Closing Thoughts on NA

So here I am, about to finish this three week trip that I’ve been preparing for for months. Crazy right? Fortunately I have been able go this whole time without my team marrying me off…yet. They have gotten to a point where they picked out a specific man…who knows what could happen within the next 24 hours 0_o

First off I want to thank everyone who has been lifting us up, we have definitely needed it! There is certainly a lot of warfare going on here, and I’m not talking physical. Believe it or not it really does help, even from thousands of miles away in completely different time zones. According to our workers the natives have been more open to conversations on this trip than they have any other time. Consequently it seems that we’ve had more health problems than any other team, which I think definitely confirms that there is a battle going on against our objective.

I would continue to ask that you keep the people here in your thoughts. People I mentioned like Benjy and Abe, as well as others that we were able to reach and have conversations with like Michael and Andrew (all pseudonyms by the way). Most of these men were really open to hearing about what we believe and asked some good questions. Also think of the people I didn’t mention specifically, like the girl who likes to sing quranic songs, or the little boy at a school a few days ago who tried to get us to convert to his religion. I love them but at the same time with a broken heart.

I would also ask that you think of the workers here. Though it has been an amazing three weeks here, it has been rough constantly being surrounded by darkness where it seems that we are the only light. There were several times where I was on my own and I just broke down and cried over the blindness of the people. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have to constantly live in this. The workers are very few and I do not think that we in the US appreciate them enough for the kind of things they have to go through here to further the Word in some of the darkest parts of the world. Please, if you have not already, lift them up; not only here, but everywhere. They will continue to have difficult jobs ahead of them.

And finally, just think of this country in general. Like I said, it is dark and lost, and there are very VERY few native followers here. Pray that the Father would move in the people here, that they would see that the sacrifice of family, marriage, and daily life is worth it, and that they would have courage to preach the Truth throughout the country. I do not really have much else to say, except that He is good all the time. All praise and glory to His name.

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The Incomprehensible Idea of Grace

So, I finally did it. I had one of those “talks” that people on these kinds of trips dream of. Before I go into detail, I just want to say that any good that came out of it was spoken by my Father alone. Also, I may be excited that it happened, but trust me when I say my heart breaks even more for these people after talking to this young Islamic student.

I am sorry if you are offended if you claim such a religion, but I will never be sorry for speaking my beliefs.

So, it all started out kinda randomly to be honest (sometimes He works in such weird ways right?) I was sitting outside one of the schools and talking with one of our translators…let’s call him Abe. He is around my age and a student who wants to go into theater and script writing; being a theater hobbyist, I was extremely interested and found good conversation in his company.

One of my little friends came up and I complimented on her performance in a group choir for a program we had done earlier (Yes…they also made me sing Adele for this program…again). She then spoke in the native language to which Abe translated that she likes to sing Quranic songs. Something (or someone) within me added “I like to sing songs from my religion too.” Abe translated for her, to which she giggled and ran off. He then turned to me and asked what my religion is, to which I told the truth (This is safe because they pretty much assume that most people from the US are followers. This is often a bad thing, but that’s a different subject matter).

This led to a good discussion on the differences in our religions. He first started out by saying that he felt they were very similar. To this I replied that maybe in a few facts and people, yes, but I felt the underlying ideas were very different. The conversation kind of took off from there. I won’t bore you with the whole talk, but I’ll point out a couple of things about Islam that, yes, I have heard of before, but were stated rather blatantly throughout our discussion.

It’s All About What We Do

This is something that I figured would come up a lot should I ever have such a talk here. Tidbits of it are even found in the actions of fellow followers in the States! However, While we may think that many followers in the US act upon a very much works-based salvation in their hearts, at least they (hopefully) know in their head (through reading the Word) that they can’t rescue themselves through what they do. Here it seems that the entire religion is based on what they do to please Allah. Yeah, he may have spoken through their prophet, but after that, it feels like everyone is left wandering in the dark with their book, doing their best to “be good” with what they got.

The truth is we can’t be good. The Word even says that our good deeds are dirty cloths compared to our Father. Even if it was a deal of measuring between the “light side” and the “dark side,” how many more bad things have we done than good things? I don’t know about you, but for every great deed I do there are at least 10 more wrongdoings I commit (if not substantially more). So a works-based salvation just doesn’t work in my mind because literally no one could ever attain it. Unless you can tell me that I just sin more than everyone else. In that case I have no argument.

Before moving on, I want to add this one thought: Isn’t a religion where we are trying to rescue ourselves rather self-centered? I mean when you think about it, the thought that we can even save ourselves from all the horrible stuff we do (and yes, WE ALL do wrong every day, whether in our hearts or in our actions) is rather egotistical.

They Don’t Get Grace

Grace is something that has been preached a lot ever since the world was turned upside down about two thousand years ago. As much as it is talked about, it is definitely something that just does not make sense. My friend Abe gave me this example “A man who goes to jail for a crime has to pay his own bail or face his own punishment, no one else can take the punishment or pay the bail for him.” Well, in a world that is “fair” in its strictest human definition, yes. But we always talk as if that was just another person. What do we think when we make that person us?

Even if you committed the worst crime imaginable, wouldn’t you love an official pardon from all that you have done? Or if you were in enormous debt at no ones fault but your own, would it not be wonderful to just one day get a call saying that it has all been payed for? I think most people would agree that these are more pleasant alternatives. These of course are imperfect examples as compared to the ultimate example. Even with the modern-day clarity they might give us, it still holds true that grace is something that does not seem right. Even Abe was quite confused when I attempted to clearly explain the idea. But when we are the ones about to be put on the scaffold it sure does seem nice.

The culture here, as beautiful as the people are, can be dark. Forgiveness and grace are choked out by works and sometimes twisted morals. It just seems that they do good for their own rescuing, while I have freedom to work because He rescued me.

