Sports

“Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me” (Grace Like Rain by Todd Andrew)

SportsTodd Andrews restyled the classic hymn Amazing Grace and added the chorus above. It is a celebration of God’s grace pouring down on the life of redeemed sinners and bringing new life to thirsty hearts.

And so it rained. The kids huddled under umbrellas at the afternoon break on the first day of camp. But when the break was over they were back to the game while it continued to pour.

We just returned from 8 days in China. We partnered with Haidian Church to put on a soccer camp. We do these annually in Beaverton as an outreach to the community. They are first rate. With partners like the Beaverton School District, Tektronix, Adidas and Nike we serve mostly immigrant kids for whom such a camp would be cost prohibitive. Last year Pastor Peter Wu asked us if we would be willing to run such a camp at his church in Beijing and teach his volunteers how to run it. And so we did.

Sports are an international language — today as well as in ancient times. The Apostle Paul was a sports fan. He grew up in the city of Tarsus (Acts 22:3) and spent another 10 years there after his conversion (Acts 9:30; 11:35). Ancient Tarsus was a city with palaces, marketplaces, roads and bridges, baths, fountains and waterworks, a gymnasium, and a stadium. Paul’s allusions to races, boxing and games are evidence of a sports channel clicker from another era (1Corinthians 9:24-27). He used sports to illustrated values, training, perseverance and triumph. Sports have an amazing way of bringing disparate people together to focus on the same thing. How much more so the Kingdom of God ­— so it was fitting that we combined the two with our sister church in Beijing.

We have enjoyed an amazing relationship with Haidian Church over the years — one built on mutual trust and encouragement. This is the beauty of Jesus’ family… it is not based on bloodline, but on blood — the blood of Jesus Christ. By it he set us free from the sin and death and brought us into communion with God and one another. The New Testament is about this new family – the church – the followers of Jesus – from every nation, tongue and tribe. Its evidence is our love for one another, which crosses every cultural barrier that might have existed otherwise. It is the very love of God. Jesus said, “…by this all men will know you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

Grace like rain poured down on us from every direction. It was as palpable as the afternoon deluge on the first day of camp. We felt the prayers of people back home. We felt the love of our brothers and sisters in China. We saw evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in divine appointment after divine appointment. We were carried along in a veritable capsule of the Holy Spirit the whole time we were there. And we enjoyed the kind of love that Jesus said would be unique to the body of believers.

I will close with Paul’s Letter to the Romans. As a prelude to an anticipated visit he wrote words that say much of what I would like to say to my Chinese friends…

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:8-15)

Sikh

SikhOn a recent flight to India I had the privilege of sitting next to a man from Canada who was traveling to his hometown in Punjabi. He had immigrated to Canada when he was in high school 20 years ago. He has a business in one of the British Columbia/USA border towns and was doing quite well. In casual conversation we hit it off. He is a rabid hockey fan, so we had lots of banter about teams and players. He was a Sikh.

So I asked him about Sikhism, something of which I was unfamiliar. I knew it was neither Hinduism nor Islam, but not much more than that. For the next hour he patiently endured my questions as I asked him to explain his beliefs. He admitted to being a bit of a cultural Sikh rather than a devoted follower, but nonetheless considered himself Sikh. He certainly knew the history of his faith and the foundational tenants. I asked him what it is about Sikhism that makes him retain his Sikh identity even though it is more traditional than spiritual. He said it is the sense of morality and justice.

I learned that Sikhs are monotheistic. They believe that the spiritual life cannot be separated from the secular life. They value sharing, hospitality and the equality of all people, rejecting discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, or gender. They believe that honest work honors the divine one – that a creative and practical life of truthfulness, faithfulness, self-control and purity is more holy than a purely contemplative one. They abhor the destructive influence of The Five Thievesego, anger, greed, attachment, and lust.

