Friday, June 25, 2010

Love Stretches Hands From Shore to Shore: Update on June 25, 2010

Africa is amazing. I have experienced Africa first-hand, residing among the culture for a week. We arrived in Sierra Leone a day before I was meant to go on a challenge team. I was excited for the team since it was my first real chance to get out for an extended time to live in the culture we were docked in. My excitement was not for naught, as the 5 days spent in Hastings, Sierra Leone have been some of my best days in the past two years.

The team was made up of 8 people from the Ship and a leader who regularly comes to lead ship training (such as PST and BST). We were sent to work on building a school in a predominately Muslim area (we were told there were no Christian schools in the area, but we found a rather large one). When we arrived after a day of preparation, the foundation was already poured, even though by western standards it was rather questionable. When we arrived and unloaded our things, we started to carry the blocks that needed to be laid for the foundation. The hired workers (there were 13 the first day) let us do some masonry, but for the most part we just carried things. I am used to this, of course, and enjoyed it. The next four days were spent filling the foundation in with dirt, and expecting things to show up that never did, such as wood, more soil, work, and workers, but God did a wonderful thing to the whole team.

In Africa, a work project is rarely done alone, especially when it involves white people. The place we were staying and building was kind of a day home for many kids that don’t often feel loved, and the kids latched onto us. The first day, a whole band of them appeared to help with the work and to touch and hang on the white folk. The band was mostly male, and consisted of around 10-15 kids. All of them were beautiful. They made the week amazing, with their unhindered love, unashamed antics, and trusting hearts. Throughout the week, they would come and say, in Creole, “Jim Me”, which was to throw them. Once one was thrown, all of them wanted to be thrown. If I had the energy I would do that, but when I didn’t, they were content to karate fight, chase me, check out our belly buttons, or just hug. They would climb on us while we were training with our leader, and try to help us work. They were beautiful.

The workers and family we stayed with were also a huge blessing. A lot of the guys on the team made friends with some of the workers, myself included, and fearlessly told them why we do what we do, and who leads us. A bunch of the guys got Bibles from us, and we prayed with some. We told stories of our lives, and heard some insane stories from theirs. The pastor (Immanuel) shared his story of his escape from a village that practiced child sacrifice into a deadly sickness that nearly killed him multiple times into a salvation that has brought about health. The pastor’s wife and family cooked and served us like kings, feeding us interesting food consisting mostly of fish. It was awesome. We also experienced a cultic burial from afar in which the head of the deceased is severed and saved to be put on the son’s body. The participants wore full red robes, or full white robes, as a few danced in tribal African fashion, wearing strange things. It was strange. The spirit world is still very respected and feared in this part of the world, away from technology and the things that take our fears away. They live face to face with the spiritual every day, while we make it spooky and intriguing; they battle the forces of Satan face to face as we stand under the coup of materialism. The world is a big place. T

The best part of the whole experience was that of relationship. As I stood outside watching lightning strike around us in a drizzle, holding Hassan (one of the boys), I told him in English “Never forget that Jesus loves you dearly.” He didn’t understand, but I pray his heart felt my heart, and that my heart displayed nothing but Christ. Relationships were built on a deep level in just a week, not only with those we worked with and for, but also with each other. I think Missions is something I would like to do in the future, and I know that God can even use me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Awake, O Heart, Repine No More!: Update on June 13, 2010

