Sunday, March 26, 2017

We've Retreated, We've rejoiced!

Thank you for praying for the Beautiful Me retreat! 

Did God draw the ladies to himself?
Groups of mothers and daughters led by teenage girls from last years program gathered around radios listening to the Word of God in Hausa and responding to questions they had all been taught to ask. The answers were insightful and deep.
In the evening on the first day, I had forgotten my computer to show the short film for discussion and pictures from the day.  We made a new plan, and God did something beautiful.  Scripture songs were created using Bible verses about God's closeness to us.  God's word does not return empty, so we believe that God did draw people to himself.  The bilingual, choreographed songs presented the next morning spoke of God's commitment to being close to us.

The moment a drama ended and everyone was silent, I interjected with, "How did she get free from the "ropes?" was the beginning of a powerful discussion on Jesus and his grace to free us and love us regardless of our weakness or goodness.  I asked, "So, if we do more for God, will he love us more?" and saw a few heads nodding, others not sure. "When we follow him every day, doing good things and loving others, will he love us more?"  Again, that confused affirmation of my statement revealed a lie that I struggle to fight every day!  In this group, I wasn't alone in my battle.
With deep conviction I declared, "No!" God loves you. It doesn't matter how much you do for him or how many times you fail.  HE LOVES YOU, he delights in you, and he sings over you.

Following this, we split the groups into mommies and daughters and gave opportunities for renewing our commitment to Christ. Many girls recommitted their lives to Jesus or asked him to take over for the first time. Praise God!  With time, the mother's too shared openly their needs and prayed for each other.

Did he draw them to each other?
On the first evening, we watched the mother/daughter groups perform their "secret handshake" and present their dramas or Bible verses they had prepared for the retreat.  Seeing them join together to perform revealed relationships that were developing and deepening in beautiful ways.  We saw further connections being made as mothers and daughters confessed and forgave each other, did audio Bible studies together, and created necklaces, which were worn proudly for the rest of the retreat. 

God answered prayers in so many ways that I didn't expect.  I felt so much peace throughout, and was blessed as I saw God revealing himself to all of us in personal ways.  Thank you for your part in
God getting all the glory out of this retreat!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Doodles from retreat

Thank you so much for praying with us as we went for our five day Spiritual retreat two weeks ago (Wednesday Mar 8 through Sunday Mar 12).  It was a beautiful time in the Word and in fellowship.  I think four "doodles" from the six sessions will help to sketch for you the picture of how the retreat went.

Doodle 1: A slave master, a bad husband, and an open door

Sometimes when listening to a sermon rather than writing, I find I engage better by sketching.  On the first day of retreat I sketched a slave master beating a slave and an angry husband shouting at his wife.  These represent sin that used to control me before I was saved.  But then I also sketched a dead slave and a dead wife (shocking imagery)  these represent me, dead to anything sin may have me do or say!

This was followed by a sketch of an open door, but not just any door.  The light streams into the tomb where I look out on new life with Jesus.  Then I have a sketch of Jesus showing me my new work.  In the sketch I symbolize service with a soup kitchen

As I sketch and ponder I feel the truth is still sketchy in my heart.  How is serving out of love different from the legalistic "trying to get it right"? 

Doodle 2: A blank page

Some of my note pages from retreat are blank. This isn't because I forgot my pen or didn't attend.  A few of us in the retreat were taking turns interpreting into Hausa.  This gave a different way of engaging with the message, but certainly left me with no time for doodling!

There were a variety of ways we allowed people in the retreat to engage with different languages.  We had small groups discussing in English or Hausa after each session.  We also had multilingual radios with the retreat passage, Romans 5-8, on them.  I listened to this passage through a few times in English, Hausa, and Nigerian Pidgin.  Other languages including Rigwe and even Dutch were also available!

Doodle 3: A soldier going after a dragon

A page near the end has a sketch of two men going after a dragon.  One is just a lone stick figure and the dragon is licking his lips in anticipation.  The other has a helmet, sword and shield and the dragon is running away!

I was very encouraged that when I see difficult sins in my life (see the pre-retreat post Folding chairs and an Assistant Director), this should not make me feel like a failure as a Christian.  Rather, it is a sign that the Spirit is working in me to make me aware of sin.  If I wasn't struggling against any sin, it would probably be a sign that I am giving in.

I found it helpful to reflect on when particular sins tend to disturb me.  Then I sketched a picture of the armed soldier going into a dragon's cave, armed and with a strategy because he knows he will meet the dragon there!

Doodle 4: Scribbles and an outline of Mariama's hand

Near to the hall where we met each day, there was a room for toddlers, including Mariama.  She enjoyed being there most days, but for some reason when I went to drop her off for the last session she was not willing.  We sat outside the window of the hall while I listened and she "took notes", which she calls rubutu, "writing" in Hausa.

