Share the Trauma, Bro.

Melissa watched her father turn blue. She saw the blood clot in his eyes. Only six years old.

She walked in on him.

The chair slipped. The Noose caught. And she was forever scarred.

How do you tell her she is loved?

Some days the past is a haunting shadow. It seems painful, ugly, or in the least irrelevant.

I have some stains from my past. Hard parts of life where alcohol and poor life choices made some of the adults in my life harsh.

I have become hesitant to bring it up. Modern American Christians can be pretty awful at helping the mourning soul. It’s not always a safe place to talk about defaults and harsh experiences. The shock value of telling people about the reality of this harsh and dar world is often met with awkward clichés.

“God heals, bro.”

“Why can’t you just get over it?”

“Oh here we go again, she’s talking about her family.”

I often remain silent of anything hurtful that’s ever happened to me. It’s usually just the gateway to more misunderstanding when I attempt to be understood. The safest place for grieving is usually with the outcast, the druggie, the recluse. Not the well adjusted, the religious, the “righteous.”

I had been asked to speak in front of a South African high school. I thought this meant sixty village kids. It meant hundreds of well-dressed highly educated students.

So I was planning to mumble off impersonal details of the bible and talk about temptation when Jesus told me to just share a snippet of life. Give a slight testimony. Of past wounds. Of hard times.  

So nervous and groggy, as mornings aren’t my groove thing, I stood up and told hundreds of students about the consequences of alcohol, how first hand I have seen the destructive power. Of the challenge of staying clean and sober in a world that wants to see me become another statistic.

Just a simple testimony of life, a short window into the mind-blowing fact that as rich as Americans are we still have problems. As together as missionaries seem, we are still broken people

A murmur broke out among the teachers. My story had struck a chord.

Apparently in this small sleepy South African town, a stranglehold of gangs, drugs, and alcohol was gripping the students.

Gripping the parents.

I was approached later on by the staff. They wanted us to come and teach drug and alcohol counseling seminars all day. Just a small snippet of my past and the door opened to minister to hundreds of students.

We stood tired after a day of seminars in a classroom full of seniors.

One girl, Melissa, asked a question that caught us off guard.

“I know God heals, but why do I feel this deep pain inside? A burning pain? I ask God to take it away and I just don’t understand. Why does pain happen? Why won’t God just get rid of our pain?”

Some of the students are struggling to speak English, let alone ask deep theological questions.

And that threw our program out the window. Our team began to improvise, sharing testimonies, answering questions, and teaching this class as a beautiful united picture of Christ. Eventually the students even asked if we could teach the next period.

The teacher relented. And for an hour and a half we ministered in a public school, sharing the gospel, and answering questions.

She started crying and telling us her story. Of a mother that doesn’t love her. How she feels wounded and abandoned and has gone so far as to cut herself. To stand in the kitchen with a knife to her arm, in front of the person who brought her into the world, and begging for love while her mother silently looked onwards.

Her mother blames the death of her father on the actions a young six year old girl. And all Melissa wants is to know. Why does the person who should love me the most, love me the least?

Words really can’t do much at that point, can they?

I didn’t have the answers. I just knew when things have sucked, Jesus got me through.

Her brave testimony moved the entire class. Students began to sob and share that they come from broken homes.

To some of them it was that the struggle at home is real. I wonder if they all knew. If they had talked about it together or if this was the first breathe of fresh air in a longtime for some of them.

The first time they shared about home.

We prayed for Melissa as tears flowed among all of us. Prayed for her mother. Her friends squeezed her tight. Life won’t be better for Melissa because the circumstances change, but because a burden shared is a burden halved. We shared the love of Christ with her that day. She knows Jesus, but her journey is only beginning.

A classmate of Melissa stood up after we prayed, she thanked us. Told us she was going through a similar situation. And on behalf of the school she is honored to meet people like us. Simple, humble, broken people.     

I think upon Corinthians 1:3-7, Paul wrote that the reason we suffer sometimes is to bring comfort to others who suffer. Those dark moments in life are jam-packed with meaning.

A meaning to hold onto.

Even if it takes years to share that story, someone in the future is depending on you. They are suffering and desperate for comfort.

No matter what it is, you are that comfort.

Be it divorce, drugs, alcohol, the pressure of homework, failing school, the deepest and darkest moments of the human condition or the seemingly light ones. Pain is real. Never minimize it in light of others. I haven’t gone through something an ounce as terrible as Melissa has. Yet the pain I have known is just as real. And sometimes it is the catalyst to reaching a Melissa.

Maybe you are afraid to share your story, maybe you feel that it’s not much of a story.

If it was painful for you.

It was painful. That can’t be denied or robbed. Pain hurts and there is no need to ever minimize it. And if we never share our pain we rob ourselves. We never learn that our pain had a meaning and a value to it. We never reap the harvest of comfort that our pain creates.

There are people all over walking around that need to know they are not alone. Clinging to the past and desperately wanting to share the story. To grieve. To know that they are not alone. They are all around us. If today you hear this, do not harden your heart. Ask someone to heart their story. Even people you’ve know for years. Share yours. Start doing this thing called life together and working out the details. Because there is a Melissa  in the future out there who needs to know someone loves her and someone cares. And you can be that person.

