May we never lose our wonder

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” — Saint Augustine

How true these words, perhaps even more so today as we have the entire world at our fingertips; so easily accessible. Though how often do we forget to be utterly fascinated by the wonder of human life? We discard human beings, miracles, without any thought. And worse yet, we justify it. I’m not just referring to the horrors of war and abortion. I mean even in our ordinary day-to-day moments. We judge, we compare, we belittle, we curse, we ignore, we avoid the ones we love, let alone the ones who are strangers. Death is spoken from our lips constantly. But how precious is every uniquely crafted pinnacle of God’s creation?!

I’ve been thinking again about my recent trip to Cyprus. I didn’t write too much about it, but it was a significant time for me. I saw very little of the island itself because I was there to pray and paint for complete strangers. I fundraised and sold my artwork for the privilege of showing people how precious they are to God. To reveal His heart for them and demonstrate that anyone can hear and receive from the Living God because of all Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection. Many were skeptical. Many criticized. I… I even doubted. It only showed me we were doing something right.

Antonia, Evie, Petros, Angela, Eudokeia, Irina, William, Leese, Maria, Nes…

Just a handful of the hundreds of people who passed through our tent during a week long cultural festival. People from all over the world. People who are and will remain strangers to me, but each one — a gift to creation and purposely placed here. And for a few brief minutes I experienced the precious joy and responsibility of seeing them the way Jesus does and speaking life over them — hope, encouragement, peace, love — some messages danced over heads, others pierced hearts. All walked away with a painting forever reminding them of the moment. God was not threatened by their background or baggage. What they did or didn’t believe. He loves them, so I did too. It was simple. It was powerful.

God invites us all into these kind of moments. He invites us into real, dynamic, pulsing, constant relationship with Him and he just needs our yes. He invites us into authentic and deep relationship with others to reveal more of who He is. It’s not about living vicariously through a few; it’s about welcoming Jesus into your life through any and all individuals and learning to love like He does.

Art Therapy


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But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

I created this piece of artwork for my new niece’s nursery (who enters the world next week) just after my nephew, Joel, exited the world. Joel was only 5 years old, and after 4 years of valiant effort, succumbed to his battle with brain cancer. It was very difficult to attempt whimsy and baby-cute style while simultaneously dealing with such sorrow. A moment of inspiration hit me and as a result I infused a lot of meaning into the piece — including the Scripture from Jeremiah above. I wanted to produce something to honor my nephew, and give baby Zoe a beautiful, gentle, yet constant reminder of her family and the brother she’ll never get to know personally.

It’s incredibly cathartic to create art; especially in the midst of grief. If you’ve never tried it before, get out those paints, those pens, that clay the next time you need to decompress…I highly recommend it.

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Zoe’s four older brothers were instrumental in helping me create this piece of artwork. Each tree represents one of the Green boys and contains their unique fingerprint. I collected the fingerprints on March 12, 2014 with a simple idea in my head but not knowing it would be the last night before Joel would take his final breaths and join Jesus in Heaven. A few days later at Joel’s viewing, the boys’ cousin, Lincoln (4 years old) was asked by his mom what he thought Joel’s first words to Jesus were. He immediately responded, “I think he said ‘thank you for giving me life'”. Coincidentally, the name Zoe means ‘Life’ — the abundant life from God. This piece is not only in memory and honor of Joel and the 5 sweet years we got with him, but also a collective “Thank You” to Jesus for giving us the gift of baby Zoe and the gift of eternal life.

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You reap what you sow

An interesting thing happened to me yesterday, and by interesting I mean deeply profound and moving…

I attended an event called Rubicon this weekend. It’s aim was to gather people from all walks of life and faith and culture in Dublin and discuss the theme of Justice. What is justice? What’s God’s heart for justice? How do we live it out in the day to day? There were intelligent and heartfelt words shared from the front with honest reflection and discussion at our tables. The setting was purposefully intimate and informal and I appreciated every moment of it.

As I sat there absorbing every morsel and twitter-worthy quote, I remember thinking to myself, Lord, I want to be known on this earth for how well I love. I don’t want to be known so much by what I say or how well I say it, but by what I do. Wisdom from my favorite Franciscan sister echoed through my mind, “When you get to heaven, Jesus isn’t going to ask you, ‘Were you right?’. No. He’s going to ask you, ‘Did you love?'” This set me at ease again against the backdrop of self-limiting and deceptive thoughts trying to creep in — whispering things like you’re not doing enough or worse yet, everything you do isn’t good enough and actually causes more problems — all lies, rooted in fear, not love, but tempting nonetheless to believe. However, we must not allow ourselves to get paralyzed by fear and defeated by inaction. God’s love is unbreakable and unstoppable and we are the carriers of this Light!

