Thursday, September 29, 2016

Will You?

Well apparently the adventures of living overseas also include those on the lighter side! A couple of days ago I went with a friend to meet up with one of their friends at a fruit juice place. This other 50-year old or so guy, we'll call him James, showed up with a plastic water bottle containing his own fruit juice (which I somehow think had more than that in it) and a pack of cigarettes. He politely offered me the first cigarette and I as politely said no thank you. You may laugh but having lived in an Adventist bubble all my life, this was the first time someone actually offered me a cigarette. James then proceeded to smoke 5 in a row.

It was a pleasant evening. We ate sandwiches, drank carrot-orange juice, and had a good conversation about being honest about your struggles. James readily admitted that he had struggles with smoking and didn't want to hide it. He attends the lesson study I go to at the university church so I already knew who he was. He told us that he would come to the lesson study with a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket because he didn't want to hide them in the car.

At one point, James looked at me and told me You have a pure heart. This is not the first time I've heard this phrase. In South Korea, when I was teaching English for a summer, one of the Korean teachers looked at me and told me the same thing. It always makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because I don't think of myself as a particularly holy person. I mean, I don't try to do wrong things but at the same time I can easily think of several other women who would be seen as holy. I'm just an ordinary woman trying my best to understand who God is.

James really wanted us to come to his house that evening and hang out, but an hour was all we had. So we said goodbye and headed back up the hill. I thought nothing of it and didn't connect the dots when my phone rang with an unknown number twice the next afternoon. I simply hung up as I don't answer unknown calls. Usually someone is speaking in Arabic which I don't understand.

Today, I was texting my friend who I'd gone to meet James with and he asked me if I was in a very long meeting yesterday. I said no and asked why. He said he had called twice and I'd hung up on him. I still didn't make the connection though. Then he said he was calling on behalf of James.

Apparently James had called up my friend and insisted he call me to meet James at the fruit juice place again. I hadn't answered so I'd missed the calls (thankfully!). James said he liked me and he felt that I could help him straighten his life out.

Though it's a somewhat amusing experience, at the same time my heart aches for the many lost souls in this world today who are looking for someone to help fix their lives. They meet someone and, hopefully, see the love of Jesus in them and they are drawn to that. Yet they feel that they will find help if they can connect with the person instead of connecting with the One Who can heal their hearts and their lives. How do I share this with them? In some cases, like with James, I can only pray and in others I can introduce them to their Creator and Redeemer. But in every case I know with certainty that God longs to bring them into relationship with Him so they can know they are loved and find hope again.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Running Out of Battery

The semester is in full swing now and suddenly my life has become very busy. Marisa is back, I'm on the social committee for the faculty & staff, and my work is starting to get rather complex. I'm content again. In the summer, it was somewhat discombobulating because all the activities I was used to had disappeared. This Sabbath, for example, though, I will be helping serve food in the caf for lunch, go on refugee visitation, choir practice, decorating the caf for the welcome party, and then making sure the party goes well in addition to cleaning up afterwards.

Today I gave the thought for prayer meeting. I'm not one who likes to be up front or to lead out, but I was asked and I had promised God when I first came that I would do my best to be as available in ministry as possible. I try not to say no. So Monday evening, I sat down and tried to come up with an idea of what to talk about. I asked a friend, I looked at past blog entries for inspiration, I looked at part of a DVD on mental health. Nothing was jiving, though.

Tuesday evening I exercised and watched the volleyball game instead of planning prayer meeting. When I returned to my room it was after 10 pm and I sat down on my bed to think again. With my phone turned off and no distractions, God put the words into my heart. I rehearsed it several times and then went to sleep.

I was so nervous today during song service. I could see my right arm muscles trembling and I worried that the students would be able to hear it in my voice. The time came and I stood up, placed my notes and Bible on a music stand, and began to speak. I forgot I was holding a microphone. I forgot I was nervous. I forgot I was speaking to college students who find it hard to focus at the end of a long full day. I simply shared what was on my heart.

The topic was connecting to God, how to stay connected, and what some practical steps are. I shared from my own experience, I asked them questions, and I was thankful they were interacting with the topic. I briefly glanced at my notes to make sure I was staying on track but because it was personal I didn't have to read everything verbatim. I longed to connect their attention to the reality that God wanted to connect with them.

When it was over, I realized that God had spoken through me the words He wanted to share. On Monday evening, I was trying to find words that either I or someone else had written so I could package it neatly into something that made sense. While there may be a place and time for that, I knew after 3 hours of wrestling with a topic that God had something else in mind.