……

I am currently in need of support as a missionary to keep seeing God do great things overseas!

 

1. I still need 5000$ to reach my financial deadline!

 

2. I am in need both short-term (Shampoo and deodorant and stuffs) and long-term goal (getting back to America and not being homeless) financial support. I am asking that people pray about maybe supporting me with my personal finances in preparation for my arrival back in the states. Years of missionary work in the non-profit sector has bled my coffers dry and while I need even now financial support to finish this journey, I also need to start preparing for coming back to America and integrating back.

 

3. PRAYER. This is my most important need, through it we avail God, the creator of this universe, for help.

 

Please contact me if you want to help in anyway!

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Stop Checking the Fridge

I slipped fast and hard. I wouldn’t catch myself this time. With the darkness licking the air around me, I fell into the mud. The only light lay a kilometer in the distance. I was so tired. My jeans were slick with dingy brown soil. Night had fallen sooner then I had hoped.

Every muscle inside ached, delirious, my abdomen throbbing, nauseous. I knew I was really sick. The last few hours consisted of dragging my body through this journey. When the rain falls, the dirty paths are as slick as ice. I wouldn’t find out for a few more days that I probably have typhoid.

God, this was beautiful.

All I Ask Meredith Andrews

I didn’t feel that way earlier.

The ramshackle collection of wood and tin was not unlike the Swiss Family Robinson. Huddled together inside, a gaggle of Cambodians stood singing.

Off key and out of tune, they cared not. If trees could clap and mountains sing, they would have nothing on moments like this. Brown skinned beautiful people humbly worshipping God.

Half the world away from home, I had seen temples that make Indiana Jones salivate like the dog he is named after. I had climbed volcanoes and looked down upon a creation that defies every explanation. I had held orphans of every size, variety, and age. I had seen the battlefields of Vietnam. The war-torn soil of Cambodia. Monkeys, elephants, villages, snakes.

Adventure was merely the oxygen around me.

And here I was watching these wonderful people worship Jesus.

Bored.

In the most amazing and epic circumstances, dullness had risen inside of me.

“There is nothing new under the sun.”

God, some days I long for something new.

I stood among the epic worship scene.

Beautiful people doing beautiful things.

I knew that this moment was magical.  And yet I felt nothing.

The Cambodians hit hands together, grinned, and danced. Maybe simplicity has left them unspoiled from the slick oily dreams of American life.

Here I was though, tired, exhausted. Sick, broke, eating Ritz crackers for meals and nursing my own entitlement.

I had lost the wonder.

Jesus, as He always does, whispered into my heart.

“Never let this get old.”

Had I really let life get this old?

We are a generation overloaded with information. There is no great battle to fight for our kings. There is no new land to explore. No dragon to slay.

Where the majority of men grew up in history with a sword on one hip, I grew up with a controller. Pixelated displays have beamed information into my mind since childhood. Facts, data, pictures. The most majestic and powerful creatures on earth have been denoted to discovery channel documentaries and zoo visits. Where as once nature encroached upon us, and we rode out to conquer it, nowadays we merely pay it homage and feed peanuts to the goliaths.

Here I am, 26. It is hard not to believe I know everything. That I have seen everything.

As I get older the wonder has began to fade faster than ever. It seems as if the preservatives of innocence and youth are nullified quicker then they are produced.

The Internet and age of information has gifted me.

I bear Solomon’s burden, without his wisdom.

“Jake, never let this get old.”

My mind flashed back hazy sepia memories. A couple months ago, I stood amidst the sandy dunes of a Florida beach, the stars beaming. I remember my friend Noah saying something astounding,

“It’s impossible to believe we are big, when the universe declares how small we are. Maybe that’s why we build cities. To block the stars.”

At some point I became hardly aware, running on autopilot, stuck in my head, nullifying life with digital information and unmet expectations.

Fighting to be aware is the hardest battle I have ever faced. Everyday feels as if I drift beneath waves trying to break free, as I claw and push desperately to the surface, I take one breath of air.

It’s freeing, beautiful, serene, I see the world as it is.

And then I fall back beneath the waves.

Seeing but never seeing. Hearing but never hearing.

If we refuse to see the world around us as bigger, intimidating, awesome, wonderful, the natural conclusion is always the same.

At some point we disengage.

Food is no longer an experience; it is a combination of chemicals. The synaptic nerves gathering impulses of data that convince us of joy and sweet and yum. Our mind jumps further than the illusion of reaction will take us. We stop believing there to be any value in those experiences. We stop eating for joy. We eat merely to stave off biological cravings.

Games, art, music, sex, drugs, cream of wheat, Oprah. Take anything and add in a dash of sterilized disinterest and it will merely leave us numb and hollow.

Have you ever been there? The desert of the soul, where food has lost its flavor, music is merely noise, and satisfaction a taunting long distant memory. Stay too long and life will be forever unsatisfying. Drifting from one high to the next.

Desert Soul – Rend Collective Experiment

The next day we rode through pouring rain to a distant village. We would interview people on how God has helped them, but it would be a long journey.

