Sunday, November 25, 2012

Worth So Much More

I called Ahad today and we talked for over an hour. He went to my Indian guesthouse this morning for English class with my friend Charlotte who graciously decided she would continue classes after I left, but they wouldn't let him in. Apparently they're not allowing him in any more. So, he went home and spent the day in bed (because it was his day off) then he went to Mother House for prayer at 6pm. The Sister at the door started asking him a bunch of questions: who are you, where are you from, which religion are your parents, etc. He answered honestly, even telling her that his parents are Muslim but he is not. The Sister told him he could not go to the chapel to pray but could go to Mother's tomb for five minutes. He told me he went and sat for ten minutes and then was asked to leave. He told the Sister he would never come back. I told him he should pray about it and if God wants him to come back, he should. 

All day being rejected by people who freely allowed him to come in when he was with an American. I tried to tell him that no matter what people do, God still loves him and is chasing after him. God will never reject him or abandon him. 

It's so frustrating. How is he going to know the love of Christ if no one shows him? If everyone just closes the door on him because they are afraid? 

I understand why these places are suspicious. They are Christian organizations that take care of foreigners and they have to be discerning about Indian men, especially non-Christian Indian men, because they have had instances where Indian men have followed foreign women around and cheated them in some way or another.  I understand this. But to close the door on a man who is seeking... 

"It's about class, status, style. All religion the same," he told me. 

"God doesn't care about class, status, or style," I told him. "He loves you." 

God doesn't care that his family is Muslim. 
God doesn't care that he never had any formal education. 
God doesn't care that he has been poor his whole life.
God loves Ahad. God loves him with an everlasting love. 
And it breaks my heart to see Christians turn him away from seeking Jesus. 

This readjustment process is weird. I don't know how I feel about things. I'm just taking it day by day. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Where my dogs lick my face and love me
Where my brothers hug me and we laugh about silly things
Where the living room smells like an old pee stain, recently discovered after moving furniture
Where my brothers friends are having a drinking party down the hall
Where all my stuff sits, waiting for my return.

I'm back.

I will now be taking a break from Facebook, all social media, and news. I need to readjust.

Thank you for your love and prayers. Keep 'em coming! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Aste Aste

“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” –Psalm 94:19

I leave pieces of my heart everywhere I go. My heart may be smaller but my capacity for love is so much greater. 

He twists his mouth awkwardly, trying to mimic my American accent as he reads the words I had written on the page. A breeze blows across the porch and he pulls the shawl I let him borrow tighter around his face, making me laugh because he looks like a typical terrorist from an American comic. He catches my eye for a moment. “I change since you come. I feel different,” he tells me before he goes back to reading CAMEL, typed out in large letters across the page. The cool breeze brushes away the thoughts of leaving. I try to forget.

But later, as he waves goodbye to me at the airport, eyes red with tears, I find a quiet corner to sob. 

Sister Beatina calls me into the Flower room, into a room full of the girls I have been working with over the last two and a half months. They drape a lei made out of recycled paper around my neck and Gita starts singing into the microphone, belting out some tune the rest of the girls know and join in. They all sing and bring me gifts they have made. We all clap and whistle as Asha, our little girl with Downs Syndrome, dances in the middle of the room. Cecilia sits in her wheelchair, not smiling, not joining in, her eyes watering. I lean into her and make a few jokes, pinching her cheeks. She smiles and joins us for a little bit.

I lift Cecilia out of her wheelchair and into her pink checkered bed, next to Rani and Mangala, her best friends. As I begin to walk away, she reaches out her hand as far as her contorted muscles allow and grabs my arm, pulling me down to her bed. With tears in her eyes she pulls me in and whispers, “Thank you, Auntie, for everything.” We have tickle fest so I don’t start crying in front of her. And I leave her with a smile on her face.

Familiar faces gather around the table, reaching into box after box of cheese pizza. I retreat from the party to start packing. Some of the girls come in, telling me how strange this place will be without me. I was the first person many of them met. I remember when the first people I met at my guesthouse left. When you meet and become family, it feels like you will each be there forever. This is life. But then time passes and suddenly the visa is due to expire and we make our way back to where we came from. Life moves so quickly.

I fell in love again and again in India. 

I am afraid to come back to the US. I am afraid for so many reasons, but I don’t feel like I can explain without offending someone. I am afraid of apathy, complacency, political agendas, American Christians who are more American than Christian. I wish I could go anywhere else but America.

But my heart convicts me as I read:

“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” Luke 8:38-39

I will go back to America, and I will proclaim all God has done for me. I will look for the log in my own eye before trying to help my brothers and sisters with their splinters. I will constantly check the state of my heart, asking myself tough questions about my beliefs and the way I live them out. But most of all, I will pray constantly and beg God to have mercy on me, a sinner.

