Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mind over matter.

I was emailing a friend a couple of days ago and as so often happens my email sort of wandered into being more of a journal entry. I think I'm not the only one that happens to. I remember telling my ex boyfriend (boyfriend at the time) a few years back that he should start journaling again like when before we were dating and he told me, "J, you are my journal. After talking to you about all these thoughts in my head, I don't feel the need to journal about them."
I think that's accurate... Maybe people should be journaling less and talking more. Building relationships that are surrounded by trust and grace so that we are free to share our mind's wanderings no matter how crazy, depressing, daring, or deep they are. I think sometimes we journal just cause we don't have anyone close enough to talk to about the things. Maybe not. Regardless, I like it better when people can be my journal instead of sticking my thoughts onto paper that I'll probably never read again and that will only minister to people after I'm dead and my journal is read.

That's not what this post is about. It's about what I was telling my friend in the email. I was telling him how I'm a bit frightened about what I'll find in Bangladesh and if I'll be able to handle it. There's a lot of evil there that I'm not used to seeing here in the US. I'm not saying there is less evil here, but just that I'm more used to the evil I find here. I went on to say how I feel like I need to be practicing meditation on the truth that "Bigger is He who is in us than he who is in the world." If I'm focused on how big Jesus is, my Jesus, the One whose blood I claim and in whose name I live my life, than I think I'll be able to survive the evil I meet in Bangladesh and in the world in general. Human trafficking and sexual slavery is a very real evil and one that God has especially burdened my heart with, and it's hard enough reading stories about these issues but to put faces and names to them and meet face to face the reality of that I think will be pretty difficult. It will take a lot of mind and heart strength and discipline to focus on Jesus when evil is so prevalent around me. When our minds and eyes wander off onto the waves, we sink. But focusing on Jesus, we can do miraculous things.
I was texting my friend Tonisia who is a pretty hard core runner about different running techniques and she said she'd venture to say it's 90% mental. I think a lot of amazing things done in the world are 90% mental. Telling yourself you can do it, focusing on truths you can't see... I think we would be able to do more than we could ever imagine if we were more disciplined in our minds on what we allow ourselves to think we are capable of, and what we allow ourselves to meditate on.
Working with prostitutes is going to be hard. I just pray that my focus is on the bigness of the Jesus I serve and the power he has to change people and the sovereignty he has over every area in the world, regardless of the evil that has saturated it.
Mind over matter... Faith over sight.....

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Bangladesh.Women.Art. My heart, my mission.

It's official as of two weeks ago that from August 2010 till July 2011 I will be "serving and learning together" (Mennonite Central Committee- SALT program. Don't you love the concept? Serving - giving, and Learning- receiving, Together- in community aka RELATIONSHIP BUILDING!) in Bangladesh. :) I will be a) forming relationships b) teaching English to some in the community c) teaching English to teachers of English who are having trouble being innovative in their teaching of conversational, functional English d) teaching English to women coming out of of prostitution e) using art as a therapy tool for those women. The program I'll be going to is called Pobitra. It's all about helping women transition from off the streets.

The program, called Pobitra, means “holiness, sanctity, the fresh cleanliness of a newborn.” The name was intended “to remind the women that they were not bound to labels of ‘dirty,’ ‘filthy,’ or ‘spoiled,’” said Robin Seyfert, an MCC worker from Salem, Ore., who is in charge of MCC Bangladesh’s Health Education and Social Services programs, including Pobitra.

Being offered this opportunity is a huge indicator to me of God's grace in my life. He has made us all with certain passions, desires, and gifts and he wills to USE them all. Honestly, I've been an awful follower of God in the past 3 months. I've been denied to numerous programs I thought were pretty well suited for me and that I was pretty qualified for and it frustrated me to no end that every door was closing. I've had to come to grips with the fact that a closed door is a wrong door closed- to be glad that God is leading me even if it is with rejections. And sometimes when God closes doors we try to crawl through the windows and I've definitely tried that one in the past few months and it's only hurt me further. This is why I know this program is right for me:
-God has been faithful in closing every other door I've pursued, and he has provided dear friends to be an encouragement when I took those closed opportunities personally.
-Senior year of college I discovered that I am naturally gifted in art and have been casually pursuing creative design since then, often seriously considering making it a career. Art brings me joy and it is the only activity that I can get truly lost in. It's my form of praise.
-Since about the middle of my college career I've been passionate about women's issues in particularly prostitution and sex trafficking. I started a justice chapter at school that largely addresses issues of trafficking, and I participated throughout last summer and am involved now in local efforts to end trafficking.
-I am deeply attracted to engaging the Muslim religion and have found myself drawn to Muslims where ever I go. My junior year I studied abroad in Egypt and studied Islam extensively.
-Ever since my sophomore year in college I've been an ultra-pacifist. A proactive pacifist, meaning that not only am I against war and all forms of violence, I am also proactive at bringing about peace and security in other ways, specifically supporting the education of women in conservative, extremist societies.
-I've been trying to go overseas ever since leaving L'Abri November 09. Looking at opportunities, applying for programs, saving money...

