Thursday, July 28, 2011

You Can't Love Jesus and Be a Racist

You heard me right.  You can't do it.  It's not possible.  I don't care what your opinions are regarding politics, crime, poverty, illegal immigration, homosexuality, etc.  It does not matter.  If you hate people, whatever your reason, you don't love Jesus.

Last week our church vans drove into local apartment complexes and picked up children of all races.  Most of these children came from low-income, single parent families.  They often had foul mouths, and they got into fights.  I was excited each night as they ran like wild hyenas came into the building.  I was thrilled with the fact that we were able to present these kids with the truth of God's Word.  Every night they sang and danced during worship time.  They gave me hugs each night before they left.  On Thursday night, when I had the opportunity to present the gospel, I presented it to all of them in the exact same way.  Salvation is available to every single one of us without prejudice or preference.  That's how God works.  He loves unconditionally and without respect to race or socioeconomic status.

It is unfathomable to me that there are still people, Christians even, who believe that white people are superior.  Oh, they may not have shaved heads and tattoos and swastikas on their shoulders (though some of them do), but they reveal their true feelings just the same.

Let them find their own church.
Why can't we just all speak English?
We need to stick with our own kind.

People feel free to share their narrow opinions.  They think because I am white I will agree with them.  Well, I don't.  Not even a little bit.  I will not giggle at your racist remarks.  I will not think you are cute or funny when you make generalizations about the kids that are picked up on our church vans.  I will think you are hateful, and I will fight the urge to fiercely dislike you, because in doing that, I become like you.  Full of prejudice.  Incapable of loving people unconditionally.  Incapable of loving God the way I should.

We all have our prejudices.  We were all raised by sinners in a sinful environment.  We all have attitudes that do not reflect Christ.  But in claiming to love Christ, we necessarily are called to love the things He loves.  And He loves people.  He gave His life for people.  People that you call derogatory names.  People that you avoid talking to.  People that wear burkas instead of jeans and tshirts.  People that don't look like you.  People that you intentionally avoid by shopping at a different grocery store.  People that you teach your children to avoid.

Next Sunday, our church choir is going to be learning a Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir song.  Half of the song is in Spanish, and living in Grand Prairie, Texas, the song is a good representation of our community.  We are surrounded by various cultures and races and languages.  The mission field has come to us.  And I don't often take them time to say it, but I am proud of my brother Craig, who happens to be our music director, for being open to reaching out in this small way to the huge number of Spanish speaking people that live around us.  But the complaints have already started.  They are few, but they are still there.  And they are wrong.  If you would like to hate and discriminate and misconstrue the Bible to support your sin, maybe our church isn't the place for you.  But don't worry, I will be running the vans again on Sunday morning, and I hope to have a van full of rowdy kids (that Jesus loves) to take your place.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kia Ora and Haere Mai

It happens every so often.  I can honestly say it hasn't happened lately because the Lone Star state is so cursed God blessed with oven temperature heat six months out of the year.  But sometimes, when the weather is cool and the air is clean, I walk outside of my home or church and I can feel it.  It feels like New Zealand.  And for just a second, I fight off the urge to cry for a place that I haven't been in over 7 years.  Sometimes I don't fight it, depends on whether or not I have spent a lot of time on my makeup that day.  Lately, though, it has come to me even in my dreams.  I dream about being in New Zealand, about seeing friends that I haven't seen in years and driving down roads (on the left side, of course) that I haven't traveled in just as long.

I have said it before, but I cannot relate to all of you hometown kids.  You were born, raised, educated, and married all in the same place.  I understand the reality of it, but I certainly can't imagine what that would be like.  I've lived everywhere, it feels like.  And though most of those everywhere's are within driving distance and can be revisited with little trouble, a few are not.  New Zealand is one of those.  It is a lengthy, costly trip, and it's one that I plan on making something in the next 1-3 years, depending.  I have to take Jake, though, and show him all of the things and people I love.

