Friday, December 31, 2010

Walking on Water

What do a craft beer brewery in Dallas, Texas and a pioneer church plant in Izmir, Turkey have in common?

They both involve walking on water. Remember the story about Jesus’ disciples on a boat in the middle of a terrifying storm? They see Jesus walking toward them on the lake. Jesus calls out to Peter, so Peter gets out of the boat, and for a few glorious seconds, walks on water. In his book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat, John Ortberg defines water walking as taking risks for God and believing He will accomplish through you what you cannot possibly do on your own.

My younger brother Michael is setting aside a successful law practice to get out of the boat and open a craft beer brewery at age 40. After two years of careful planning, he is taking the plunge to pursue his dream: becoming a master beer brewer. It’s a scary, risky business. After all he could go bankrupt, and he has a wife and three children to support. But then again he might succeed! And that would be glorious. I admire him for going after his dream rather than spending a lifetime wishing he had.

My husband and I are also taking our first tiny steps on water to pursue a dream God gave us. Our dream is probably statistically more impossible than opening a beer brewery: we’re starting a new Christian fellowship in a city of 3 million Muslims.

First we had to get out of the boat. That meant leaving a fulfilling but comfortable ministry with people we loved in an established local church. The church was a safe place, but last year while we were home in the United States, God began to call us to get out of our boat and try the impossible: plant a new church from zero. At first I said, “Lord, are you kidding me? Isn’t it enough that we left our home eight years ago to serve you in the Middle East?” But as I prayed, I began to understand that God’s dreams for us were bigger than my own. He was calling us to a higher level of engagement with Him, to believe Him for more.

We decided to go for it.

Some days our dream looks too big. I invite a non-believing friend to our Bible study and she doesn’t come, or I explain the gospel to someone and they say, “Yes, all religions are the same.” I get discouraged, and I ask, “God, are you going to come through for us?”

Other days I’m excited and filled with hope and faith. Water walking is an adventure towards knowing God and experiencing His power. Every day has new possibilities. I pray, “Who can I reach out and show your love to today, Lord?” And I go visit a friend who is sick and take her flowers and a Jesus film. Or I offer to pray for my neighbor.

This dream God gave us is too big to accomplish by ourselves. Without his power, nothing will happen. It’s a dangerous place to be, but I’d rather take risks and believe God for the impossible than play it safe and always wonder what if? He’s calling me to trust Him like never before, and I’m going for it!

What about you? Do you have any dreams? Maybe your aspiration is to add color and fun to your life by taking on a new hobby. Maybe you are considering a risky career change or dreaming of starting a new ministry. What is God calling you to? Are you willing to get out of the boat to try some water walking?

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Gift to the King

When we moved to Turkey 9 years ago, we came with 17 suitcases, much to my husband’s chagrin. Travelling with so much luggage forced him into the role of superman, and we often joke about that trip saying that if he’d wanted a lower maintenance woman, he should have married someone else. I made quite a sight on the curb at the Izmir airport trying to keep the mountain of suitcases from toppling over while attempting to keep an active 4 year old boy and a two year old girl under control. We had to rent a little truck to drive our luggage across town to the place we were staying. Last week I took one of those suitcases down from its place on top of the wardrobe and unpacked its contents like I do every December.

My Christmas suitcase holds many treasures: a collection of nativity scenes; an advent wreath, and our tree ornaments, including those my mother has given me every year since I was a child. One of my favorites is a simple handmade angel made out of paper and felt that a dear family friend made for me when I was in elementary school. The angel’s pink felt face, sequin eyes, and bedraggled white yarn hair look dated now, but I love it because it reminds me of childhood Christmases.

Last Thursday while my husband did the dinner dishes, the kids and I got out our tree. To be honest, fluffing the branches, untangling the lights and stringing them on the tree with two children was stressful after a long day. I felt tired and irritable, but I did my best to put on a cheerful face. I made hot chocolate, turned on Christmas carols, and pretty soon I was enjoying watching the kids exclaim over each ornament as they put it on the tree. I remembered how my mother used to make cookies and set out party snacks for a family celebration while we decorated the tree. Now I wonder how on earth she did it; hot chocolate was all I could manage to crank out.