Sikhism had its start at the dawn of the 16th century by the teaching of a man named Guru (Teacher) Nanak, the first of 10 successive teachers who have shaped the religion. His concept of God is that he is the shapeless, timeless, sightless creator who spoke the world into existence. He is omnipotent. They believe that though he is beyond human understanding, God is knowable. They believe that through meditation God reveals himself and communicates with his people. They believe they can be in spiritual union with God. They believe in a kind of karma, but also believe grace is the means to salvation. They believe all paths lead to God, so they are pluralistic regarding their acceptance of other faiths.

I thanked him for helping me understand Sikhism and he in turn asked me what I believed. I said I was a Christian and he asked me why I believed in it. I asked him to first tell me what he knew of Christianity. The only thing he knew was that Christians were the ones who made his life a living hell when he first arrived in Canada as a high school immigrant. I asked him if that is what he thought all Christians were like and he said he never had any interest in finding out more. I assured him that I knew many Christians that would have been appalled at their behavior and would have treated him with respect. I also said that we would do so because we share many of the values he said were important to him. He then began to ask me questions.

In Trustworthy Rivals: On an Alternative Path to Multi-Faith Discourse, Paul Metzger warns…

“Interfaith or multi-faith discourse can easily fall prey to agreeing to agree on everything, even where there are significant differences. Such agreement and affirmation may come across as disingenuous at worst, naïve and exaggerated at best. As I have had to tell various people of non-Christian faith communities over the years when engaged in such discourse, we are not saying the same thing.”

I was able to talk to him about points of agreement regarding our beliefs, but also about irreconcilable differences. He was fascinated with the Triune God who invites us into relationship, something God Himself has already known eternally in the Trinity – that love was not something created later with which to communicate with His creatures. He thought it answered something missing in Sikhism. We talked about forgiveness a lot, which moved him. We talked about Jesus, who revealed the love of the Father. He thanked me for letting him ask so many questions. He said he was touched by the Gospel as I shared it.

We will never be heard unless we listen – and do so with genuine interest. You may be surprised at the points of agreement that lead to greater discussion. Then when we discuss the differences as trustworthy rivals we are not simply refuting their beliefs, but clarifying our own.

Kingdom

PriettyShe never knew her father. She was raised by her mother and grandmother. At 12 years of age her mother hired her out to earn money for the household. She worked at the plywood factory from morning until sundown. She earned 120 Indian rupees per day (~$2). It is fairly typical for minority tribal children to be hired out by their parents. She is of the Adivasi, which means “forest dwellers.” The Adavasi are considered the aboriginal people of India. According the Indian Labor Bureau, the Adavasi are characterized by…

  • Geographical isolation – they live in cloistered, exclusive, remote and inhospitable areas such as hills and forests.
  • Backwardness – their livelihood is based on primitive agriculture, a low-value closed economy with a low level of technology that leads to their poverty. They have low levels of literacy and health.
  • Distinctive culture, language and religion – communities have developed their own distinctive culture, language and religion.
  • Shyness of contact – they have a marginal degree of contact with other cultures and people.

When the founder of Bright Hope School, Miss Premila, invited her to the school to get an education it took some negotiating with her mom, but she was finally able to come. In just a few years she has transformed before our eyes! She is an excellent student and wants to be a teacher one day. She is also a fervent believer – a fruit of her life at the school. She has poise and charm and leadership qualities and is smart. She has a future. She is one of the students whose lives are taking a completely different course because of the efforts of the people here.

Prietty, Sanjana, Shanta, Irene and Amit are their names. Most of the kids are on Winter Break and go to visit relatives. These 5 stayed at the school. For one reason or another, home was not an option. The girl I spoke of above is no longer able to go home because she cannot contribute financially to her home – another difficulty of the desperate poverty out of which these students come.

Ajay, Ruben, Jonathon, Aphy. Daya are their names…. they and the other teachers who serve at Bright Hope are so inspiring. In their culture they are considered the low caste people (Dalit). There are constant reminders of their “less-than” status in this part of India. But their humility, dignity and kindness speak to their true royal identify as children of God. They practically glow with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our cultures couldn’t be more different, and yet we are with family when we are here. This is truly an outpost of the Kingdom of God

Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, He answered the, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, not will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

And so it is. The presence of God could not be more palpable. I am without superlatives to capture the sense of Heaven you can experience in a place like this. In every sense of the meaning of the word, this school is awesome.

