Friday, August 5, 2022

How Can They Think That?

"People say"There's nothing good about Nigeria" but when you see this...how can they even think that?" -Daso after visiting Nike Art Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria.

 

We went to Nike Art Gallery.  What can I say? Free. Overwhelmingly beautiful. Daso really said it best.  Not only were the pictures stunning, but the images and sculptures spoke so movingly to the raw beauty that bombards the senses in Nigeria.  I wanted to sit with the paintings and learn from them, to be able to gaze upon the scenes that have captivated me again and again while living here.  The dynamism of life doesn't allow me to sit and absorb all the things I love, but when you have it painted in front of you...or beaded or "clothed"... you are invited to linger.  With 4 small children, we didn't linger nearly long enough, but it was a truly splendid way to spend a morning.

Even the junk in Nigeria is beautiful!

Why did I throw those random duplos away...Oh, and that one handled scissor, the empty tape dispensor...I could have made a self portrait!

These are beads...tiny beads. This artist most definitely does NOT do her art with her 2 1/2 year old twins around. The founder of the gallery actually made this piece. We got to meet her!
 




 
  


We were all smitten.

Made from cloth!  If only my scraps came together so well!

Four stories! 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Powerful and Gentle

After flying to Lagos on Monday, our family went to the beach on Tuesday morning.  

I bustled around from child to child getting off clothes to swimwear waiting to be immersed in the salty water of the Atlantic, taking pictures of Daso as she saw the expanse of water for the first time, and attempting the impossible task of keeping everything from becoming sandy. 


 

Finally, we were ready and headed to the water, the waves rolling in powerfully.  







Olivia was the first to be swept and rolled over by the wave up on the shore, then Lydia was swept in, and I had to rush in to pull her out. 

 

We felt hesitant then to attempt going too close, as the undercurrent and power of the waves were intimidating.  I refused, however, to miss this opportunity to let Daso stand in the waves. 

 So, squeezing the blood out of my hand with her adrenaline infused grip, we bravely stepped into the water...slowly.  "Everything's moving, Mommy!" She shouted, "I want to go out!"  At that moment, the song, "I'm diving in, I'm going deep, and over my head I want to be..." came to mind.  I told her, "God's love is like these waves.  Overwhelming, powerful, expansive, and never stops coming.  But you can understand why people might be afraid to dive into that."  In his love, we come undone, immersed, surrounded.  It's beautiful and scary. We mostly found ourselves sitting and enjoying the power of it all.

 The next day we wanted to try a different beach that had been recommended to us.  We found a very different scene.  The waves were being tempered by a rock barrier some distance off shore.  We walked in, knelt in the sand with water up to our necks, and let the waves ripple around us.  The children swam and splashed and collected shells for hours. I thought, "God's love is like this, too! Gentle, continuous, soothing, inviting." 

In our devotions in the evening I shared how Elijah experienced God in the powerful fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice, stones, and licked up the water all around in his competition with the prophets of Baal.  Then he fled out of fear of a woman named Jezebel and met God again in a mountain where he wasn't in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake, but in a whisper. God is so full of knowledge and love that he can speak to us with that love powerfully or gently wherever we find ourselves.  He knows when we are pumped up and ready to experience his power, and when the journey is too great for us.  

"Things never happen the same way twice, dear one," comes to my mind now, words that Aslan spoke to Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia.  I'm so glad they don't, because how else would we know the expanse of this dynamic love of God?

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Hope 5

 If this wasn't part of a blog series, I'd have named it, "Leave me alone!" 

Ed, Linda, little Mariama, and me 15 years after I met them.

The dessert was delicious, and the company even sweeter so I continued going to the Wycliffe recruiter's house when they offered their dessert nights throughout my college years.  Ed and Linda were relentless in their acceptance of me as I was openly hostile to the thought of joining Wycliffe, a giant in the world of missions. I was looking for an organization where I could know everyone and that was more....homey.  Despite my resolve, the stories of God's Word impacting individuals and language groups that others had overlooked, well, my eye humidity levels were always really high on these special nights. 

