“Is this really happening?” Maybe it wasn’t the first question I should have been asking myself, but, there are no words to convey the panic and the excitement I felt the first time someone asked me why I do what I do. We had just started working in downtown Savannah and decided to participate in a work day with the church that owns our facility. About 30 minutes into painting a fence, I met Mac. Mac was cruising down the sidewalk with his walker and stopped in front of us. He found out about the project at church and, since he lived at an assisted living home just up the street, he wanted to help. After talking and painting for a bit, the conversation turned to our program. I explained some of what we did and he became interested in our GED program. Shortly after that, he became quiet and told me, “You know, I would really love to get my GED. I left school when I was in 5th grade to help support my family and I never finished. The problem is; I don’t know how to read.” Moved by his story, I told him we would find him a coach to help him learn. At that moment, his eyes filled with tears and he asked the question; “Why would you do that?” Getting over my panic, I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Well Mac, God loves me, I love God, God loves people, so I try to love people.” “Wow, you people are great!” Mac said, the tears now visible on his cheeks. The only thing I could say to him was “I don’t know about that. But before Jesus I was a mess. I was angry and afraid. Now, I can’t help but love people the way he asks me to and I’m less afraid. He’s not done with me yet!” My answer was definitely not a complete answer. It wasn’t eloquent or theological, but Mac came back to hear more.
I used to think that prayer is not a natural skill I possessed. I would listen to people pray and, even people that didn’t have beautiful language to go with their prayers, they somehow had a better handle on how to talk with God. It wasn’t until I realized that what prayer really is, a conversation with the Creator of the Universe, I call Him dad. That’s when I found both the reverence and the closeness I was missing. I stumbled on an article recently, by David L. Fleming, SJ, about Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order of monks. He says, “Ignatius describes his ministry by the simple Spanish word conversar. Conversar means “to converse,” “to talk with.” Its simplest meaning in English is sincere talk with another person, the kind of comfortable, satisfying conversation whereby we truly get to know someone else.” http://www.loyolapress.com/what-is-ignatian-spirituality-by-david-fleming-sj.htm I want to truly get to know God in such a way that I just talk to Him. Listing 25 people to focus on is a great exercise for me to remember what it is my time with Abba is about. I just have to think, if I conversar (please excuse the terrible Spanish use), with God, and I get comfortable with that, how much better will I be doing the same with the people I am praying for?
It’s late July in Savannah, Georgia when I’m writing this. That’s a brief way of saying it’s hot outside – Africa hot. We actually asked one of our students from Sudan and we found that it was actually cooler there than it was here. I am native to the north east of the US and, even though I have lived in Savannah for well over a decade, I have a hard time with the heat. So when the challenge asked me to walk outside I was not overly enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy meeting people and getting to know them, however, walking in 115-degree heat with 90% relative humidity is a sacrifice for me. I set out from our office for a quick walk around our block and not the best attitude. Prayer was not my problem, my heart was. “God, please don’t let me die of the heat.” A funny thing happened; God didn’t wait for me to get my stuff straight. Half way to the coffee shop (What? You want me to walk the whole time?), I ran into Joe and Randy. Joe and Randy are friends and they are homeless. I greeted them and we talked for a bit about how hot it was. I asked them if they had anything to drink and when they said no, I asked them to wait a few minutes and I would bring them some water. We wound up talking for an hour. They told me about their lives and I got to tell them about myself and what I was doing. We wound up praying for each other. It was perfect, and hot.
As God continues to move among the refugee community we have become a part of, I have noticed many cultural hang-ups that we have in the U.S. One of them that I now notice is how “guys” interact here. A wave of the hand, a quick nod, these are what we can expect with friends. Even our most intimate male relationships are regulated to a meaningful hand shake or an awkward hug lasting only long enough for three quick back slaps. For me, the “bro-hug” has been the pinnacle symbol of a close relationship with guys for as long as I can remember. My new middle eastern friends do not understand this. A shout of joy when I am seen, two hands on my face, a strong lasting embrace, and even a kiss on the cheek have blown away expectations and forced me to leave my discomfort (and shoes) at the door. I also noticed how quickly I revert to my cultural normal when I leave. So when I called a friend and told him I was praying for him today, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, it was less weird than I thought it would be. In fact, I would call it welcomed; maybe even needed. We talked a bit, I got to tell him about the challenge and how it was going so far. We talked about what we were struggling with and what we were celebrating. We talked about things that would normally have taken a day out on the boat fishing or at least a fantastic sermon to bring up. We prayed for each other. After I hung up the phone I had to wonder, would this be what it’s like every day? What could happen if I knew my Christian friends this way and we shared our burdens and joys every day?
“You are the light of the world…” There are days I sure don’t feel like that. Yet here is God declaring exactly what I don’t feel over the purpose of my life. Early in my walk with Jesus I read those words with a sense of accomplishment; “now the world gets to see how the Lord works through me.” Perspective is a powerful thing and now, when I’m not feeling so ‘light-of-the world’, I feel the weight I have placed on that statement. I, too often, do not finish the thought and see the real meaning. A lightbulb consists of several parts most of which have no purpose in themselves. Nothing the parts do can fulfill their own purpose. It’s not until power is applied that the purpose of any of them becomes apparent. Even then, the light is turned on to complete the work of another. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Father, give me your power to fulfill your purposes.
“Who would follow me?” One of the barriers I face, most days, is one of responsibility. What do I need to do today? Who do I need to talk to? How do I make sure everyone is doing what they need to do? Really, for me, it comes down to the insecurity of, “Why would anyone, in their right mind, think what I am doing is a good idea?” Before, faced with that vision of crushing responsibility, I responded by doing nothing. What I came to realize was profound: nobody would think it’s a good idea and that’s a good thing. Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 came into focus. Only the eternal work of my Father matters and I follow Him. Released of the responsibility of having to be anything more than what God made me, I am now free to simply follow Him and show others what I’ve seen. Today I reached out to some friends and told them about this really great thing He is doing. I’m going to give simple obedience a try for 30 days and see where it goes. You want to do this with me? Day 2, Let’s do this – together.
“I have no idea what I’m doing.” It’s the one thought that most repeats in my mind since my wife and I said ‘yes’ to reaching the unreached in our city. Refugees from closed, Islamic countries are here in need of, well, pretty much everything, and He has placed us in a position to help. After watching the video for day one, I’m feeling rather “first century”. The check list I see to be like an early disciple is: uneducated, check; no social power, check; no organization, check. Some of our own community has even been hostile to our activities. So, that’s good, I guess. I don’t want to make too light of how God has been drawing like hearted people to join us. Churches, community groups, and some businesses have committed to coming along side with time and material resources. Most importantly, prayer. People from different churches meet twice weekly and consistently pray for us as part of their prayers for our city. The favor that we see in our daily lives among our new friends has been, in no small part, due to prayer. So, day 1, find someone to pray for you… yes, please!