the call

Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you Genesis 12:1

When our family received a call to go to Nepal as missionaries, I said no. It was the worst possible time–My career that was perched for great possibilities would die; my son’s intensive piano lessons that were preparing him for a career in composition would be jeopardized; my daughter’s academic goals would be crushed; and my husband would be unmarketable when we returned. It simply did not make sense. And I said no.

But God knew better. His persistence grew stronger with my every objection. The signs I got would have put Gideon, Moses and Joseph to shame. Yet I refused. And then one Sabbath morning, away from home in the pre-google days, my husband and I opened the Yellow Pages to find a church to attend. There were over 20 of them. So we randomly picked a church and began our drive. Less than 3 minutes on the road, I spotted a church and suggested we attend that one instead of the one we had picked. Roy refused (his Germanic genes do not allow changes in plans). Five minutes later, I saw another church; Roy refused. Another ten minutes went by and there was another church. Roy refused. We were now late for service.

By the time we got to the church, the sermon had already begun. And I was furious with Roy. Just as we sat down, the minister said, “Faith is about setting out on a journey without all the answers to your questions.” Roy nudged me in ribs. My response was silence, but I could not help but scribble the quote in my Bible. The trip back to the hotel was long and silent. I chose to nap that afternoon to blot out the strangeness of us attending that particular church and hearing that particular message. I woke up late in the evening, hungry and miserable, feeling trapped in our hotel room. We ordered in Chinese and ate in silence. The meal ended and I broke open my fortune cookie. It said: “You will go to a strange and far away land.”

In that moment I imagined God smile and say “Checkmate.” I knew I had lost. Six years later, after our mission term, life was just as I had predicted–my career took a dive. My son’s music career never happened. My daughter didn’t end up in an Ivy League school. My husband did not find a job comparable to his strengths and experience. Yet we gained more than we lost.

Our journey of faith that began with that fortune cookie took us into an experience of complete trust in God and nothing else. We survived political strife, physical hardships, poor health, emotional trials and dangerous conditions. Every day was an adrenaline rush of miracles, a continual supply of blessings. When I was able to give up my vision for myself and obey God’s call instead, God’s plans became my plans, His desires my desires. And in Him, I have found joy abundant even in the worst of times.

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family chronicles

Who am I, LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 1 Chronicles 17:16

Suppose you were to lose everything you held dear, how would you feel? What would you cling to if all that had once been tangible in your life was no more? The Israelites often found themselves in a similar situation. Their history was filled with much disappointment and discouragement. Their story alternates episodes of hope with that despair.  The book of Chronicles finds them at the end of half a century of captivity. During this time they lost more than their freedom; they lost their sense of identity. At such a milestone, the book of Chronicles urges them to remember their glorious past, to recollect the best of times. The narrative is an effort to help the Israelites get in touch with who they were in God’s plan.

Do you see the similarities between the Israelites and us? Are we at a time in our lives when we need to remember our “glorious” past? Like the Israelite, we too are a race of hope. Although our past has its interludes of disheartenment, we have many stories that beget hope in our present. Forgetting where the Lord has led us will only jeopardize our future.

Maybe it’s a good idea to chronicle our miracles, struggles, and joyous events. And periodically, re-read the stories at family gatherings to strengthen our hope in Christ, to see where we fit into God’s divine plan.

just a little is sometimes all it takes

Question: Suppose Americans cut down the amount of meat they eat by 10% and replace the 10% with grains and soybeans, how many starving people do you think the money saved would feed?

Answer: 60 million people. (Americans eat a lot! The per capita consumption of peanut butter alone in the US and Canada is five pounds annually)

Something to think about: Giving back a little goes a long way. Tithing is about sharing blessings. 10% is really not much when you think about the 90% you have left. But what a difference the 10% can make!

“Bring the full amount of your tithes to the Temple, so that there will be plenty of food there. Put me to the test and you will see that I will open the windows of heaven and pour out on you in abundance all kinds of good thing.” Malachi 3:10

 

measuring life with potato chips and cheesecake

My first few months of missionary life in Nepal were awful. I felt trapped, imprisoned and deprived of necessities like heat in my home, television sitcoms, hot showers, high speed interne, and people who used deodorant. But most of all I was outraged that there was no potato chips or cheesecake. Unable to imagine six years without potato chips and cheesecake, I was an extremely grumpy servant of the Lord.

And then one frigidly cold Friday night, wearing three pairs of woolen socks and wrapped in a thick blanket, I read about Polycarp – A disciple of Apostle John, he was arrested when the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, was persecuting Christians. During the trial, Polycarp was told that the only way to get his freedom was to give up Christ. In response, Polycarp said Eighty-six years have I served Him, and He never did my any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? Polycarp’s allegiance to his Lord cost him his life. His was bound like a sacrificial lamb and set on fire.  While the flames rose around him, Polycarp looked up into the heavens and said I give You thanks that You have counted me worthy of this day and this hour.