I met up with a friend the next day who was treating me to lunch in downtown Dublin. We sat outdoors in the February sunshine sipping our fancy drinks and enjoying the quality time and conversation. All of a sudden I noticed a face peering at me just above the partition to my left. I turned a bit startled and said “oh! hello!” to the unassuming woman staring at me. She started mumbling, but couldn’t quite compete with the pop music and chatter in the background. I couldn’t hear her very well, but it didn’t take me long to put together that this woman was marked by that dreaded label: homeless.

She was saying she was so tired. So, so tired, and had slept the night before inside a telephone booth. She said she didn’t care about food, and no thanks, she didn’t want a warm drink either. She just wanted a place to lay her head. I asked her what her name was. “Therese” (What?! Another one! interesting fact: the name, Therese, Teresa, Theresa means “to harvest or reap”) I introduced myself and my friend and continued to talk to her. She shared freely and unashamedly. Her mother died 18 months ago. She has no home, no family, and no friends that are not addicted to drugs or alcohol. “God didn’t put us on this earth to do drugs,” she said. She doesn’t drink. She doesn’t do drugs. Her friend tragically died recently with her unborn baby inside of her. She tried to end her own life by an attempt to hang herself 3 weeks ago, and she just hoped God wasn’t angry or disappointed with her…

Clearly the €20 EURO she was seeking for a hostel was not her biggest or only need right then.

We prayed with Theresa and she wept. Right there in the open air with all the other restaurant patrons surrounding us. I asked her if I could give her a hug and she said yes. We talked about her loneliness and desperation, so I stood up and walked around the partition and embraced her. She cried in my arms and stroked my back as I held her for a few long moments. I spoke words of life and hope over her and prayed more silently, and then I sat back down. My sweet friend had been praying and taking it all in simultaneously. In silent accord, she handed Theresa a €20 note and a letter she had recently been given from a friend. It was a letter from God. Words of scripture and identity true to us all weaved into a personalized message. Perfect! Theresa dried her eyes and thanked us and said she would read the letter tonight while falling asleep in her bed once she checked into the hostel.

No one usually likes to admit the inner dialogue taking place when they’re talking to someone who is homeless. Or even just passing by a person with this circumstance on the streets because let’s be honest, it’s uncomfortable and awkward to stop and talk to these kind of people and we rarely do. But these kind of people are children of God too. He said when we do unto “the least of these” we are doing to Him. We are staring at the very face of Christ in these moments, and despite all of my speculations, critical mind and good practice, I simply decided in that moment that it was right to believe her and bless her in the only ways we could right then. Injustice and brokenness has robbed this woman of so much, but Jesus wants to give us the privilege of giving everything back…and then some. Just because his grace is extravagant like that. Our blessing may have only been temporary, but I believe she walked away from us a changed woman.

We must continue talking about justice. We must continue asking ourselves the hard questions and analyze and articulate the solutions. Yet, when the ordinary, every day opportunity seeks you out, how do you respond? Do you embrace the outcast? the lonely, messed up or awkward? Do you question why our world systems put people in these kind of positions in the first place? Or do you ignore her and change the subject to something a little more comfortable?

“One of the greatest tragedies of this world is not that we don’t care about each other. It’s that we don’t even know each other.” -Shane Claiborne at Rubicon 2014

Yesu Ashimwe Part II

Here’s a follow up to the story of Teresa, a beloved woman we met last year in Rwanda.

In February 2013 Bryan and I led a DTS team to Rwanda and Burundi. We met this incredible woman on our first day of ministry in Rwanda. I wrote about her story here: https://sunshineinbelfast.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/yesu-ashimwe/

A couple weeks ago I received this photo from our host and translator, Odeth. When we left Rwanda, our team gave a 200,000 rwf (roughly £200) donation towards a new home for Teresa. Odeth took it upon herself to raise the remaining funds and today Teresa is the proud owner of a rebuilt home! Her house was literally falling apart, but now it’s strong and she can sleep safe and secure — a huge deal! God sent our team to be His hands and feet on an ordinary day…and it completely changed Teresa’s life!