Gift

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8)

photo (4)Tonight I delivered food boxes to people who would not otherwise have a Thanksgiving dinner. It is an annual outreach into the community by our church. Working with an elementary school counselor at a school with significant poverty, we identify the most vulnerable families and deliver a meal to their homes. For several weeks leading up the the event, people give food and money sacrificially to make this possible. Alpen Rose Dairy donates turkeys. Winco foods provides discounts on staples. A host of helpers at our church came to get them all delivered.

It is a pretty organized event. There are addresses, names and phone numbers on the prearranged boxes. We need only show up at the door with the box and wish the family a Happy Thanksgiving. The address of this particular apartment was clearly labeled on the box. We knocked on the door and surprised the residents with our gift. After a few moments of confusion we realized that there was not a match between the name on the box and the people who lived in the apartment. With an apology for disturbing them we departed to find the rightful recipient. The family was clearly disappointed that they would not receive the help.

We tried to call the phone number on the box label. It was a non-working number. So we returned to the door of the family we had surprised and gave them the gift. The mom said, “I don’t know how to thank you. We were going to have grill cheeses for dinner on Thursday. I told a coworker of mine about our situation and she said not to worry, but that God would provide. And so He has! Thank you!”

When we returned to the church we found the right phone number for the family who had been the intended recipient. They said the box was already delivered to them. Apparently, one of the children of the family to whom we had given it recognized the name on the box as a classmate. So they brought it to the rightful recipient. They were back to grill cheese.

It gets better. The rightful recipient knew that the other family had greater need, so after taking just a few items they needed, they gave the meal back to the family that gave it to them. These two families who both have need were sacrificial towards one another, though they barely knew one another. Each of them tried to be a help to the other. What grace! We went back over with yet another box and blessed both families.

Last week I visited a friend who had given her kidney to a neighbor with a life-threatening kidney disease. She is a healthy mother of two who learned that her blood type made her a suitable donor, so she went under the knife and gave her neighbor the gift of life. She didn’t want any fanfare. It was a fairy quiet event between the two families.

These stories of grace are humbling. Generous people at every turn were willing to set something aside for another. And God is pleased. People who give sacrificially are showing the best of what it means to be made in the image of God.

God is a gift giver. He sent His perfect Son into an imperfect world and gave a gift that is still freeing the hearts of those trapped in the bondage of sin. As His people, we are compelled to reach into every messy corner that needs a touch of Jesus and to give ourselves sacrificially to the work of God in loving others. That is mission – giftive mission.

Street

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks
        (Proverbs 1:20-21)
SiliguriIndian streets are full of life. Jim and I had gone into town with Ruben and Jonathan in order to buy some tools for the work ahead. We sat in traffic for about a half an hour behind a Muslim parade and then waited by the car while they went looking for what we needed (they go without us so they can get Indian prices. If we go with them at first the price triples. So after they find what we are looking for we go and make the purchase). Hindus, Muslims and political parties here seem to have parades every couple of days.  They march with flags, banners, idols, bands, blaring music from horn speakers… For all their disruption, fervor and excitement, most people ignore them. While waiting at the car, bicycle rickshaws and Mahindra 3-wheel cabs were everywhere. It looks like chaos at first, but as you watch an order finally comes into focus.
Jim watched cooks at a popular food stand as they served the waiting line.  When a person was done with their plate, the cook would take it back, use the water in the gutter to get it spit-polish clean and then serve the next guest. My attention was on a bicycle delivery guy who had piled boxes to about 5 feet above the bike seat. It was a wonder it was even upright as it swayed to and fro. He tried to pedal but finally gave up and began to walk the heavy bike to its destination. As he turned the corner the bike tipped precariously to about 40 degrees before he managed to recover it and then disappeared out of sight. The sidewalks themselves, if you can call them that, are makeshift covers over open sewers. They are seriously hazardous to walk on, opening up occasionally to the darkness below. Fall into one of those and you may have all sorts of wildlife encounters before emerging at the plate cleaning station of a popular food stand.
Back to the school, it has been a very productive time. The staff at the school impress me more each time I come. They are doing so much with so little. They pour themselves into this school in every way. The girls are precious. We’d bring them all home if we could. Here is a short list of what we were able to do:
  • decided with the staff upon the new curriculum for next year (the school year starts in January)
  • trained the teachers and staff in the new curriculum and other teaching methods
  • installed a second storage tank on the roof
  • installed a stronger pump and replaced the pressure switch
  • installed a hand pump for when there is no electricity (pretty common)
  • purchased some maintenance hardware for the school (shovels, wheelbarrow, hammer, drill, chisel)
  • set up a 70′ x 60′ gardening area for the school
  • designed a property grading plan in order to insure that there will not be any property flooding next monsoon
  • improved the Internet access for the computer lab
This is a great team – Lisa, Linda, Melinda, Monica, Marty and Jim have given their all. What a privilege to serve alongside such amazing saints, both our B4 team and the folks of Bright Hope.

