Amigas

Emily and I were both sick for a couple days last week. We ate a lot of granola and Pedialyte and are much better! The doctor diagnosed us with amoebas. 

The Team

A fantastic team from Nebraska has now joined us for a week. We love them! They are awesome. We joined them at the daycare for a Bible story and piñata fun! 

The Daycare

Emily and I have been working at the daycare center all week. The students that attend range from ages 2-15. It is a daycare center because they don't have any specific instruction that occurs there. Some students go to school somewhere for part of the day and then stay at the center the rest of the day. Many parents are in bad situations like abusive relationships, alcoholism, or prostitution. They pay $3 a month for their students to attend the center. The kids flock to us and crave our hugs and love.

Casa de Caleb

Monday we went with the team to a nursing home called Casa de Caleb. I had an awesome experience with a patient there. Here is my story of "The Man with the Blue Eyes." 

The Guatemalan sun was hot and bright as we stepped out of the van, a little car sick from the twisting curves and intoxicating scent of the thick exhaust. 

We were all quiet as we walked into the dark room. The smell of urine was strong. The room was lined with elderly men and women in their wheel chairs, their faces dark complected and a bit solemn. 

It's strange how God can erase physical boundaries when you are meeting people with the prime purpose of showing them His love. Hugging these strangers and holding their hands came naturally as I communicated with them through my broken Spanish. 

I sat down next to a woman and had just finished basic conversational topics when a nurse wheeled a man up beside me. I noticed that his skin was much lighter than the other patients'. As he lifted his head to look at me, his eyes shocked me. Light blue. Something about his eyes were so familiar and gentle to me. He looked like my dad. As I looked into his eyes, I felt like I was looking at my dad again. 

I started speaking to him in Spanish, and he was only able to return small indistinguishable mumbles. After a few minutes of struggling to hear him, I realized that he was speaking to me in English! I was overjoyed! 

What was this light-skinned, blue-eyed, English-speaking man doing in a nursing home in Guatemala?

All of a sudden he stopped talking to me. His eyes lit up and a huge smile came across his face. I noticed that he was looking past me into the lobby. A young Guatemalan girl was standing in the lobby looking at him. I thought he would jump out of his chair with excitement! I motioned for her to come in. She walked in and gave him a big hug; his smile widened. 

I asked her if he was her grandfather, and she explained that he was her dad. She was so excited that I was there talking to him. She only spoke Spanish, but her ears were perfectly attuned to understand her father's jumbled whispers. 

We sat in a little circle together. I spoke to her dad in English; he mustered up a whispered response to her in Spanish, and she delivered his response to me in Spanish. We sat there in beautiful connectedness as our conversation flowed through the three of us for almost an hour. 

During this time, I learned the story if his life:

-He was born in Italy.

-When he was twenty he moved to Louisiana and played football for LSU while he studied dentistry. 

-When he was twenty-four he joined the Marines and travelled to many different countries. He lived in Panama for a while and eventually Guatemala. 

-He is now 76.

-His daughter that was visiting is 14 and is the youngest of 14 children that live in several countries including the U.S. and Canada.

He mention where everyone lived a few times during the conversation. Each time this happened, his eyes tinted pink and welled up with tears. His low whisper became shaky as he mumbled, "And I am here alone." It was clear that this statement bothered his young daughter, but she remained strong and stroked his hand. 

Near the end of our time together, he looked at me with his eyes full of purpose, determined to convey something. 

Very clearly I heard, "Romans 8:28." At this, I pulled out my Bible and read it for us: "All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose."

He explained that he had been raised Catholic and came to know Jesus personally when he visited a Protestant church when he was 24. After this, he started reading the Bible and completed reading it entirely in three months. 

As I got up to leave, he clenched my hand and his eyes filled with tears again as he whispered "I love you" several times.

I left the nursing home full. 
All I could see was his eyes. His eyes set him apart from everyone else. His eyes communicated for him. His eyes connected me to him. 
I thought about a song by Matthew West:

Give me your eyes for just one second.
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I've been missing.
Give me your eyes for humanity. 

God did not just give me this man's eyes. He was giving me His own eyes. God was giving me a little glimpse through His lenses- His eyes that see far better than mine. They see brokenness, frustration, heartache, love, worth. They see reality. In that time, God gave me a little bit if His heart for humanity. 

