"Everything in life has a cause, and everything that has order and beauty has an author or an originator."
- Taken from "What is the Point?" by Misty Edwards.
It's crazy the way our taste for things change. A popular Christian artist, Josh Garrels seems to be the odds on favorite musician for any given person at my home in New Zealand. I've made snarky comments that anywhere you go on our base 24 hours a day you can hear him playing but in all reality I'm probably right. In New Zealand I usually don't listen to him just because of how often I hear his music, but here as I attempt to make it through the deep freeze in Minnesota his "Love and War and The Sea In Between" seems to be the only thing I play.
"So much more to life than we've been told
It's full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
The deadweight burden weighs a ton
Go down to the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you've done
-Taken from "Farther Along." by Josh Garrels
I've struggled a little bit with this time at home. As Josh plays through for the third time this morning and I've just come downstairs from heating up my second cup of tea I battle the rest this time is supposed to be for me. We are such a generation of instant satisfaction brought on by constant production. My conscious mind tells me I am supposed to be doing something with my day. I am supposed to have something to show for my time here on earth. I need to be working for something. What the something is, I'm yet to find out, but at any given point but that's what the world tells me.
As a missionary I can struggle with those same thoughts. I am a second quarter entrant of Gen Y America, even more so 2000's American Christianity. I'm a product of mega churches, mega conferences, mega conventions. Adulthood has ushered in the social media apocalypse birthing a generation with unrealistically high expectations of our own humanity and an unspoken need to document all of it. I want to show and give results. I want to produce. I want to have lists and testimonies of the villages struggling to survive that now all have iPad's and TOMS because I showed up with the saving message of American provision and production. WAIT- I mean the simple, saving message of grace...and love...and a peace that passes all understanding.
For me this has been a year of change. This has been my first full year "in the field." My expectations for what being a real life missionary have changed. Continue to change. After a year in the field I can see what has been my biggest challenge: Expectation
"When I say I 'wrestled with God,' I say it with great reverence and fear. He doesn't owe me the answers I seek, but in His generosity and His eagerness to be known, He answers me."
-Taken from "What is The Point?" Misty Edwards.
Last night I was preparing to speak to my sending churches missions board, reviewing the last year and looking forward to 2014. It was incredibly difficult to try and fit a year's worth of life, ministry and stories into a twenty minute powerpoint. (They were gracious and gave me twenty nine minutes including a hilarious question and answer time). As I sorting through scores of beautiful photos I have of the last year; the faces that have came and gone in front of me, the hands that have held mine, the laughs, the tears, the memories and the moments that paste together to illustrate a journey I could have never imagined I was reminded of the times in the last year that I had been overwhelmed by unmet expectation.
There are no photos of me holding malnourished infants. There are no photos of us digging wells for villages without water. No one has been rescued out of sex trafficking or slavery by my hand. It hurts to say it out loud as my expectations shatter all around me. I've been a full time missionary for the last year and as far as evangelism goes, I have not gotten one person "saved."
If you looked through my photos you would see a lot of kids. You'd see Joshua, the son of missionary couple near and dear to all of our hearts who were in ministry transition this summer. I homeschooled Joshy and learned more about God's heart and unique plan for each of us. You'd see the Kindergarten classroom that I am in weekly to teach Bible to five year olds, where I've learned the power of attention and patience. The sons of our base director who I've spent large amounts of time with in the last year, watching Zephyr learn to walk and Titus learn to speak and learn, Leeland enter this world.
You'd see a lot of photos of food. Evidential remnants of a 40 day Daniel Fast I went on through the months of August and September. Intentionally withholding artificial foods, flavorings and interactions from my body with the dead set purpose of interaction with the heart of a living and breathing God.
You'd see a lot of photos of my roommates. Four beautiful, challenging, surrendered women of God. Living in community sharpening my heart, my soul, my attitude, and my mind like nothing I've ever been a part of. You'd see photos of Sophie, one of my best friends who in another life had been one of my students: the breathtaking girl whose fierce obedience to the call of Christ in her life will set the whole world on fire.
You'd seen candids of the students that have come through this years schools; Around the World Discipleship Training School, Father's Love Crossroads, Snowboarders DTS, Justice, Backpacker and Climbers DTS'. The heart's that have found freedom from false identities and ideas. Hearts that have been set on fire for the "upward call of Christ.' Students who will go out and touch the nations, students who have laid hands on people and seen them healed, students who have interacted who those enslaved to the sex industry, students who have dug wells and held malnourished infants, students who have ushered the lost into new life through Jesus Christ.
"You should live like you are going to die, because you are going to die. (...) Let me tell you, you will die, and you don't really have a lot of time to figure out what life is really about."
-Taken from "What is The Point?" Misty Edwards.
In the last year I have had to come to terms with what my expectations for what a missional life looks like. I have had to come to terms for what others expectations of my ministry look like. I have had to adjust my expectations of myself and my God. I have lived the last year as a missionary in a first world country. My expectation as a little girl, dreaming of being a missionary someday was that I'd be going the third world countries a few times a year. Living in mud huts, adopting lots of swollen bellied orphans, shaving my head because of the lice, eating lots of crazy foods. I'd see people jump out of graves like they do in Africa. I'd learn three new languages and write lots of books about the journey.
My desire and expectation to produce something that the general public can consume has been crippling at times this year. It took a long road with a lot of bumps to come to the conclusion that I'd created a life and ministry in my head out of false expectations. False expectations of my God, myself, my heart and those around me.
Expectations that have been/are being shattered this year:
1. The road will be easy. I don't know how long it will take a human being to understand that's just not the case. From attempting to find a way to life on faith financially to dealing with the deep recesses of my own heart and spirit; this has been a year of challange. God never promised that the road would be easy, but He did promise that it would lead to life and life abundant. THAT I have learned to a whole new level this year. The hardest roads have often lead to the most life in my case.