I started a full time Spanish teaching job in Holland, MI the year after I graduated from college.  After they said I was hired (as I walked out of the office), I drove down the street with my window open shouting at Centennial park and all the stupefied bystanders, "Somebody wants me!" I had told those interviewing me that I didn't want the job but my mom wanted me to stay closer to home, and I did believe in what they were trying to do so I was applying. Ok, so I might have teared up when I told them that Latino kids needed to be able to converse with their grandparents...it's true! But I think all of us in that room felt like we had been drawn together for that moment.  So, there I was, a five year position having been offered, full benefits, and in the most beautiful city in the country (I may be biased)! 

 

Beautiful downtown Holland

I still love going back and sharing the beauty with my girls. (2021)

 I went to SIFAT (see previous post) over the summer to be a camp counselor, telling Sarah Corson's stories in first person because she wasn't able to join us in person. I couldn't believe the weight of them, the burden that landed heavily on my heart every single time I told the stories I had heard as a girl on that same campus. 

There was this one student from Cameroon, Pastor Fimba, and every week he would stand up and invite the youth to come to Cameroon and help meet the needs of his country.  I always nodded, looking around the room as I prayed for those young people to accept the call.  Then, one night, a question struck my heart as I peered around sagely, hoping to see at least one camper who was visibly moved..."What about you?" "What about me?" I countered. "I speak Spanish, and I don't even know where Cameroon is!" (Funny I had never looked that up after hearing Pastor Fimba week after week.)  None the less, I knew I needed to be open if I expected others to be, so I told Pastor Fimba after the talk that night that I thought I was supposed to some day go to his country.  He nodded and smiled, and moved on...as did I. 

Back to Michigan I felt surprisingly happy in Holland.  I had asked God every semester in college if it was time for me to quit college and move overseas yet, and I kept feeling like I needed to see that thing through.  So, I stayed. Got my degree in teaching, and felt really, really ready to go.  But I had found a group of kids I could pour myself into in my Holland Public students, and I had realized mission was at my doorstep.  Toward the end of the year, I told God he better make me uncomfortable or I might just stay in America.  The next week the administration sat me down and said they were cutting the size of the program and I was the one to take the hit. I was going to be part time, lose my benefits (I had just had a very expensive knee surgery which was totally covered), and be moved to Kindergarten from 4-5th grade (a curriculum which we had written throughout the year) the following year. 

I thanked them and went felt thankfully uncomfortable.  I went home to call around to see where they needed me overseas.  I started with SIFAT's contacts in Ecuador but the mission school I had visited was no where in their records, like it had vanished into the jungle.  Because Ed and Linda wouldn't leave me alone, I had been told about 1,872 times at dessert nights and over bagels and chai tea in scenic downtown Holland that Wycliffe needed missionary kid teachers, I called Wycliffe.  I told them I didn't want to teach in an MK school, I wanted to be itinerant, living in a village, and did they have a position like that open?" Pretty sure it all came out in one sentence because I wasn't psyched about my resolve having crumbled so easily.  The person on the other end said, "Our biggest needs are in Mozambique and Cameroon."  A pause. "I'll take the position in Cameroon." I'm sure she said something else, but I checked out on details.  Somehow I started the application process, told the school that I wasn't going to return the following year, saw God provide financially through his body, and in 6 months, I was in Cameroon. In my first month I made it to the Northwest to visit a surprised Reverend Fimba and stay with his family for a week during my orientation to the country he invited me to.

I remember that God calls us generally and specifically.  He calls us to be his.  He calls us to surrender.  He calls us to trust that his grace is sufficient and his love is unconditional.  He calls us to make disciples. All of us. Then there is the "good works that he planned in advance for us to do," (Eph 2:10) that I believe are specific to our giftings and the desires he plants in our deepest being.  I was called to those kids in Holland for that year.  I was called to Cameroon that night at SIFAT. I was quite literally called into that administration building so my calling to Cameroon could be confirmed.  I remember that God chose me not because I was fit for it but because he delighted to do so, and it delighted me to accept.  Not only did he call me, but I remember that he gave me a heart for the young ones he called me to in Cameroon.  

 I think I'll leave that remembering for another post.


