Friday, April 29, 2011

Criticizing our Hosts? Or Learning from Them?


When you live overseas, it’s easy to fall into the habit of criticizing everything you find different or challenging in your host culture.  In Turkey, foreigners complain about bureaucracy, disorganized traffic, lack of planning, people arriving late, people arriving early, or people not showing up at all.  It’s easy to see the negative side of everything.  I should know.  I just spent one and a half hours waiting in two lines in order to apply for a new cell phone account.  It was my third trip to the cell phone shop in one week.

Cultivating Wonder and Thankfulness

Instead of grumbling about my host country, I want to cultivate a sense of wonder and thankfulness for God’s allowing me to be here.  Recently I wrote about life changing lessons I've learned from Turks.  Last month I had several “Where else but Turkey?” experiences that reminded me again to appreciate the kindness and generosity of Turks.

  • At the bakery one day I was caught with no wallet and needed to buy a box of cookies.  The counter person said, “Don’t worry.  Take the cookies and just bring the money the next time you come.”
  • In front of our neighborhood police station, I asked the officer on duty if he knew where there was a photocopier.  He said, “Oh, I can make these for you right here. How many do you need?” And he gave me free copies on the police station!

Recognizing Kindness

Last month I sat in the crowded waiting room of our neighborhood public health clinic, just 40 minutes before closing time.  I had a hacking cough. Would the doctor even see me?  It seemed like a long shot.   I didn’t have a health card, and there were about 6 patients before me. Would this doctor be willing to wait on a foreigner who wasn’t even registered with the health system?  I waited until the door opened and peeked in.  I saw a pretty blonde doctor in a white coat.

“I don’t have a health card,” I said, “but I live in this neighborhood. Can you see me?”

“I have too many patients,” she answered.  “Come back tomorrow morning.”

“But tomorrow is Saturday,” I protested. “The clinic is closed.”

“Well, wait outside, and I’ll see if I have time.”

The minutes crept by.  Patient after patient went in and out. Finally the doctor called me in.

“Can I have your Turkish id number?” she asked.

“I don’t have one,” I answered. “I’m not a Turkish citizen. I have a residence permit, but our numbers are different.”

The Doctor spent 10 minutes trying to type my information into her computer, but my residence permit number didn’t fit into the system.  She called another doctor. For a minute I thought that even after the hour wait, all was lost since I didn’t fit into the computer system. 

She finally gave up and said, “What is it you need?”

“I’ve been coughing for two weeks, and I just want to see if I need an antibiotic.”

So she examined me, wrote a prescription and handed it to me with a smile.
As I left, I thought about how I could either be frustrated over the hour wait and the confusion generated by my residence permit number, or I could be grateful for this doctor who was willing to go the extra mile at closing time to serve a total stranger.  She was someone I could learn from.

If you have travelled or live overseas what have you grumbled about? What have you learned?

Public Worship in Lebanon!

Some friends of mine back home in Texas last week took Easter worship to the streets, but I thought this was awesome in view of the fact that it took place in Lebanon!  Have a look.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hope Against All Odds

Almost no one in my city is celebrating Easter.  People have heard of “Paskalya” or Egg Festival, as they call it, but no one is celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As far as the eye can see, everything looks to be business as usual: block after block of 10 story cement apartment buildings, schools, parks, supermarkets.

I smile to myself because men aren’t celebrating the new life of Jesus Christ, but our Creator has put many signs of new life here: singing birds, flowers, and newly budding trees.  They are messengers of spring and heralds of hope.

In small pockets around this city of 4 million, believers are remembering Jesus’ resurrection.  Ten churches are planning celebrations. Our group is planning a picnic with a few non-believing friends.  We will eat together, play games, and share a 4 minute message on the meaning of Easter. Today I will take handmade Easter cards and cake to my M. neighbors, to wish them a Happy Spring.

Last night my husband and I hosted 20 English speaking young people in our home.  We read and discussed the crucifixion of Jesus from Matthew 27.  They had several insights that helped me see the scene with new eyes.  We were particularly struck by the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus.  The same soldiers who mocked him and struck him trembled with fear hours later after they’d seen darkness come over the land, after they experienced the earthquake that accompanied Jesus’ death.   “Surely this was the son of God,” they cried.  The soldiers were convinced, but Jesus still lay dead. The disciples’ hopes in Jesus as the deliverer of Israel were crushed.

