Friday, November 26, 2010

On Assignment

"...an apostle on assignment by Jesus the Messiah, writing to exiles scattered to the four winds. Not one is missing, not one forgotten, God the Father has His eye on each of you..." 1 Peter 1:1-2 The Message

It's Black Friday for shoppers across this great land. And though "black" tends to be suggestive of some ominous forces at work, it actually references when merchants can go from "being in the red" from slow economic times, to finishing the year "in the black."

The day after Thanksgiving.

The day of Thanksgiving, has been hard for me to celebrate in the traditional sense for many years. For the past four years I am just returning from India. A land of great poverty and darkness. Before that I was returning from or going into some third world, and feasting just didn't feel appropriate.

Don't get out your pedestals, the first thing I do on my way home from the airport is stop at a Mexican restaurant and indulge in unlimited chips and hot sauce, a plate full of enchiladas, rice and beans. I miss Tex-Mex!

Today is the day when the stores break down and slash prices on certain items (while supplies last). This tactic is meant to lure you into their web of coveting all the things you don't really need, but it is such a great bargain, how can you pass it up?

If the church were as focused on the great commission as shoppers are to "the day after Thanksgiving Day" sales - the world would be a different place.

Each year the proverbial sales start earlier and earlier. Last night the news featured coverage of devotees camped out in front of department stores like Toys 'r Us, Macy's and Best Buy. Those stores opened at 4:00am. This morning at
7:30 reports weren't on traffic problems but on the fact that shopping mall parking lots were already 90% full. You've got to start early to get the deals.

Jesus told His disciples the Harvest was ripe, pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more workers. He was telling them, and us, of the sales! Snap up the bargains! Run to get involved. Rise early to secure yourself a parking space and get out there. People are just waiting to hear the Name proclaimed. The Good News that you got THE bargain of a lifetime. Someone has paid your debt! You are debt-free in the eyes of the Creator.

I am filled with Thanksgiving.

Our team returned from India four days before the feast with so much to be thankful for. All our luggage arrived. The programs were full of seekers in spite of horrible weather conditions. We had safe transportation even with the wind and rain of a tropical depression bearing down on us. We stayed free of sickness though flood waters brought every unsanitary situation in to surround us - even in my hotel room! We saw hearts turn toward the one true Living God. We touched and danced with lepers. We celebrated the value of the orphans. We walked in the filth of gypsy slum communities and saw the beauty of their soul as they proclaimed the name of Jesus. We witnessed captives to 330 million gods set free. We saw the blind given the sight of heaven through God's promise. We were the first Christians to present a program at the school for the blind and disabled in its 150 year history! We boarded the plane confident we had completed the task we had been sent forth to participate in. Close to 1500 people had been ministered to, and heard the Name of Jesus glorified above all names.

When the disciples returned to Jesus (after having been sent out into the Harvest Field) they reported such great things. I'm sure like some of the things I am reporting to you. But Jesus didn't seem too interested in what they had accomplished; the healings, the demons being cast out, or even the message of salvation being shared. He cared about them fully understanding what He meant to THEM personally. "All the same, the great triumph is not your authority over evil, but in God's authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you - that's the agenda for rejoicing." Luke 10:20 The Message

I want to care as much about seeing the lost of the world come into the Kingdom as I do about those perishable treasures with prices slashed for the day.

I don't want to sweat about things to list I am thankful for when it comes my turn at the holiday table. I want to keep the main thing the main thing.

I am thankful my name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

God has His eye on us. God has His eye on each of the thousands of people I meet and touch in His name. He has not forgotten one of them, though the smiles of the caramel skinned Indian children, will soon turn to the dark chocolate smiles of African children for me (December 17-28 Ghana, West Africa).

My hope on this "black" day - is that we would see the harvest "white" and realize what a bargain we received. My prayer is that we would see our assignment. We would store up the imperishable things, things that will last - give the knowledge of the gift of salvation. These are what the Master remembers.