Deep Roots

“Everyday, the first field you have to plow is your own heart. You have to know Him (Jesus) deeply, first. You must know Him before you can share Him. Otherwise the danger is with all of your ability, giftings, and hard work, you will just share yourself” – Brother Thierry. (from the Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor, Co. Down)

I borrowed this information from my friend and fellow missionary, Joelle, who is currently helping run a mobile DTS with the Fire & Fragrance Ireland family. This is from their lecture week on Celtic Christianity while they were staying in Rostrevor. I am so thankful that in the pilgrimage of my life, the Lord led me to Ireland. The richness and depth of spirituality here is beautiful and there’s so much more for me the learn and glean from. Some of the core beliefs of the Celtic Model:

  • Incarnation(al): Jesus, GOD, came to us as a man, he become like we were. The Celts believed in going to a people, and instead of trying to change them, they embraced the amazing parts of the people and helped Christianity bloom among the natural giftings they already had. IRELAND was an artistic/unique warrior people when St. Patrick came. He didn’t try to take that out of them. He embraced it and showed them how they could be creative warriors of the Kingdom.
  • Community: When they created communities everywhere they went, they did it AS a community. They believed in leaning on one another, opposite to our often “individualism” mindset.
  • Belonging before believing: In the time of the first Celts the roman church would only let you into their “group” if you professed what you wanted them to. Celtic Christianity countered that through building friendship and relationship. Going OUT into where the people are, instead of just waiting for the people to join them.
  • Every sphere of Society
  • No Sacred and Secular: Believing that God is everywhere, not just with us when we read the Bible. But in out fun activities, when we clean the house, not COMPARTMENTALIZING Jesus.
  • Spirit – Led: They believed in Relying on the Holy Spirit not just religious laws.
  • Truth is a Person

Stories from Africa

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Today on our way to church the road was riddled with rocks and potholes and the incline was steep. Our trusted taxi bus just couldn’t handle it with the extra weight of 10 Westerners and it died about half way to our destination. We jumped out of the bus and were greeted by the stares of about 20 children and men. We exhausted our Kinyarwanda knowledge quickly and the bus still wouldn’t start so I started singing “Imana Ni Nziza” (God is so good) a few times through. The kids just continued to stare at us blankly and whisper to each other. I went to check with Odeth on our status and when I turned back around the remaining 9 of my team were enthusiastically singing “Father Abraham” complete with body actions, while the children stood on the opposite side of the road with gaping mouths and giggles watching the silly muzugus!  You have to learn to laugh at yourself here…

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When you lay your dreams at the alter, God will take them and resurrect them into something so much greater than you could have imagined.

I’m sitting here amidst the most beautiful time of worship. In His presence is fullness of joy and I am certainly feeling that right now! Today has been unbelievable. This afternoon we prepared ourselves for a program with some youth who live on the streets, thinking it would be just a handful of teenage boys. When we showed up we were greeted by the squeals and delight of over 100 children. They hugged us and pressed their little hands into ours,  then crammed into a classroom full of chalk dust and dirt. They started singing and dancing in unison to the beat of a single drum and we watched in awe at the smiling sea of faces. CATCH UP SCHOOL is what they call this ministry offering education, hope and dreams to hundreds of children who would not have it otherwise. The room quickly overheated so we carried out onto the grass and shared a few songs of our own. Maddy shared a lesson around the story of Zacchaeus. Bethany and Zach shared personal testimonies too. Pastor Denis, who we were working with spoke about dreams and not giving up. We couldn’t understand because of the language barrier and then all a sudden a bunch of the kids ran up and crowded around him. Our host, Odeth, whispered to me that he asked them who wanted to be saved by Jesus and ask Him into their hearts. Goodness! I’ve never seen that happen so…easily! There must have been about 30 kids/youth fervently repeating the prayer.

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Most of the children are orphans or street kids so they have no homes. The people who started this school have be able to rent 3 houses to shelter many of the older boys. We brought 4 mattresses as a gift knowing they have nothing inside. As we personally delivered each mattress, one of the guys – an 18 year old named Alfred told me in English how much he loves music and how he’s learned to play the guitar and piano. He said he loved our music! It’s beautiful to see how such simple acts can give people so much hope. And I was overwhelmed seeing how these people have sacrificed themselves on behalf of these kids — to show them the love of Jesus, educate them, feed, clothe and teach them to dream big — because with God, all things are possible. What a contrast to a school I visited in Palestine where they taught their kids that dreaming is futile. I’m so thankful for this day. It has changed us, I know it.

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(Catch up School) Photo copyrights: Christa Curry and Jenn Finch

Yesu Ashimwe

On day two in Kigali, we has the joy of meeting Teresa, a widow living in Gehange — one of the areas most affected during the Genocide. Teresa lost her husband and two sons when they were murdered in 1994. Her two daughters were systematically raped and infected with HIV/AIDS and have since passed away. One daughter was impregnated as a result of the rape and now all that Teresa has left of her family is one beautiful grand-daughter. Teresa and her grand-daughter live in a mud brick house built by OxFam, but she has fears for it’s longevity and believes it’s crumbling beneath her in the rain. She secures her door with a tree trunk as she also fears someone breaking in and killing her at any moment. She struggles with her health (TB and other problems) and basic needs on a regular basis. She said when she doesn’t have food for a day she just tries to sleep. This happens often.

