Monday, July 27, 2015

Lighting Up the Nations

Last week I had the privilege of gathering in worship and fellowship with 800 of my closest friends at the 110th New Wilmington Mission Conference many of which I met for the very first time. Our theme verse for this year was Isaiah 49:6b: I will make you as a light for the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. I heard from and met people from all over the world and the news is good—God is lighting up the darkness in every corner of the world with his love and grace through every day ordinary people just like you and me.

In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, bringing rise to 15 new separate nations and opening up new lines of communication between the west and the east. Sometime after this, an 11-year old girl from Nebraska took it upon herself to send a letter and bible to a man named VJ in one of those new countries. He was an atheist as was generations of his family before him. But I sat in awe of God’s amazing grace as VJ told of how he found in that bible the answers to questions he had been asking for years. He became a Christian and later a minister. He and his wife are now lights to God’s grace in Central Asia in a predominantly Muslim community. It seems like such a small act of faith, but oh the light that little girl shed into a dark place because in her innocence she thought it might make a difference to send a bible across the ocean.

Picture taken by Chris Juengel
I had the joy of doing my very first “mission” project ever! I joined 150 of my friends in packing meals to be sent to children all over the world who wouldn’t have food otherwise. Altogether, we packed over 20,600 meals in an hour! Imagine what we could have done if we had two hours!!! I remember being very tired after lunch and we were going to have to wait another hour before the packing was to begin. I wanted to go back to my room and take a nap and started coming up with excuses why I could blow off the mission project…it’s really meant for the kids to do. I’ve already helped out with the conference in other ways. I gave money towards the project—that was my contribution. Thank God my friends kept me accountable and we all went together to do our bit. The most touching moment during that whole experience was when the organizer was giving us instructions on what we were going to do. He told us he was going to count to three and we were to clap. 1, 2, 3, clap. 1, 2, 3, clap. 1, 2, 3, clap. 1, 2, 3, clap. He did this four times. I thought he was trying to make sure he had everyone’s attention before giving the instructions (you know, the way teachers do… clap once, clap twice, clap three times until everyone is clapping with them.) Then he said, “Every time you clapped, someone died from hunger or hunger related illness. Then he stated that some astronomical number of people were going to die today because of hunger even though there is enough food in the world right now for every person to have four pounds of food each. Then he said that half of that astronomical number would be children under the age of six. As he said this I happened to be looking at my friend’s 5-year old granddaughter who was standing across from me and let me tell you, I would have packed all day if it meant we could turn that unbelievable, unforgivable, excessive number into 0.

Every year I go there knowing that God is going to speak a message to me that I might not hear so clearly in the hurried, distracted, overextended life I usually wake up to every morning. I’ve been praying for God to turn the dispassionate, unengaging, distant attitude I’ve had in our relationship into the vibrant, unquenchable passion that’s been missing for too long. It used to be that every Thursday night I spent the evening in prayer and meditation as I devoured Scripture. God was speaking to me in those evenings in a way that was so personal, so compelling that we would talk about it all week long (in prayer). I wanted to know more, learn all I could about him and how I could be the person he created me to be. We had long talks about so many things. But not now.

Now, I can’t think of anything to say. I’m embarrassed to admit that I can’t remember the last time I opened my bible with any regularity. I abandoned my studies. Every time I felt guilty about it or frustrated with myself for being lazy, every time I tried to produce in myself a desire or passion for God, I’d go out and buy another Christian living book, devotional, or themed bible and set them on my bookshelf to walk past later. I’m not saying that I stopped believing or living my faith. I’m saying that I stopped caring about it. And I really didn’t like that about me.

What God told me last week at conference is that he has never left me and he is working in and through me always. I’m right where he knew I would be all along. He has called me to be a light where I am emotionally, physically, and mentally. I don’t have to supply the light—he does that! I just have to shine it around me as best I can. I am a light to God’s grace in who I am as a person and in the way I interact with those around me but God has also specifically equipped me to be a light of comfort and hope among the grieving. There is no doubt of that. And he has called me to do that in a way I never would have thought of on my own so I know the idea came from him and not me. With his help, I know I can do it, but I hesitate. I’m always second guessing what I think I know God has called me to be and do. Even when I’m sure, there is a hesitation of doubt lying beneath the surface. In a moment of insecurity and doubt on Thursday, I told God I wanted a sign and he answered my prayer by allowing me to spend a little time in the very darkness of grief that he created me to be a light in. In this way he has renewed in me a sense of urgency and dedication for the work he has called me to.

That other stuff—the issues in our relationship. They still exist. That’s how amazing God is. He is blessing me with renewal and passion before I’ve cleaned up my act! I know what I have to do. I’ve got to read my bible and talk to God today and repeat it again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. If I want the relationship, I’m going to have to do the work. All I needed to do was to recognize that and make the firm decision to do it because the result of a closer relationship with God is worth the work.

No comments: