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Calling All Votes!!

So, I am one of the many poor college students in this big world of academia. I am working hard to try to pay for those ridiculously high prices that come with a good education. Many of you who share my pain know that a good way of doing this is through scholarships. So I entered this one essay competition where I was able to talk about my passion for traveling and how I could use it to change the world. Please read and vote!! I could really use this scholarship and it would be even more awesome if I won it through a short essay discussing my passion, just follow the link before, read, and vote! Thanks!

http://takelessons.com/blog/2014/07/changing-the-world-through-exploring-it/

The Calling of Every Follower

So now that this first trip is completely over, I have a few more thoughts and what they mean for us as believers.
It is a well-known fact that the US is a huge superpower of the modern world. Though we may not be doing so well economically by first world standards, we know that we still have a big cultural impact around the globe. The trouble is I think we sometimes forget the impact we have. The world watches what we put out in popular media, movie theaters, television, and news. It is amazing what some of the natives on our trip knew about our culture.
I first noticed this on one of the first days when Benjy allowed us to ask his middle school students questions. Interested to see what kind of movies they watched, Western or otherwise, I asked then to name their favorite film. Now, I was expecting some western movies, but mostly on the PG/PG-13 level, like some singing princesses (or ice queens) and maybe some vampire-werewolf love triangles. However, the replies shocked me:
Texas Chainsaw, Silence of the Lambs, Silent Hill, among other horror movies.
Now, do not think in any way that I’m condemning those who watch horror/thriller film, I like to watch a good screamer flick myself every now and then. What worries me is that these were apparently the only western movies that they were watching, with one or two superhero and actions flicks thrown in the mix.
A few days later we went to another middle school, where it was basically a karaoke concert, anyone who could somewhat sing was “gently encouraged” to pipe out any song of their choosing (if any of you vocal majors plan on traveling, be ready to become the next village pop star!). There were many pop songs that came up: Imagine Dragons, Rihanna, Adele. Even I made the unwise decision of singing “Some Nights” by fun. when put on the spot.
Now, you may ask what my point is in noting all these things. I asked myself that same question at first. I mean why would it matter how they view our country? It’s our life right? We do what we want!
I used to hold that view as a young adolescent rebellious at heart, even as I lived in a moderately free Central American country. The problem comes when a lot of them get the notion that all those from the United States are Christians. They see what people do in some of our movies and hear what artists say in some of our songs, they are thinking that those people are supposed to be Christians…a bit scary isn’t it?
Now, their accessibility to these things may be due to the fact that they do not have Christian material, this of course is no fault to anyone but authorities who reject the truth, but it is still a bit saddening that they think that all the people in our western media are Christians, no wonder they are so closed to the truth!
Do not take this to mean that I am suggesting some sort of culture war on our media, we cannot win others over by hate and criticism (we can’t win others over to God by ourselves period, but that is a different discussion). What I am saying is that it seems that a lot of cultures around the world are a bit disillusioned to what a “Christian” really is (of course it can be true the other way as well). The question is what are we to do about it?
1. A War Against Our Culture Is NOT the Answer
To be honest, in regards to trying to fix our own nation as a whole, I don’t think there really is anything we can do. People will sin, it has been that way since the fall and will always be that way. America is not and will not be the next “Israel” as I feel a lot of Americans believe. Yes, the United States is a great nation, but it is not God’s new chosen people as a nation.
Trying to conform our 21st century American culture and media to our way of life is not going to happen, in my opinion it’s not even what the Followers life is about. I have a lot more to say on that subject, but for the fear of rabbit trails, which I am sure I have chased enough already, I will leave it there.

I did find some more verses though that may explain what we must do as children of the Father. There are probably other verses out there that better convey my point, but I am no great Bible scholar in all honesty. I do read it…a lot, but I’m horrible that remembering where certain verses are, what fits into what context, etc, so bear with me:
2. Don’t Conform, But Do Respect
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
It’s a simple verse that everyone uses for their coffee mugs or pillows, but it is much easier said than done. Nonetheless it is a command we must follow. Wherever we are, whether in a Muslim country, big city USA, or a remote village in Asia, we should not give in to what the people tell us we should believe. At the same time, we should respect their customs.
One way I had to do this on my trip is through my dress. Though I try to be modest for my culture’s standards, even some of what I wear is seen as indecent clothing for the culture I was visiting. In this country, the general thought is that if a man lusts after a woman, it is the woman’s fault, either through her actions or dress. I certainly did not believe this, but I wanted to appear as a decent, moral girl for their culture so as to gain respect and possible openness to what I had to say. Therefore I put away my tank tops for three weeks and opted for long loose tops.
Now, was I conforming to the thought process of this “world”? No. But was I respecting the culture? I certainly hope I did. We need to respect for further openness to the truth.
The difference between conformation and respect can be difficult for some to see. This struggle between their differences can even be seen in our own culture on certain issues. But it needs to be grasped whenever anyone ventures to a culture to spread the good news. I advise this to be done even if we might live in our own nation.
3. Pray!
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ ” Matthew 9:37-38
The main thing we need to do, as Followers, as a church, is pray. Pray for the people that do go over to those countries. Pray for the natives, that they wouldn’t be deceived by their predisposed notions of who we really are. Pray for the men I talked with on my trip, Pray for the children that I sang “The Cup Song” to a million times, pray for the people who’s faces we may never see.
It may seem like a small thing, but it absolutely is not. In my time in this country I saw how truly powerful prayer is. Prayer can open up hearts, it can heal, and it can give strength when others are weary. If our trip was even somewhat successful, it was through the power of the Lord primarily, but also through the power of your prayers.
4. Go!
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Matthew 28:19
Am I saying that believers should simply drop their lives here in the US (or whatever country they live in) to go live in another country? Of course not. As it says in Matthew 28:19, we are to go to ALL NATIONS, and that might even be our own. Wherever there is sin, there is spiritual need.
But, this does not mean that we should stay in our cozy little hobbit holes, wherever we are. We need to go out, preach the Word, even if for a short time like my team did. Show all those preconceived notions toward true Followers for what they really are: fake (theses false beliefs based on bad representation are everywhere, even in the United States). Respect the culture, but don’t conform to what they believe. Love the people with the love of our father, even when it’s hard. Pray for the people and for every follower everywhere engaging other lost worlds.
This can be done anywhere, whether in a remote village across the world or in your very own town. We are all commanded to be workers for him, so let us fulfill that duty, wherever we are.

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.

 

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 😉

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 hand  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 🙂