 

Flying

KLMThe Dutch make a mean wooden shoe, but things go downhill from there. Customer service is just not in their blood. I came up with a list of 10 things they could do to improve the KLM flying experience.

  1. Greet us instead of hanging out in a group staring at us as we arrive,
  2. Don’t say the plane will be there in 30 minutes unless you know that it will in fact be there in 30 minutes,
  3. Tell us why the flight is being delayed,
  4. When it doesn’t show, don’t announce to us that it will now be another 30 minutes, but that you will believe it when you see it,
  5. If you do finally tell us why the plane is delayed, you might find a better way to say the electricity isn’t working and the technicians don’t know why,
  6. Don’t tell people not to leave the security area unless it is an emergency when the standing-room-only security area has no bathroom,
  7. Don’t sigh and huff when people have that very emergency,
  8. Don’t blow up at customers who ask why they are not being better informed about what is going on during the 3-hour delay.
  9. From time to time, just to see if anyone might need something, you should come out of the galley where you hang out behind the closed curtains during the whole flight,
  10. Smile at least once at at least one customer.
We arrived “rode hard and put away wet” at our hotel in Delhi at 5:35AM on Wednesday morning (we should have been there by 2:00AM). We were planning to meet in the restaurant for a quick meal and a 9:00 shuttle back to the airport for our final flight to Silguri. That’s 3-1/2 hours for a quick shower and however much sleep we could squeeze in. Sound like a rough ride?  Well despite all that the team did great and was up and excited to get to Bright Hope English School in teh morning.
The flights to Siliguri were great. Number 11 on the list above is for KLM to send their flight attendants to India to learn about amazing customer service from Jet Airways and Air India. We met Jonathan and Ruben at the airport, who brought is to our hotel in the new Bright Hope vehicle. We were greeted at the Barsana Hotel by Sweetie (that is her real name), who welcomed us “home” and reminded me that we are family here.
P1030529We went to Bright Hope and got to visit a bit with the girls and the staff. Anita was already at the school and will be with our team here. The Bright Hope folks made us a wonderful dinner and we talked about what we will be doing in the coming week.
In summary, we have arrived and are doing well and are fully engaged. Please pray for us this week – for stamina (some of the team are having a bit of jet-lag since we are in a time zone that is 12-1/2 hours earlier), for wisdom with our time and resources, for favor with the locals as we engage them to do some of the water and construction work, and for our encouragement to the team here. They do a lot with only a few people and are exhausted. We want to be a refreshment to them and not a burden.

Bubble

This post was also posted on marknicklas.wordpress.com

Several weeks ago I was with our dental team in Southeast Alaska. After a week of serving Prince of Wales Island this was a day of recreation. The locals offered an array of opportunities for the team – sea kayaking, hiking, hunting, fishing and more. I took a skiff and went out with a few members of the team so they could fish. It was pure Alaska – cold rain poured down on us relentlessly. We only caught a few salmon and rockfish (I blame the guide) before heading in at noon to pick up those who wanted to fish in the afternoon. Given the weather there were only two takers.