I will be back in Arizona Wednesday night. I will make a short blog and Facebook post to let people know I have arrived safely, then I will not be turning on my computer to look at Facebook or the news, nor will I be reading newspapers or watching TV for about a week. I don’t know how often I will answer phone calls or texts. I need to ease myself back into American culture slowly, without being bombarded by news of Israel and Gaza, or what my friends think of Obama. I will be praying, spending time with my family and close friends, and trying to sort out everything in my head and heart.

Thank you for all the love, support, and encouragement you have given me on this journey in Kolkata. I pray that you will be strengthened and encouraged through the Holy Spirit to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever you are to whomever you can.

I think Shane Claiborne summarizes things pretty well in his book The Irresistible Revolution after he had come back from a summer of working with Mother Teresa in Kolkata:

“Mother Teresa always said, ‘Calcuttas are everywhere if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta.’ I was ready to come home. I knew that my Calcutta was the United States, for I knew that we could not end poverty until we took a careful look at wealth. I was to battle the beast from within the belly…As I left Calcutta it occurred to me that I was returning to a land of lepers, a land of people who had forgotten how to feel, to laugh, to cry, a land haunted by numbness. Could we begin to feel again?”

And to end, I share my own sentiments through the journal entry of a young adult in the Church in North America in the book Letters to a Future Church:

Dear Church,

Apparently we aren’t supposed to pledge allegiance to anything or anyone other than Him. No stars. No stripes, No treaties. No task forces. Just to a King and a Kingdom.

Are you coming?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

He's Back?

Ahad showed up an hour late for English class this morning.  He is supposed to be here at 7:30, so by 8am I had pretty much given up hope that he would show. Last night he promised "100 percent" that he would be at our lesson today.

We had our usual lesson and then I asked him what he was trying to do. "Are you trying to cut our friendship so you don't feel so bad when I leave?" I asked. "No, never cut for you," he replied, looking down, seemingly more interested in the orange tile he was sitting on than our conversation. "You no understand," he said. He tried to explain a fight he had with some family members yesterday, but I couldn't quite understand. "Never you understand 100 percent. Maybe 60, 40, 30 percent understand."

I tried to give him the letter I wrote for him as my goodbye letter, but he refused to take it.

"Coming to class tomorrow. Promise." He said before he headed off for work.

God is truly the only One we can trust to show up "100 percent" of the time. He will never leave or abandon us. He walks with us through our struggles and pain, bringing peace and comfort.

Lord, let Heaven come near. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Love Until it Hurts

"To be true, love has to hurt…Jesus said, 'Love one another as I have loved you.' He loved until it hurt." -Mother Teresa

Love is not easy. Ask anyone who has been married. Love is not easy. We will hurt each other. But despite being hurt, we must continue to love.

Ahad has not shown up for English lessons for five days. At first he said he had a cold, but then he said he was fine and was sorry he didn't come. No explanation. I know what he's doing. All his life he has been abandoned by people closest to him, family and friends, people who should have stuck by him and cared for him. Instead, those people left or betrayed him. Now he's seeing me leaving as another abandonment, and he's staying away, building up his hard emotional exoskeleton so when I leave it will not hurt as bad.

We will always hurt each other, but God is a God of love. He is love. He will never leave us or abandon us, even when the people around us do (Heb 13:5).

Ahad hasn't answered my calls this morning.

Jesus, open Ahad's heart to love. Pierce through his emotional armor to bring Your love to his heart. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Abandon All

“Whoever does not bear (take up, carry) his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce (forsake, leave behind, abandon) all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14: 27, 33

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Hebrews 11: 24-26

Moses, one of our great Fathers of faith. Hidden among the reeds of the Nile by his mother during an infanticide initiated by the King, Hebrew baby Moses was found by the King’s daughter, taken in as her own son, and “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:27). He was not born into luxury and wealth, but he sure was raised in it. Moses had everything at his disposal, and a great position of influence where he could have helped the Hebrew people. Instead, when he was 40 years old, while trying to look out for a fellow Hebrew who was being beaten by an Egyptian, Moses killed the Egyptian, then fled when he realized others knew about the murder. He gave up his rich status to identify with his people, God’s people. He then went into the sheep-tending business, married a nice shepherd girl, and lived out his life in peace for forty years.

Then God gets his attention with a burning bush, a bush engulfed in flame but not consumed.

“Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  

Why take off his sandals? Moses probably had some pretty raunchy feet after hanging out with sheep day in and day out for forty years, yet God would not let him come close with his sandals on (probably the more hygienic approach). 

God is willing to get involved in our dirt. He wants to feel through our hands and feet. He is not a distant God, watching from afar, waiting for us to mess up. He is an intimate God who desires to be close to His beloved, to be involved in our messy lives. He lets us come to Him with dirty feet and hands, physically and metaphorically. Moses was not innocent. He came to God with dirt on his feet and blood on his hands, and God brought him into His fold and loved him.

