Monday, October 31, 2005

Sophia Jenkins

Is it where I was born?

Where grow fields of corn.

Is it where I grew up?

Where I drank tea by the cup.

Is it where I lived for a year?

Where I made friends so dear.

Is it where I moved to?

Where I must begin anew.

It is way up above,

Where in the end I’ll fly to like a dove.

Sophia, lives in Kigali, Rwanda. She recently spent a year with her parents at Oklahoma Christian University where her dad was a Missionary in Residence. Before moving to Oklahoma City, Sophia lived in Kampala, Uganda. Sophia is 13 years old and in the 7th grade. I found her poem stunning. The poem is used with permission.

Yellow Rose
by Miranda Brazle

The beautiful little girl was walking along the stream. Some steps she made were very difficult and she nearly fell. Occasionally she did fall, but she got back up and kept walking. She had fun jumping from one rock to another. It was challenging, yet exciting. Often she stopped to admire the nature around her. She listened to the sound of the water, watched the stream flow, looked up at the trees waving in the wind and bent down to enjoy the smell of the flowers. Her eyes fell on a single yellow rose. She looked around and saw no others. She wondered why this one beautiful yellow rose was so alone. She wondered where its home was. She felt like that rose was made just for her, because that is exactly how she felt. She thought about this as she kept walking. She continued along the path as she had before; jumping with joy, falling and picking herself right back up. She also continued to ponder about this yellow rose she found and what it meant to her. She felt torn between two places; two cultures. She did not belong to either and felt alone, like the rose. She saw other roses along the path, but no yellow ones. She knew there were other people in her life from each culture she grew up with. But none of them grew up with both cultures. She saw red roses and white roses, but none of the people in her life were yellow, like her. She started declaring her thoughts out loud. Her father, who was with her the whole time and had been leading and helping her, intently listened to her. He led her to a field of roses. She saw roses of more colors than she could imagine. There were also yellow roses of different shades of yellow. The different colors made one big beautiful picture. The little girl realized that she did not need to be the same as others to be home. She needed to be with her father in the midst of all of His other beautiful roses.

Miranda Brazle is a student at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond, Oklahoma. Miranda has lived in Canada, the United States and Belgium, where her parents were missionaries for many years. Miranda attended Flemish speaking schools and is able to speak both Flemish and French. Her essay is used with permission.

Missionary Kids, while feeling at home everywhere and nowhere, learn far sooner than the rest of us where "home" really is. It is way up above where Sophia will fly like a dove and it is holding the Father's hand in Miranda's field of multi-colored roses. It is sometimes feeling all alone. It is sometimes appreciating the beauty of multi-colored humanity. It is falling down and getting up. It all occurs under the scrutiny of a loving Father, who leads, helps, listens and demonstrates his care to us as we walk in wonder and in faith.

Thank you Sophia and Miranda for sharing your thoughts with us all.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Daughter, your faith has healed you.
Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.
Mark 5:34

Mark 5:25-34 is a story about a sick woman bereft of connections to other people. According to the law, a woman who suffered from a continual discharge of blood, was unclean (Lev. 15:25-30). Any object she touched was unclean. Anyone she touched was unclean. She has spent all her money on physicians trying to find a cure. She is a woman alone and lonely, hopeless and helpless. She is desperate.

This desperate woman hears stories about a man who heals people. If she ventures out to find this man, she will have to be in a crowd – something she is forbidden to do. Everyone who touches her in that crowd will become ceremonially unclean, but the stories about Jesus are compelling. This man comes from God. He can heal. She decides to venture out. She will touch his clothing secretly. No one will know. She will just press through the crowd and touch his garment. That will be enough. She is full of fear, but the hope of healing drives her to try one more time. She presses into the crowd and touches just a small piece of Jesus' clothing. The woman realizes that she is healed, but this Jesus is demanding to know who touched him. She is found out. She falls trembling at his feet. She tells him the whole truth.

