Thursday, May 5, 2011


I used to play the piano. I took lessons for years; I can read all the notes, I'm just very rusty and not very musical about it. On Monday, I was sitting in the empty camp dining hall finishing my dinner when I decided to pick up the hymnal from the coffee table by the fireplace (no idea why it was there to begin with), take it to the piano, and pluck out some hymns. I played through a good number of them, but I got stuck on "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". When I was in 6th grade, I played that hymn on the trumpet (cornet, really) in a church in Mexico and severely butchered it. Regardless of emotional scarring, the hymn has a message that I don't often reflect on.

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

My friend Ryan's church organized today as a day of prayer and fasting for Ryan and Kendra. Throughout the day, I found myself feeling like my actions were ineffective in the face of Ryan's cancer. How is my compassion supposed to affect change? As Desmond Tutu writes in Made for Goodness, "compassion, which literally means 'suffering with,' may feel like the most futile kind of suffering. It changes nothing. It holds no hope of changing anything." But, Tutu goes on to write what I need to realize, that compassion brings us in proximity to the Father. And, as the hymn says, "Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer."

I have so little control over my life (less control than I think I have), and essentially no control over the lives of others, yet God remains both infinitely powerful AND my friend. Hopefully, as my understanding of those truths deepens, my prayers will become less circumstantial and self-centered and instead begin to echo God's heart for the world.

"Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's all connected

Recently, I've been thinking a lot (but probably not enough) about how interconnected life is. That was a seriously vague statement, so here's what I mean: God's command to love Him with everything and to love others should be at the center of all that I do. Here's why this has come up...

My friend Ryan has cancer. I'm far from a scientist and so I have little concrete knowledge of what cancer is and does, but I know this - cells are growing and multiplying rapidly inside of his body and, if allowed to go unchecked, they would kill him. There is death there. Those cells take away life.

I just spent about 8 weeks traveling the world. On that trip, I encountered people and places and religions and customs I had never seen first-hand. While observing people practice their religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) I was struck by how their religious behavior was first and foremost an attempt to appease, and was motivated by fear of a god or gods who give or take away life.

I encountered people whose lives were, by my standards, filled with misery - poverty, sickness, oppression, abuse. Who were mistreated by any host of authorities - from parents to the government. I also met people who were daily working to bring them life (one of these people, who is working to bring life to refugee women in Jordan, writes about here experiences here).

And because I'm finishing my trip with a week at home and have lots of time on my hands, I've been working out rather heavily, pushing my body to the point of extensive soreness for the sake of obtaining health - of prolonging and improving life. The discipline of regular exercise, of eating healthily, of regular Bible study and prayer, of simplicity in what I own and generosity in what I give... all of these things bring life (and were taught by Jesus, essentially) and are things that I find SO incredibly difficult. (Ever looked around at how many Christian leaders are obese... how could we as a church make bodily sins like sexual sins such a huge deal and give ourselves a free pass to be as sinful as we want with our physical condition?)

I was reading an article by Scot McKnight that was recommended to me today, and it stated clearly what I'd been dancing around in my thoughts recently. McKnight is writing about how to bring the gospel to this generation of young adults (me!). He is saying it isn't done through rigid teaching of salvation or hell (sign on with us or pay the consequences) and it isn't found in a merely moral examination of Jesus (social justice means buying Tom's shoes and conserving water). Instead, the message of the gospel is that, while death is happening all around us, because of the cross (and only and always only because of the cross) we who claim Christ can both be redeemed (made alive) and work to redeem. He says,

"The life Jesus lived, the life that made his kingdom vision so appealing and so potently penetrating, was the life that ended up on a cross as an atoning sacrifice. The story of Jesus, the only story the church has ever told, is the same story told by Paul, and Peter, and John, and the writer of Hebrews. It is a story of the Incarnate Son of God who sketched a vision of a kingdom that God wants for the earth ("your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven") and who made that kingdom possible by willingly surrendering himself on the cross for others. And it was the life of a body that came back to life on Easter to empower us to new life as the new creation."

(he also says a ton of other really good stuff in that article that is worth a read if you are in any way involved with adolescents/young adults and ministry... which really should be everybody...)

Most of you who read this are probably nodding right along because you've heard this a hundred times before, but here's what's been hitting me and why it's all connected. I can't continue to make decisions based on what's best for me, what makes me comfortable, what feels good, what is safe. Because Jesus "made the kingdom possible by willingly surrendering himself on the cross for others", my top priority is bringing about that kingdom and God's will on earth as it is in heaven. I cannot continue to segment my life, to claim ultimate life from God and not make letting that life transform all areas of me my daily mission.