So should we.

"...you trust Him with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you'll get what you're looking forward to: total salvation." 1 Peter 1:8 The Message

Thankful of the bargain
Mindful of the price He paid

Remember your year end giving!

To participate financially in our upcoming Christmas disability and orphan ministry outreach in Ghana, please visit our website:
www.sunshineafterrain.org


Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gump

It has just been one of those days.

Since arriving in Chennai (which seems like weeks ago) we have been faced with the threat of an approaching cyclone, stuck for hours in traffic jams, tried to ignore the noise, stomach the food and tonight attacked by a cricket while having dinner.

We also experienced the joy of over 500 laughing, smiling, chicken-dancing children and adults.

It is past 11 at night and the rooftop neighbors are still outside, shuffling and cooking and creating a cacophony accompanied by the incessant sound of blaring horns and screeching brakes of the cars on the street below.

This is our last night in India.

I confess I will not miss the noise.

At the end of a "harvest" day, when I am alone in my room with my two inch blank Blackberry screen, I can picture Forrest Gump sitting on the park bench casually speaking to waiting bus riders. What he is telling are key, often times iconic, events in history and pop culture. But even when describing meeting Presidents, he just says, "and I met the President, ahhh-geee-an."

I know the work going on in any given area is a battle being fought in the heavenlies. I know legions of angels are flying above fighting against any number of the enemies minions so the Gospel can be preached. I know, I know, I know.

While I am in the "zone" (of battle) telling a story, watching the children, dancing, and tying Gospel bracelets on hands that are seldom washed, I can tune out the surroundings. I don't "see" the rags that are serving as clothes, the hair never combed, the bare feet, the naked babies, the flies crawling in wounds or the scabies and scars.

I feel the full realization and satisfaction of doing what the Father sent me to do.

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  Ephesians 2:10

One of my favorite bittersweet sayings of Forrest comes when he accompanies his friend Jenny to her childhood home. It is old and dilapidated, long since abandoned and now overgrown with weeds. She bends down and starts hurling stones at the house where she endured abuse and pain. Forrest tries hard to grasp what she is going through. In the voice over he says, "Sometimes there are just not enough rocks."

Sometimes there are just not enough words.

Speechless in a broken world.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Buckets of Goodness

One of the first things recommended to overseas travelers is to let go of their notion of time. Each day as we have been given a set time to be ready to leave, we instinctively ask, "Is that American time or Indian time?"

American time "is what it is." Indian (or pick a country of your choice) time is "add 15-30 minute increments as needed!" What we Americans would consider "late" is actually to be expected, anticipated and planned around.

A typical example: the hotel breakfast buffet is advertised and verbally confirmed to begin at 7:00. However, when we walked in at 7:15 the only item available was bread (self-toaster) and jam. This made for one hungry group of women when we checked out at 8:00! Indian clocks were running right on time.

The rain was falling as unpredictabley as the schedules. Sunshine would peek through the clouds bringing hope for our long drive, and just when the smile of relief would break across our faces, deluge!

"Open up, heavens, and rain, clouds pour out buckets of My goodness! Loosen up earth, and bloom salvation" Isaiah 45:8 The Message

But God IS merciful, and prayer does work. By the time we were ready to board, the drainage from the rooftops was all that dampened our clothes. Only once (during the 4 hour journey) did we have to pull off the road because it became impossible for the driver to see (cows don't really care where they are when it is raining so they are still on the roads).

God is pouring out His goodness here in India, salvation is ready to bloom! We will have 3 programs each day Thursday and Friday (and possibly 2 on the day we leave).

The farmers are ready.


Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No News

...is good news?

Our hotel rooms here in Nellore are equipped with brand new high definition flat screen TVs. But since we've arrived they have remained a silent furnishing at the end of the bureau. After all, there are no channels in English and by the end of our day, we collapse in exhaustion and try to sleep through the sounds of traffic and the confusion of time zones. We haven't heard much news.

