Monday, September 26, 2011

The Walls of Jericho

If you have attended Bible school at some point in your life, most likely you've heard the story of Jericho. If not, you can read it in the book of Joshua, chapters 2 and 6.

Jericho was a city with massive walls,

and right now I find myself staring at those walls.

What are they?

Lots of things.

Goodbyes, hellos, suitcases, clothes, visas, lists, documents, passports, airplane tickets, newspaper articles. 

Going back is weirder than going the first time. 

I wish I knew how to explain it better. 

You know what to expect which makes it better, but also makes it worse. 

And then there are the people around you...

No one who loves you really wants you to go. They didn't want you to the first time either, but they also understood wanting to be an exchange student. This however, is different. Compared to this, exchange was a lark in the park. 

Everyone reacts differently. Some people say things, some people don't. Some people avoid the subject altogether and pretend like everything's okay. Some overcompensate by trying to be helpful and some completely explode. Your parents, your grandparents, your friends, your significant other all react this way. Maybe they understand why you feel called to go do something like this. Maybe they don't. Maybe they admire you, maybe they're jealous that they don't have the strength to do what you're doing. Maybe they're afraid for you. Maybe deep down all of their good intentions are a secret selfishness. They know you are doing what you need to do, but they want you just to stay.

Whatever their thoughts, feelings and reactions, it places a lot of pressure on you. Suddenly you're bombarded with everyone's expectations. "Don't worry about it." "Have you done this yet? How about that? and that over there?" "This is me not caring" "Why don't you just settle down?" "You can't do that." "I'm not talking about this." "I'm glad you've finally dealt with that issue, now onto the next." "Why are you making this such a big deal?" "Let's talk about this more." "Let me tell you how I would handle it" "Why haven't you done this yet? You better plan on doing it before you leave." "Do you have enough money yet?" "I want to see you before you go" "When are you leaving?"  "Why haven't you left?" "When are you coming back?"  These are all things you hear on a daily basis, over and over until you can't hear the one thing that even matters in the first place -- the still, small voice of God. 

Add to that the way you feel inside. The questions and expectations you place on yourself. "What am I doing?" "Why am I doing this?" "Is this really necessary?" "What if, what if, what if...?" "How can I deal with this?" "How is this going to change me?" "Is this going to be effective?" "What do I want to do?" "What does God want me to do?" "How can I make them understand?" "I need to be good." "I can't let these people down." "What happens after this year?" "What are my goals?" "When am I leaving?" "Why haven't I left yet?" "When am I coming back?" And suddenly you're overwhelmed and you try to find a way to deal with that. You ignore your emotions or you break down and cry. You shut down or keep busy or stare blankly at the ceiling. 

It's true you know,
The Devil is in the details.

It would be nice if life had a large pause button so you could just take a breather. 
But time marches endlessly on...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What I've Learned About Myself the Past Week or So...

I'm officially leaving October 6th.

This has led to kind of a crunch time for me.

Which in turn has led me to discover some things...

I work best under pressure. Okay, not really pressure because I get really stressed. But I've discovered that I need to have firm deadlines if I ever hope to accomplish anything. In college for example, I knew when things were due all the time so I could start them ahead, work on them in increments and get them done. When I don't have firm deadlines for myself, I'm not working on things consistently and therefore nothing gets done.

I like to be organized. I'm not one of those obsessive-compulsive people where everything has to be perfectly neat. I get piles of stuff lying around and such. I tell people I'm not messy, my form of organization is just different. But actually, I've learned that there is this toleration point where I can't stand things being messy and so I have to clean before I can sit down and work.

Lists = Good. Sometimes I get overwhelmed. Therefore I am better if I sit down and write out a list. Sometimes it's a list of everything I want/need to accomplish that day and sometimes it's a list of what I have to do and when it has to be done. In either case, it gives me a tangible visible way to break everything down and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I cross things off.

I am more left-brained than I'd like to admit. I take pride in my right-brainedness and non-analyticalness. But honestly, the whole making lists thing is totally left-brained. I remember that question being on those little personality test things (that was before I started making lists). And honestly, being a little left-brained helps me get stuff done. So it's actually a blessing in disguise.

Being a missionary and being human are not mutually exclusive. I know, this seems kind of dumb, but I'm discovering something about being a church worker. There's pressure there. I mean, my goodness, people have paid good money to support me on this trip. They put a lot of faith and trust in me. It's quite a burden. Especially since we're dealing with spiritual matters. It's kind of terrifying. You sit there thinking "Oh my goodness, I don't want to mess this up!" But at the same time, it does get messed up. So here I am with a dilemma. I want to be as perfect as possible because I have an image to uphold, but at the same time I do a really good job of royally messing everything up. So the last couple of days I've thought about it and decided "This isn't going to work and so we're just going to forget it." Not that I'm not trying. We should always try to be more Christ-like. That is our goal as Christians after all. But the idea is that I try to grow in the faith and do my best and God's grace will cover the rest. It's hard for me to let go like that not even going to pretend and say it is. Because there's a part of me that's like "I've done some really dumb things and made some really bad mistakes in my life. How will grace ever cover what I've done?"

It's like the preacher at the congregation I visited yesterday said. "He will take you back. Do we deserve it? No. But it's okay because He loves us anyway and he will take us back. " That's encouraging to me.

Anytime you work in the church, there is a standard people hold you too. The key is understanding within yourself that the standard is man-made and you're no better than anyone else. Once you realize this, you can let it go and more effectively live life for Him.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

God Wants Me in Russia

So, In order to make this trip, I had to raise about $18,000. Which sounds like a lot of money but if you think about the fact that it's what I'm living on for a year, it really isn't that much.

I'm not going to lie, I was terrified to start fundraising. As I've probably mentioned before, fundraising is something that every beginning missionary dreads doing. Who really wants to go around asking people for money? That's just awkward.