At different points in our lives, we all feel as desperate as this woman. We feel alone, lonely, helpless and hopeless. That is when we, like this woman, must kneel and confess to Jesus the whole truth about ourselves. His reply to us is as kind as his answer was to this frightened woman, “Daughter (Son), your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” We are restored to a life with God and others. What a glorious gift.

In Jesus' name I pray for all of you who announce the good news of Jesus, that He will bless you, those you love, and those you touch with this same healing message.

Love's prayers,


Friday, October 21, 2005

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol Him, all you peoples;
For great is his love towards us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord
endures forever.
Praise the Lord.
Psalm 117

The temperatures have cooled down a bit here in Texas; day light savings time is not yet over, so it is dark when I get up in the morning. The moon has been beautiful the last few days and it is still shining brightly in the darkened sky over Fort Worth at 6:00 a.m. A cup of hot tea, the quiet, and my little courtyard flooded with moonlight have been real blessings to me the last few mornings. This morning I had to wrap myself in a blanket, so cocooned in the early morning darkness, I tried to remember as many of the names of God as I could.

At our Women's Retreat this year, our leader gave us two sheets of paper filled with the different names of God and their meanings. Our assignment was to write a praise to God using each of His names. My first entry was written to Elohim - our creator. By the time I got to the fifth name I was crying and cried through the rest of the exercise. This was a profound spiritual experience for me. Since then I have been trying to learn all the names of God. Not an easy task for me. I only got up to about 14 names this morning. For those who would like to try this exercise, you might want to check out this site. I believe you will discover that our God is truly Elohay Elohim - God of Gods.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Today would have been my wedding anniversary. On our 40th anniversary around 3 in the afternoon, I remember thinking I'd like to have a party, so sent out a voice mail to all the faculty and staff that they should come by and bring one dinner from the Chinese restaurant to share with everybody else. I think about 70 people showed up. We had containers of Chinese food everywhere. What special times those were! Our children made a big deal out of our 41st wedding anniversary - they knew there might not be any more. It was held in my daughter's house in The Netherlands and all our children and some very special friends were there. Rachel and my other daughter, Reba, had schemed for months on how they were going to pull this off without letting us know. Reba had one suitcase filled with party paraphenalia that she brought from the states for this special occasion. They were successful. It was a total surprise. Rachel's mother-in-law fixed a cake with special candles that when lit acted like sparklers. Special memories. Special children. God has been so good to me!

When our kids were growing up we celebrated every American and every Dutch holiday. We always had some kind of special meal. We carved a jack-o-lantern out of a green melon at Halloween - at that time we didn't have pumpkins in Holland. I remember making boiled eggs look like little toadstools with a tomato end plopped over the top dotted with mayonaise. I may have had more fun than the kids! Traditions hold families together. Delores Curran, author of Traits of a Healthy Family, states that the healthy family has a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound (p. 199). Some of the hallmarks are 1)the family treasures its legends and characters; 2) the family has a person and/or place that serves as a locus; 3) the family makes a conscious effort to gather as a people; 4)the family views itself as a link between the past and the future; and 6) the family cherishes its traditions and rituals (p 216).

Missionary families who are more mobile than most and who do not intend to stay forever in the land of their chosen country, need to take special care that they establish a strong sense of family. Establish traditions that can be carried on anywhere. Like the children of Israel, we need markers of remembrance to give us hope. When my son died, what held us together was remembering the special times we celebrated together. We found ourselves laughing and crying remembering special times. "Hope is what we need so badly, and hope is based in the memory. Rituals do so much to feed the hope through memory. And hope is the travel virtue - it gets us from yesterday into today and gives us the courage to face tomorrow. Rituals and traditions are much more than words. They give those who participate in them an opportunity to say nonverbally, "I love you. I like being with you. I want to reenact what's important in life with you because you are important to me" (p. 211, 212).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Then God said, "Let us make man in
our image, in our likeness..."
Gen. 1:26
The Lord God said, "It is not good
for man to be alone. I will make a
helper suitable for him..."
Gen. 2:18

I am unable to understand how our God is one - ("Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one God") and also Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But this God said, "Let us make man in our image." Because I am made in the image of a God, who is One and who is also us and our, I know I need connections with others to be complete. Connections with others seems to be a basic need.