I was 9 when my family made the lengthy trip across the ocean to live in New Zealand.  I will be honest and tell you that many of my New Zealand memories from childhood were not incredibly fond ones.  Oh, I have some good ones, but the ones that stick out are the memories of my first days in public school.  Of being ridiculed and teased for my accent and for my lack of worldly knowledge.  At this point in my life, I am shocked at the things that the kids talked about in my elementary school.  I had no idea what they all meant back then, but I knew they were not nice.  Now I am 34, and I know that I was right.  Also, my family traveled a lot to towns close to our home in Rotorua (maybe the smelliest town in the world).  I have so many memories of us piling into our olive green station wagon, headed down the windiest two lane roads known to man, me being so carsick that I almost matched the color of our car.  I feigned sickness so often to escape the awkwardness I felt at school.  I got tired of being the odd man out and of being taunted for it almost daily.  When I finally left New Zealand, I was certain I would never return.

Then came four years of college and graduation.  I had made plans to go to Thailand and work in an orphanage for a year.  I had been talking about it since high school.  And then God stepped in and sent me a different direction.  Through a series of events that could have only been orchestrated by Him, God sent me back to New Zealand.  I was young, naive, and I was energetic.  I did not even think to be apprehensive or afraid.  I just wanted to go, and God provided a way.  Within 4 months of graduation, I returned to New Zealand to work with missionaries Zane and Cindy Edwards in Bible Baptist Church in Manukau, New Zealand.

That was my year of firsts.  First time to live in Auckland.  First time to be in the minority, as I lived in a primarily Polynesian community.  First time to live on my own.  First time to be a church piano player.  First time to wear corn rows.  First time to be engaged.  First time to be unengaged.  First time to kayak.  First train ride.  First vacation on my own.  First time to hear someone say "Bob's your uncle".... I still think that's kind of hilarious.  First (and hopefully last) time to have my car stolen.  My goodness at the firsts.  Lots of ups and downs, and I loved it, most of it anyway.

New Zealand is a beautiful place, and during my year there, I was able to see so much of the country that I had taken for granted as a child.  I had no idea how blessed I had been.  And I was happy to revisit things I had loved as a child, mostly foods like sausage rolls, toffee pop cookies (biscuits), pineapple lumps (chocolate candy that tastes nothing like pineapple).  But the thing I miss the most about my days in New Zealand is not the landscape or the beaches or the weather or the hiking or the food.  The thing is miss the most is the people.  I miss driving down to Mission Bay with my friend Christina and having cappuccino, which was never quite sweet enough for me.  I miss going to the gym with Michelle in Howick and working out for hours but never seeing the scale move one little ounce (or kilogram).  I miss hanging out with Flo and her babies Canaan and Michelle, smelling the non-stop curry that the downstairs neighbors were cooking.  I miss standing outside after church and listening to the guys perform near perfect renditions of all of their Boyz II Men favorite songs.  I still don't know how they learned to sing like that.  I miss hanging out at the park with our church youth group (that was actually made up of plenty of young adults), having luncheon meat sandwiches and chicken flavored potato chips.  I miss driving half an hour into downtown Auckland to visit the one Starbucks because it was one of the few places that reminded me of home, not to mention the fact that it was the one place to run into American tourists.  I miss the occasional opportunity to see those sweet familiar faces that I had known from our church in Rotorua from my childhood.    

So I will go back.  I have been researching plane tickets, and it is not cheap.  But I save up, and I will go back just the same.  My friends have moved and married and divorced and remarried and nothing is the same as it was.  But that's life, and I will go back to see the changes.  The city will be different and grown, and so will the people.  I know of at least one New Zealand family that I will have to travel to Ethiopia to visit, and don't worry, Michelle, I am coming back to Ethiopia, too.  Just give me a little time.  In the meantime, my New Zealand friends are welcome to visit me.  I will make room in my small apartment or I will find you a place to stay.  Just say when, and I will show you the sights of Dallas, Texas.  I will teach you about Mexican food, and I will show you the wonders of the outlet mall.

In the meantime, though, I am praying for cooler days and the reminder of the place I love (and because I am so tired of the heat I could scream).  New Zealand friends, pray with me, and if you can send yourselves over here, that'd be great.  If not, I will take the chicken chips and pineapple lumps, thank you.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Confessions* of a V.B.S. Virgin

Before the summer of 2009, I had not once been in charge or even participated in Vacation Bible School as an adult helper.  That is my confession.  I attended Vacation Bible School as a child, and I ate my fair share of Hydrox cookies and drank a decent amount Wyler's tropical punch out of tiny Dixie cups... just enough in those to make you want more.  But at VBS, no refills.  VBS workers were usually frazzled and kind of grumpy.  I don't think I ever even asked for more.  I will tell you, though, attending VBS as a child does not make one an expert in VBS directing.  I learned this the hard way during the summer of 2009.