Monday, April 25, 2011

the USA

I don't want to brag, but I'm a fantastic orange peeler (well, I actually do want to brag). I'm currently sitting on the green leather sofa in my parents' living room, eating the orange that I just peeled (yes, the peel is in one piece), and trying to recuperate after doing one too many physical activities today (this is what I tend to do when I have ample free time. Today, I went for a run, played softball with my old high school team, and went to a Pilates class with my mom).

My initial trip itinerary did not include this jaunt to the midwest (instead, I cleverly planned to arrive back in Boston on the 21st and then immediately head south for a week, therefore prolonging the return to the cold as long as possible), but when I found out my good friend Ryan was diagnosed with cancer I rerouted through Chicago and opted for 10 days of glorious midwest spring weather (clouds, rain, cold) rather than the measly 70's and sunny I would have experienced in South Carolina (all jokes aside, the decision was totally worth it).

It's ok, I got some good warm and sunny time in Southern California... you can see my pictures from that trip and from my 14 hour lay-over in Bangkok, Thailand here. It was wonderful spending a few days with my brother and sister-in-law. I don't get to see them nearly enough.

It's strange being back in North Muskegon, MI. Running through the neighborhood I saw lots of houses whose inhabitants I once knew. I worked out a little with my former softball team (same coach, but I only knew one of the girls - his daughter) and at one point one of the girls looked at me and went, "who are you?" Ha. Well, small child, I played on this team... 9 years ago. Still, I'm thankful for the down time to readjust to Eastern Standard Time before jumping back in to camp prep with both feet next week.

I'll work on putting some more thoughts about my trip up soon. For now... hope you're happy, Ben... I updated.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

India got me

I made it 2.5 weeks into my time in India before getting sick (something that I was pretty sure was going to happen to me right away - I was under the impression that everyone gets sick in India)... but something I ate this weekend was more alive than intended, and I spent the entirety of yesterday paying some serious consequences for it (and will probably continue to pay for it a bit over the next few days). Thankfully, I'm staying with some fantastic girls who are taking good care of me, and I'm feeling well enough (kept a package of crackers, some juice, AND my antibiotic down today) to head in to the home this afternoon.

This past weekend was my only weekend in Kolkata, so we packed it full of Kolkata experiences - especially Saturday, which began with a 5AM boat ride on the Hooghly River and ended with the sound and light show at the Victoria Memorial. I've gotten to see a lot of the day-to-day life in Kolkata these past two weeks (commuting with Kari through much of the city) but had not seen many of the tourist things up until this point. Check out my photos from the day here.

With only 2 days left in India, I have hopes to spend a little more time with the girls in the home and to visit another program working on transitioning women out of prostitution by training them in textiles. Then, it's on to Bangkok, Thailand for a 16 hr layover and then to LA.

It's incredible to me that this trip is ending. It's been an eye-opening ride.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I have found them...

I have found the most beautiful people on earth. For the past week, I have been helping out at a home for trafficked girls in Kolkata. They, ladies and gentlemen, are hands down the most beautiful people I have ever met. I wish you could meet them, too.

The girls are learning English, so I've been creating teaching aids and working with the girls on their vocabulary and grammar (helpful that they need to work on their English, because English is of course the only way that I can communicate with them). I made a game of Memory, and have played it almost non-stop for the past 2 days. Definitely a confidence builder - beating young, Bengali-speaking girls in games involving basic English vocabulary.

Right now, I'm sitting next to one of my most frequent visitors. She's a tall, thin, 11-year-old girl with big brown eyes, a winning smile, and an adorable little voice. We're in the middle of making a friendship bracelet together (who knew that all those skills I learned at camp throughout the years would be SO relevant to my life now). She was also my assistant in the creation of Memory (I drew the pictures and wrote the words, she cut them out; I "laminated" the cards with packing tape, she trimmed the edges), too. We're quite the team.