Polycarp made me look and feel like a selfish, whiny crybaby. I gave myself a good mental spanking and vowed to make the most of my six years. The result – I’d go back for another six years if I could! And I’ll always remember that by the second year there was both potato chips AND cheesecake in Nepal!

jenny and the judges

What happened, when I was 14, to the family that lived behind our home and how my mother reacted to the whole drama taught me a lesson in Christian living.

The family consisted of a single mother and her two daughters, Mary and Jenny. Mary was quiet, complacent and obedient. Jenny was head-strong, opinionated, and a bit on the wild side. It seemed like almost every day Jenny got into trouble for something or the other . . . It wasn’t like she broke the law, but she’d be sassy with the young pastor, talk back to the elders in our community, sneak out of vespers, come home late at night, wear revealing dresses.

One summer whisperings began: What was up with the billowy dresses Jenny was wearing these days? How come she stopped playing volleyball with the rest of the girls? Why was she putting on so much weight around her waist? And the story quickly grew as speculations, fabrications and wild imaginations concocted all kinds of scenarios. Being 14, I thrived for the next episode of Jenny and Her Bastard Child. So I asked my mother, the community socialite, to mingle and bring home the dirt. My mother looked at me, eyes filled with pain and disappointment. She said It doesn’t matter what the story is. What matters is that we are Jenny’s friends no matter what. It’s not our place to judge.

A few weeks later, Jenny was in the hospital having her baby. There was no baby shower, no gifts, no visitors. The only people there, besides Jenny’s mother and her sister, was my mother and I. Awkwardly, I stood while my mother held the baby girl. And Jenny cried as told us her story: She said she was married to a guy from Mauritius, but that he had to leave because his visa ran out. And that he promised to return.

As we walked home I asked my mother if she believed that ridiculous story. She gave me the same look and said, Even if the human in us doesn’t believe the story, we should accept her story as the truth. It’s not our place to judge.

From then on came the righteous moral blows from the community—She was not allowed to participate in church; she was ignored at community events; she was used as an example of what happens to bad teens. She couldn’t even get a job! It seemed like everyone wanted her gone. That is, everyone, except my mother. She was always there for Jenny, to help her, to defend her, to be her friend unconditionally. On the sidelines, I watched my mother and recognized the essence of Christ-likeness.

A year went by, two years, and then three. And, of course, there was no sign of the mysterious Mauritian husband. Jenny continued to struggle, shunned by her community. Then one summer day, out of nowhere, the Mauritian arrived with his own bizarre story—a clerical mix-up in immigration had sent him to prison and there had been no way for him to contact Jenny.

The happy, reunited family left for Mauritius as quickly as they could. And they never returned home. I waited for someone in the community to admit they had been wrong. Instead they justified their actions: What else could we do with no proof of a husband?

My mother’s response: We could have chosen to be like Jesus!

for loot or love?

Yes! Come, Master Jesus. (Revelation 22: 20, The Message)

Sky’s favorite thing to do as a toddler was to look through Grandma’s silk sarees. The brilliance of the bright colors and gold embroidery would keep her enthralled for hours. And she was ecstatic when she learned that all of them would be hers one day.

However, she did not understand why she couldn’t have them right away if they were all going to be hers any way. So it was obvious to us that it was time to discuss the subject of death and inheritance. Unfortunately, the discussion had no effect on her–She focused only on the loot and not on Grandma’s love. And with great impatience she’d ask us every day . . . When is Grandma going to die?!

The Bible ends with Jesus assuring us of two things: 1) That His coming is a certainty; and 2) That He is coming quickly. For sure, our response ought to be the same as John’s–Come, Lord Jesus. Yet we should revisit, every day, the reason behind our response. Do we want the Second Coming for the loot or to be with the One we love?

celebrating our judgement

In 1978 Velma Barfield was arrested for murdering four people, including her mother and fiance. She was on death row, confined in a cell by herself. One night a prison guard tuned into a 24-hour Christian radio station. Down the gray hall, desperate and alone in her cell, Velma listened to the gospel message and accepted Jesus as her Saviour. The outside world began to hear about Velma Barfield and how she had changed.

During the six years she was on death row she ministered to many of her cellmates. Many were touched by the sadness of her story and the sincerity of her love for Christ as well as the beauty of her Christian witness in that prison. Just before her execution, Velma wrote “I know the Lord will give me dying grace, just as He gave me saving grace, and has given me living grace.”

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” On earth Velma Barfield paid the price for her crimes. The hideous nature of sin is that while we can be forgiven them and freed from them, we, like Velma Barfield, must still face the consequences of our sins. At least until Christ returns, sin is here to stay. Sin cannot be eradicated. And for being born into this world, each of us has a price to pay. This does not mean that we receive a death sentence the moment we are born. Although we cannot avoid the consequences of our sins, in Jesus we can overcome them. At the judgment hall, Jesus’ blood washes away our sins and clothes us in His righteousness.