Several years before, though, I was a full-time mommy to my sweet nephews, and they attended VBS at a church in our small Tennessee hometown.  After night number one, they came home with little headbands that were stamped with the Jewish symbols of their assigned tribes.  Each night, they went to VBS and put on little robes and belts and traveled back in time to the city of Bethlehem.  They came home each night talking about the fun they had, and carrying little boxes and crafts they had made.  On the last night, I went with them, and I experienced the busy marketplace, complete with bread making and a jewelry shop and an outdoor petting zoo.  At the end of the week, we attended a special VBS service where the kids, dressed in costume, filled the aisles and sang a song based on Deuteronomy 6:5.  By the time they were finished, I was crying (kids singing almost always does this to me), and I was sold on Vacation Bible School and the impact it could have on kids.

Summer of 2009.  I did enough research to find out that Group Publishing created the Bethlehem program that my kids had attended.  Looking into Group's newer programs, I was thrilled at the program.  I loved the music, the fact that the program was titled "Easy VBS".  I had no idea what I was doing.  Easy was all I could do.  I decided to adopt a "Fake it till you make it" attitude, and so I ordered the kit for Crocodile Dock, and I muddled my way through that first program.  We followed the directions, built the set, learned a few songs, and by golly, we had VBS.  Sixty-five kids showed up.  Games were played, the gospel was presented, kids were saved, and no one was injured or permanently maimed.  I called it a success.

Summer of 2010.  Egypt.  We decided to go with something a little more complex.  We bought excessive amounts of foam board.  We built an Egyptian city with paint and foam board and pop up canopies.  Our church people gathered together, and we made Egypt happen.  There were costumes and Cleopatra eyes everywhere you looked.  The kids made bricks out of mud and straw.  They weaved baskets.  They sat and watched as the palace magician amazed them with his tricks.  They decorate black collars with jewels, and played a real Egyptian Senet game, which, by the way, might be the most boring game in the world.  But it all worked together beautifully to tell the story of Joseph, of his journey from the prison to the palace, to tell of God's purpose and plan for each of our lives.  Each night we stood around a city center fountain made of cinder blocks and blue cellophane, and kids and adults alike sang out "How Great is our God" to the one true God that our Egyptian friends knew nothing about.  Our kids learned to be a witness to our "Egyptian" marketplace shopkeepers.

And here we are again.  It's that time of year.  VBS starts on Monday, and I could not be more excited.  This year's theme is simple.  It involves Pandas and Psalm 139.  Our church is decorated with lanterns and cardboard pandas and enough paper to be hazardous in case of fire.  And while I can't wait for the kids to arrive on Monday evening, my favorite part of VBS has already taken place.

In the business of children's ministry, I usually work alone.  I rarely have adult help on Sunday mornings.  I spend my days in an office, preparing lessons that no one older than twelve will ever hear.  And our children's ministry isn't large enough to necessitate a huge number of helpers, so most of the time, I am content to function with one or two people by my side**.  But this time of year, I can't go it alone.  That was what I learned the summer of 2009.  And so last year I asked for help.  Begged, even.  And I got it.  Our church people pulled together to sew costumes, purchase supplies, measure and build and paint.  A women with a walker came in and sat at a table, creating 90 name tags and attached them to lanyards.  Everyone got involved.

This year was no different.  I begged, people responded.  Everyone worked together.  Our program is not as complicated as last year's.  It didn't require as many hands or supplies.  But my favorite part of Vacation Bible School is seeing our church people come together to use the diverse gifts that God has given them.  We have incredibly talented people, and when everyone allows God to use their talents, beautiful things happen.  In the past week, we have had three official work days and today served as an unofficial one.  But working side by side with people that I usually see in the hallways on Sunday morning, people I run past as I am rushing to get from the church van to my Sunday School class to the choir to the Kids Church room and then back to the church van, I feel very blessed.  I am not working alone.  We all get to be a part of this.

Our church is almost finished in its transformation into a panda-filled bamboo forest.  The main set lacks just a few small details, and the classrooms look more like China than China does.   And on Monday night, I am praying that we will be bombarded with 100 kids to fill those classrooms.  We will tell them about how much God loves them and that He listens to them.  My prayer is that little lives are changed, and I believe they will be.  But I have already been blessed and encouraged by the willingness of people, my church family, to work together.  So thank you, TBC, for giving me a job and then making it easy for me to do it.    

