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!”

Go Away!

T here were children. Always so many children. Our children are a magnet for other children and so everywhere we go, they follow us giggling...