"And I will put this third in the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'They are my people' and they will say 'The Lord is my God.'"
2. Ministry is going to look a certain way. At some points this year I was inputting spread sheets, welcoming new students, mixing chemical cleaners, rubbing backs, teaching children, leading prayer, being silly to make a friend laugh, going on walks with students, buying another staff person dinner, praying with best friends under a million sparkling stars. Ministry has never looked the same, it's never looked typical but I've learned that the best ministry I will ever be a part of is a humble heart doing everything as unto the Lord. If I'm called to play in the dirt with kids one day and asked to lead a safety briefing the next all the Lord is asking me to do is to do it with my whole heart. So I'm going to, it's taken me a while to get there and quite a few slices of humble pie but I'm excited for the places God is bringing my heart when it is willing and passionate to follow after Him wherever he may lead.
3. You can know or control how this is going to turn out. Anyone who knows me personally will attest to the fact there are few things in life I hate as much as I hate change. I really love routine, I love knowing what's coming next. I'm not a huge fan of surprises. (Unless their birthday parties-love those). In this life routine is rare and change is common. I've spent long portions of this year dreading the new and different and God has constantly allowed it in my life. Slowly but surly I'm learning who is in control of this fickle thing we call life. And thank goodness it's not me! I'm learning through perspective and retrospect that my dreams are far too small. The God of all creation has much bigger, better and more magnificent plans for my life, my loves and this world than I ever could. When I let Him take the wheel, our relationship is so much more seamless.
"For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future."
4. My life hangs in the balance of what others think of me. This has been an expectation and a false belief I've struggled with for years. Living cross-culturally in the digital age it has threatened my heart more than once. I had someone give me a scenario recently; I love to write and so they said, "Mandi, what if so and so famous author read something you wrote and loved it. Just raved about what an amazing writer you are. You would be SO confident. You'd tell everyone about your interaction with them, you'd update Facebook and Twitter and blog everywhere about how awesome they thought you were. And now if Jo-Schmo average person complimented your writing, you'd be gracious and say "Thank you" but for the most part you'd go on with you life. This is how we view God. He is the ultimate creator, author and perfecter of EVERYTHING! He's not the average Jo-Schmo opinion of you! Do you understand who it is that says your beauty is breathtaking? Do you understand who it is that says you are unconditionally loved? Do you understand who it is that is completely pleased with you?" This has not been an easy one for me, I'm a provider and people pleaser by nature. But I have begun to taste what life is like when I'm living for an audience of one. When I begin to live from his approval and applause instead of for the applause of those around me. (Thanks Lady Gaga for the perspective shifter!)
A New Year, A New Hope.
And so I find myself at the dawning of 2014. I rang in another New Year at the International House of Prayer with those nearest and dearest my heart. I've spent a lot of weeks looking very deep inside of my heart and processing through the last year and looking forward to the next.
(This isn't always an easy process. Here are two very well written articles I've read about missionaries both coming home and dealing with grief that I've found helpful:
So I sit once more at the bottom of a mountain, the summit? 2014. I stand at the beginning not knowing what they all are but knowing that there will be climbs this year. Massive and marvelous climbs that will require all of me. All of my patience, all my faith, all of my hope, all of my endurance. Mr. Garrels continues in the corner as I drown in the hope that with my God the victory is already won.
"Stand on the shores of a site unseen
The substance of this dwells within me
Cause my natural eyes only go skin deep
But the eye's of my heart anchor the sea
Plumbing the depths to the place in between
The tangible world and the land of a dreams
Because everything ain't quite as it seems
There's more beneath the appearance of things
A beggar could be king within the shadows
Of a wing."
-Taken from "Beyond The Blue." Josh Garrels
Prayer Request: I am currently in need of massive amount of prayer as I fundraise $500 to process my Working Holiday IEP VISA so I can get back into New Zealand legally. Hopefully as soon as possible.
Feb-May. I am excited to be running our child care program for our Father's Love Crossroads DTS. This is a school that's targeted towards the 35+ crowd with families. Prayers have been answered and we have them coming! God has asked me to take care of the beautiful little ones as their parents are going on a great adventure into His heart learning to know Him more as Father and make Him known in the nations.
I'm also excited to get back into my classroom at Oxford School and continue teaching Bible in Schools.
I'm also ready to get back and start organizing and co-ordinating our Friday Night Evangelism/Outreach for the new quarter schools. Giving us another opportunity to work with local ministry, non profits and friends in bringing practical help, good news and the hope of Jesus to people in Oxford, Christchurch and beyond.
"Christianity is not a blind faith; it is the wisest conclusion you can come to."
-Taken from "What Is the Point?" Misty Edwards
In hindsight I don't have a product to offer anyone. I've got a lot of really beautiful pictures. An almost complete journal. A lifetime of stories. I have a heart, that's been battle tested, bruised, bounced back and finally ignited for this Man Jesus. I may not have walked anyone through the "sinners prayer" in the way that we expect missionaries to do. Maybe that's not what I am called to do in this life, but I hope that as I learn to love the Lord more, I'll inspire others to do the same. I've seen it happen in my life. When the people near me get set on fire for the Lord and His purposes in this world I can't help but want the same. I hope my struggle has brought a momentary relief, I hope my failures have brought realization, that my successes have brought hope. That my small life and the huge plans God has for it have brought hopeful assurance in a Father who loves us, even the messed up, emotional, confused, happy, goofy ones.
Be blessed in the New Year. Be overwhelmed by His peace. Consumed by His joy. Undone by His love.