I hope it was helpful for the students. My biggest burden is to help students understand that a relationship with God is not based on meeting a checklist of achievements in different spiritual areas, such as having one hour of devotions every day. I want them to understand that God is relational and desires to connect with us just as we long to connect with our dearest friends. This is my life testimony. It's not one of being redeemed from drugs and alcohol. It's a story of learning Who God is and how He wants to connect to me. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Half a Lifetime Ago

I'm becoming a part of the memories of this place. That was the thought that struck me the other day, as I was walking up the hill diligently working on getting my 10,000 steps in. I was admiring the sunset, the skyline, and the sea when I thought, when I leave, I will become a memory that is part of this place.

Returning after 17 years, I've found my own share of echoes on this campus. A shadow here, a scent there, and I am transported back to my teenage years with all the emotions that accompanied it. Memories of dear friends fill my heart but the reality is that who they were then is long gone. Even I am different.

I wonder, sometimes, what I would say to my teenage self if I could step back in time. There are many things I would like to share, many promises I'd like to keep, many words of comfort I'd like to extend. I think most of all, though, I would say this one thing:

You'll come back.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Mission of a Different Kind

Day 2 and I'm still down for the count. It's funny how many American idioms have become a part of my vocabulary, even if I don't fully understand what they mean! Anyhow, after a very restful sleep last night that went into the later part of the morning, I woke up feeling content. I am thankful for this illness, not because I enjoy being sick but because it forced me to rest. The last week I'd been running on 6-hour nights because of some personal issues in a different time zone and though I try to sleep more on weekends I usually end up not succeeding very well. I don't mind being sick if it's as mild as this though.

So I spent the day in bed, reading, watching a YouTube video on Esther (which was very good, most of the script was taken verbatim from the Bible), colouring a picture from my flower garden colouring book that I brought back from the US (it now hangs on my wall), playing a game on my phone, and surfing Facebook. Several dear friends checked in to see how I was doing and offer help if I needed any.

By the end of the afternoon I was getting thoroughly bored so I decided to read old emails. I was busily organizing my Sent emails from 2009 into various folders when I came across one that brought tears to my eyes. It was an email I'd sent out to my friends, my twice-a-year-update that was usually very long and detailed. Near the end, I shared a piece from a blog post I'd written earlier that week. As I re-read the post, I substituted MEU for the school I was working with at the time and it fit perfectly. I'll copy it here below.

I'm excited because I am reminded again why I am at MEU and what my mission in life is at present. My mission in life is not to travel the seven seas, reaching people on distant islands, it is not to hike tall mountains and share the gospel with remote tribes, it is not to pull people out of the grasp of sin through inner-city ministries, it is not to live on a farm in some deserted area far removed from the city and it is not to journey to foreign countries and convert souls by the thousands. My mission in life is to do exactly what I do now. To be the best assistant, advisor, counselor, and friend to as many as I can who come to MEU. My mission field is right here, near the city but not in it, enabling missionaries to go out but not going as one, supporting the sharing of the gospel in an indirect way and yet seeing results all the time as one by one, the young people leave this campus, faith strong and ready to change the world.

This is why I am here and I don't have to go anywhere else to find this experience. It's right here.

There will be days I question my purpose and whether I really am making a difference when the majority of my time is spent sitting in committees and sending emails. But when I remember that my mission in life is to be the one holding up Moses' arms, as it were, then I am encouraged. I am encouraged to stay and I am encouraged to keep going for my God has a plan for my life and He is fulfilling it right here and now. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

In Pursuit of Service

Yesterday some of the AVS volunteers were talking about a virus that's been going around. Mario assured Ingrid that she would at some point fall ill, if not this time, then some time in the future. She laughed and said she'd been eating street food and hadn't had any problems. I chimed in to say that I'd never gotten sick, other than the flu. I didn't know if it was because I had a strong immune system, ate a primarily vegan diet, or perhaps even had leftover antibodies from my previous stint overseas as a teenager, but regardless, I was happy that so far I'd been spared the horror stories I'd heard. One student had ended up in the emergency room, but that was because he'd gotten ill with a stomach virus and drank only one small bottle of water over 3 days so naturally he got dehydrated.

Then today my turn came. I woke up to stomach cramping and other unpleasant side effects that accompany it, though thankfully no vomiting or fever. I skipped breakfast, took a good dose of charcoal, and headed off to work. It was a busy morning and we had a committee meeting that lasted more than two hours. I am the recording secretary for that meeting so I prayed hard that God would keep my now-grumbling empty stomach at peace until I could go and rest.

After the meeting was over, I returned to my computer to finish up the e-newsletter that I publish weekly. It had been a busy last couple of days and I hadn't managed to sit down with my boss to get some ideas for the editorial until after the meeting. I jotted down his words, then sat down and started to type.

I don't remember praying specifically that God would help me write the editorial. As I began to type, the words came easily and within minutes a smooth 3-paragraph narrative had unfolded. I stared at my monitor and tears came to my eyes as I realized that my Father cared so much about me that He had helped me write the editorial clearly and logically in such a short amount of time so I could go and rest. There have been times when I've had writer's block or the sentences didn't connect and I've been frustrated because it seemed like a waste of time. Today, this was not the case. I scanned the newsletter quickly, made some minor edits, and then sent it off to my boss to review.