Okay, I did see the Dallas Cowboys won, but not much else has concerned us - that is until we heard today's latest weather report. Another cyclone is forming off the coast and could be heading directly for us!

While packing for India I watched the movie "Forrest Gump" and I can't help but hear in my mind Forrest say, "Again," (he was referring to meeting yet another President of the United States). I have viewed the classic so often, many of the scripted lines (as well as the distinctive way in which they were uttered) have become part of my own off-handed response to certain situations.

It has been raining here in Nellore for two straight days. Forrest thoughts, "In Vee-et-naaam there are all kinds of rain. There is fat rain, and skinny rain and there is even sideways rain." We've had a bit of all of the above.

We were scheduled to finish our time here in Nellore with a morning program before heading back to Chennai tomorrow. Now, we will be leaving at 8:00am trying to beat the storm.

"But you will not leave in haste or go in flight, for the Lord will go before you; the God of Israel will be your rear guard." Isaiah 52:12

Our part of battle that has been fought over the past few days is coming to an end. But just as the verse in Isaiah reminds us, God is before us (our vanguard) as well as behind us (our rereward)!

My friend sent me the handy Wikipedia definition: "The term rearguard (also rereward) originates from the medieval custom of dividing an army into three battles or wards; Van, Main or Middle and Rear... Rear guard troops can also be troops that protect the withdrawal of an army, blocking the enemy advance."

We have taken back territory from the enemy. We have laid claim in the hearts of widows, orphans, lepers, illiterate villagers, the young and the aged. We have come to proclaim freedom to the captives of 330 million false gods and idols. We are more than conquerors.

"You're my servant, serving on My side. I've picked you. I haven't dropped you. Don't panic I'm with you. There's no need to fear for I'm your God. I'll give you strength. I'll help you. I'll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. Count on it." Isaiah 41:9-10

On the road again!

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Monday, November 15, 2010

Comfort

The trip to the village school took over an hour Monday morning. We dodged cattle unfazed by the morning rush hour traffic, and braked for the occasional dog. We honked incessantly to alert motorcycles with carefully balanced families and swerved to avoid potholes the size of small craters created by the cyclone's flood waters.

We were excited by the large playground that would serve as a perfect dance floor for the chicken dance, not to mention the games! But just when we were ready to break out the speakers it started raining.

The children were quickly huddled inside. The benches and books were collected to keep them dry and we all watched as the storm clouds dumped but did not dampen our spirits. That is until I realized the sound of rushing water created a certain need for a certain type of facility!

What appeared as a nice fall shower, was actually a deluge. Our dreamed of dance floor was a lake with hidden traps of sucking mud and muck! Nothing like getting a good soaking on the way to relief.

We finished up the program inside the small sweltering school room. There were no desks, no tables and no electricity. When we arrived to see the children outside we assumed it was because of the program. It had nothing to do with us - it had everything to do with necessity.

The children were happy, we were happy and the King was surely watching.

We returned to the hotel for our lunch break, a dry change of clothes and supplies for our afternoon adventure. We traveled the same road, saw different cows, dogs, people, and even a gaggle (or herd) of monkeys. We went further into the unknown, down narrow roads that became pathways of rutted mud and rocks.

The van stopped in front of a concrete square that was the new village church. There was a roof that would keep us dry, and there were children and adults eager to hear. The Pastor's son, had been let out in the village square to gather more children for the program. They followed him down the lane like a Pied Piper and soon the 10 x 20 room was packed. The only thing that kept us from adding more to the audience was the angry ant hill that was competing for territory.

Our team leader grew enthusiastic seeing all our additions and hoped to have even longer program time. Time to share the Good News more clearly, time to engage the children while making the Gospel Bracelets, time to make sure they knew and understood how much God loves them. Like the earlier rain, time was not on our side. As the sun set, the "church under construction" grew dark and our program ended too soon. Rain or shine this day, the Gospel was proclaimed, the Name above all names was lifted up, the saving power of the blood of Christ was shared and the message of hope in what looks like a hopeless land was given.