The rising rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, suicide ideation, and other forms of mental and emotional distress among children and adolescents was the impetuous behind a study by the Commission on Children at Risk, A Report to the Nation, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities. So what is their solution to this growing problem? It is people helping children and youth connect to others through authoritative communities, i.e., groups of people who are committed to one another over time and who model and pass on at least part of what it means to be a good person and live a good life (p. 14).

The Commission on Children at Risk, made up of 33 children's doctors, research scientists, and mental health and youth service professionals, came to the conclusion, after studying numerous other research studies, that human beings are hardwired to connect with other human beings. They came up with ten main planks to bolster their case for authoritative communities:

1) The mechanisms by which we become and stay attached to others are biologically primed and increasingly desirable in the basic structure of the brain.
2) Nurturing environments, or the lack of them, affect gene transcription and the development of brain circuitry.
3) The old "nature versus nurture" debate - focusing on whether heredity or environment is the main determinant of human conduct - is no longer relevant to serious discussions of child well-being and youth programming.
4) Adolescent risk-taking and novelty-seeking are connected to changes in brain structure and function.
5) Assigning meaning to gender in childhood and adolescence is a human universal that deeply influences well-being.
6) The beginning of morality is the biologically primed moralization of attachment.
7) The ongoing development of morality in later childhood and adolescence involves the human capacity to idealize individuals and ideas.
8) Primary nurturing relationships influence early spiritual development - call it the spiritualization of attachment - and spiritual development can influence us biologically in the same ways that primary nurturing relationships do.
9) Religiosity and spirituality significantly influence well-being.
10) The human brain appears to be organized to ask ultimate questions and seek ultimate answers (p. 15)

I leave you to peruse the research yourself and come to your own conclusions. I do want to point out some things that seem to click in my own mind about this subject. God put us in community when he established marriage, family, and church. Larry Crabb believes that the purpose of community is "to connect with people, to help them put to death their bad urges, to exercise self-control over unruly and immoral passions, especially during those seasons in the desert, those long nights of darkness, those surprising encounters with seemingly pointless difficulties, and those humbling moments when we see the damage our selfishness has caused someone else"(p.149)..."connecting begins when we enter into someone else's battle to experience God with the empathy of a fellow struggler and the faith to know it can happen" (p. 151). He also says that "our fiercest battles are fought when we seek with all our hearts to trust God so fully that we see every misfortune as something he [God] permits and wants to use, to know him so richly that we turn to no one and nothing else to experience what our souls long to enjoy, to love him so completely and with such consuming passion that we hate anything that comes between us and eagerly give it up. That's a battle I cannot win alone" (p. 150 from Connecting: A Radical New Vision. Neither Larry Crabb, nor I, nor anyone else can win this battle alone. We all need a Christ-following community that is waging the same war and will include us in the fight. I'm grateful to all those, both past and present, who have waged war with and for me.

Every person needs the kind of connection Larry Crabb describes, but what about all those children and adolescents out there who need this kind of connection and can't find it? What about all those adults out there who need this as well? Can we overcome our ingrained western cultural beliefs that "people prefer to be alone and want to take care of their own problems" themselves? We advise foreigners, who may be desparately lonely, to not seem too needy around Americans because that will cause them to back off from having a relationship with them. I warn missionaries and MKs who have acculturated to more community oriented cultures of the same thing (p. 12 from American Ways: A Guide to Foreigners in the United States by Gary Althen). One person alone cannot do it. But the community of Christ can, if we really want to. We can do it if we really do attempt to follow the first and second greatest commandments while carrying out the great commission. We can do it if we decide we are "our brother's keeper."