Romans 8:28

Throughout this past week, Emily and I have had to make some big decisions together. We were asked to move to an indigenous community to live for a week. We went back and forth about going. We couldn't feel a conviction in either direction. Based on our uneasiness and how difficult it was to make a decision, we decided not to go. It was so hard and stressful. We prayed and wrestled with the decision for three days. It was exhausting. 
Unfortunately, declining this opportunity caused a lot of conflict. 
We made this decision Monday morning. The man in the nursing home shared Romans 8:28 with me around lunch. Not knowing about the man from the nursing home, a woman shared Romans 8:28 with me again that afternoon. That night, Emily's mom shared that same verse with her.
It became clear to us that although we had not felt God in our decision-making process, He was clearly sending us a message of comfort and peace- encouraging us to continue seeking Him. 

We have been called according to His purpose. We are not promised that all things will be good through our own eyes. We are promised that He will work them together for good through His perfect, unchanging, grace-filled perspective. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

I Have Seen the Mountains

As I flew into Guatemala City, I clung to the window, thirsty for what was beneath me on the other side. The clouds billowed toward the plane, revealing what stood below them. I gasped. Mountains. Mountains like I had never seen before. I was awestruck. I felt something well up from deep inside my stomach as I gazed at the handiwork of my Creator. How powerful. And who am I that He would care for me?

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?"(Psalm 8:3-4 NIV)

I thought about the size and majesty of the mountains throughout the day. I thought about how incredible it would be to see a volcano or historic ruins. 

Tonight, as I sit here processing the past week and my first day in Guatemala, God is bringing some things into focus for me.
First of all, about my day: I am serving alongside a lovely, vivacious girl from New York named Emily. Her genuine love for people flows from her and touches everyone she's around. She is so open and welcoming to the people she meets. People are instantly softened and comforted by her presence as she takes time to hug on them and listen to them. 
We are staying at a seminary school that is currently only in use by a pastor and his family, who are functioning as our hosts. There are some extended family and a few children here, as well. The pastor is the only person that speaks a little English, so we all have perfect opportunities for sharing our languages each other. The whole family is beautiful. The children are so kind and curious and loving. 

All of the experiences and thoughts of the day came together at dinner tonight when our host asked me to pray before we ate. I was so honored. As we bowed our heads with one another, it all hit me.
Different backgrounds, different languages, different colors, different foods, different ways of life... All connected by one single commonality: Our Savior- Weaving our lives together and working in us and through us. To meet my brothers and sisters at this place was truly one of the greatest honors I have ever had.

It was then that I realized...

If I can sit down to a modest meal made with love and hospitality, at a table where not just cultures and foods are shared but where the love of brothers and sisters in Christ converge,
I have seen the mountains. 

If I can see the brokenness in this place,
I have seen the mountains. 

If I can see the reality and struggle and pain in this place,
I have seen the mountains. 

If I meet people whose lives and actions are devoted to Jesus,
I have seen the mountains. 

If the chains wrapping me in my own selfishness are broken,
I have seen the mountains. 

If I can love openly and embrace people that I don't even know and they become family,
I have seen the mountains. 

If I can see people understood through hugs and smiles and laughter rather than words,
I have seen the mountains. 

And if I have seen the mountains, I have seen Our Creator.

Thanks for the continued prayers and love, guys!

I send you so much love! 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Just An Explorer

Matagalpa Happenings 

I arrived in Matagalpa Friday and spent the weekend catching up with some of the awesome people working here. We went to Selva Negra and hiked in the rainforest for a few enchanting hours. It was so lush and gorgeous, despite the lack of rainfall in the surrounding areas. 

Today I filled in for the teaching assistant for the Kindergarten class. They kids were so cute and gracious and energetic. At the end of the day I joined the 9th graders for some conversational English. It is really cool to see how much they have progressed over the past couple of years. They have become so mature and disciplined... And I wish my Spanish was as good as their English. 

Tonight we went to a local ice cream shop that a couple from California opened this year. They created the shop to earn revenue for a greatly needed boys home here in Matagalapa. And the ice cream was AMAZING, so we were happy to help their cause. 

Just an Explorer

As I was traveling Friday and as I have been spending time with the missionaries here this weekend, I have been pondering the real purpose of "missions." When doing missions (or whenever you go to another country for any reason other than shopping or sunbathing, really) you usually get a few comments from people:

"You are just so adventurous."
"You are going to have so much fun."
"You are doing such a great thing."
"You are so kind to help others and see how blessed you really are."