As the chintzy metal cart pulled up to the muddy dirt road, it slowly sank in.

We had to move on foot. I didn’t feel very healthy. I didn’t want to journey anymore.

As I walked, frustration bubbled softly underneath my skin. It’s filthy. I’m sick. I don’t want to keep on slipping.

Shouldn’t my environment change me? Shouldn’t everything I am seeing make my heart come alive? Can I really see so much and only find myself sighing, “vanity of vanities!”

“Only I will make your heart come alive Jacob.”

“Ok God, then teach me! Teach me, I am desperate to feel alive again.”

“You think you know it all Jacob, you think that Youtube and discovery channel have shown the wonder of my creation. Stop existing and start being present. Stop dreaming of life and live it. Stop waiting for an incredible journey. You are on one.”

He was right. I mean God usually is, He has that whole infinite being of unimaginable power thing going on.

It was there in the small muddy village, I felt a supernatural joy rise up. The crisp air. The wandering chickens. I deadened my pace. Took a deep breathe.

I had to stop expecting the world to thrill me. It was already thrilling. I had to just slow down and experience it.

Villagers ushered cows and oxen. The sky was immense and stretched out further than I could fathom. A hazy cloud layer lit the world with blue and gray. Rice paddies and junk hobbled together for houses. We rode boats from one shore to the next.

Just closing my eyes and absorbing the hot Cambodian heat. Soaking up the sensual delights of Earth. The explosive flavors and smells and laughs. Getting lost in the experience of now. It was all so wonderful.

I thought of the pain in my muscles. The malaise. Even sickness was thrilling, a mixture of bad feelings that subside leaving an appreciation for days I am healthy. I take so much for granted.

I began to look around. People walking for hours to get home. Buddhist shrines. Hollow eyes. Few of them had electricity, let alone clean water and finished walls. They need Jesus so bad. How could I ever feel cranky and tired when I have the very words of life? Oh Jesus, save these people.

It was true. Only Jesus would make my heart come alive. Everything pointed back to Him. The universe stood before me declaring the master strokes of an artist. My mind frantically swirled around. Everything so beautiful. Everything so Him.

After that, everything was so beautiful. It didn’t matter, the mud or the darkness. It was gorgeous.

….

The next few days I stood during worship. Enamored and in awe. People worshipping the same God in a different language. Life is beautiful. It is filled with glorious expressions and feelings.

Maybe you bought into the lie that adventure will make you come alive. Maybe you bought into the lie that living in America is the reason you are unhappy. Maybe you are waiting for more movies, video games, facebook news. Life has become one perpetual checking of the fridge. Going back and forth, looking for something new.

Stp checking the fridge. Grab something and enjoy it. Life is woonderful!

Look and live.

Newness is all around us. It’s in our friends and family. The people we love. The little things are robbed of value so often. Taste the food you eat today, listen to the music you hear, kiss the people you love. Be thrilled by the ordinary. Because even the most mundane aspects of life are quite extraordinary when you think over them.

Life is new everyday.

Never let it get old.

 Until You Came Along – JJ Heller

 

 

 

Naked

“Who told you that you are naked?”

It was unnatural. The knowledge. Whatever it was that caused Adam and Eve to feel shame. Something beyond what they were designed to know.

That question speaks to the heart of God.

I can only imagine the sorrow overwhelming Him behind those tear filled eyes. The awful realization that His children have crossed into evil and it has educated them far more then He wished.

We’ve all experienced that, have we not? That feeling of sickness and gall.

The loss of innocence. This painfully sincere nostalgia wells up for a time when we did not know as much, we did not understand as much, we did not find ourselves bearing the weight of shame.

Be it when the first kiss bled into doing more then you ever had thought you would. Or the time that you just felt so much anger you walked away from a friendship. Realizing mom and dad are fighting and that isn’t normal. Shame. Pain. Loss of innocence.

We all lose innocence. Or the world rips it away from us. It matters not, at some point, the coldness of the world bleeds into the sunshiny skies of childhood youth.

Life seems so much simpler before the loss.

Monday I went to the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing fields.

My generation is too young to recall the time that Pol Pot murdered millions of the innocent people of Cambodia. Even if they had been alive, I don’t know if we’d understand.

Genocide.

In 1975 Pol Pot began rounding up thousands. Families, children, diplomats, intellectuals, political rivals. Anyone with a hint of education and unwillingness to commit atrocities bore the full brunt of the Khmer Rouge.

As I walked through the grim remains of S-21, a former high school, turned into a torture camp, vivid scenes from the past played in my mind.

The floors have seen more blood then most hospitals. The abuse, torture, and systematic elimination of thousands eerily hung in the air.

It was here that so many Cambodians were dragged to a dark room, chained to the floor, and tortured for months.
Unspeakable horrors committed to them. Children. Women. Men. Piles of clothing and dingy floors caked in stagnant blood.

How could the world watch this happen?

Eventually I saw one of the seven survivors, he sold paintings of the pain he experienced. Vivid paintings of his back being split open. Artistic showings of an agony few have ever know.