God told Moses he would be delivering the Hebrews from slavery. Uh, what?! Paraphrase…“Yeah, you dirty murderer, you’re going to go back to the country you fled, the country where you've got a price on your head, and you’re going to tell that King to let My people go.” Moses gives all kinds of excuses: I’m not worthy to go, they won’t listen to me, I’m not eloquent enough… “Please send someone else!” (Ex 4:13). Doesn't really sound like a great Father of Faith now does it? God deals with Moses patiently, giving him signs and wonders, giving an answer to all his excuses. Even when Moses asks God to send someone else, and God’s anger is “kindled against Moses,” God continues to give Moses answers, telling him He will send his brother Aaron with him to be his mouthpiece.

And finally, Moses goes. After excuses and worries, Moses finally goes to deliver the Israelites from bondage.  He is counted as a Father of faith because even though it took him a while, Moses chose to step out in faith and obey his God, no matter the cost, no matter how difficult it may be. He forsook his rich upbringing to wallow in the dirt with his people, the people of God. He forsook his high position, his status, his worldliness, and his possessions to be with God’s people.

“Whoever does not bear (take up, carry) his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce (forsake, leave behind, abandon) all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14: 27, 33

This verse challenges me, inspires me, and convicts me.  Have I renounced, abandoned, all that I have to be a disciple of Christ? The answer is plain to me. No, I have not. Unlike Moses, I cling to my possessions, my status, my worldliness, even as I am sickened by it. 

"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ" Philippians 3:7-8

I am like an alcoholic in the first stage of recovery: I am admitting the truth about myself and I want change. I no longer want to be bound by these chains, these things, these desires. I want to live in the complete freedom offered by Jesus Christ. But slaves who have been slaves for so long have a hard time learning how to be free. I have been a slave to my passions, to my possessions, to my thoughts for so long that learning how to be completely free of those in Jesus has been quite the process. I’m not talking about Buddhism where the ultimate goal is Nirvana, a state of non-feeling. I’m talking about being free from feeling like I need something other than God Himself. No more anxiety about things: food, clothing, rent, fashion, pop culture, that new purse, that new whatever. No more anxiety, because I need nothing.

The song "Zion and Babylon" by Josh Garrels has been on repeat in my head lately, reminding me of the ideas in this blog: 
"Oh great mammon of form and function 
Careless consumerist consumption 
Dangerous dysfunction 
Disguised as expensive taste 
I'm a people disgraced 
By what I claim I need 
And what I want to waste 
I take no account for nothing 
If it's not mine 
It's a misappropriation of funds 
Protect my ninety percent with my guns 
Whose side am I on? 
Well who's winning?"

You can hear this awesome song here:

Greed stems from our skewed thinking that there is not enough, that if we take only what we need we will run out and there will never be enough of that thing for us again. I’m not just talking about big scale Black Friday type greed where we trample each other for non-essentials...

I’m talking about the small anxiousness that comes from moments like when the fridge is running low on food, when my favorite book goes on sale and I can’t get to the store, when my pen runs out of ink and I don’t have a backup, when I want my boss to see the good things I have been doing but he’s not paying attention… maybe you can’t relate to any of those things and they are just my weird insecurities, but hopefully you get the point.

God has assured us we have everything we need in Him: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). We have no reason to be anxious. We must abandon all we have to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray for your Bride, the Church in North America, that we will not seek our own gain, but the gain of others.  That we will abandon all we have to be intimate followers of Jesus Christ, going and preaching the gospel in word and deed to the entire world, showing that we are followers of Christ by our love. Let them know us by our love, Lord. Unify Your Church, help us set aside politics and useless quarrels, and focus on the Cross, the beautiful cross that unified us all through the blood of our Savior. 

*First three photos taken by Brandt Russo, available for sale, proceeds toward the poor:

*Black Friday photo from Google image search

Flower Tea

Ahad showed up to English class this morning with his own kettle of tea and a cup. He has been sick since Saturday with a fever, so I figured he had gone to the doctor.

"What's with the kettle?" I asked.

"Flowers!" He says, then opens the top of the kettle and shows me there are indeed flowers of some sort floating in hot water, brewing.

He sees my quizzical look and attempts an explanation: "Old man, 110 years old, tell me not to eat. Only drink tea with these flowers. I have no breakfast, only plain rice in the night."

I tell him that 110 year old men, as full of wisdom as they are, should not dispense medical advice and that he needs to eat to give his body energy to fight the sickness. He pretty much brushes me off and tells me he is "washing" his insides. Whatever. We continued with English class and read through the alphabet, as usual, then practiced small words we have been working on: words that end with "am," "at," and "ook."

I am really going to miss Ahad. And I know he's really going to miss me.

"No mama, no papa, no cousin, no one ever tell me to learn. No one take me to school. No one care, no one love. You my best friend." He tells me.

I tell him that God loves him even more and that He has great plans for His life and will not leave him an orphan. God will be the perfect father, the kind of father he never really had. He wants to believe, but can't quite let himself.