Monday, October 30, 2006

Walking to Church

When I was living back in the states I often made excuses why I should not go to Church on Sunday. Living in Florida, they were often related to the weather. It was either too hot, too cold, or too nice. Many of us have done this from time to time. We often take for granted the things that are easily accessible and don’t take much effort to obtain. I remember going to Guatemala a few years back and marveling that many of the people in the mountains walk miles to get to Church and do it faithfully. Oh and then of course, they have to walk back up the mountain after Church to get home, no buses or taxies there.

I remember at one of the medical clinics I worked at in Peru a ninety-year-old man came in to the clinic complaining that he got tired when he walked up the mountain in the afternoons. He said it never used to bother him until about a year ago. I tell you I walked half way up one of the mountains in Guatemala to visit a family that lived there and it almost killed me. I remember the mother of the family we were visiting had to stop many times to wait for the gringo. Well at least the trip down the mountain was not as bad as I slid down it mostly. No sidewalks -- you would think they would put in some sidewalks and maybe a few lights.

When I got back from Guatemala, I remember saying I would never miss Church for a lame excuse again after seeing how faithful these people were to get to Church. Unfortunately, I remembered saying it but I did not remember to do it. Once again I took going to Church for granted because it was so easy not to and the Church building wasn’t coming to me. I had put a mountain between the fellowship that the Church provides and me, a mountain that I too often refused to climb.

Fast forward to my arrival here where the nearest Church to my house on Sunday is, you guessed it down the mountain I live on. Now I grant you it is not as big of a mountain as they have in Peru or Guatemala but it is “My” mountain. There are three pictures, which show most of my walk. These are not three pictures of the same steps but each one is a segment that leads to its own landing where I am free to have a heart attack if I need to on the way up.

Now most of you, including me, well mostly me probably not you, are thinking that I have a perfect excuse not to go to Church on Sundays. Well at least I have the option of taking a taxi thus avoiding the mountain altogether. I have to be honest and tell you that this has crossed my mind now and again but I chose to walk down to Church every Sunday and of course back up afterward. That would be cheating if I did not walk up. There are stairs so I least I don’t fall down the mountain on the way to Church.

Why do I now choose to walk the mountain instead of taking the easy way out? For two reasons, the first reason is that it is not easy for some like me to walk the mountain. Believe me if there were an elevator, I would take it. Living here has reminded me that we often take for granted things that come easy. The things we have to work for and at are more meaningful to us and worth having. Walking to Church gives me a new appreciation about what it means to “suffer” for Christ. Now before some of you get on the “I walked to school up hill both ways in the driving snow backwards” soapbox, let me explain that I agree walking up and down a mountain to go to Church does not constitute suffering in the Biblical sense. However, it brings me to my second reason why I chose to climb the mountain to Church.

It reminds me that many people do “suffer” mountains to be able to go to Church. Many of the mountains that stand between Church and them are geographical such as in Peru or Guatemala, or physical such as the inaccessibility of the blind to find someone to drive them to Church. Mountains that stand between Church and us can also be religious intolerance and political mountains. Many people on this side of the world face discrimination or persecution for attending Church. They could lose a job or not get a promotion because they go to Church. Or not get a much-needed scholarship for their children to attend a decent school because they attend Church. Even lose their life or the lives of their loved ones. And don’t think it does not happen here, I recently had a friend “questioned” because he was seen often visiting the homes of “Foreigners”. But despite these almost seeming un-scalable mountains, many people chose to climb their mountain in obedience and love for Christ.

Rather makes my little hill insignificant in comparison but it does make for me a good reminder not to take Church and the fellowship it provides for granted. Perhaps one day God will ask me to climb a more difficult mountain, but until that time, I will continue to walk my little mountain if not in necessity then in remembrance of those whose mountains are much bigger.

Think about the mountain you place or is placed between the Church and you. Do you choose to climb it? Is it really a mountain or are you just making a mountain out of a molehill?

And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen.
(Mat 21:21 NASB emphasis mine)

Posted by LR

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Special Iftar Meal

Ramadan is over and we've just finished Eid El Fitr, the holiday that follows Ramadan. Below is a story about a meal that several of our team members shared with some Muslim friends during Ramadan.