"Comfort, oh comfort my people," says your God." Isaiah 40:1

"7 Days to a Happier You," read the headline of an email sent courtesy of Ladies Home Journal. Since I will be back in the "good old U S of A" by then, I wondered what would make the rest of the cyber audience "happier."

The list of articles included ways on how to "take time for YOU," enjoy a "stress free holiday," and "5 keys to a better marriage." The recommendations covered eating well, getting proper amounts of sleep and don't forget exercise. Leaving India did not make the list of suggestions.

There was little comfortable about our day. When the rain came down at the school yard, again my mind went to the leper-beggar community with little to protect them and their children against the onslaught of the elements. They don't have seven days to "be happier." There is no need to establish an exercise regimen because they walk everywhere they go. And while there are lots of holidays in the Hindu faith, celebrations for those we see don't include feasts to forestall famine.

The happiness "how to's" made me realize how American's have become a culture of comfort. We like to feel good and comfortable. Comfort covers every aspect of our lifestyle. We want comfortable housing, clothes, shoes, cars and weather. But our comfort is not God's comfort. The comfort the Bible refers to is knowledge of His character and goodness, His provision and protection. His mercy and His salvation. It is not about feeling good - it is a knowledge and understanding of love.

We came to India to share that comfort. We are experiencing His kind of happiness each day.


Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Flood

A few days before we were scheduled to leave for India an urgent prayer request came from the Pastor in the area.

"There is a Cyclone (hurricane) headed for our coastline. Already many thousands of village people have been affected. There are deaths, the fishing towns have been devastated. Please pray for us."

I taped the BBC International News the following day because they generally carry far more reports on India and Africa than any American news agency. There was a lot of news concerning India alright, but it had nothing to do with the approaching storm. It had to do with the arrival of the American President. There was no mention of disaster, only "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.

We watched the internet, waited to hear from the Pastors, and we prayed. I thought of the times past we had traveled during the rainy season and the devastation caused by the rain on the makeshift housing of the villages we visit. I thought about the leper/beggar community who live in shelters constructed of sticks and thatching.

I copied down the verse in Isaiah regarding passing through the flood waters feeling it would be an appropriate strengthening Word.

"Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you. I've called your name. You're Mine... When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, you will not go down...I paid a huge price for you... That's how much you mean to Me! That's how much I love you!... So don't be afraid, I'm with you." Isaiah 43:2-5 The Message

The road from Chennai to Nellore was in good condition. It was dark (1:30am) when we arrived at the airport and it took 4 hours (instead of three) to make it to our destination. It was still dark. We couldn't tell what the conditions were. All we could see was the flood waters had receded. We were hopeful.

Yesterday, we headed out for our first programs at the orphanage and then the leper community. The roads were passable. There was activity on the streets and things back to their normal. It is far from "our" normal. There are still cows and dogs and wild boars, sorting through the debris in search of food. There are still motorcycles transporting a father a wife, a small child and perhaps a baby on the handle bars.

We even saw a monkey on the road much to one of my team members delight. We are not anywhere near normal to us or even Kansas, Toto.

But the things that are familiar and similar is the laughter. The smiles, the joy, and the Chicken Dance. I think each time I see it performed across the globe I hear the wings of angels fluttering beside me.

The orphans had a great time making new crafts, but the real delight of the day was the Polaroid photos taken at the leper colony. I could probably say with all certainty - they now have the first and most likely only picture they will ever own of themselves. They were delighted to see it develop right before their eyes. They were laughing.

They smile, just like normal people who are happy.

We walked through the village, past the debris brought in by the flood waters. We walked past scavaging dogs and pigs; past the huts held together with whatever twine they can gather. We walked past roofs of thatch and plastic bags. We drove back to our hotel...

where my room had flooded!