One painting stood out among them all. Tragic and haunting. It was of a woman getting her throat slit by soldiers.

His wife.

I was angry. I was heartbroken.

I was indignant.

I saw graffiti on the wall. Obscenities directed at God. People offended and angry at God for the randomly senseless violence.

Angry at Him for not stopping the hellish atrocities that happened in those dark cells.

In the end, God became the target of hate for so many. Bearing once more the brunt of wrath from His very own children and creation.

That snake. Crafty. Pisses me off how crafty he is to be frank.

Nobody ever blames the snake.

I often hear the argument that Adam was standing by Eve in the garden, and failed, a passive male destined to further spread his passivity down a line of descendants. This is of course, in defense of Eve, the original eater of the apple. I don’t know who is more at fault between them.

But nobody blames the snake.

My heart breaks for great grandpa Adam and great grandma Eve.

Child-like innocence ripped away. True fellowship with God lost. The coldness of life is made all the icier by the warmth we once experienced. They may’ve felt the deepest loss the universe has ever known. A fall from perfection, to death. Can we even imagine the introduction of shame? We know shame, we know hurt, but we grow up adapting to it. Imagine shame when you are perfect.

I looked at old photographs. Faces of children. Lost to genocide.

I went to the killing fields, where literally millions of people headed to death. Driven through the night, separated from family, stripped, and then bludgeoned to death. A tower of skulls rises up into the sky. When it rains, bones come up out of the soil.

It is unreal how much death occurred in those fields.

Deaths of excruciating pain. Bullets were too expensive back then, and to the Khmer regime, far more valuable than the cost of a decent death. Hammer, sickle, hatchet. Worst of all a tree sat growing amidst the graves, a tree dedicated to smashing infants against.

It is all so evil.

Unspeakable what happened here.

And inside I shuddered and just wondered…

Who taught you this?

Who told you how to do this???

How could someone made in the very image of God be so evil, so violent, so base and primal? How could injustice well up so intensely from these people as to murder the innocent? The children? There is something so beyond our design and nature. Something utterly dark and demonic about this. There is something unsettling and corrupt in all of us, a whispering snake that hisses behind the scenes and tells humanity to fall.

“Who told you that you are naked?”

Maybe no one told Adam and Eve. Maybe they figured it out themselves. That’s not really the point.

The fact is, God was getting at something deeper.

“Adam this isn’t you. Eve this isn’t the way it should be.”

I started to think of how lost we are. How deluded humanity is by this hellish creature and his host of demons.

As I left the Killing Fields. I was angry at Satan. I was angry that he marred the name of my God, that my God had to come down and wear all of our sin. I began to think about it, how unnatural all this is. People don’t just kill. They were taught to kill. John 8:44 refers to Satan as the father of lies, the murderer from the beginning. Since the dawn of time his whispering into our ears has caused so many people to neglect the image of God in us. To neglect our very nature. To cling to sin and evil.

I started to think about how much that must have hurt God. He had to bear the wrath for the justice of this. He had to feel the hot anger of God over this darkness.

Then it all came full circle.

http://presonphillips.bandcamp.com/track/there-is-a-god
(Listen to the song there)

Jesus came to this earth and walked among us. He felt real pain and sweat. He was indignant at death, watching people whom He created and loves lose innocence. Seeing the decay and stench of charnel houses on this Earth. He came clothed in humility yet filled with majesty.

All around Him stood people living out evil. It’s simple really. The snake tricked us. And we still live out his lies.

How often He must have looked upon the very image of God in someone, only to ask Himself, “Who taught you this? Why are you so far removed from who I created you to be? Who told you that you are naked? I remember when I wove your heart in the depths of the earth and placed wonder and awe into it. Now it is cold, dark, hateful, grim. Oh beloved! How did you get so far away from who you really are?”

And so we crucified Him.

We dragged Him to a hill and stripped Him down. And instead of fighting us, instead of pressing back with the force of a God. He humbly submitted.

And clothed Himself with our shame.

This, this is where the entire world is turned upside down. Where we shake and shudder at encountering a living God.

God Himself, decided to pay for this. For our genocide. For our corruption. Behind that simple question in the garden, thousands of years ago, God knew the cost of that apple. He knew it would cost Him everything. That He would bear more pain than we can imagine.

He would go from being fully innocent to covered in the shame and wrath of the worlds sins. Rejected by the whole of His very creation. Mocked and spit upon by those He came to save. Genocide was paid for on the cross. And I can only ache inside and fill with wonder at what great depth of suffering that would be to endure all of that.

In His humanity. He didn’t go to the cross with the fullness of God, He went emptied of it, to bear the brunt of the wrath of God.

We who once stood as kings and queens of promise find ourselves on this dusty earth, aching for just a little bit of value. The eternal glory robbed from us by the deceiver.

Sometimes people get mad at God. But is not He the most innocent of all of us? Isn’t He the one who had His creation spoiled? And then paid the most awful of prices to buy back what He rightly deserved?

I think we often wrestle with the question of “Why is there evil in the world?” and misunderstand that we are not designed for this. It is so unnatural. Something happened and messed us all up. We know that. Our flesh longs for rest, our dimly lit mirror longs for full vision.