This year, I spent more time on the playground, and less--okay, actually none--in solitude and prayer.  However, I feel quite happy about that choice.  I am glad to be with Mariama and her friends.  They are all growing so fast, I don't want to miss a moment.

This post focused on the morning sessions, but there were a lot of other activities throughout retreat.  It was a great time to bond with our colleagues and their families.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Folding chairs and an Assistant Director

Have you ever helped after a church dinner to pack away the folding chairs?  When I was a teenager this was an activity that gave me surprising pleasure.  After the dinner was over while a few people were still lingering enjoying the fellowship, someone would start folding up the chairs and “breaking down” the tables.  Without anyone telling us to, a small group of men and youth would suddenly start working together.  The older ones would show the younger ones how the chair should hang upside down on their racks, all neatly facing the same way. The little ones would ride on the empty chair carts.  Kick, kick!  You hear the sounds of the supports of the table legs being folded up, as big men and teams of younger ones carry them away.  With each chair and each table there is a sense of satisfaction.  We are serving like Jesus!

One night (still in my teens) my dad started reading a simple little book titled Improving Your Serve to my brother, Josiah, and me.  It was an assignment in preparation for our first-ever mission trip to another country. We would work hard stripping paint, join the youth there in plaza evangelism, kill cockroaches with flaming hairspray (not really a recommended activity) and avoid drinking the tap water.  But all that is really another story.  As my Dad and Chuck Swindoll (the author of the book), walked me through Jesus’ teachings about serving, this same joy of serving like Jesus filled my heart.  But also, I began to be aware that the call to serve was something much bigger than volunteering to put away chairs on a Wednesday evening.   Jesus calls me to follow him in giving the service of my whole life, even at times when it is not my choice!

Thus, I find myself writing to you from Nigeria, far from family we miss, shower water you can drink, and outlets that give power 24/7. Yet surprisingly, though I wish I could just sit and be with my family, and I occasionally get frustrated by the unpredictable nature of life, I find that these are actually an easy part of service.  I have chosen to serve here, and find far more pleasures and joys in Nigeria than it costs to be here.

Recently I was convicted by two phrases that seem to echo from my mouth more often than they should: “in the last ten years since I came to Nigeria” and “but I am the Assistant Director for Scripture Engagement”. I have found that these two phrases sound like a variation on the theme song of the “Rulers of the Gentiles” who “lorded it over" those under their authority.

Not long ago I threw myself prostrate onto the bed in our prayer room, beating the pillows in frustration as I tried to pray.  It was just after two weeks of the intense period of visiting potential ministry partners and sometimes making calls in the evenings.  (See Primary and Pharmacy).  I was recovering from some bug that had given me a fever and though the fever was gone, I was still not back to full strength. I had just spent two hours of my official time off in the office working through a solution to a scheduling problem.  We had come up with what seemed like a good solution, and I finally got back to the house expecting to rest and recover when suddenly I got a text message.  As I read it, I realized that our whole solution was going to be thrown out, and I didn’t understand why.  I beat the pillows and cried out, “Why God?  Why?  Is it just my pride?  Does this thing I am working for really matter?  What should I do?”  All my experience and authority rushed to my mind.  I just couldn’t let go.  The struggle—not only with the situation, but also with my blinding pride—went on for the next three days.

I can’t sort it out on my own.  I need God’s help.  I can’t easily see what things are motivated by my strong desire to serve well, and what are motivated by pride.  That’s why I wrote these stories.  I encourage you to join me in prayer in this struggle.

From today (Wednesday) through Sunday our group is going on retreat.  The theme seems perfect for me: “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ Jesus.”  Please pray for the Holy Spirit to make great advances in cleansing me and renewing me this week.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Marriage Dance

The congregation broke out in applause as we turned to face them.
What had we done?
We had danced.  In between every phrase in our Sunday text, Romans 12:9-12, we danced to demonstrate what we felt it meant in marriage.
As we danced, a renewed love for this very dear man God has given me tenderized me and my smile at him was genuine, my declaration to the crowd, "I love this man because he chooses to dance with me every day" was genuine.  We explained that the "marriage dance" means feeling with, listening to, moving together.

Thank you for praying with us.  Over the three days, we spent about 5 hours ministering to a group of 20 couples. We listened to Scripture, we listened to each other, we played, we worked, we ate, we danced.
God answered prayers we didn't dare to ask.  We are thankful for you faith-filled prayers and our faithful God!

"We have never had a marriage seminar like this.  It was so practical."
"This weekend was wonderful."
"This retreat will really change our community."
"Thank you for demonstrating to us what a good marriage can be."
"Wonderful, wonderful."

On and on people came up to us after church. We praise God because we know he is the God of marriage, love, and everything beautiful.  -Christy

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