Friday, September 29, 2006

Journeying Together

The most significant element of the body of Christ is that we are never alone. As we struggle with issues, we struggle alongside one another. God never meant for us to walk this journey on our own. Although we each bring something unique to the table, we are united by life's experiences. The mystery of it all is a divine connectedness that inspires us to new understandings of ourselves.

One of my favorite verses of scripture is found in 1 Thessalonians. It proclaims, “Therefore encourage one another, and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Through Sparkfly, we aspire to build up, to encourage and to affirm. This blog exists for us all. As community, let us discuss those things we fear. Let us expose those issues in which we tend to conceal, but struggle with daily. Let us share our stories with friends and strugglers along the journey.

This next week, join us around the cyber dinner table as we discuss issues that concern us both as women and as human beings. May we share openly and honestly as we seek to find connection through our stories and experiences. Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. The table is large. There is always room for all. We are listening.



Blogger April said...

Last weekend I had the privilege of sharing with a globally-minded church in Indianapolis and was greatly encouraged by their support. The following are thoughts prompted by my visit:

My sister has always liked a good chick flick, a movie with the warm, fuzzy feelings and always-happy endings. It's the kind of movie which reinforces the idea that life can follow a certain plot line and everything will be okay if we're living within that idealism. We as Christians may find ourselves defining success and joy and completion from this perspective as well.

The right girl and guy meet and fall in love and live happily ever after. The perfect jobs present themselves, allowing them provision and fulfillment. This all happens in a safe, pleasant town in the best part of the world, where people always have plenty to eat and drink and wear and are part of a caring community which affirms each individual and nurtures faith. My sister likes reading these stories, too, and I like to call them her “fluff” books. I tease her, asking, “Oh, are you reading more fluff today?”

I wonder how often we all fall for fluff. While I can fall head over heels for visions of perfect lives for everyone I know and am given to thinking idealistically, I have watched too many films and read too much nonfiction that bring me back down to earth, that ground me and wrench my heart and force me to realize the truth that this life-yes, even the Christian life-is not perfect nor is it uniform or predictable or simple. It can spin us out of our comfort zones and onto our knees.

As James 4 in The Message says, "Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it's the only way you'll get on your feet."

During this transition time, in leaving my position with Global Women and preparing for Mexico, it is easy for me to envision my upcoming stay there with high idealism and boundless enthusiasm and to become frustrated with where God may have me at any moment along the way. We all go through changes and yearn for purpose as Christians, and yet God uses each of us!

Recently a friend emailed me an article entitled, "Life in the Happily Ever After," by Jen Oakes, and I particularly identify with her reflections on idealism. She writes:
"I am done with chick flicks.
For some reason, watching these movies reminds me that I am still longing for something, even after I've found the love of my life, and being reminded of my longing wears me out.
Why am I never satisfied?
What I have finally figured out is that even a fairy tale will never be enough to fill our empty hearts. In fact, whatever it is we're looking for, if it's not God, it is not going to satisfy.
About a month ago, I was walking along the shoreline. I love the ocean. It was cold, but I took my shoes off so I could feel the sand between my toes. The salt smelled so good. The sun was rising, and it was breathtaking. As I walked, I put my head down, watching my steps in the sand. I prayed, asking God about the direction He was taking my life. I started feeling discontentment. 'When, Lord, will I finally get what I want-what you created me to want?' I began to wonder. And then I looked up and saw the rising sun.
I was missing it.
For what we are created to want is Him.
All I have to do when I want to fill my longing heart is lift up my head and notice."

Jen Oake touches on something integral to missions that we may overlook in our readiness to go and to serve: God.

Proverbs 3 puts it this way:
"Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track. Don't assume you know it all! Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best."

What we forget, I think, is that we never arrive! We are only complete and only sustained in Christ, and in this life, we are ever-striving as not-yet-fully-saints. Or not-even-close-to-being-saints. We are to offer ourselves, as Paul writes in the New Testament, pouring out our lives in service to God and others. So mission work is an overflow of the heart and is about the basics of the Christian life, about not straying from our love of God and our dependence on Christ's mercy and about placing others before ourselves. It is about obedience and sacrifice and commitment.

In preparing to return independently to the village of Siglo Veintiuno, Mexico, I am trying to think about the hard realities of life there, of no showers or toilets, of mainly tortillas and beans, of the lack of opportunities for education and jobs, of violence in the home, of hopelessness. I think about how, according to Amnesty International, more than one billion people live in extreme poverty worldwide. And how, according to UNICEF, nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. I think about the tiny mission site and the slum area stretching behind it toward Los Mochis. I think of Lili, the Global Women handicraft project leader, and of all the women sewing and beading together. I think of Fani who is twelve and doesn't go to school. And then I think about my call. I remind myself of all the people who have poured into my life and of how much I have learned so far about missions.

Our tendencies toward idealism in Christian thought and practice can carry over to our definitions of calling and of missions in general. How are we called? What is it supposed to look like? What do we give, exactly? How do we serve? Where is our focus?

I used to think mission service and my call worked like the plot lines of my sister's fluff books. If God is behind it, everything must go smoothly and turn out beautifully, right?

I first felt called to missions one summer at GA camp, a treasured time of lemonade icies, swimming, cake decorating, international craft-making and skits, and lengthy visits with missionaries on furlough or retired from the field. I remember the look in the missionaries' eyes, which sparkled with enthusiasm, drew me in, told the stories of people in need around the world and of Christ's love truly touching lives and making all the difference. They wore interesting clothes and brought brightly colored trinkets. Though they appeared peculiar to a small town Texas girl like me, they were happy people and had a presence about them. I was fascinated.

I could have listened at their feet for hours to their testimonies of Christ in other cultures. I decided to say "Yes" to GOd's call and thought the path to mission work would automatically open up before me. I have since learned, through mission trip experiences and Global Women, that it is a process of following God step-by-step.

We need to share stories, our own and others. I believe this is what mission service today is about: caring enough about people different from us to make the sacrifice it may take to enter their world, perhaps only a little bit or for a little while, and meet them along their journey toward Christ and his best for them.

Certainly, I have dreams gathering in my mind for Siglo Veintiuno. I have dreams for the mission and the women's group. I want Fani to have plenty of water and more than Ramen to eat. I want the women to be able to sell their handicrafts and to buy clothes and medicine for their children. I want the congregation to flourish in spirit and in truth. James 3 says, "You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor."

Missions is not about me, but about us as the body of Christ, about God and his love for the world through Christ, through us. This is my hope and prayer in going to Mexico, not fluff but faith and service.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Susan said...

April, I'm proud of you and your willingness to go.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Mandy Mc said...

April, thanks for sharing with us. I enjoyed reading and pondering your reflections.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Lori said...

April, You inspire me to incredible ends. Thank you for your complete honesty and your openness to share. I live in the midst of the battle between the "fluff" and the real world issues. Thank you for that reminder that there is a world in need. I affirm your work and ministry. You are changing this world, April. Thanks for being a woman of vision.

6:49 AM  

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