After the kids went to bed, I sat quietly looking at my Christmas treasures by the twinkling light of the tree. I stroked the red, green and white calico table top quilt that my grandmother pieced and my mother quilted years ago. I smiled at the wooden stable and clay figure nativity scene from El Salvador, and a miniature nativity set we bought on our honeymoon. How glad I am that I brought the blue Christmas suitcase with us 9 years ago.

My treasures connect me with my past even though today I live in a Muslim country where Christmas is not celebrated. December 25th is like any other work day; it goes by completely unnoticed. But as much as I miss my family, my church and the festive atmosphere at home during the holidays, I don’t wish to be back there. My favorite Christmastimes have been right here in Turkey. There is something powerful about celebrating Christ’s coming among people who do not recognize it. Away from the materialistic consumerism that threatens to overshadow the true meaning of Christmas in America, my family and I are freer to celebrate the birth of Christ. Being far from home makes establishing traditions with my own family important. My favorite part of December is reading scripture and praying with the kids every evening by the light of our advent wreath.

Several years I opened my home to celebrate with local believers whose families do not share their new found faith. I’ve wondered how to make Christmas more culturally relevant for Turks, who have no reason to connect a Christmas tree with Christ’s birth. I do not have any good answers, but one of my favorite Christmas memories is a dinner we had in our home for 20 people. I decided the least I could do was serve Turkish food, and I asked everyone else to please bring local style food. I slaved all day to make karniyarik (stuffed baked eggplant), but my exhaustion faded as I watched our brothers and sisters faces shining during the scripture readings and Christmas hymns we shared together after our meal.

This year on December 25th, we will host a party in our home for friends of another faith. Our goal is to share our celebration with them and explain Christ’s coming in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. We will play games, eat together, sing some Christmas songs, read the Christmas story from Luke, and my 13 year old son will share about what Jesus’ birth means to him. Truthfully, I’m a bit nervous about the party. When you give Turks an invitation they say, “I’ll do my best to come,” so you never know if they’re really coming until the event occurs. I sweat bullets before every single event because I’m always panicked that no one will show up. However, this week I’ve decided to relax, enjoy the Holiday with my family, and rejoice in whatever God does through our party. What better way to celebrate Christ’s birth than sharing his coming with others who do not know him? This party is my gift to the Baby King.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Rare and Precious Gift

When I came to Turkey in April of 2001 with my husband and two children, I thought God was bringing us here so that we could reach Turks with the good news of Jesus Christ and teach them to follow Him. I didn’t realize that more than anything He brought us to Turkey in order to transform us. I trust that God has used us in some small way to shine His light here and to encourage Turkish believers to pursue Jesus with passion, but He’s done a far greater work IN us than THROUGH us.

In eight years here we have known many joys and experienced many gut wrenching disappointments. We learned that our joy cannot rest on the “success” of our ministry. We learned to keep going even when we were disappointed by little response to the gospel. We learned to be content to be faithful to what God is calling us to do, and to leave the rest to Him. We learned to keep going when depressed, choosing to believe that joy is just around the corner. We suffered the heartache of leaving family and friends behind in our homeland. Amazingly, the joy we’ve experienced has been much greater than the heartache, probably a special grace from God to enable us to persevere here.

For me living in Turkey is a rare and precious gift. I love Turkey’s sights and sounds, her culture, ancient and modern, her cities, her villages, her mountains, craggy, rocky shorelines and beaches. Above all I love Turkey’s people, and I count it a privilege to serve the Lord Jesus among them. I have been touched by the kindness and generosity of Muslim friends. I have been filled with joy and faith at the example of my Christian brothers and sisters, who dare to swim against the monolithic tide of Islam, making a choice to stand out and follow Jesus instead of the crowd. They are bold and courageous to live for the Lord Jesus when everything around them appears to deny Him. I believe I have learned far more from them than I could ever hope to impart to them, and for that I am grateful to God.

This blog is an attempt to share my stories of Turkey and the way God has spoken to me and changed me through daily life here.