 

Friday, February 11, 2022

Hope 4

Sarah and Ken Corson

This is part four of a blog series on building hope through remembering faith. Hope 1 Hope 2  Hope 3

The clay pot that was assembled from the shards of my alabaster jar, making up my life at SIFAT, was one where I "held the treasure and knew that the all-surpassing power was from God and not from me." (2 Corinthians 4).  My alabaster jar had been shattered, the fragments of my life in New York and my new life in Alabama were connected in such a way for maximum luminescence, the outpouring of the Presence in me "being clearly seen" because of my weakness.  

In preparing to write this blog, I called Sarah Corson, co-founder of SIFAT.  People like to ask the question, "Who is a role model for you." Let me introduce you to the answer that often rolls of my tongue. 

Sarah Corson's smile holds warmth and life.

We sat under a tree outside of the main office on the SIFAT campus.  I was still getting my barrings after our whirlwind move south mid-school year in a downpour.  I was surrounded by others my age who had come for a visit, for a challenge by their youth leaders. Sarah Corson spoke with conviction, her tanned skin and crown of white hair accentuating the riveting passion in her blue eyes as she told of the baby too weak to cry in her arms and the unnamed old man carrying mounds of Chiquita bananas on his back in Costa Rica. When the first hand accounts ended, she paused, looked at us with tears in her eyes and said, “Now that you know, you cannot keep on living as those who are ignorant.”  Her husband, Ken, got up and said, “To whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48).  You have been given much, what is God requiring of you?"  For three years I lived among these dynamic people, learning from their sacrifice, learning to love Jesus with abandon.  Not only them, but God brought to our doorstep brothers and sisters from Rwanda, Pakistan, India, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, and many other countries who came to train at SIFAT.  Two brothers from Rwanda were from two different tribes, and had a shared trauma that hurled them to the ground at a gunshot from one of the deer hunters in the Alabama woods.  Upon seeing each other at the SIFAT campus, they embraced, something they wouldn't have done in their homeland. One of many stories and experiences I reveled in.  I gathered in my mind the Christlikeness of these people, hoping the greatness of my God I saw in them would somehow grow in me. Like waves washing over my heart, the passion, the mission that drove the lives of these brothers and sisters seeped into the cracks in my jar and mingled with the growing faith, nourishing the tender longing in my heart to follow Jesus to the places of the world that were hurting.   

I remember the songs sung around a campfire at the simulated third world village, our hammocks hung behind us. The words from the song Faithful Men still ring in my heart all these years later: 

Verse 1
Come and join the reapers
All the kingdom seekers
Laying down your life to
Find it in the end

Come and share the harvest
Help to light the darkness
For the Lord is calling faithful men 
 
 

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going..." 

Week after week a new high school youth group would come throughout the summer.  I was a junior camp counselor, leading work teams to dig a ditch, clear a hillside with machetes, pick blueberries, or make bricks.  I made deep friendships in every group as we worked, ate and washed up, worshiped, mud wrestled, swam in the stream, and learned about the needs of the world together.  

I remember how God carried me to and away from SIFAT for a very significant season of my life.  I remember how Sarah Corson and others spoke so passionately, fueling my own desire to live with abandon.  I remember the pictures seared in my mind of suffering people from Sarah Corson's stories.  I remember the paraphrase of Matthew 25 that hung in the cafeteria, where we fellowshipped daily during the three years I lived there and the two summers I returned as an adult to be a camp counselor. I remember how mission made itself real every day I went to the public high school I attended, and then returned to my SIFAT cacoon day after day. I remember how God gave me a Spirit filled body of believers in a local church that embraced all colors in a stubbornly segregated south, helping us to glorify God in all of his diverse beauty.  I remember how the disjointedness of my life at 13 became a beautiful new masterpiece that made me stand in awe of how God was stitching me together. I remember leaving America for the first time to travel to Ecuador at 16 to witness the work that a SIFAT graduate was doing with children in the outskirts of Quito and how that climactic experience ushered my family into another move back north. With that news, I had learned that saying goodbye also meant saying hello, and I was ready to see what God was going to do next, in Michigan. I remember driving From Alabama to Michigan in my deep blue 1980 Oldsmobile with my little sister by my side so we could start school before Mom and Dad joined us.  A whole new world it was, where the lawns would make an army sergeant happy with their timely watering systems and tip top hedging and regularity.  No unseemly clotheslines or a junk truck for parts parked in front yards.  No kudzu climbing telephone polls or solar water heaters with a bicycle powered pump bringing water up out of the stream on the side.