So here I am, laboring with my friends to change this world. One child at a time. Yesterday we walked through villages and prayed for the sick, taught children the bible and English, and showed love to the outcast. Where so many people have failed to be the image of God on Earth, we are learning to finally look a little bit like Him to other people. I am learning to walk once again in innocence and find joy in life. Joy where I once felt so robbed.

Maybe you need to apologize to God, to say sorry for how you blame Him instead of the snake. Maybe you need to forgive yourself, for beloved of God, this was not your design. You never should’ve felt that shame. That hurt. That loss of innocence. Maybe you need to be more like His image on earth.

All I know is that I don’t want to be unclothed anymore. I want to be clothed in Christ.

(The scandal of Grace is astounding to me)

(This song gets me pumped, to change the world)

Y U NO PROPHESY GOOD?

“There will be a fall from grace. You will lose everything, but don’t be afraid. When God needs to come through. He will.”

She gripped my hands and prophesied over me. This stuff is new to me and quite scary. I was almost taken a back.

Not very often, but from time to time I would begin to remember that moment. Like oily black ink on my skin, I couldn’t get it off of me. Infecting moments of joy, dreams, and moments of sorrow.

I found I couldn’t stop thinking of that prophecy. Waiting for it. Fearing it.

Why would someone prophesy something so harmful?

“He never prophesies good over me, so I hate what he says.”

A king said that once in the bible. Then did one of those things where he didn’t listen and died a tragic death. I don’t want to be that guy.

My eyes burn. They are red and saturated with salty tears.

I’ve shed more in the last two weeks then I care to count.

Everyday is a new assault on my emotional strength.

From ways I need to change, to insults, to ways I’ve failed.

From seeing Genocide up close with a rotting grin. To losing more of who I shouldn’t be. To being told more of who I am that I shouldn’t be.

“Tomorrow’s freedom is todays surrender.”

Dawn to Dusk – All Sons and Daughters

In the last couple weeks I’ve had so many things happen to me, things that left me deeply wounded. And as they piled up and I let no one in, I began to feel as if a hammer was floating above me, ready to strike.

Always at watch, I feared a nefarious unseen hand, waiting to rob me and plunder this soul.

It did. It struck and struck. I cried and wept.

Sometimes I felt ashamed, indignant, repentant, violated, impuned, robbed, hurt, wounded.

Often I felt guilty at my own sin, ignorance, and fear.

At least the prophesy came true.

God: 1

Jake: 0

Some days I have poor self-worth, believing other people to not want me around, I sabotage my own life and cause various forms of destruction by hiding or masking insecurities through various means.

I struggle with feeling unwanted. I struggle with feeling intimidated.

I struggle.

That’s all there is too it. Every time I feel like I’ve overcame a sin or won a spiritual battle, I find myself puffing up, only to pop with even greater force than I once believed.

So today, I went to my thinking place. A place of weeping and solitude.

The shower. Tub time as some people call it.

I processed and thought and then I heard a faint whisper in my soul,

“Get on your knees”

I always argue but eventually think, “I’m not charismatic, but just this once God.”

And we talked. I wrestled and struggled. I asked Him questions and deep ones at that. Until the deepest question came up.

One so hard to speak of I cannot say it out loud.

And with an instant answer I heard,

“Hopefully”

“Are you kidding me God, this is the question of my soul, the dark de-“

“Jacob, you’re not listening. Hope FULLY.”

I wept.

The arrow struck where it intended.

I don’t hope anymore.

I say I do. But honestly what I do is weigh my reasoning against probability of what I want and the higher it is, the more I find it acceptable to let my excitement dictate my joy.

I miss the days my joy dictated my excitement.

Where the beauty of a flower and the shimmering drops of rain brought me to simple realization that this world is crazy beautiful. Complex. Utterly insane. And ours. To lavish and love and share with the creator.

That prophesy shook me up so bad because the probability of hope was eliminated through my calculated reasoning.

If the bad part came true, why would the good part come through? I realize I have been living an existence of small faith, little trust, and pithy hope.

The world has left me jaded against the thought that God does really bless His children.

Called Me Higher – All Sons and Daughters

It’s far easier for me to believe in poverty then blessing. To be lead into lack instead of worth.

Today though, I am looking with bright eyes. Bright because they always look bigger after a good cry. But also bright because Jesus brings blessing.

I am so sick of letting circumstances hit me in the joy.

I have been called to go higher and deeper into a journey with Jesus. That’s scary. Sometimes it means walking on storms and we all know I hate water.

Sometimes it means talking to someone who has hurt you. Sometimes it means humbly accepting critique. Sometimes it means apologizing. Sometimes it means believing God has good things for you. That doing the right thing is worth it.

I know that’s one of the hardest struggles I have. So I believe with all the hammers, strikes, and lashes, that this is the beginning of hope.

It is not the dark night of the soul. It is the gateway into knowing Christ more. The entryway into fully understanding and expecting hope.

When I hope, I have a reason to keep going. I think back to how the painful trials and blows and wounds are molding me into a better person. Making me more presentable to Jesus. One who can hope fully in the promises of Jesus.  A better man. A better person.

