Sunday, September 19, 2010

What We Built

When I was in missionary orientation 10 years ago (or, as I like to jokingly call it, missionary "dis-" orientation), our keynote speaker was a guy by the name of Tony Gittins. Tony wrote a book called Gifts and Strangers: Meeting the Challenge of Inculturation. He is a professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and was also a missionary in Sierra Leone for many, many years. Tony came to speak to us, as fledgling missionaries, about the things we could expect as we embarked on our new adventures in the name of Christ in the world.

Tony served in Sierra Leone before the decade-long civil war that ravaged the countryside, killing thousands and turning children into soldiers during the 1990's. He spent much of his time there building much-needed infrastructure--hospital and school buildings that were eventually destroyed during the years of civil war. Tony related to us that many people, in the years following his return from the mission field, would approach him and ask him if he regretted going to Sierra Leone. He had invested so much of his time and energy there, only to see everything that he built later destroyed by war. People would look at him and ask him if he felt bad, because it was all for nothing.

"What they didn't understand," Tony told us, "and what you must understand, is that the work that we do is not about the physical things that we build. The work that we do is about the one thing that neither civil war nor anything else can ever destroy. Everything that we do as missionaries--everything--comes down to building relationships. Relationships between ourselves and others, and relationships between God and God's people. That is all that matters."

I think about this idea all the time. It seems especially pertinent to me now, as I sit looking ahead to a winter where I will be unable to be a part of something very important to me that I helped build. When Code Blue comes around this winter, someone else will be running Trinity's homeless shelter. I have to remind myself that it is not "what we built" that is important, as much as the relationships we knit together through the building of it. Those relationships will continue to exist for me, even when I am no longer a part of what is being built.

I hear school teachers talk about how you never know what effect you might have on a child's life--that years later they might remember how you changed their lives, without you even knowing that you did anything. That's how I am trying to think about the Code Blue Shelter--that lives were changed because of the relationships we formed... changed in many ways that we may never know about. It wasn't as much about "what we built," as it is about who we were... and in whose Name we came. "What we built" only facilitated the relationship-building process. When "what we built" is either gone, or we are gone from it, the relationships and the life-changing effects of those relationships remain.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Prophet for Hire

This blog is going to be taking a different approach for a while... I was laid off at the end of July after 3 1/2 years of service and ministry as Diaconal Minister at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, PA. Trinity was my first call as a Diaconal Minister, and I learned a great deal about myself and the promises God has for me during my time there. I was sad to leave there. I am still sad sometimes that I had to go--sad both for myself and what I lost, and also for the place that I grew to love and am now no longer able to be a part of.

Part of the self-identity that grew in me during my time at Trinity actually started when I was in high school. And, so, I am would like to begin this new chapter of my life and my blogging experience with a story from another time in my life...

I was in tenth grade the first time I attended a TEC weekend. TEC stands for "Teens Encounter Christ." TEC was a youth retreat that I attended several times throughout my high school years--once as a participant, and then several times more as a staff member.

The first day of my first TEC experience, a woman came in to speak to us. "You don't know me," she said, "but I know you! I have been praying for each of you by name since you registered for this weekend."

Being a tenth grader, I thought, OK, that's a little weird. She went on...

"When I prayed for you, I asked God to give me a word that represents each of you, and a Bible verse. God gave me what I asked for, and now I am here to pass on to you what He told me about you."

Weirder still, I was thinking. I don't even know this person!

"I have put each of your names on a slip of paper, along with the word God gave me concerning you, and your Bible verse. I'm going to hand them out to you now."

This lady must be nuts! Being a good Lutheran, I did not believe in such nonsense!

Then I got my piece of paper. It said:
Rebecca: Name: Prophet. Matthew 21:11,12,14- "And the multitudes were saying, 'This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.' And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all who were buying and selling in the temple... And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and he healed them."
Then I stuck that piece of paper in my Bible and forgot about it for years.

At some point during my time at Trinity I came across my old TEC Bible on the back of a closet shelf at my parents' house. It was covered in "Jesus loves you" stickers, Bible verses, and an old nail that I had glued to the front at some point. Inside were bookmarks with Bible verses on them, handwritten notes, and butterfly stickers. And then I found this old, type-written piece of paper...

Rebecca: Name: Prophet.... it began.

What could this mean?

I took the Bible and its contents back with me to my office at Trinity and kept them in my left hand desk drawer. Several times over the years I would open that Bible and read that slip of paper. I found it especially meaningful in those times when I was struggling with my own purpose and ministry at Trinity. When one of our young people, my friend Kevin, died, I pulled out the Bible and studied that piece of paper. Before preaching a sermon on "who gets into heaven" (Hitler?) I pulled out the Bible and studied that piece of paper. When we opened our Code Blue homeless shelter and I was spending nights at church and sleeping in my office so these guys could stay warm, I pulled out the Bible and studied that piece of paper.

I found it again, recently, as I cleaned out my office. When it was all over, and my ministry there was history, I pulled out the Bible and studied that piece of paper.

Rebecca: Name: Prophet....

What's next???
I guess now I'm a prophet for hire....
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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Psalm 46: A Prayer for Haiti

Made in HaitiImage by thaths via Flickr

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." --Psalm 46

In the margins of my Bible beside this Psalm I have written in blue pencil: for hope in times of fear, October 2001. Sometime around September 11, 2001, I committed myself to reading the Psalms--at least one a day. When I came upon this Psalm, I was sitting in a foreign country across the ocean in Africa watching my own nation struggle with the aftereffects of a horrible, life-altering, culture-altering, traumatic experience. Although this Psalm does not answer the "why?" question, it does provide hope that God is in the midst of even the most horrific circumstances.

Now it has happened again. Only this time I am sitting in America watching the devastation in another country--a country whose people have faces that look like those I love, those who are members of my family. This was not an act of terrorism, although Haiti has seen its share of that, too (Google Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and Tonton Macoute to learn about this). In some ways, this is worse, because at least with terrorism you have someone to blame.

The connection between Africa and Haiti is unnerving for me. What I want people to know is the legacy that Haiti shares with Africa, and perhaps inspired in Africa. That Haiti did not make a deal with the devil, as Pat Robertson has so foolishly and ignorantly claimed. In fact, Haiti, under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture, became the first independent former slave state in the Americas, and the second independent republic in the Western Hemisphere. The Haitian Revolution shook the foundation of the slave trade in the Americas, and eventually contributed to its undoing.

Haiti's experience speaks to the resilience of the African people in times of extreme, unfathomable hardship.

Now I sit at home in front of the TV, wondering if my $50 is enough. Knowing that there is much work to do. Seeing my people, bodies piled high, suffering from this tragedy. Hearing the broken French on the TV. Watching dark skin marred with white dust and red blood try to make sense of it all. I heard what Presidents Bush and Clinton said to our nation today during their press conference--the best way to help is to send money. We are doing everything we can.

The hardest part for me is knowing that I can't be there. We have work to do here. There are people here who need us. I knew that on September 11--I had to stay put and keep serving--and I know that now, too. But that doesn't make it any easier.

And so I say this prayer for Haiti from Psalm 46, which comforted me then, and comforts me now: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult... ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

Today is the birthday of one of my friends, who died tragically of cancer last May at the age of 37. Happy birthday, Kevin! I miss you.
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