 Our new town held it's own kind of beauty, my vibrant sister who was fighting leukemia at the time, and my big brother with his delightful growing family.  Speak of role models, I guess that will be a remembering for another time. 

Introducing my new little family to my happy place in 2017, a month before Lydia joined us.







 



Friday, February 4, 2022

Celebration under the Mango Trees

I love what happens under the mango trees behind our office. I love quiet walks there alone in prayer. I love director’s team meetings, and meetings with partners face-mask free with a gentle breeze blowing. And each month, I love it when everyone in our office gathers outside, laughing and talking, with a cake on the table in the center. It is time to Celebrate!





We have a lot to thank God for each month! We start off celebrating the people God has given us with a birthday game. Christy or I give clues and everyone guesses who has a birthday in the month “I live by a river”, “I led a Bible study in my home before I joined”, “My son is good at chess”. The first time we did this, I was surprised at how well our group knows each other!



Then we start sharing other things we thank God for. Sometimes there are formal certificates, sometimes it is newly wed staff or at other times new babies or even remembering good times when we have a farewell. But my favorites are the stories of changed lives. Let me share some of my favorites:




“A few years ago, the EthnoArts team came and did a song writing workshop. This was the first time that songs were written in Tugbiri based on the Tugbiri Scriptures portions that have been consultant checked. This year I learned that the artists are still writing more Scripture songs and the churches sing them on Sundays!”

“We have returned safely from doing the Nya Huba Audio New Testament recording!” (This work takes six to eight weeks and happened more than twelve hours journey from Jos.)



And one from today (Friday):

“We had a literacy training event that brought together people from not only five different languages and cultures, but also from different faiths. For the full three weeks they worked together in unity, and have equipped each other to help people read!”

Friday, January 21, 2022

Hope 3

Family '84

This is part three of a blog series on building hope through remembering faith.  See previous posts for background. 

I knelt at the altar of a camp where my youth group was retreating after an invitation to break open our alabaster jar before Jesus. At 13, I was good at soccer.  I had been asked to be on the varsity team at the local public school (though I attended a private school).  I lived next door to my loving grandparents on our family farm and had deepening childhood friendships.  I felt I had to give God my family, friends, and soccer as my alabaster jar. Not long after that, my parents told me we were moving to Alabama from Upstate New York.  Our church family, New Life, was where I first asked Jesus to “drive my tractor.”  The analogy was given by Pastor Jerry.  He was close to our family, our farm being a place where a number of people had come to straighten themselves and their relationship with God out.  We were sent by our church, a true family, to Alabama, a place of American football (they hadn’t yet discovered my international sport) and a whole new culture to adapt to. We lived in a mission center called SIFAT…my jar had been broken. I remember how the decisions God gave me to make, as stepping stones on a journey, bolstered my faith and carried me closer to God’s heart. I remember how release became rejoicing, pouring out, a redefined plenty, season after season in my walk with God.






  

Mrs. McCaslin, my first teacher and a member of our church, with other teachers that made my first year at school super special!
 

New kind of plenty, one of my students, Lydia. '21

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Hope 2

 

Helping Mommy '84

 

I was 10, seated at a lunch table with my classmates. Mrs. McCaslin was my first teacher apart from my mother.  I don’t know why she chose me that day.  She leaned over from the far end of the table, with all my classmates and their half-eaten lunches in between to ask me a question I have never forgotten:  “Christy, what do you want to be when you grow up?”  I had recently asked my mother what kind of people they needed in missions.  Putting it simply my mom said, "They always need nurses and teachers."  I heard myself responding to Mrs. McCaslin, “I want to be a nurse, teacher missionary.”  It was the first time I remember saying what I wanted to be. When I said it, I knew it was true.  I never really got the nurse part, but a teacher I am! I remember the teachers God used in my life, the moments they seized to ask me questions and teach me faithfully.  I remember how firmly that calling settled in my heart.
 

Loving Mommy before I became a mommy in Nigeria '15

 

 

How Can They Think That?

"People say"There's nothing good about Nigeria" but when you see this...how can they even think that?" -Daso after v...