One large family here considers all of us as part of their family and often invite us for meals. One evening after iftar (the meal at the end of the day to break the fast) the father played for us on his i-pod some Koranic chapters about Jesus and Mary. We all became involved in an intense discussion about Jesus and told them what Jesus means to us in our lives. A Jordanian friend who is a strong Christian was with us. It is customary to serve fruit after a meal. As our Christian friend talked she started brandishing her fruit knife in the air as she made her point. Our host told her to put kown the weapon and we all had a good laugh, but they continued to ask questions

On the way home we talked about our discussions with them. I commented that we just have to agree to disagree. But my co-worker has a different point of view. She thinks it’s apparent that they keep bringing up religious discussions because they are seekers, that they are trying to convince themselves of their beliefs, and that when they are around us, they feel God’s Holy Spirit in us. It is they who always bring up religions topics. I have to believe that God will answer our prayers and bring them to the Light and Truth. As my co-worker says, their spirits are responding to His Spirit within us. I think they see the difference Christ makes in our lives. Every day I pray that they put their faith in Him to find true life.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Making the World a Safer Place

I came across this quote a while back and in light of the numerous events in recent weeks around the globe, we become more aware of how true this statement is.

"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don't do anything about it." (Albert Einstein)

Yet, despite what we see around the world, we are not dismayed for our trust is in the words of our Lord and Savior who said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (Jn 14:27)

So, what can we do? Without oversimplifying, let me suggest 3 things: The first two are found in Matt. 22:37-39:
1."Love the Lord your God with all your heart ... soul ... and mind ... and ...
2. love your neighbor as yourself."
3. Paul suggests in I Thes. 5:17 "Pray continually."

Not by our own strength!!
But we are not alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses who have modeled this pattern (Heb 11-12).

May we all be found faithful in following their examples.

Posted by GM

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Ramadan Shopping Trip

This is Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. Muslims fast from sunup to sundown during Ramadan. I have heard stories that during Ramadan things can get crazy because people are in a big rush to get home so that they can end their fast. I was also told that the streets could turn into the Indianapolis 500 and the stores into a contact sport. Well as I said, I ventured out not too far just to the little market or “suuq” up the block to buy a few things, I really did not need anything but it was nice to get out. The walk to the suuq was mostly uneventful with the exception of people who normally would be at work were now out shopping, it was about 2:30 in the afternoon and the streets were busy.

Well I figured the suuq couldn’t be that bad it is just a little store and they just sell a few items, nothing anybody really needed. However, when I arrived at the suuq I found normally rational people transformed by hunger waiting in long lines, for the same things that no one waits on line for before or after Ramadan. I was starting to think Ramadan means “Holiday of Lines” in Arabic. People were grabbing things off the shelves as if it was the last one on earth. Well thank God I needed only a few unessential items and could have come back another time but since I was there I went in to the suuq and I found my openings and grabbed what I could including a few thing I did not want.

Well, I finally made it to the checkout line with my few precious items. The line was long for such a little store and I quickly noticed people would just cut right up front to the annoyance of those who were waiting. Now let me say that this is not to unusual anytime of the year in Jordan where the concept of waiting on line is often absent, but it was worse today than usual. The cutters, as I now labeled them, used any pretext that they could devise to say why they should not have to wait like everyone else. Hunger will make people do silly things and act in unkindly ways. Well, I vowed immediately that I was not going to let anyone cut in front of me. My blood was raised and the challenge was on and I did not want to look weak in front of the other customers. I felt like a defensive lineman whose team was making a goal line stance.

My first challenge was an 65-year-old man; I thought there is no way he is going to get in front of me. However, I made my first mistake by allowing a postage stamp size piece of the counter to show. Well, the man tried to empty his basket of food and put it on the counter on the postage stamp size counter that was left. I guess he figured no one was using it and since the 10 people, standing in line behind me didn’t use it they really did not want to leave the store. This small patch of counter space became an imaginary goal line to me. I defended it with some very skillful movements so the old man was no match for me. He soon gave up and out maneuvered the person behind me using an empty shopping cart. I guess he figured that if he could not get into the end zone, he was going for a field goal.

Now let me say this before you judge me too harshly, normally I would have let this poor man go right a head of me, but this was different. I had things that I needed badly and could not do without and had to get them home before dark, it was hot, and I was thirsty and hungry. I was on a line that was long to begin with, several people had already cut ahead. Also there were numerous other challengers that were successfully repulsed by others in line. Well anyway, with that challenge behind me I was feeling smug and let my guard down. So in circled a young man about 21 to give me a second challenge. The clerk had already begun ringing up several of my items when this young man, apparently with no respect for his elders, put his items in front of my unchecked items. I guess he figured that he could check out in between my things. I quickly repulsed his attack and he ended up in front of the old man who was no match for him. Well finally, I was checked out with all of my much-needed items and left the store in triumph.

On my way out of the suuq there were two men yelling at each other. Apparently, one had parked behind the other so he could not get out. Well, I am still leaning Arabic so I was not sure exactly what they were saying to each other but one guy was telling the other guy to eat a lot of it. “Kull” is the word for eat in Arabic. I think he was suggesting a way for him to break his fast. One thing I am sure of is he wasn’t telling him Ramadan Kareem.