No one suspected that three days later Jesus Christ would resurrect from the dead in the most glorious display of God’s power ever seen on earth.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives me hope. 
  • Hope that my Christian faith is really true since Jesus proved He was the son of God by conquering death.
  • Hope that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead dwells inside of me, giving me strength and joy for each day.
  • Hope that God will fulfill the dreams He has given me, even though sometimes the small steps I take towards them seem plodding and slow.
  • Hope that our city will be transformed as more and more people find the freedom of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.
  • Hope that there’s more to life than what I can see.
  • Hope that no matter how bad yesterday was, every new day brings fresh possibilities.
  • Hope that one day I will also be raised from the dead to spend eternity with God.

What are you hoping for this Easter?  Even if your dreams look impossible and your hopes are all but dead, remember that God’s power brings new life even from death.

“Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” (Romans 15:13, The Message)

Happy Easter! Christ is risen!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Power of a Baby Step

You know the saying, “It never rains; it pours.”  The last few weeks life has been one thing on top of another.  My husband returned from two weeks of doctoral study abroad, and we needed time to reconnect.  Both of my children had extra-curricular activities that required my involvement: debate and ice skating! My Turkish sister had an important life event, and I wanted to support her.  Two friends had birthdays. I’ve had lots of family business to attend to besides the daily responsibilities of home school and putting food on the table.

Add to the equation an out of town guest whom we were privileged to host for a week, a pastor’s group in for two days from Latin America, and a couple who was in town for one day, and you have one basket case woman! Is your life ever like this?

Of course caring for my family and friends is an important part of my ministry, but I began to feel frustrated about having little time for my other calling: reaching out to share God’s love with M. friends. So I complained, “God, I’m so busy with family.  How can you expect me to reach out to others?  I keep thinking I’ll have more time soon, but that convenient time never comes!”

But God reminded me of the power of small steps. Instead of waiting for my schedule to magically clear up, so I’ll have time to reach out to people, I’d better ask the Lord, “What baby steps can I take to fulfill my vision now?”

So I prayed and God showed me three baby steps for the first week:  
  1. I called a few friends. 
  2. I made two cards with scripture I wanted to share with non-Christian friends. 
  3. I stopped by a friend’s workplace for ten minutes.

The second week I took another baby step. I stopped to see my friend Nalan, whose son was dying of a rare genetic disease. I read John 11 (I am the resurrection and the life.) to her.  We sat together at her son’s bedside,  and I prayed for her, not knowing Emre would die a few days later.

My husband and I are discovering the power of a brief visit. Last Sunday we made three:
  • We took a birthday cake to Ali and Damla, Christian friends who are in a busy season at their dry cleaning business and must work on Sundays.  They were busy ironing shirts when we arrived, but Damla's face broke into a smile when she saw her candle lit cake.  We pulled plastic plates and napkins out of a bag and spent a half hour talking, laughing, and eating cake.
  • Next we visited Nalan and Ahmet.  Knowing that they’ve been inundated with visitors after Emre’s funeral, we didn’t stay long. Just long enough to talk quietly and let them know we care about their grief.
  • Last we visited Ibrahim and Neriman, whose son is leaving this week for his 1 year military service.  This is a significant event for Turkish families, who worry about their young men being sent out East, where there are constant skirmishes between separatist Kurds and the army.  We drank coffee with them, and before leaving, we read Joshua 1:9 (Be strong and courageous!) to the young man and prayed for him.  The whole family expressly thanked us for our prayer as we left.

How does God work through these baby steps?  I'll leave that to Him.  My part is to be faithful to complete the small tasks He gives me.

What baby steps can you take right now towards fulfilling your vision?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Three Ways to Keep my Head Above Water

I was going to name this post, “Three ways to Stay Spiritually Fresh,” but that sounded too holy.  Some days I’m feeling spiritually renewed; other days I’m just fighting to keep my head above water!

In my part of the world, Christians face a tough spiritual climate.  We share the gospel, but see few results.  Sometimes people put their faith in Christ, and then fall away.  I remember a time several years ago when a dear young man my husband discipled for over a year left our church over a disagreement.  We loved this younger brother and were sorry to see him go.  We rejoiced that he continued to follow the Lord in another fellowship, but we missed him. It was discouraging for our small group, who lost another member due to divorce during the same time.  Discouraging circumstances can be part of everyday life.