And God knows I want to be that.

Tenti-tats For Humanity

We came up to a few dingy tents underneath an overpass. Homeless women and many children greeted us. Some naked. All of them snotty, dirty, with rotten teeth.

This was a homeless community living in poverty. One of the poorest we saw. Our job was delivering food rations. Little bags of rice for the families.

The wrinkled old matriarchs took them with much joy and began to cook for the children.

I don’t know if an American would’ve received any of that food with joy.

As we played with kids and heard the usual horror stories of neglect and glue sniffing, I noticed two nicer tents.

American tents. They seemed in good condition. They were dirty, old, and used. But they housed almost 12 people.

This was somewhat shocking because the average house here was a tarp and a stick. Dirty papers and plastic bags insulated the local tents as they lived on the river and often had to pack up during floods and move to hirer ground. Compared to the hole filled drop-clothes they normally used, these American tents were mansions.

IMG_3154

“Where are those tents from? They look nice.” I asked my host.

Admittedly, nice was a very relative word here.

“World racers gave them to these people three years ago.”

I often get asked if short-term missions have any real value.

“How much good can you really do in a month?”

For those families, someone came before me years ago and gave a dozen people the dignity of a home. The only home they know. The people were ecstatic when they saw us. Not because we bring gifts, although assuredly that does smooth diplomatic relations, but because we were Christ with flesh on.

To them, no one had ever shown the love and care of God. No one had loved them enough to value them. Then a couple of foreigners, highly esteemed due to our great wealth and winning complexion, came and blessed them.

The gift is so small and yet they eagerly took it.

I keep coming back to blessing.

Very rarely do we look at moments in our life and expand them into weeks and years.

“Dude that one time Gary sat with me for six months and explained the gospel. Changed my life!”

Those moments do happen but often God rocks our world in instances.

God regularly works through the short term as well as the long term.

The bible is chock full of short term visits, church plants, conversions.

Read Acts. Or about Jericho. Or the multitude of moments where Jesus shows up for five minutes and wrecks lives for the better. They walk away changed for life.

Woman at the Well?

Lepers?

Woman bleeding?

Jairus?

The Centurion?

Zaccheus?

Blind Bartimaeus?

Mary? Mary? Mary? (It was a common name)

The man with the crippled hand?

Lazarus?

Peters mother in law?

Woman caught in adultery?

Niccodemus?

Oh He had his long-term mission of course. Disciples and John even said Jesus did so much that the world couldn’t contain a record of it.

Yet, it begs the question, are short-term missions effective?

Has anyone ever blessed you in the nick of time? Prayed for you when you needed it? Given you that twenty-dollar bill when you had to have that book for college? I’m sure the faith walk of everyone is filled with long-term discipleship and short-term miracles.

There is this argument today, drifting about between our rationalistic 21st century minds that the only way to do missions is,

Long-term or hiring out a national.

Those are great. In fact our one-month doesn’t save the entire world. I’m not under that illusion. But the devaluing of ministry is detrimental. Whether or not ones agree, are not the wise ways of the Rabbi Gamaliel far better? He would not stop the disciples because if the movement of “The Way” was from God, woe to the one who fights God.

If it was from man, well, God would stop it as He did other things.

Is it really any different to spend those resources on a year of college learning about “Fashion” or “Humanities” when this year is far more educational, pushing, stretching, and some say noble? Is not the long-term mission field fueled by hearts passionately stoked by the short-term movements of God?

It does take resources to do short term missions. It takes work. It isn’t always the best solution.

Yet, it does have fruit. Amazing fruit that thousands of people touched by the World Race can attest to.

Fruit that remains.

Three years later, on a riverbank, little children sit comfortably as rain pounds the ground next to them. They can dwell in a little shelter. The food stays dry. The walls give at least the bare minimum human privacy for mom and dad. Maybe, just maybe, years from now, those little children will want to know of this “God” who gave them a home.

For the racers who gave that tent, they may never know what happened. I do know though that they walked away from this year profoundly changed. They impacted lives that have never so boldly seen grace before, and they fulfilled that old commission to go out to the nations.

Who can you bless today? Even if it’s just something small. It may be the lynch pin to someone knowing the eternal God. Maybe, just maybe, you think “Oh, that’d be so small. No one would ever notice.”

Yet maybe three years later, they’ll literally dwell in your short term blessing.

Ji-Had I known that all along…

There are some places you don’t bring a DSLR.

Guano filled ancient caves probably qualify. 

I spent last weekend trudging through caves in the Malaysian mountains. 

Nestled deep in the jungle are large caverns that seem beyond explanation. The type of caves that make Dwarven cities in the Lord of the Rings a little bit more believable.

About thirty young college students went with us. That’s not very strange, but this was a different experience. The exception being that all these students were Muslim. 

Burka’s and rules. Dates and Halal. Guys can’t touch girls. They seemed like quite the party animals. 

Raised in a post 9/11 world, it is somewhat jarring to see people dressed in “Arab” fashion (Obviously if I can be in Southeast Asia and see the same clothes, it isn’t really “Arab,” is it?). While I grew up in a very diverse, progressive, and anti-racial area, I still have come to know Islam through the lens of CNN and Fox News. 