It is Teresa’s beautiful faith in Jesus that sustains her. She gave her life to Jesus many years ago after the Genocide and after being a drunkard and a pagan — as she put it. Jesus transformed her heart and she was able to give up her addictions and habits right away. She attends church every single morning and loves to dance. She’s a spiritual mother to many and looks after the needs of those in her area despite no one looking after her. Teresa told us how she used to read the Bible every day but then started losing her vision. She thinks that maybe if she can get glasses, she’ll be able to read it again. While she shared her story with us I glanced around her “living room”. All that surrounded us was uneven dirt, two wooden stools and three pieces of paper pinned to a mud wall.

I asked Teresa how God speaks to her and she told us that He speaks through the Bible and that He spoke to her in a dream recently. She dreamt that a group of people were going to come to her house and that’s how she knew God would provide for her. She had no idea that 11 YWAMers were on their way to visit her! I felt I should give her one of the postcards I had created that says today and everyday, you are loved with a reference to Jeremiah 31:3

“I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”

I asked our translator, Odeth, to explain that it was a gift for Teresa to remind her of the love Jesus has for her. As Odeth was explaining the reference to Jeremiah, Teresa proceeded to recite the whole verse from memory in her language — Kinyarwanda. She said that God gave her two verses to remember and that was one of them!

We all went outside so she could show us the condition of her house. We asked what else we could pray for her about and so we took time to pray for her house, her grand-daughter, her health and vision among other things. When we were finished she told us how good it was to have us and how hard it is normally because she doesn’t have anyone to ask her how she is doing or make sure she has her basic needs met. I thought about giving her the clothes off my back in that moment, but was reluctant to show off my birthday suit! Thankfully I remembered I had a rain jacket with me that I had just purchased in Ireland. I knew I was meant to give it to her and she lit up! She admired it and beamed as she told me she will now wear it every morning to church.

She asked Odeth what my name is and then said “Oh, I know why she loves me so much. Stephanie was my mother’s name!”. After that this elderly woman started referring to me as her mother! Due to the new found bond with me she invited me and Odeth back into her house while the others stayed outside. Odeth explained to me that she felt she could trust me now like a family member and wanted to show me her whole house as was the custom. Her living conditions would break anyone’s heart and yet she had such joy and hope in her. She didn’t ask for anything or show desperation in the slightest.

I asked the team what we should get her and we agreed on stocking her with food and buying something that would simply be a treat for her. A few of us walked to a nearby shop — hearing many “good mornings!” from the children we passed on the road — to pick up the supplies. Teresa didn’t know what we were doing. We returned with large sacks of flour and maize along with sugar, soap and special lotion for her dry, aching skin. We also purchased a new mattress so her and her grand-daughter would be able to sleep and rest much more comfortably. When I had seen her bedroom I noticed she only had a wooden frame with a blanket and something that hardly qualified as a matt. She was radiant with gratitude and kept throwing her arms in the air, praising God. Yesu ashimwe, Yesu ashimwe! 

It was really the least we could do. I always wrestle with knowing where to draw the line with money. I know that money doesn’t solve problems in the long run and there are so many people in need….but it absolutely helps, and it would have been wrong for us to only pray for food when we were perfectly capable of providing some. That’s the heart of Jesus after all — meeting spiritual, physical and emotional needs. The whole time I just kept thinking to myself Love the one in front of you. That’s what we’re called to do. Whether that’s my co-worker in Ireland, a stranger in America, or Therese in the heart of Africa.

Before we left one of our guys asked Teresa if she would pray for him because he wanted to experience the same joy that she has. None of us had a clue what she was saying but as she lifted her hands to heaven and began interceding for Zach, the Spirit of God filled the room so thickly. I was instantly overcome by tears and I could see Zach’s soul being filled up. Many hugs, photos, and thank-you’s later it was time for us to leave.

I will never forget Teresa.

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Ubuntu

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I get to lead these people on Outreach in 3 weeks! We have been spending this week planning and preparing more for our departure (including typhoid jabs, ouch!) I have so much anticipation for this outreach. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this group of world changers! We’ve been trying to come up with a team name and it seems we’ve all agreed on the term “Ubuntu”, a Southern African philosophy. What’s Ubuntu you ask? Well, it’s many things, but according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu: 

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
 
One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
 
I feel the meaning is quite fitting for the team and our vision, don’t you?! 
 
Ah…10 beautiful souls….devoted to our Maker…disciples who have counted the cost…a band of worshipers ready to give it all to see His Kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven…sons and daughters of the Most High inviting and pursuing the lost, lonely, broken, complacent and hurting into the arms of the One who sacrificed it all that we might know Him closer than our own beating heart…  this is what it’s all about.