Bubble 1The weather began to clear as soon as we set out. We had just dropped our lines when water began to boil about a hundred yards off the port bow. All of a sudden six humpback whales burst out of the water. They rose above the water and were high enough to see the side fins before they crashed back onto the water. They were “bubble feeding.” We had seen whales all morning, but this was something new. When whales bubble feed they work as a team to corral herring. They dive very deep under a school of herring and then blow bubbles as they swim up in a diminishing circle. Herring cannot swim through bubbles. The shrinking ring encircles them. When it gets small enough the whales swim upward with mouths agape swallowing thousands of fish. This was repeated again and again, sometimes only a few dozen feet from our skiff. The teamwork of these huge creatures was amazing!

Bubble 2As we were finishing our afternoon of fishing a group of about 15 to 20 Dall porpoises took an interest in us (or maybe it was the herring dispersed by the whales) and began to swim all around us. Dall Porpoises look like miniature Orca whales. They were lightning fast, jumping in all directions. It reminded me of the quick flashes of swimming creatures in the mermaid scene in thenPirates of the Caribbean. It made for a great end of the week for the two dental team members who braved the weather to go out on the water.

The dental team was the fourth of our teams to participate in ministry to Southeast Alaska. Two Beaverton Foursquare harvesting teams and a construction team served there already. One more construction team is slated for mid-September. The community of Coffman Cove seemed to come alive with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our team, led by Drs. Duy Anh and Melodee Tran, served beautifully. The people of Coffman Cove were overwhelmed with the idea that a group of medical professionals would come to their community, at their own expense no less, in order to serve people they did not even know.

The first day of clinic operation was Sunday. By Monday afternoon the locals were bringing gifts – smoked salmon, grilled salmon, fireweed honey, crabs, oysters and even smoked pizza. The clinic became a “water cooler” for the community. For those of us who are used to semiannual visits to dentists, this may seem a bit surprising. But if you have dealt with chronic dental issues and no way to get the help you need, it is a huge blessing.  The team kept telling the locals that it was arranged by the Foursquare missionaries to Southeast Alaska, Joel and Trish. God is granting them amazing favor with the people there, and we get to be a part of it. One woman said to Melodee, “I hated the way I looked. I can smile again and I now like the way I look.”  Another man said, “I have been in pain for so long! I cannot believe that you came here to do this for me.” I have been to this area numerous times and have never seen this type of community warmth. Everywhere I went in the village people were talking about it.

On our last day the team was able to represent “the Beaverton Foursquare clan” at a culture camp, which included the raising of four totem poles, traditional dance and singing, and a seafood feast fit for a king. At one point during the evening a number of people were recognized for their part in the culture camp.  The mayor said the following,

“For the past several years there is a group of people who have come to our island as friends. They came to work alongside us in our way – building friendships and respecting and loving our people and our culture. They came to put a new face on what it means to be missionaries and to demonstrate the love of God. I want to recognize our friends, the Foursquare Church. Will you please stand?” And there was applause. In just a few years we have gone from curious intruders to friends. Joel and Trish have done a superb job of coordinating the efforts of churches like ours in an effort to build the Foursquare presence.

)I thought about the amount of teamwork it takes to do bubble feeding. Whales do it thousands of times a year, so they get plenty of practice (the herring, on the other hand, not so much). When you do something again and again as a team you learn how to do it well. I am so grateful for the heart of our church in sending missionaries – long-term as well as short-term. We have learned how to go with servants’ hearts.  Our circling ring is not to feed on anyone, but rather to bring the freshness of the Spirit – to create an outpost of the Kingdom where God’s presence is palpable.  We only go where we are invited. The locals lead. We do everything possible to be a blessing and never a burden. That is exactly how Joel and Trish describe the Beaverton teams.  And by the grace of God it is how the mayor of Hydaburg introduced our team to the larger native community.