Saturday, March 29, 2008

This Present Suffering

“… I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us...” Romans 8:18

One of my favorite verses in recent years is The Message translation of Colossians 1: 24 “ I want you to know how glad I am that it me sitting here (in jail) and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world - it’s the kind of suffering Christ takes on … I welcome the chance to take my share in the churches part of that suffering.”

It took me many years to grasp the place and appropriate role of a missionary. I would come home from an amazing experience and determine every one needs to be “out there.” It went beyond determination and judgment of what I thought were “lazy pew warmers,” there was a whole world out there perishing for lack of “preachers being sent.”

“and how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10:14-15

Fortunately and divinely God adjusted my heart and aligned my attitude. Now, I do see my “goings” as my part of what the “church” is doing. All working together “One Body” and the Lord certainly tells us there are no parts more or less important than others. The Body needs praise singers, and greeters passing out bulletins as much as it needs its missionaries out in the faraway ends of the earth passing out tracks or using other methods to get the Gospel out. It helped deflate my head and take the “grrr” out of my speech when I spoke of my most recent place of the Lord’s business (and why weren’t you there)?

We have been in South India laboring in a variety of ways. We began on Good Friday with over 100 children singing, laughing, decorating their photo and seeing how uniquely they had each been created. We had illness interrupt and alter our plans – but God’s design is unstoppable. And the faithful troop of women He sent into the Indian battlefield pressed on.

There wasn’t one thought of retreat among us. I reminded our team member who was in the “camp” at the hotel as we went out, the promise Kind David gave to his troops, “those who remain with the stuff” (Yes, it really uses the word stuff in the KJV) get the same portion of the spoils as those who go into battle. (See 1 Samuel 30:24)

For the first three days while Evelyn was “encamped” at the hotel, she stayed with our “stuff”. The stuff of anxiety putting on a program one member less, the worry over her health, the supply issues, the travel safety and the thoughts we all battled of “what if we all get sick?” Yes, E got the same portion, although she didn’t see hands raised in affirmation and acceptance of the salvation message. Each day when we returned, the Lord had faithfully renewed her, comforted her, and gave her a bucketful of one liners to make us laugh at the end of a tiring day.

Sometimes I felt she was our “battlefield cook” gathering sustenance (in forms of humor, a gentle and quiet spirit, and even sharing her past police officer experiences) to equip us from her bedside. Each evening and morning we gathered in her room to be armed, dangerous, and looking for God in the unexpected places.

He certainly showed up in E.

Although I am used to the travel, and upon entrance to “row whatever” and seat “always with a view”, the other teammates were not. We coached them in travel tips (order a special meal because they come out first, etc…). I don’t think they needed it. For even after 20+ flying hours, 7 hours in the Chennai domestic terminal with few people but 10,000 flies and mosquitoes – they were tired but never faltered. They soaked in the sights, the sounds and smells and never complained.

They walked among the trash heaps, noticed the cows in the road, but even when the driving was treacherous (up and down the mountain – in the city dodging cars, cats, cows, and people) a gasp may escape – but never a complaint. It was all just part of what they had been called to do it like the good soldiers the Bible calls us to be.

Each morning we had devotions presented from each member to set our hearts towards Him and to “fix our eyes on our Jerusalem”, the children of Southern India and the rescued orphans on the hills in Kodai. Our fearless leader (V) would go over our day as carefully and thoroughly as it had been plotted and planned and written out. She would then look up from her note-filled paper, grin, maybe chuckle and say “but things can change”. And change they did, many times over – but always the chain of command was in place and the Commander-in-Chief was in charge.

I arrived to her room first one morning, and she said, “I need to show you where all the important papers are concerning the trip.” “What?” I exploded. She then went on to say her evening bout with heartburn gave her pause to think, “What if it isn’t heartburn and it’s a heart attack?” I said, “surely V you are joking!” She just looked at me and laughed and said, “Face it the way things have been going with this trip nothing would surprise me.”

All around the city you witness a variety transportation forms: rickshaws, cattle carts, cars, vans, buses, and motorcycles. We all asked J (a veteran cyclist) if she thought it would be thrilling to negotiate the roads and actually NOT hit a cow. In her most convincing, wide-eyed, southern accented voice she said, “ARE YOU KIDDING!”

Five women on a mission trip sometimes use expletives (all right it was mostly me around the mountain curves, but E would add quietly “I second that emotion”). We talked about books, movies, top tens, threw in a life experience relevant to our day and we laughed and laughed. Of course there are those things they say, “What happens in India stays in India” and with confidence I can share this much – it did stay in India – we flushed it down the commode (or at least tried).

Most of us in our down time, fell down on the bed, remarked at the inches our ankles had increased or decreased , tried to remember if we had consumed our two liters of water, processed our own mental fantasies (controlled electricity, hot soaking bath, green salad without fear and other simple things you find you miss while away from home). But our teammate K would put us all to cerebral shame by carrying around a set of mathematical equations she is using to study for the GMAT. If you don’t know what it means, you probably will never need to know.

I would watch her on the plane, in the bus, outside at 6:00 am, whenever there would be a break in activity, she’d be flashing (her brain that is). It was amazing to watch the energy she exuded during the day and still find the mental acuity to flash x’s and y’s, equals and divide signs by her often weary and closing eyes. Her heart and dedication to everything she does was apparent. You could see it in the four inch stack she had in her pants leg pocket!

Here in India, we came together in unusual but ordained circumstances. We worked in unison with hands willing to fold fabric, paint walls, hoe a row, plant a seed, write a verse, and then at the end of the day, tenderly touch the face of a child. It was precious to watch K tenderly stroke the arm of one girl who had been abandoned at a later age. This severely traumatized child would spend most of her time in the playroom in the corner away from the other girls. Every day, K would sit down beside her, begin to gently stroke her arm and sing or utter quiet words, “I love you, and Jesus thinks you are beautiful.” In the end, she finally did allow her an embrace.

J never seemed to know which girl to love on first, but baby Sara Grace always sought her out and they would park in a chair. Sara Grace held tightly to her chest and their hearts would synch – two peas in a pod – a safe place to fall.

E’s health and recovery was bolstered not only by the exercise of gardening in the sun, but when she would sit on the floor her quiet voice and slight form offered haven to a whole bevy of enthusiastic babies. They would rush for her like linemen after a quarterback - and when they accomplished their task of knocking her off her balance – all would burst into laughter, hug harder and then retreat to start the process over.

And then there is V, friend, sister, co-laborer and leader. Countless times I saw her heart for orphans. It would show up in laughter while she giggled, held and played with the 18 baby girls, it would leak out of her eyes as they glistened with tears in a tender moment as she held her namesake, “baby Vicki”, and I would see it as she watched the women she led being changed by the hand of God as they practiced “pure religion undefiled”.

I am sure they would all say, “we were glad it was us here… in Kodai doing our part for the church.”

And me –

well, who am I, I’m just “the clown.”