What I can't get over is how incredibly affectionate and joyful these girls are. When I think about the pain they have experienced in their lives, I am in awe of how resilient they are, and saddened by how much they have lost at the hands of others. My friend Sara's response to my brief description of the girls was as profoundly true as any response could be: "Lord Jesus, come quickly!" Experiences like this make me so very thankful for the people who have devoted their lives to bringing justice in the lives of these girls, and even more eager for the complete justice that will come when He returns. As I sit here laughing and playing, I long for a world where these beautiful girls would never face fear and hurt and would always feel the love and the joy that they are experiencing now.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A journey through "God's Own Country" - Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India

First of all, let me just say that nothing I can say about India will do it justice. I had heard a lot about this place - have a good number of friends that are totally in love with the sub-continent - but really had no idea what to expect upon arriving. In short, it is a sensory feast (almost overload, but not quite). There are people everywhere dressed in colorful clothing walking amidst colorful shops and buildings, flowers and trees, with a background of car horns, engines, voices, birds, and more. Add in the smells of people, foods, and garbage, plus the feeling of heat and humidity, and you have my sensory interpretation of India thus far. I really like it.

I arrived in Kolkata (Calcutta) at 2AM Thurs, March 24. After doing some necessary kurta shopping, meeting Kari's roommates, spending a day at her work, and packing, we left Saturday EARLY morning to fly to Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, the most southwestern state of India. We stayed the first day with the parents of a Kolkata friend. We were overfed, given necessary trip advice, and shown around the capital. Additionally, we got to visit a home for men with mental and physical disabilities. While patient care was not up to US standards by any means, the almost 80 men in the home were so incredibly joyful and caring to one another. They sang us songs, we sang them songs and gave them candy, and then we spend an hour or so attempting to communicate and laughing a lot with the men.

The next day, after another very large breakfast, we piled in an auto rickshaw (the transportation method of choice for the trip - made a bit more exciting by packing 4-5 people with luggage into the back seat) and then jumped on a train to Varkala, a beach town situated on a cliff overlooking the Malabar coast of the Indian Ocean. For two days we ate Keralan food, wandered through shops, and relaxed on the beach (plus, played lots of Scrabble, Scrabble related games).

After Varkala, we took a 2-hour car ride to Keralan Backwaters, where we enjoyed an afternoon houseboat ride.

A rainsoaked bus ride landed us in Kochi, where we spent the next day wandering around the city and eating good food (again... I hope you recognize this trend). We got an auto rickshaw tour from a friendly guy named Sunny, hung out at the water and helped some pirates operate their Chinese fishing net (definitely pirates because they were consuming significant quantities of rum...), and watched the first half of the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket match before taking an auto first to the wrong train station and then to the right one and boarding an overnight train for Chennai.

We arrived in Chennai at 7 AM and headed to the Chennai office of IJM (International Justice Mission), where some very hospitable interns got us settled in and fed before we joined them for devotions at the office. If you don't know about IJM, check out the ministry here. We spent the rest of the day wandering around Chennai and catching up on some rest before taking another train - this time a 6:30 AM train - to Pondicherry, a French colony on the coast of Tamil Nadu (on the Bay of Bengal).

My interest in Pondicherry came primarily from teaching the novel Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, which begins in Pondicherry. If you haven't read it, do it. I love it. After checking into our $10 guest house (that's right - 4 people for $10), we set off on an ambitious day's itinerary: meander, eat lunch, meander, cafe, meander, cafe, meander, dinner, meander, dessert, meander, bed.

The french influence was especially apparent in the names of restaurants and cafes. We had lunch at Le Club, went to Le Cafe for chilled coffee drinks on the beach, and ended up at Rendezvous for dinner. When not eating or drinking caffeine, we saw some beautiful european-influenced architecture, lots of pretty flowers, and some interesting animals (including an elephant that gives blessings).

An added bonus was the martial arts performance we stumbled upon. Nothing quite as entertaining as small children wielding large sticks, ribbons, and fire.

On Saturday morning, we hopped on a bus to Ideal Beach, a resort south of Chennai. Look at the picture and judge for yourself:

And Saturday night we got to witness India winning the Cricket World Cup and the celebrations that ensued. Go, India! (I don't have footage of the celebrations, but hopefully I will get some photos from John, a fellow traveler).

We ended our trip with church on Sunday and a trip to Marina Beach, where apparently all the native Chennians (I made that up) hang out on Sunday afternoons. It was a very cool sight.

Now it's time to explore Kolkata, something I'm quite eager to do. Only 17 days left on this adventure... that's VERY hard to believe!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


So, I'm in India, and currently we're on a southern India extravaganza.... spending a week in the beautiful state of Kerela and visiting Chennai. I don't have much internet access or time this week to post, but my travel companion John has various technologies at his disposal and will be updating his very cool blog. Check it out!