Water poured up from the bathroom floor drain, and the visiting plumbers only made the problem worse. The water was soon covering the floor in my room, where I was frantically trying to retrieve my shoes and luggage to higher ground.

The team leader came in and told us we were "evacuating" to rooms on a higher floor. It was a mess. It was a flurry of activity to cram our bags as fast as possible to get out.

I was frustrated, until I thought of the people I had just left. What did they do when the HURRICANE passed through their place? What did they do as the flood waters were rising? They didn't have any bags to pack. They didn't have any place to go. There was no higher ground for them.

There was only God.

"So don't be afraid, I am with you."

He is and was enough for them
And for me
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Friday, November 12, 2010

Go Therefore

The miracles of technology! I can picture Paul somewhere in the heavenlies a bit envious of my little Blackberry contraption. This surely is exceedingly more than he could have imagined from his prison

And while he had one of the great wonders of the ancient world in his backyard (the Coliseum in Rome), the silver shaped bullet with wings that just carried me halfway around the world would have been unfathomable.

Here it is a bit after 2:00am on a dark road in India and we are making our way from Chennai to Nellore. It's hard typing through the bumps, swerves, and general nauseas producing diesel fumes but... I am a communicator at heart with 3 hours to kill.

Some of you probably think I'm crazy, but I would pass my lesson on to you from my pal Oswald
and call myself abandoned!

"...I have abandoned to the great supernatural position of limitless confidence in Christ Jesus, which is really God's only call for a missionary." Oswald Chambers Oct 27

The trip was uneventful and long. Did I say long? I meant to say what I will repeat each day for the villagers and children gathered to see the strange colored visitors. "We live a long long long long long long long way from here! They laugh and by that time, I will have enough rest in my bones and food in my belly to laugh with them.

At approximately 4:00am we will reach our destination, check in, collapse, shower, eat, and be off for the Leper Beggar village in the afternoon.

We are 11 and a half (not sure why they have that 30 minute thing) hours ahead of Central Time Zone so try just subtracting 30 minutes from your watch and change day to night or night to day and you will be as confused time wise as my body is! But whatever the time - it is always a time to pray.

I am not just asking for prayers for our work here in India, there are thousands upon thousands of missionaries around the globe, taking back territory for the King. His Kingdom IS coming, His will IS being done.

"All authority has been given to Me... Go therefore..." Matthew 28:18-19

We are going -
Thanks for sending!

On the road for a long long long time!

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty,
He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,

Our God is marching on going! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory!
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Learning to Fly

"The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love o Lord, endures forever - do not abandon the works of Your hands." Psalm 138:8

I'm sad.

It is officially the final season of one of my all-time favorite shows. Clark Kent and Lois Lane will be leaving "Smallville" for good. Of course I went through this same emotional roller coaster last year when "24" ended and its protagonist Jack Bauer saved the world for the last time. I thought, "What will we do now?" But I was comforted by the notion that somewhere in the celluloid digital realms Superman was still on the scene.

Until I heard the news, after ten successful years - the show was OVER.

Next year will be a world without "heroes." It seems vampires and werewolves have taken their place.

On this, the final season of my super hero, he may actually come to be known as Superman (currently the Daily Globe in Metropolis refers to him by the moniker "The Blur"). And he might even learn to fly!

"For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

Today I fly.

Not on my own - mind you, but under the wings of yet another Lufthansa aircraft. And the verse in Jeremiah, I carry it with me. God not only knows the plans He has for me in India, He knows the plans He has for all the people I will meet: the widows, the orphans, the lepers, the untouchables, the "no-caste" beggars. We are the small part of His plan to give them the hope of the Living God, the Truth, the Light, and THE Way.

"I'm ready to fulfill my destiny."