We near Africa; the newest chapter of my life is beginning. My second sail across the Atlantic has been nice but has fallen short of the expectations laid by the last sail. I have had some rest, and some time to recharge, had time to spend with friends, time to watch movies, but most importantly, time with God. We stopped to bunker fuel on the farthest reaches of Africa, called Cape Verde, which is a country of small islands that used to belong to Portugal. I was able to go off the Ship for the first time in ten days and go swimming and enjoy the island cuisine for lunch. The Island itself was something like Europe mixed with North Africa, and the people were the same. It was the first place I have been in ages in which English is not widely known or recognized, maybe even since Europe. It was a good day, spending time with friends away from our Ship for a short break, and it was likely the last day I will ever spend in the Deck department again (I have been working with them while sailing). But the next day’s events swallowed up the fun.
The next day (Friday) was our prayer day, and I had decided to have a date with my Savior. I woke up at sunrise (after only 4 hours of sleep) to try and start off right, as a time of rejoicing and thanking God for the things he has given me. This is what I wrote, and part of what I prayed, at that time:
Each new day is a tapestry of grace
Of how you snatched me from the fire
Of how I can never soil your love for me
Every passing breath is a testimony of love
A righteous God loving an unrighteous person
Imperfection being made beautiful
Every mistake is a reason to flee to you
Yet I find myself leading myself
And you still have love for me
I don’t understand your insurmountable grace
When I hear your voice, see your face
I’m surprised at what I behold
From one so perfect, so absolutely holy,
There should be wrath, or sheer justice
But I feel no oppression of fate
Only a freedom I don’t deserve
A freedom full of a passionate love
A passion I shall never grasp
A heart my heart shall never get
Why are You so good to me, oh Lord?!
Yet I take your goodness and throw it away
Abusing something so utterly ridiculous
Turning a glorious sunset into a deep night
But every time, in the end, You draw forth a glorious light
A brush stroke on a blue-gray sky
A slow turning of tides
Lighter blue and lighter still
Every minute the lighter it gets
Waiting to burst forth in beautiful hue
Impending glory awaits your call
For you control the beautiful things of this world
Yet we live free to choose our path
How can you put up with us?
Our sins multiply our stench and filth
Yet your heart aches at the falling of one
A pain I could never possibly know
Your hand creates things for a fallen race
Who give no thanks; no appreciation
So Lord, take my small measure of thanks
And multiply it into billions
Take my broken soul and body
And use them for your glory
I squander the resource of love
And make myself a fool
I need You so much
Come and fill me up
Come and fill my cup
Then I went back to sleep.
When I awoke, I went back to the top of the ship to find a place to be with God alone, and found my spot for the day. There on the ledge, after getting the sleep out of me, I started to repent. I started with the small things, then kept finding things that I screw up with; not living up to my calling, not loving everyone, being afraid of rejection, not rebuking those who are clearly outside of scripture, want, discontent, masks, a past of mistakes, and most of all, apathy. I repented for hours, weeping for the first time in a long time. Crying out to God for forgiveness and for change, reaching inside myself to draw up dormant things most wouldn’t consider sin, finding things that hinder me so much, things that block my relationship with God (I consider those sins just as deadly, if not more lethal, than the major vices). As I listened to Derek Webb’s song “We come to you”, which is mostly instrumental, I came to God’s feet, asking for love, and love I received. I don’t know if you have felt the freedom and peace after a time of true repentance, but it is a feeling unlike any other I have experienced, and I recommend trying it. This is what welled up in my heart at that time:
You have convicted me of my sins
They multiply with each step I take
Forgive me of my misuse of love
Turning something so beautiful and free
Into something to be earned
Forgive me of my pride
Making a false sense of humility to
Cover the tracks of an obstinate heart
To veil the pain held in my mind
The pain of loving myself more
More than anyone I met
More than You…
Father, I am so sinful, so wrong
Forgive me; deliver me, Oh Lord!
Tears fall upon cold steel
As grace falls upon a cold heart
I need your grace, your precious grace
I need your presence, yet I’ve denied it
For so long using my own strength
To lift rocks while I should be moving mountains
Forgive me for doubting everything
I fall victim to the mentality of our age
“Man over God; Do it yourself
Live for you; Follow your heart!”
How self-centered is my thinking!
Father, forgive me. I need You.
I need you presence to sustain
All you have given me
I need your power to change
All darkness living in me
I need your heart to love
Those I don’t even like
I need you grace to soar above
The mistakes I put in my path
But most of all, I need you.
I also wrote this:
A desolate desert full of sand
A drop of water
Redemption has found me once again
How refreshing it is!
You found me in my most vulnerable hour
Turned me upside down
Emptied the pockets of my heart
Of the sin within
Oh! How beautiful the rising sun
Over this dreary heart!
Oh! How glorious your peace!
Bringing a smile to my face
Bringing solace to my troubled heart
In broken places
You are the fix
You are my cure, my remedy
How beautiful is the chorus!
How wonderful a sound
That sings of my forgiveness!
After this, I decided to go and pray for Africa (what we were doing that day) in the lower decks. I never understood how many countries have problems with stealing humans to use in everything from children soldiers to sexual exploits to slaves. People have little value in this place I am going, and I never understood what that means. It is so sad that we live so individually free, and they are oppressed by such things as war and slavery. We sit on our buts watching TV, thinking money is the answer, when they need so much more. They need love, they need peace, and they need education. Money will not solve much in the end as it is such an exhaustible resource. How little I can do, but how much God can do struck a chord in my mind, and as I prayed for these countries and the continent, I prayed with true words, but also with some form of determination to love people here, as my main objective. After this, I took a nap.
When I woke, I set out to have a final scheduled prayer time with God; a time of letting go. After finishing praying for my loved ones, I took to it to write again. This time I wrote my worries on a sheet of paper. I wrote my fears about my future and my fears of present. I wrote the situations close to my heart that take some of my mental health. I talked to God explaining what it was that I was worried about, and apologized for my unbelief. I looked at my list, 4 pages long, and realized that I worry way too much. I prayed for release from the worry, release from fear. I tore my papers up and cast them into the wind (which led the scraps onto the very deck I was, alas!). I felt somewhat at ease, and continued to read as the finished its course around my world. Here is what I wrote after the release (attempted, maybe) of my worry:
The fact of the matter is
Everywhere I’ve been
And everything I’ve done
You’ve held the reins
My future sits in front
A blurry blue-gray cloud
Waiting to be lit
By a liberating sun
So I cast my cares
Unto the corners of the earth
Take heart!
Fill up!
For you are my redeemed
Oh my soul, rejoice!
For you are FREE
Free to use your voice
Free to run
Free to cry
For your hand is held
All fear is being felled
After reading, I went to a prayer event with the ship, and had my first real human interaction of the day around 7:15 (which is awesome!). We prayed for various departments and for us and for Africa, after worshiping. What a day, a rare treat, praise the Lord.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