Anyway, I had managed to raise about $10,000. Which is pretty good. How did I do it? Well, mostly I just sent packets out to individuals explaining what I was going to be doing the next year. There was one congregation who took up a collection for me and who are also supporting me monthly. Most everything else was one-time gifts.

Now, my fundraising kind of hit a stand-still. I was hovering about that ten thousand mark and it seemed like the gifts had pretty much tapered off. Oh dear. Because there is no way I could go to Russia and be able to stay the year on $10,000. So what did I do? I sat down and figured out that if 8 individuals or congregations would pledge to support me $90 a month, I would reach my goal. I also figured out that if I had five people willing to pledge that, I would be able to make it through the year. So my goal became "five pledges but ideally, I need 8" So I prayed about it and got ready to call churches and beg for money.

But a funny thing happened. Wednesday night, I was at church and I asked for fundraising prayers. I explained what I needed and several people asked questions. The next thing I knew, one woman had said that she would be willing to pledge 90 a month. I was so excited. But then it got even better. Thursday someone else said they would pledge and Friday a family who knows me said they would support monthly as a birthday present. I prayed and waited and within three days I had three pledges. But it gets better.

The teen group I spoke to back in June was inspired by what I had to say. They decided that they wanted to kind of adopt me and help support me. So they started collecting money and they also decided to hold a comedy night fundraiser with donations going towards my trip. I had also heard that the elders at their congregation were going to match whatever they raised.

I thought about it and started praying "God, I could really use $500..." But then I stopped and thought. I mean I assumed that $500 was about what they all could do. Yet, ask and you shall receive right? Besides, I've been studying about the power of faith lately and thought this was potentially a good way to test it. So I changed my prayer. "Actually God, what I really need is $1000. It would make it so much easier if I could get $1000 from this fundraiser." After praying about it, I didn't worry about it. I figured God would make it happen.

Saturday night we went to the comedy show and had a great time! The teens did a good job and it was just and all around great evening. At the beginning of the night, one gentleman stood up and talked a little bit about my trip and what the teens had been doing to raise money for me. For example, when they went out to eat they would order water instead of pop and then take the money they would've spent on the drink and put it towards my trip. Cool things like that. Anyway, so they were talking about my trip and this man goes "They asked the leadership to match what they raise. Unfortunately, we can't write a blank check but we will match a thousand dollars." Bam! Right there, five minutes in, my prayer was answered. I was getting at least a thousand dollars from the church. Plus whatever the teens raised on top of it. Grand total I was expecting $1,500. God wasn't done yet.

Sunday evening I was visiting another congregation. After church, I got a text message from my dad. He informed me that the unofficial count from the fundraiser and teens was in. The church was giving me $1,000 and the teens managed to raise another $1,500. Grand total I'm getting about $2,500 from them. I was blown away.

When I started this post, I was going to go on and talk about how God must want me in Russia because he's brought me the money with minimal effort on my part. Maybe it sounds trite but the most work I've done specifically towards fundraising was send out those packets. Other than that all I've done is talk about it and express need. God has done an amazing job working out, not only the money but potential issues with getting into and staying in Russia as well. I am extremely blessed!

And speaking of blessings, I was thinking as I was typing this about the effort the teens put forth. I mean, they set their minds to helping me and were committed to it and look where they ended up. It's amazing! Not only that but look at the way God blesses us. I gave up time to speak to the teens. I didn't think it was a big deal but through what I said they were touched and blessed. In return, they have blessed me as well. I don't think they realize just how much having that $2,500 means to me. It's the difference between going and staying. This is the way it's supposed to work. We each give, each throw our hearts into blessing others and the blessings will come back tenfold.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

My Banner is Clear

I've been haunted by things from the past of late. If you're Facebook friends with me, you may have seen that I discovered some pictures from my exchange year that I'd forgotten about. Which is cool. Good memories and everything.

I've been doing a lot of cleaning and organizing in preparation for my journey and today I discovered the Bible that I carried with me in High School. I need to take a moment to explain how I feel about Bibles. I am a huge fan of marking them up. *Gasp!* I know, right? But it's a place to keep thoughts, feelings, ideas etc about scripture and/or lessons and sermons I've heard. Hence the reason my current Bible has a journal in the margins. Perfect for notes :)

Anyway, so the Bible I carried in High School was a teen study Bible and it's pretty beat up. Not only that but some of the notes are rather interesting. The most interesting feature, however, is how I decorated the inside covers. There are notes about communion bread making, numbers for my favorite songs from our song book, the word "Believer" written in Russian and something else written in Hebrew, song lyrics and a host of other things. On the inside of the front cover is something I'd completely forgotten about.

My cousin is a preacher and when he was first doing a sermon or communion speech for us, he shared a little... I don't know it's not really a poem, with us. I copied it in to the front of my Bible because it spoke to me. I couldn't remember where it came from so I did a little research. Apparently it was written by a pastor in Africa who was martyred. I hope it brings you as much encouragement as it did me.

I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I've stepped over the line, the decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ!

I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is clear. I am finished with low-living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, worldly walking, cheap talking and dwarfed goals.

My face is set, my goal is fast, my goal is Heaven. My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I won't give up, shut up, let up until I've stayed up, stored up and prayed for the cause of Christ.

I must go til he comes, give til it hurts, preach til everyone knows and work til he stops me. and when he comes to claim his own, he'll have no problem recognizing me. My banner will be clear!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

It's in the Mail

oh my gosh! oh my gosh!

Yeah so my letter of invitation is totally on a FedEx truck/plane right now. This. Very. Instant. Suddenly it's hit me that I'm actually going to be leaving. Soon. What?! This is craziness. Pure craziness.