*Okay, so maybe it was just one confession.

** I'm talking 'bout you, Katie Schooling.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

So there was no camp.  Hallelujah for no camp.  Praise the Lord for trips to San Antonio. I was rejoicing right up until the moment we neared the Grand Prairie city limits.  And then it hit me.  Five boys (ages 9-12) and one girl (age 11) and three adults (age old enough to know better than to be outnumbered by tweens).  All of those camp distractions... other kids, preaching, silly songs, ridiculous skits... those were not going to be part of this trip.  The kids had already started to fight.  I quickly realized that we needed some ground rules.  I found my most authoritative voice and I announced the basic warnings that went something like Don't touch each other, Don't say bad words, and Don't sing your swear-filled Cee Lo songs.  And then we were off.

By the time we hit Austin, we were definitely ready to get out of the van.  I issued appropriate Please behave yourselves warning, and we walked into the restaurant.  A regular, sit-down restaurant.  Yep, we were just asking for trouble.  But honestly, what adult actually wants to eat at McDonald's, even with kids? It's just disgusting, and after see those videos about mechanically separated chicken and watching Super Size Me, I might never eat McDonald's ever again.  I instructed the kids to check out the kids menu, and I almost instantly heard the complaints.  There were only six things on the kids menu, and each came with the choice of two sides from a list of about 25 sides.  I am no mathematician, but the possibilities of combinations were in the hundreds.  And they were complaining.  I believe my response went something like this.

Did YOU pay for this trip? I didn't think so.
And had we gone to McDonald's, you would have had the choice of chicken or burgers.  Two choices.
So this is where you say "Thanks, Julie for taking us to this restaurant"

With the motherly lectures out of the way, we were able to get down to the real business of enjoying ourselves.  The kids gave us their opinions on life, love, relationships, music.  We heard things like...

"Can you turn the air-conditioning on, please? I need to dry off my eyeballs!" 

Kid 1: "I blew up a black cat in my hand last night!" 
Kid 2: "Was there blood?"

"My Mom should've pushed me out as a girl."- Eric, age 11

"I got spendin' murney."- Eric, age 11 (who seemed to particularly enjoy adding r's to words)

Me to kids: There is no such thing as love at first sight. Maybe like, but not love.

Blake, age 11: Uh-huh! Like if the girl is extreeeemely hot!

We laughed, we cried (well, almost, out of frustration), we yelled (a little), we threatened (a lot), we sweat enough to fill the San Antonio River.  Here are ten things that I learned about kids during this trip:

1.  Give them a menu, and they will whine and complain.  Give them a hotel buffet serving only one main dish and a few mediocre sides, and they will love you forever.  And go back for seconds.

2. They will gladly injure another child to get in the elevator first to push the floor button.

3. They will spend every last cent of spending money they have on day one if you let them.

4. They do not understand that pizza + roller coasters = vomit.

5. When you give instructions of any kind, they hear absolutely nothing.  Or maybe they hear the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher, but probably they just hear nothing.

6. Boys do not walk.  They jump, kick, twirl, run, pounce, and climb, but they do not walk.  Ever. 

7. Establishing a SAME SEATS rule prevents a whole lot of fighting every time you get into a vehicle.

8. They do not care about the Alamo.  Not one little bit.  They do, however, like those souvenir penny machines.  

9.  They will go to great lengths to prevent embarrassment, including allowing their underwear to be thrown away because they are too shy to claim them.

10.  Three days with someone else's children is perfectly enough.  Especially when those children are fond of Monster energy drinks.

In the mornings and at night, we did a little Bible study.  I encouraged them to develop Bible study and prayer habits.  I walked them through a few truths about God's Word and why it matters to read it.  I showed them some reasons they should pray.  I hope that they carried some of that home with them.  I pray that something sunk in.  As much work as it was to drive and navigate an unfamiliar city and teach and referee silly, boyish fights, I loved getting to know these kids better.  I was happy to see them ride off with their parents, but I will be happy to see them again the next time they come to church.  

So for those of our church family who gave money and prayed for these kids, I thank you.  Thanks for making an investment in the lives of our kids.  But seriously, next year (God help us), culottes or no culottes, come hell or high water, we are going to camp.  


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