Clark Kent, looks off into a distant horizon as he shares thoughts on a future bigger than he can imagine; a DESTINY! On last week's episode, a man from the future is trying to teach him to let go of his past mistakes (sounds a bit like biblical Paul), and to see what is right in front of him. Only then will he discover his ability to fly. In one of the closing scenes he is reminded of this when he embraces Lois Lane, who he loves - low and behold he lifts off the ground!

Forgive me if you think my penchant for heroes is childish, but remember I live in a world, where by the worlds standards, heroes are not only absent, so is God.

"Faith is the belief in things hoped for, as yet unseen. And without faith it is impossible to please God."

I am ready to fulfill MY destiny!

I am following the advice of Paul by "forgetting things past, I press on to the upward high calling of God in Christ Jesus." God is not absent from the places I go. He is present and waiting to reveal Himself to those who are listening. I have never seen more beauty, than while holding the disfigured hand of a man with leprosy and tying on a Gospel bracelet while telling him how valuable he was to the Creator.

I have never received so great a gift as when an orphan girl (who was having a birthday) ran back inside to share a piece of candy with me. This precious child (at 6)had seen her mother murder her baby brother and realizing she was next ran to the train station to find safety.

Jesus found her a loving home at Jane's House orphanage. Her smile that day was evidence He is faithful to help us to press on for the upward high calling.

The people of India we will be working with next week all need to hear and know and believe, there is a plan for them; a future and a hope for them. Their caste cannot stop it, their lack cannot, their poverty and disease cannot, the 330 MILLION opposing gods cannot.

God's promise!

"Look, up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, no it's....."

Lufthansa flight 439.
But I hear there is a clown on board!

Flying high with a smile

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Saturday, November 06, 2010

"Your Pain...

...has changed me.*"

Not too long ago I heard a song by the Contemporary Christian artist Sarah Groves. She wrote it after a mission trip to Rwanda. The powerful video that accompanies the song can be found on YouTube (I Saw What I Saw).

I adopted the lyrics as a theme song and mantra for my life in the harvest fields. The pain of the people I encounter HAS changed me. I return to my home a different person than the one that left. This emotional growth is never more true than when I return from serving at the Wounded Warrior retreats.

I often share this particular area of service is the hardest thing I do in the course of the year. While the conditions are luxurious (held at a golf resort) compared to the other places I go (many times lacking hot water) the emotional toil is far greater.

I'm not sure if it is the age of the soldiers (many younger than my own children), the severity of their physical wounds (amputees, burn victims, and traumatic brain injuries), or the "collateral damage" I see on the faces of the spouses and children that makes it so very hard.

"I saw what I saw and I can't forget it; I heard what I heard and I can't go back...*"

I come back home each time (I have participated in eight such events) profoundly impacted truly knowing how great is the cost of our freedom. I voted in this election because I know men and women that paid a very huge price to give me the opportunity to do so. I read my Bible every day, because religious freedom is one of the cornerstones of our country. Many people I minister to will never have that luxury, out of poverty or threat of persecution.

"I know what I know and I can't deny it. Something on the road, cut me to the soul...*"

I am off again, to share the Gospel of freedom in India. Though you may shake your head at my travel schedule, or wonder about rest, and all the other things that take time in preparing for a trip overseas - don't. That "something on the road" is the burning passion to see nations turn to the Living God for their salvation and security. I do not take my freedom to do so lightly.

"Your courage asks me, what I'm afraid of, and what I know of love, and what I know of God.*"

This is what I know of God. He is the provision. He is the Father that runs down the road to meet the son returning home broken and filled with shame. He is the Father, that clothes the humiliated with a garment of righteousness. He is the Father, who leaves...

again and again,

to find the one sheep that is lost. I live to be more like Him.

"In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through - all that bloodshed!" Hebrews 12:4-5 The Message

Changed by His pain
Always in His service,

*Sarah Groves - I Saw What I Saw

To participate financially with the ministry and donate online, please visit our website:

www.sunshineafterrain.org

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T