Maintaining spiritual vitality in this climate is crucial for me.  I don’t want to just survive here.  I want to live joyfully, thankfully receiving all God has for me.  Three things help me to keep my head above water and stay fresh:

         1.  Reading God’s word.

This sounds cliché, but it’s true.  God’s word inspires me, encourages me, strengthens me, and challenges me to grow.  I try to read it daily. I also find it stimulating to talk about what I’m reading with others.  Most mornings before breakfast, my husband and I talk about what we’ve read.  Last night driving home in the car with my Turkish sister we spoke briefly about Romans, which we are both currently reading. My children and I are reading Proverbs together, and it’s great to hear their thoughts.

David wrote: “Blessed is the man”…who delights “in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:1,2,3)

        2.  Journaling and Writing

I keep a journal where I record scriptures that encourage me, or write short prayers.  It helps me keep track of what God is speaking to me.  Last year I read a book by Bill Hybels called Too Busy Not To Pray, and he shared his approach to incorporating writing with prayer.  At the start of his daily quiet time he does some journaling about what is on his mind, and after unburdening his heart, he is attentive and ready to read God’s word.  He also suggested writing down prayer requests as well as questions that we want to ask God. The idea of writing down questions for God challenges my faith.  For me, writing is a powerful tool to come to terms with what I am thinking.

        3.  Taking Time to Enjoy Life’s Small Blessings

It’s easy to rush through life without stopping to smell the roses.  I remember this when I walk out of my apartment building and see the roses cultivated by our doorman.  I often take time to stop and smell a rose. I look at it and remember it’s a small miracle of God.  There are so many things in life to enjoy: a conversation with my children when they’re excited about something, tea with a friend, the taste of an apple pie, reading a good book. Most days I take a walk in the park near my house.   It’s a 30 minute mini-vacation. These are gifts from God, and I want to enjoy them to the fullest! 

What are things that you do to maintain spiritual freshness?


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Can God Really Use Me?

Do you ever doubt that God can really use you?  Sometimes I ask myself, “Who am I?”  Can God really use me?” 

 Last weekend my 11 year old daughter taught me a lesson. Camille came bounding in the door.  Her face was beaming and her eyes were shining.

Camille (on the left) with a local friend.

 “Mom, I got to share the gospel with the kids downstairs!”

 “Wow, that’s great,” I said.  “How did that happen?”

“I just felt maybe the Holy Spirit was showing me to take my Bible downstairs and talk to my friends in the park,” she explained, “so I put my Bible in my book bag, but for some reason I sat down to use the computer instead. Then in a little while Dad came and said, ‘Camille, all of your friends are downstairs,’ and I knew it was God speaking to me.  So I turned off the computer, and before I went downstairs I read my Bible a bit and prayed and asked God to help me. 

“I went downstairs and got out my Bible and just started reading it in the park. Pretty soon the kids came up, and they started telling scary stories, so when it was my turn, I told them the story of the end times from the book of Revelation.

“They asked to see my Bible, and they read from it a little bit. They asked me what Christians believe, so I told them how Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead.

“They said, ‘That can’t be true.  That’s just a made up story. We all know that the Bible’s been changed.’

“But I asked them to show me where the Bible was changed. When was the Bible changed?  How was it changed?  They couldn’t answer.”

“Oh Mom, I’m so happy,” she said, and she hugged me, jumping with excitement.  “Just think.  None of my friends had ever even heard about Jesus, and I got to share with them.”

Camille didn’t care if her friends believed her or not; she was happy to have the chance to share the good news.  I was surprised that she was able to respond to the Muslim claim that the Bible has been changed.  She remembered this from a DVD about sharing the gospel with our friends that she watched when she was 9.

Seeing my daughter’s joy brought a smile to my face, and the following thoughts came to mind:
  1. No one’s too young or too inexperienced to be used by God
  2. No earth shaking strategies are needed. Just willing hearts.
  3. God will work even through small steps we take.
  4. Serving the Lord brings joy, regardless of people’s response to our ministry.
  5. If God can use my 11 year old daughter, He will certainly use me.

Isn't it great that God teaches us things through our own children?