When you think of a missionary, it's easy to imagine them in a clinic in Africa or a school in the Amazon, healing and teaching the needy. It's not as glamorous to attribute writing an editorial as being mission work. Yet I am learning that mission work is not always the expected lines of service. It can also be supporting the church so its mission can go forward. A good friend told me today that while my position may seem thankless at times, the work is invaluable because it supports so many functions in the university.

Moments like these, when I clearly know that God is blessing my simple contributions to His work, is when I am reminded again that He has called me here for a purpose. I may never know it in its entirety but I'm thankful for this time to dedicate my time to service without distraction.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Walking is Free

Wow, today I got my steps in!!! 25,000+ to be precise, or 17.5 km, or 11 miles! I had made my list of things to do today and I was wasting time on Facebook and watching things on YouTube, so I told myself I was going for a walk whether I wanted to do or not. I got ready and at 2 pm or so off I went. I thought, I'd see how long it took me to walk to Dora and then if I was tired I'd just stay in Bourj Hammoud but if not I'd try to get to Zeitouna Bay. It took me about 40 minutes to walk to Dora, and I wasn't rushing cuz it was a bit warm. 

In Dora, which is like grand central station with taxis and buses and mini-vans going everywhere, I first asked at the taxi stand area how much it was to go to Zeitouna Bay. They told me $10 and I said of course not and off I went, quite indignant. I found the general area that Ana Paula and Marisa and I had taken a mini-van from several months ago but I couldn't see the number 2 van that I'd carefully written in my notes. So I started asking van drivers but none of them were going that way either. Finally someone said number 15 and I was starting to go to the pink number 15 bus when someone else said I could take a service taxi. He was very smiley and was trying to take my hand to guide me in the direction of the taxi but I was very wary so then he shook my hand and introduced himself and then waved over an old man driving a taxi and said it was 2,000 (which is how much a service is) and I got in. Turns out he was just being friendly. 

A little ways along, we picked up a Filipino lady going to work at the 4 Seasons Hotel, and she was trying to arrange a regular weekly contract with the taxi driver so he could always pick her up from work. He was saying $100 for a month and she was trying to get him to do it for $66 or 100,000 LBP a month which he wasn't having. He kept trying to explain to her that if he was contracted then he would have to stop whatever he was doing and head in her direction and drive her specifically to her location without picking up people, then she said no he could pick up people along the way. It was fun because the whole conversation was in Arabic and I was just picking up the gist of it all without trying very hard. 

After I got dropped off, I walked for about an hour or so along the promenade. There were many young guys swimming in the water or fishing, and one spot was a rocky beach with families also. Some people brought their hubbly bubblies with them to the beach! These areas were not official swimming areas so to get down, in some places, you had to hop over the guard rail, hold on to some ropes, and clamber down the side of the wall. Not my cup of tea! 

I saw a Ferris wheel at a children's amusement park, so I went and had a ride. It was just over $2 and it went around 3 times. No seatbelt or anything but it didn't go super high and it was very slow too. It was quite a nice view from the top. I think the guy who sold me the ticket was rather amused. I walked up to the Pigeon Rocks, took the requisite selfie, and walked back down. On the way, I stopped and bought two spinach pies and the guy who heated them up/bagged them threw two mini pizzas in as a treat. That was nice of him. 

Then I started looking for a mini-van to get back to Dora. Unfortunately, Sundays are not as busy with public transportation and I realized that after seeing 3 number 15 buses drive past in about 30 minutes. I kept walking back in the direction of Dora and thinking about whether I'd walk all the way back or get a taxi. The one taxi who was even going my way asked for 4,000 and I wasn't about to pay double what I'd paid coming so I said no and soldered on. My feet are free, I thought, so I can walk! 

Finally, after walking further back than I had walked going, I heard a bus honk. The driver must have seen me limping, hahaha. I looked around and eagerly waited for him to pull over and when I asked if he was going to Dora he said yes. This was the larger number 15 bus, not a mini-van. I hopped on and enjoyed the wonderful ride all the way back to Dora. It is just 1,000 for the buses/mini-vans which is absolutely wonderful. This was also my first time to ride a bus or mini-van by myself. I decided that since it was daylight, it was a regular size bus, and I had my phone with me, I would be fine. 

At Dora, I found the Falafel Arax shop and ordered a falafel for $2 which was soooo tasty. I ate that as I walked back home. From Dora. I got a ride from the field office to the dorm, but that last bit of hill is a killer so I was grateful! I think I will try to go down there more often, maybe next time I'll bring some of the new people along, so we can have an adventure together. Now I've started the week off with a great round of exercise--here's to keeping it up!