Please keep Abe in your thoughts. The way that he so easily jumped into the conversation indicates that fact that he may be asking some questions, and I fervently hope that some day he will find the one true answer.

Also keep the us in your thoughts. This is a dark place, and it can be rather pressing on us, emotionally and even physically.

Music and Fear

Anyone who has known me long enough will figure out that I love music. I love to sing, play and learn new instruments, hear music across the globe, etc. It comes at no surprise then that I am currently a vocal music education student in the realm of higher schooling.

This title carries a blessing and a curse when it come to cross-cultural travel. On one hand, many times the people are eager to show you their musical talents. This is always fun, no matter the talent of the said person. I had a young girl sing an arabic song in one of the most beautiful tones I’ve heard, but I’ve also had indigenous people sing in voices that, to put in nicely, where very sharp to my ears. Even at that that, I find it fascinating to hear different people from different culture sing. I find music to be a language that can easily cross barriers. However, after such beautiful or interesting performances, what entails is a desire for my own performance.

Don’t take this to mean I have stage fright or no confidence in one of my talents. I am willing to sing when asked…if I am prepared. I really should learn by now to be prepared before I am randomly asked by a group or school to get up in front of everyone and sing, but that’s my disorganized self’s fault I suppose.

Anyways, it has already happened three times in the 6 days I’ve been here, and I fear more will occur. Usually I’ve done generic pop songs that I know really well, like maybe some fun., Adele, or the Anna Kendricks act while doing rhythm on a cup. The good thing about such friendly people is that they’ll love you…even if you forget the words in the middle of the song.

However, there is one part of me that so badly wanted to sing a song with a true message, if you get my drift. Something from the Word that might make them think just a little bit about things other than cup rhythms, angst, or romance. Something that makes them think about true Love from the Word. I wanted to even more when they started playing some kids music that was actually a collection of catchy muslim children’s songs, like anything we would play for our children on Sunday. It was a bit scary and uncomfortable, and just made me want to get up and start singing songs I had learned growing up and working with children.

But I’m going to tell the truth:

I was afraid.

I don’t know why, I am not afraid about what they will think of me, or if they’ll do something to me up because of it. I don’t fear such things. But for some reason I was just scared.

But one of my team members wasn’t. When asked to sing a song, she got up and sang a simple song from the Word. It was nothing elaborate, with silly cup banging or guitar accompaniment, it was just a simple song of comfort and peace from our Father. But to me it was the most beautiful performance of the night.

I applaud my team member and friend for being so courageous. She may not have been as ready as I was, she may have not had children singing along with her to a well-known song or received as much praise because of the fact. But she brought praise to our Father, which is something more beautiful than any message of angsty love, no matter its popularity.

Conversations of Marriage

One thing you will find once you’ve been on international teams for a good amount of time is that there is always someone that is “picked on” slightly more than the others. I don’t necessarily mean this in an extremely negative way (usually even the victim is quite amused) but it is a fact non-the-less. This role on this trip has not surprisingly usually fallen to me. I suppose most of it isn’t my fault. I am short, a female, and the “baby” of the group. Then again I suppose sometimes I ask for it, as most of my friends will know I tend to say quirky things that may make me sound like I’m missing some IQ points or just plain weird. Whatever it is, I find it rather amusing and fun. Thank goodness I’ve grown out of that adolescent sensitive stage where such banter would create tears.

This role is also true among our native friends that we have met here, especially in regards to “finding a husband.” See, it all started out when we went to an English school, where we sat down and had tea with some of the teachers before going into the classroom. The main teacher, let’s call him Benjy, mentioned that I looked like I belonged to a group of people that live in the mountains of this country. He then proceeded to jest that I should find a husband among them and live up in the mountains. This made us all burst out in laughter of course, and it continued to be a joke that would be explained whenever a new person joined the group. If that had been the only thing that happened in those regards, it might not have been so repetitious in our current conversations, however the real joke came when the kids were offered to ask us questions.

Now, I know that children sometimes have this funny notion that young single adults should finding a lifetime match soon, and I have encountered this many times working with such children, even at the tender age of 19. What I didn’t expect is a little boy raising his hand during this question time and asking me “Are you married…or something like that?” The poor boy was mortified once the crowd of laughter came.

Despite my own laughter, I had actually understood what he meant, because though it is not really appropriate to have a boyfriend/girlfriend (in the american sense) in this country, they are also well-versed in our culture through the media, so the kid probably did not know how to word his question. Nevertheless it has been added to the previous joke about marrying in the country, and it continues to be a trend among the group. Therefore I’m afraid, my friends, I may never return, for my friends seem intent on marrying me off. Do not fret, If such a thing occurs I promise I will write of my romantic life in the mountains with my Arab husband, because that’s the dream right?

 

P.S. Don’t worry, my parents won’t approve until he offers some good camels first ๐Ÿ˜‰

A (Not-so) New Country

I am currently on a trip in North Africa, and though I have been here before as a young child, I find some things rather different. This difference is not so much in the country itself, but in me.

First, to the country itself. The lush green mountainous landscape with it’s harrowing but adventure-beckoning rock formations are simply breathtaking. I find them just as if not more beautiful than the images I remember from those long car rides for my fathers work during my childhood. The food is also as scrumptious as I remember it. It is a little difficult learning to eat in a country where my favored left handย  is considered unclean, but the taste and richness always makes up for it.

The people, though there are certainly more to be met in the next few weeks, are beautiful and extremely friendly. Though sometimes my heart hurts for their brokenness, it also reminds me of why I’m here.

I hope to experience much more of the culture in the coming weeks, and I hope to write stories about my little adventures on the way to this blog, so stay tuned ๐Ÿ™‚