As I was walking down the street, I became very self-confident thinking how much more sophisticated we Westerners are and that I succeeded in procuring 5 lbs of macaroni that will take me 3 months to eat. We would never do anything like this in the states. So in my self-confidence I began humming a little tune. I soon realized that the tune I was humming was jingle bells. Then it hit me Ramadan is not that much different from the weeks before and after Christmas in the states.

I then realized to my shame that we often are caught up in the moment and events of the holidays, and in trying to obey the first of the greatest commandments “To love the Lord you God with all you heart, mind and soul” we often fail to obey the second greatest commandment. Jesus told us “to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.” It often becomes more important to “buy” that hot toy, which will either brake or be forgotten in a week, or those few items we could never do without that sit in our cupboards for years un opened and uneaten. Or to fast all day to show everyone how righteous you are or be seen in Church for a few weeks before Christmas.

The Psalmist tell us that God does “not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalms 51:16-17 NASB) The idea here is, that any mere external offering, however precious, or costly it might be to us, is not what God is looking for. Going to Church for the holidays, fasting during the day, giving until it hurts or bankrupts us, or anything else is useless without love toward our fellow man. God demands the expression of deep and sincere repentance; the sacrifices of a contrite heart and of a broken spirit towards Himself and others.

After Jesus told the people listening to Him what were the two greatest commandments a scribe listening to Jesus said “And to love Him (God) with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love the neighbor as himself, is more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. And seeing that he had answered intelligently, Jesus said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. And no one dared to question Him any more.” (Mar 12:33-34 MKJV) Next time I venture out to the suuq or anywhere else I won’t look at the “things” I don’t really need so wantonly and so what if a few people get ahead in line. Maybe they do have a good reason.

Posted By LR who is about ready for another shopping adventure.

“…in hundreds of ways during these Ramadan days”

All that remains from a burned out tire is black soot and wire. Black soot is covering Gaza these days. Unhappy, unpaid government workers are making their feelings known. We passed many, many burned out tires. Our apartment has a thin layer of black dust covering everything. Even our towels had a thin layer of dust perched on top.

What a mess. Why is it that Gaza gets into your heart so ?
Even our taxi drive on the way in was an enormous cultural experience. The car was held together by electrical tape. Our driver couldn’t quit muttering…at one point I heard him asking under his breath for just “a little order.” These days that is asking a lot !

Having lived outside of the Strip for nearly three years, I find that I can now see Gaza more as others see her. I am amazed at the dirt and garbage. The three year old that takes the garbage sack out to the dumpster can’t throw it high enough to actually get into the dumpster…so most of the garbage is on the ground rather than inside it ….which is convenient for those who have taken to going through the garbage in order to find anything to eat or sell…in order to buy food.

I wanted to pay the people who got out of their cars to try to untangle the huge traffic jam that we all created this a.m.
(It’s Ramadan, you know) People and cars were literally so tangled up that it took four men stopping cars to get us “a loose.” Electricity is still scarce. Hence, no traffic lights.
Hence the traffic jam. To call it a traffic jam doesn’t really capture the full picture. Cars, trucks, donkey carts and people were so tightly packed that we couldn’t right ourselves.

We foolishly got in the middle of a huge demonstration. I had quite a long time to people watch. Gaza is such a strange paradox. The desperately poor wander amidst meticulously dressed businessmen. I admire them so much. We are awaiting the rains still, so Gaza is horribly dry and dusty. Yet men and women walk down the streets with shiney shoes. I have long since quit dusting mine off. Really now…what’s the point? Well, the point is that honorable men and women look their very best. And indeed they do…look their very best. (I must begin again presenting myself better when among them!)

One of our first friends came to help us today. He told us the tale of his family. His wife literally lost her mind and left him about a year ago. Five mufti’s put their heads together to solve the problem. In the end, our friend has to pay his wife 2,000. j.d.’s !! SHE left HIM and in order for her to return home HE must pay HER. WHAT? She had previously destroyed almost everything they owned so we were happy that we could help them (…I am in a cleaning out mood and the storage room was a disaster. AGAIN. ) How I wanted to tell our friend that he really should trade his religion (his word) for my full and rich relationship with the One True God.
Perhaps tomorrow I can find a way to slip that in…again…when
we are working together again. (a little bit difficult. P and I fasted today whether we intended to or not because we couldn’t eat with our buddy around.) We will find a way to pay him and help his family have a little bit of a happier Ramadan.

Due to clashes between Fateh and Hamas, church services were cancelled. (it is right down town in the area where the clashes were located) So we were privileged today to have our own private worship service. Praying still that the Lord will break into our friends’ lives in hundreds of ways during these Ramadan days.

Posted by HL