I find often how much I have preconceived notions on this trip. It rewrites so much to spend just a little time with people my age from a religion that is seen through the spectrum of terrorism and peace.

Honestly, I had very little experience with Islam until this month. I did though have years of news headlines, angry examples on television of both hurt Americans and extremists, movies like Black Hawk Down, Team America and Three Kings. I remember seeing Imams on TV claiming that Islam is a peace-loving religion while refusing to admit 9/11, Embassy bombings, and much more are really that bad. I remember seeing American believers in Islam explain that extremism isn’t the heart of the religion and that we have it all wrong.

I walked away from western media and American culture more confused then enlightened about world religions.

This isn’t really about the religion though. This is about the people. 

Our group left for the cave on a Friday morning. To get there you must traverse jungle roads and hike past streams and waterfalls. Along the way, my Adventure Time homey Ben picked up a few leeches. They are messy otherworldly creatures. Vampiric and bloody. Yet strangely enough salt quickly defeats them. 

Little losers. 

For three quarters of an hour we hiked up little jungle trails. Army ants. Monkeys. Mosquitoes. All the amenities that rainforest provides were available. 

At the top of a trail stood this gaping black abyss. This wasn’t by any means a small cave. The ceiling was at least thirty feet above is. It was one of those expansive spaces you read about in National Geographic. The type of cave seen on Discovery Channel. Well at least before those television channels became obsessed with Bigfoot and Aliens.

With our headlamps ready, we all pushed forward.

I whispered Shakespearean and Tolkien lines underneath my breath, “Once more my friends into the breach.”

“Into the Mines!”

Bats whizzed past our heads. They didn’t seem to have much respect for personal bubbles. Snakes moved in transit from side to side. All my stereotypes about caves from Indiana Jones are now confirmed. 

Snakes and bats. It’s all true.

As we ventured deeper into the cave we came upon small narrow tunnel. 

I am claustrophobic. I am terrified of Clausters.

I had to get on my stomach and crawl in. For one brief second my chest caught and I almost broke my cool and collected exterior to scream like a little girl. 

I am pretty sure the ground was hardened Guano. As I shimmied through the tunnel of doom, Islamic students cheered and clapped to see such a tall and wide frame fit into such a narrow gap. 

I do on average stand about a head above the people in Asia. If this were filmed for local television it would’ve seemed as if the Malaysian Chris Angel had arrived.

Inside was a huge cavern filled with stalagmites, cave grasshopper shrimp things (I’m not a scientist) and cave spiders. They are large. Now I finally understand why every single video game and fantasy movie involves killing a cave spider. They are real and they are scary in real life.

So there Ben and I stood amidst dozens of college students. The girls in burkas. The guys in gym shorts.

Suddenly the students got into a circle, they turned out the lights. Nobody really spoke in English so I was left a bit confused.  While sitting I observed the Malay people. There was the class clown, the scared girl, and the person who just can’t work a headlamp. All the subcultures of spelunking one finds in America.

A man in the middle began to tell of the prophet Mohammad. In the darkness we heard of this story of him having visions in a cave. The people to the left and right of me fervently prayed and spoke of Allah.

Everyday I am exposed to humanity. To people desperate for a god. Perhaps it’s the very image that looks back at us in the mirror. Perhaps it’s the sky and endless oceans. We all know something is bigger then us. I’m finding myself stunned more and more at the beauty and wisdom of scripture. Eternity is really set within our hearts.     

We all long for something more. Something not of this Earth.

After this was all done, the students decided to strike up a conversation with Ben and I. He tried to shake a girls hand. 

She recoiled. 

Pervert.

We probably do come from very different worlds.

Yet a few minutes in and the barriers of culture, language, and religion dimmed. They lessened. I saw some of the men wandering caves and getting laughed at for running off. We approached a creek that went up to the waist and had to wade through. The ceiling was very low for me; even on my knees I often hit my head repeatedly. 

My DSLR should be glad I love her enough to hold her above my head, wrapped in plastic, stuck in a backpack, while I crawl on my knees through the water.

The men splashed the women with water, played pranks, and they giggled, grinned, and probably flirted. I can’t speak the language here. Yet I think flirting is pretty universal.

Eventually we escaped the cave into the fresh air of the day, smelling of bat Feces and dingy underground water. 

I was the only one bereft of leeches. I may’ve worn jeans. 

Some of the students lit cigarettes. They swam in a local waterfall. All in all though,

They were just human. Young college students. Filled with giggles and innocence, vice and experimentation, pranks and gifts.

I didn’t find myself shocked by the humanity they expressed. I found myself shocked at how often I assumed burka’s and rules would have robbed them of humanity. 

I had always assumed a twenty year old girl with a head covering would feel chained and joyless.

And here it was I began to realize how often I had lumped so many people into the same category. 

Have you ever done something because of Christianity you didn’t want to or agree with? Some hard to understand arbitrary rule maybe? Dressing up for Sunday? Not wearing hats inside of a building? Standing for worship? Sitting for communion? Not lifting hands during a somber song or hymn?