This Bangladesh opportunity meets all these desires and uses all the passions and gifts I've mentioned above. It is pretty perfect for where I am in life right now. (MCC requires that all their volunteers be very pacifist in their views toward war and violence, I'll be working with women coming out of prostitution, Bangladesh is a majority muslim nation, I will be using my art, and while I have been actively pursuing career advancing programs, this is the only one He opened up. This is one of those "only God could put this together" situations. )

That said, I am "an idealist without illusions" and know that one year working in Bangladesh will not solve any of Bangladesh's problems and I may only impact those 15 women I work with. That's ok with me. I think that in the past year especially God has been preparing me to have eyes to see worth and value in a different way than the world views them. To see success in a less tangible way while still pursuing genuine change and positive long term effects.. I know that poverty is more than a lack of resources. It is more than hunger for food and lack of education. Our souls can experience hunger and that hunger can be just as destructive as physical poverty. The world is plagued with the poverty of relationship- our relationship with others, our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with the earth, and our relationship with God.... these broken relationships create hunger of the soul.
There is PHYSICAL hunger in the world because of these broken relationships too.
Because those with sin against those without by not sharing.
Because we sin against the earth and the earth stops bearing fruit.
Because we sin against God and are lazy and bad stewards of our time and money.
Because we sin against ourselves and have negative thoughts and believe lies about our ability to produce food for ourselves and because we may believe we dont deserve to have food.

I can't take food to every person who hungers. But I can be a minister of reconciliation for the broken relationships above that cause physical hunger, soul hunger, a hunger for Jesus, a hunger for community. I think that it is only in addressing those relationships that true sustainable relief can come. And by addressing those above broken relationships, the hunger of the soul that WE EACH have experienced regardless of our income level, will be addressed as well.

To finish, let me say this...
I believe that God is not far from each and every one of us. What that means is, I believe God is already in Bangladesh, is already working with the women of Pobitra, is already talking to their hearts and that I am not bringing anything to Bangladesh. I want to go, find where God is already, and beg that he use me as a vessel to further what He has been doing already, is going to do while I'm there, and will do when I am gone. If I do anything but that, it will be totally for myself and so destructive. I'm not unaware that being a white American I can very easily do harm in Bangladesh. But I believe that God looks beyond race, that His power is strong enough to make a vessel out of anyone, and He's going to do that with me. Why? Because I got accepted into the program. If he didn't want me there, I'd have gotten another rejection letter. God is not sneaky in his work with his children, especially if we are prayerfully seeking his perfect will. He's made it clear this is his will. And if I get sick and can't go in the end, that's his will as well. Sometimes we can only really see what his will is in retrospect.
I'm so excited to look back in July 2011 and see how he used every defeat, every awkward situation, every cultural blunder, every weakness I have and manifested his grace, strength, and love through those weaknesses to bless Bangladesh, and to bless me, and hopefully if you keep coming back to this blog, to bless you.

It's gonna be so hard. It's gonna be SO GOOD.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Move people.

My sister died on January 8, 2003 in a plane crash that devastated my family and changed our lives forever. I would say her life changed our lives more than her death did and I am thankful that God allowed her to be with us for 18 awesome years before he took her back. But for about 3 years after the accident the circumstances of her death made it difficult for me to appreciate her life and the ensuing eating disorder and depression were evidences of my grieving soul. When I was finally able to look past her death and appreciate the memories of her life, I was able to see the positive effects of her life not only in my life but in others' lives as well. My dad received this message this morning, 7 years after Christiana left us.

Subject: Not sure if you remember me.
I was a friend of Christiana's. She has been in my thoughts much lately. I apologize for failing to connect with you and your wife for so long. I pray for you both often. Christiana, in many ways saved my life. I weep as I write this. It's late, I'm tired, but it's true. I have been so immensely blessed, by no fault of my own. The glory has to go to God, however, your daughter's brief influence on my life altered my course forever. When I got to Bob Jones I chose science to get as far away from Bible as I could. I hated it there and nearly got kicked out that first semester. However, Shepherd and Sh____ are close enough that I made one kind, true friend that I sat by in multiple classes. Your daughter was a fantastic example of the believer to me. To make a long story short, God brought things full circle. I graduate from medical school a month from today bound for a 3-year family medicine residency in St. Louis. From there I owe the military a little time to pay back my scholarship and from there my wife and I feel strongly called to third world missions. I'm (Lord willing) going to be a missionary. In a month I'll be a physician. I have a beautiful wife and two great kids. Without God bringing Christiana into my life I would have been dismissed from Bob Jones (where I later met my wife)... I'd be like my friends who stayed here to go to school. My life would be a disaster. I often ask questions like "why me". I have no answer. Thank you for raising such a wonderful daughter. Thank you for sending her to a Christian school. Thank you for coming to meet us that day in the snack shop. I recently returned from a month-long medical trip to Haiti to assist the earthquake victims. I have attached an article written about that trip that has some elements of my testimony in it. Christiana will forever be a part of that testimony. I didn't mention her by name because I wasn't sure how you and your family might feel about it. I don't know how you'll feel about this message. I apologize if I'm rambling. I just wanted you to know that I love you and am so thankful for your family. God Bless.

Your life is powerful and you have the potential to change the world by influencing individuals. Stay true to your beliefs and focus on developing encouraging relationships. You're going to die one day and you're going to leave behind people who are changed. Make sure you influence them well. Be courageous and live loudly.