Over the past few years, as God has laid missions on my heart more heavily, I have wondered why these comments are generally unsettling to me. When people share them with me I am aware of the intentions and know that people are genuinely extending love and encouragement, but I am left questioning.... 

"Is that really what 'missions' is about?"

If it is all about what I can do and experience, then doesn't that make missions all about ME?

"I like adventure."
"I like to travel."
"I like new cultures."
"I can help you because I am blessed."

I now understand why all of those statements make me uneasy. The entire basis of them is contrary to the gospel. The gospel says that it is not about me. I am just as broken as everyone else. 

Therefore, if the Bible tells me that my good works are like filthy rags, then missions can simply not be about me. It cannot be about the greatness that I am going to do for people.

As I was on the plane to Nicaragua Friday I noticed that my Coke said, "Share a Coke with an Explorer." This made me realize something about the nature of missions. Any kind of "mission" that we take to share the gospel of Jesus Christ will force us out of our comfort zones (If you have experienced those "Lord, I will talk about You with this person as soon as you slow my heart rate down and take away my urge to throw up" moments, then you know what I mean). 
As we are pulled out of our comfort zones, we are not adventurers or charity-givers, or good people. We are explorers.


But we are not explorers in the sense of discovering the riches of a new land and culture, which can happen along the way. Instead, we are explores in a much deeper sense. 

We become explorers of our own brokenness and poverty. Explorers of a poverty that traverses all of humanity- including ourselves. 

Seth Barnes writes,

"We may begin our pilgrimage with noble aspirations of how we will bring something to the poor. But, inevitably, we must allow God to first heal what is sick and poor inside our own souls. Then, he can use us in the world. If it is a pilgrimage to the poor on which we embark, we must first discover our own poverty."

Being in a new place allows us to see our brokenness very quickly. It shatters our sense of independence. In my experiences in Nicaragua I have found my brokenness in many ways but mainly through my constant struggle to understand people and to convey myself (in case you did not know, people who are bilingual have a superpower that everyone should envy and painfully desire to attain)...
 My Spanish struggle is real.

Beyond my Spanish struggle, though, I am constantly reminded of God's greatness and our weakness. Today I spent my lunch break talking with a woman who lives in Matagalpa with her husband. They are missionaries here from North Carolina, and I had the privilege of meeting her at a Bible study when I was here last year. 
She described her family's journey as they responded to God's call for them to serve to Nicaragua. She emphasized how "unqualified" they were to be missionaries and how fearful she was of coming to a country she knew nothing about. When I asked her how she felt about it now, she said that she would not trade this journey and this life for anything. 

She had to deny her own desire to stay in the States and do ministry there. She said she has never had to trust in God so much. Throughout this time, God has changed her heart and she has "fallen in love with the people of Nicaragua." This conversation took place as she was shelving books at the school library because she has seen their need and is humble enough to come once a week to help meet that need.

When we are forced to set aside our comfort and status and confidence and complete understanding of how everything works and our solid plans of the future, we step into the margins. We are no longer at the center of everything:

"Taking us to the margins of life where we can discover poverty, God wants us to see ourselves in those who are poor. He wants us to identify with people who are outcasts, estranged from the comforts of home and community" (Barnes).

To sum it up, missions is a mirror of the gospel. Christianity is unique in its assertion that our works cannot bring us to salvation or Nirvana or enlightenment or happiness. We, on our own, are empty and hopeless. In the same way, we cannot do anything to bring healing to people because we are also in need of healing. 

So what do we do?...

We need healing. So we point to the healer.
We can't save. So we point to the  One who saves.
We can't keep people from dying. So we point to the way of everlasting life.

God doesn't need us. He's already with the poor- carrying them through their poverty as He carries is through our own poverty, whether spiritual or material.

Bono identified God's omnipresence beautifully when he said, 
“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”

God doesn't need us, but He wants us. 
He wants us to be obedient and malleable, realizing He is holding all things together. He wants us to be explorers of our weakness and His strength. 

Are you an explorer? 

What is God calling you to explore? 

What can help you explore the poverty that is not just about dollar signs, but is a poverty that runs through all of us? 

Thank you for the prayers and encouragement! Much love!