Have you ever adhered to a hard rule because you thought it was best? I can tell you many want to save themselves for marriage, but few want to put in the work involved. Many want to stay away from alcohol and vice in order to serve God better. Few ever wander down that path and often if they successfully navigate sobriety, they stumble headlong onto legalism and judgment. Some of these Islamic students are having the same type of journey through a different lens.   

Have you ever been “raised” in the church? Only to walk away, stumble off for a few years, and make God “Your own”?

I realized, that just because someone adheres to rote rules and a standard of a religion does not mean that they necessarily want to, agree with them, or disagree with them. It’s simple, but it’s oft forgotten. They feel the same feelings we do. They have the same insecurities. They even have the same struggles.

We are all human. 

There are lukewarm Muslims. People raised in belief that live it out of duty instead of passion. There are passionate believers of Allah. There are lukewarm Buddhists who offer beer and Doritos at the family feast because they know they eat it later and the ancestors won’t mind. 

Is it possible some husbands love to see their wives but cover them up to follow a law that they think is honoring Allah? Perhaps they don’t enjoy having to hide the beauty around them, yet because they think it is good, righteous, or right, they do?

Have we assumed all Islamic people love the rules? Love the burkas? Love the hard lifestyle of sobriety and baconless meals? Maybe the atrocities we see in our media are committed out of desperation to get to paradise? A desire to serve a creator they long to know?

It’s not that what has been done is by any means right or justified. Yet I think we assume that people who commit crimes and religious atrocities do them out of hate and violence. We assume they know evil and are willingly choosing evil.

Yet what if under the twisted sense of morality involved, they are honestly thinking of what they are doing as good or at the very worst acceptable? What if a mixture of ignorance and improper morality causes all this? If we all went out for coffee and left our guns at the door, the discussion would be light-hearted, fun, and about the same things?  

I have heard from multiple sources that in some locations in Malaysia, gang rape is common. When the men involved are told that gang rape is wrong, the response is stunning.

They honestly react with,

“It’s wrong???”

I personally am SHOCKED that anyone cannot see such a heinous act as violent and evil. I want to grab the people involved and violently shake them. My natural instinct is… 

I want justice. I want them to know the love of God. 

From behind bars. 

On the way to the executioner. 

Yet, when you are raised by a father condoning rape, told to devalue women, told you are more valuable because you are male, told that a women in the wrong place is accountable for your horrific actions… is it not understandable that when raised up and force-fed bad examples and lies you would make terrible decisions? 

It’s still evil. It’s still awful. 

Yet we are only by the grace of God raised in a better way.

Can we not at least praise God for the grace to be raised in a culture that reflects at least some standard of Judeo-Christian morality? Should we not praise God that we are not raised in a home of such low moral concepts? Our world-view is in much part our own responsibility, as well as in much part a result of the people and lessons in our lives. 

Honestly I am just trying to understand the source and cause of things that we deem absolutely barbaric. I am trying even more to understand places and areas I’ve gotten it wrong. I am coming face to face with people who have experienced, slavery, genocide, and hate crimes. Some who have committed them.  Every day it challenges me to understand how humans can act the way they do. 

Warning: Bombs of the F persuasion. Or swearing for those with fragile little ears.

Some people get more offended by the F-Bombs in this song then the fact we did such a poor job as a church loving Noah, he feels this way. 

I have a very minute grasp of the religious beliefs around me, what I do know though…

Is that my heart is full of judgment, stereotypes, western thinking, and ideas I only believe because I grew up in an American world. I watched enough TV to find myself “enlightened.”

When I got back from Taiwan, it was rather common for people to tell me what Taiwan was like because they watched television. Some went so far as to argue with me. Obviously my two years rubbing elbows with the natives paled in comparison to the thoughtful observations of Geraldo Rivera.

The fact is Asians hate other cultures, struggle with racism, and live out of a narrow worldview too, much like Americans.

We, I speak mostly of my American experience, hate to seem ignorant. Yet when we “Put ourselves in another persons shoes.”

We wear our own socks. We put ourselves into those shoes with the same mind frame. 

“What would I, wearing another persons shoes, do?” Instead of just thinking…

“Holy crap, how the heck could they act like this? People don’t just make irrational decisions. Unless they are famous like Lady Gaga.” and going from there. 

Maybe today you see someone at 7/11 that comes from another country. You are frustrated because the guy at McDonald’s knows five languages and none of them are English. You see bad stuff on the news. Ask questions. Investigate. Think deeper. It is not about Islam, Buddhism, foreigners, or religion. This transcends nerds, jocks, hipsters, scene kids, fans of twilight, Jews, gentiles, pagans, homos, heteros, Australians, and anything in between.
 
Maybe you hate an entire people group because of something that happened to you. Maybe you get angry. Maybe you were hurt and robbed.

Give it up. Forgive them. Put on new eyes. 

Because when all is said and done Jesus not only died for these people. 

He knew them better than us.

He forgave them. He longs to be with them. He longs for us to dwell richly in unity with them.

Perhaps we should try to find out why.

The World Race in 1 Month and 11 Days [Video]