God loves the orphan and the widow and the foreigner in the land and I think He loves the socially unskilled who don't know how to get connected. He loves the floundering people in our society. He loves the children mothers and dads neglect. Would to God we could love this fragmented, disconnected generation like He does.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The purposes of a man's heart
are deep waters,
but a man of understanding draws
them out.
Proverbs 20:5

Let the peace of Christ rule in
your hearts,
since as members of one body,
you have been called to peace.
Col. 3:15

Last week I participated in a Mediation Practicum from PeaceMakers International. It began as a self-study course which consisted of reading two books, working through a manual and listening to 8 tapes. The books were a joy to read. I had already read Peacemakers by Ken Sande, a book describing and prescribing biblical reconciliation. I wish I could have read the second book when I was 25 - maybe I would have made fewer mistakes along the way. I consider it a life-changing book. All my kids are getting a copy for Christmas. The book is called Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People Needing Change Helping People Needing Change by Paul Tripp. This book affirmed some of the things I began thinking about a year ago this month when I attended Larry Crabb's School of Spiritual Direction i.e., Christians need to have meaningful connections with other Christians - they need safe places to be. Two other good books for you to consider are Larry Crabb's The Safest Place on Earth: Where People Connect and Are Changed Forever and Connections: Healing for Ourselves and Our Relationships. I'll blog about the research on connection next time.

The practicum was all hands-on-work: role playing exercises for two days. Every 8 people had a mentor. We sat at tables of four so each mentor assisted two tables. The mentors were amazing! They were in one sense also theologians – though they had many different occupations. The mentors came from all walks of life: counselors, lawyers, ministers, teachers, etc. My mentor was a career reserve military officer and lawyer. These mentors were skilled mediators and had about 1500 scriptures in their heads which they could apply to peace making situations at a moment’s notice.

After one day of working with us, the mentors knew pretty well who to hand what role to whom to play the next day. In the morning session I was one of the persons who needed help with reconciliation. In the afternoon I was the mediator. We had to come to the practicum in role – couldn’t even break from our roles during break. My morning role play fit me to a T. I didn’t have to role play. I was myself. (Of course, I know that in any role play, we become ourselves anyway – but all I did was change the name on my name tag.)

Peacemakers International uses the biblical method for reconciliation/peacemaking. If a person is in the wrong, scripture is used with that person to point out their idols, those things in a person’s life that a person (most often unknowingly) uses as substitutions for God – the things that are hindering their relationship with God and neighbor. These idols are pointed out privately in caucus. Caucuses are called when needed. I am totally impressed with this method of helping people find peace with God and their neighbor. I had a few "aha" moments myself during role plays. God's word is like a two edged sword and is useful for rebuking and correcting and training (Heb. 4:12; 2 Tim 3:16) even when we are playing a role.

After the practicum I attended the Peacemaker International Conference and enrolled in the Cross-Cultural track. There were four sessions a day for two days and much of this track was on missions and reconciliation. As a missionary care worker I think it is vital that our mission teams/missionary families be trained in peacemaking skills before they leave for the mission field. Conflict with other missionaries on the field is a major concern. Lesley Moore (ACU Master's Thesis) found that the number one problem for Church of Christ missionaries on the field was other missionaries. A study by Ed Matthews, ACU Bible and Missions professor, encompassed 42 teams from Churches of Christ on four continents. Sadly 55 percent of Ed’s respondents reported that conflict resolution was either omitted or ineffective in their team formation training. Ninety three percent of his respondents stated that interpersonal relations was (or would have been) the most helpful thing in their mission preparation.

Cross cultural peace making is the latest area added to Peacemaker International's offerings. This ministry is already heavily involved in personal, church, and marriage reconciliation. If you get a chance to attend any of these sessions please do so. Peace making workshops are being offered around the world and you missionaries out there could be very helpful to this organization by helping them understand how to use the biblical methods of peace making in your adopted culture. They are looking for help. If nothing else, order the books I mentioned. You will find them very helpful.

Stay involved in the word and with the Word. Keep on keeping on, dear ones.
Peace and...

Love's prayers,