You Are So Good To Me: End of the Caribbean Update on June 1st, 2010

My friends, we draw from an infinitely deep well. As the time in the Caribbean on board the Logos Hope draws to an end, a new chapter is being readied. I am currently sailing across the Atlantic for the second time, which means I have a lot of time to reflect, and hopefully to rest. I will not lie; I have been exhausted, and have been having a hard time on board. I am ready to come home, but there are suspicions that God is not done molding me yet. So here I am, struggling to make it three more months until the next step, and looking back, unable to ignore the beauty of my past 10 months in the Caribbean. It has been a hard ten months, getting used to a culture so different than mine, but I suspect I have grown. God has been in work at me in discontent with my spiritual life, but finding a solution has proven evasive.
The Caribbean is a nice place, with billions of kids. The islands bear a lot of resemblance to each other with a few exceptions, but they are all naturally beautiful, with beaches and mountains and rainforests. Dominica probably dominated the area of natural beauty of all the Islands, as I had a chance to get out two weeks in a row on hikes to see waterfalls and large hills, absolutely amazing. The people are also as varying as the islands; they are quite similar. They talk the same (until you’ve been here for long), eat the same, and live similar. I must admit that the people were my biggest challenge (apart from the richer islands of Bermuda, Aruba, and the Bahamas) since they were quite overbearing and rude. It was hard for me, at times, to see the beauty of them in that they are quite patient (compared to us), caring, and blunt. I realized my need to be blunt working in the cafĂ© and selling things, thus affecting my general demeanor.
From St. Vincent’s to Dominica, my journey has been a wild one, including a job change, a trip home, many frustrations, and popcorn. From playing basketball in a youth prison to a recent chance to go to another place where kids live away from their parents, I have hopefully been different from people’s expectations, and hopefully been a light. From David in St. Lucia, to Andry in Aruba, I now know a few people I try to keep in some touch with that I would never had met except for the Lord. Pray that I can shine so bright to these two! From the streets of Jamaica that now house so much violence (I know the place) to the beauty in Dominica the Lord has shown himself by his creation, but I didn’t need to come here to see it, maybe just to realize that everyone of us is gorgeous. There is a song by a band named Water deep called “Everyone’s Beautiful”, and it captures how we should feel, how I should feel. Christ’s calling wasn’t one of loving those who are easy to love, or loving those who love you, or helping people per say. No, our calling is much higher. We are called to love everyone, pray for our enemies, no matter how hard it is. It is easy to love those who make you feel good, but loving the murderers, the rapists, the kidnappers, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Mormons, our family, those who curse us, those who don’t think about us, and we even have to love ourselves. Our calling is far higher than I had beforehand realized, and it would be overwhelming, but I know the love we receive is far greater than the love we could ever give. Thank you God for sending me to the Caribbean, and I pray that you grew me in a specific way, and forgive my stubborn and obstinate heart. Thank you supporters for enabling me to see the world, and myself, in a whole new way, one I hope will teach me many things. Now on to Africa…