Friday, November 06, 2015


Today marks the end of the fourth week (!) since I finished up work at University Presbyterian Church. I have been living in Beacon Hill at my grandma's two-bedroom condo, and have been spending much of my time cleaning up and cleaning out the place to get it ready for sale. My grandma has vascular dementia and for more than a year has been living in assisted care facilities while her old condo has remained vacant.

The kitchen and hallway closet which have since been significantly de-cluttered.

Systematically going through different sections of the condo boxing up items to donate to Goodwill, and cleaning (sweeping, mopping, dusting, vacuuming), has been a welcome challenge to tackle in this in-between time prior to my return to Bolivia in January 2016. I am amazed with the sheer amount of unopened items (platters, vases, clothes, pots, pans, mugs, tea pots) Grandma stored in her closets. I assume she intended to either use these things later, or give them to others as gifts.

My favorite things I have stumbled upon so far have been some precious old photos from my dad's childhood and even from grandma's childhood, her high school diploma from Franklin High School and her yearbook (1949). She also tended to save birthday, Mother's Day and Christmas cards from family. Those cards kind of make me sad when I realize she probably would have little to no interest in reading them in her current condition. I am saving them in a box anyway.

As I reflect and pray about my upcoming departure to Bolivia, I am overcome with gratitude and also hit with a considerable dose of sorrow thinking about the dear family and friends I will be leaving in order to serve with the Bolivian church and to engage in God's purposes there. So I am doing my best to be grateful for each day here in Seattle. It's not always comfortable to be in this in-between space between points A (UPC) and B (Bolivia) but I so am thankful for it! Working, resting, waiting, praying, preparing. It is all good!

Sunrise from Grandma's condo
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (Ephesians 1:3-4). 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bolivia Is Not Mexico

This post is part of a continuing series about the School of Christ in Cochabamba, Bolivia. All posts will be tagged "Bolivia." Read all Bolivia posts here.

Many of my friends and family have asked me, "So how was the food [in Bolivia]?" To be honest, the answer is kind of complicated. Bolivian food is not particularly my fave, but it was okay. As my teammate DeAndrea would say, Here's the thing: Bolivian food is not Mexican food. Further, Bolivian culture is not Mexican culture. Throughout the 21-day school, I kept having to wake up to this reality.

I'm not sure if it was the same for others on the American team, but most of my cultural references to "Hispanic" or "Latino" culture* are Mexican. In the United States, Mexican culture, food and language are interwoven into mainstream American life--probably most likely because a huge chunk of the contiguous U.S. used to be Mexico (please see: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848). I mean, the average American probably has at least some baseline knowledge of some distinctly Mexican/Mexican-American cultural markers: pinatas, burritos, tacos, Cinco de Mayo (which is actually not really celebrated in Mexico, ironically enough), the word ándale**, etc. It's just part of the North American experience. I would say that Americans probably know Mexican culture better than any of the "Hispanic" cultures simply because of history and proximity.

Furthermore, for me personally, I am more familiar with Mexican culture just because Mexico is the only Spanish-speaking country I've ever lived in prior to going to Bolivia this summer. I lived in Mexico for 10 weeks in 2010, and then for six months from 2014-2015. Living in Mexico, I was able to observe the way of life, the daily rhythms/customs, and pick-up on the subtler cultural mores (e.g. communication style, social etiquette). I don't purport to really know fully the Mexican culture (which again, is not necessarily definable in monolithic, generalized terms) BUT it is the "Hispanic" culture with which I'm most familiar.

All this to say, it was, at times, disorienting to be in Bolivia because I kept expecting things to to be, well, Mexican. Comforting things that I got used to in Mexico just aren't the Bolivian way of doing things. They were small, but notable. For example, in Mexico, the common greeting each morning is buenos días, and is said to pretty much every individual you come across. In Bolivia, the greeting of choice is decidedly buen día. So I started saying that instead. Bolivia is not Mexico.

Or there are just some Mexican words that don't make sense in Bolivia. For example, the idiomatic phrase of "having a cough" is traer tos in Mexico. However, when I used this expression in Bolivia, I was met with blank stares. So I literally just had to say, Are you sick? in Spanish, after a few unsuccessful attempts of just repeating the same Mexican idiom. Or another common word used in Mexico is platicar which means to chat, shoot the breeze, etc. I guess that word isn't a thing in Bolivia, either. Bolivia is not Mexico.

Also, the food. There are so many things I appreciate and love about Mexican food. In Mexico it's common to have beans and eggs with tortillas for breakfast. While we were in the school we didn't once eat tortillas! Or another favorite breakfast of mine is tamales with canela (a kind of tea made with cinnamon sticks and sugar), again, both things which are not Bolivian. It was so hard to switch gears and realize that I wasn't going to be eating Mexican food in Bolivia! Mexican food, which is so ubiquitous in North America, is probably easily much more foreign to Bolivians than American food! Bolivia is not Mexico.

While we were in the school we had few traditional Bolivian dishes: pique macho, sopa de maní and majadito.
Pique Macho
Sopa de Mani
Pique macho is a somewhat perplexing mix of protein, carbs, veggies and condiments. It's got it all: chopped beef, boiled eggs, some hot dog, fries, tomato slices, onion, (spicy) green pepper, mayo, mustard and ketchup. A truly unique dish. Sopa de maní, or "peanut soup," is also a very particular dish with a beef broth and ground peanuts, along with potatoes, peas, oregano and basil. It's quite distinct. Majadito is probably my favorite of the three, with well-seasoned fried eggs, fried plantains, rice and a salad of onion and tomato. In general I wasn't necessarily over the moon about Bolivian cuisine. Maybe it was because these dishes bear little to no resemblance to the Mexican dishes I am accustomed to and have grown to love. Bolivia is not Mexico.

I think the most disorienting thing about Bolivia was how similar it was to Mexico in some ways (which at first caused me to rely on my Mexican cultural heuristics) but then would totally catch me off guard by being, well, so decidedly and distinctly Bolivian. I don't know why I was so surprised. New information alert! my brain would signal to me.

For example, Bolivia is very similar to Mexico in its orientation to time (fluid rather than rigid), generosity (i.e. Don't tell a Bolivian you like anything of theirs otherwise they will literally give it to you), importance of the family, traditional gender roles (machismo) and mix of indigenous and Spanish culture (mestizaje). Yet there is an undeniably marked distinction between the two countries. Bolivia is not Mexico!

While at the school, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was going to encounter some Bolivian cultural markers that I was just not familiar with. The cultural things I learned while living in Mexico could only take me so far, and then I just had to "figure out" some new things, some new Bolivian things. It was a humbling experience. Learning about and adapting to a new culture can be an uncomfortable experience--sometimes it feels like trying to find my way around in the dark with groping hands--but I am grateful for the challenge it presented. It kept me on my toes and reliant on God rather than coasting on my prior knowledge and experiences.

Bolivia is not Mexico. And that's a good thing.


*I acknowledge first of all that it's problematic to lump all Spanish-speaking nations together like this, but that's a whole other story. 

**I'm not saying that any of these things sum up or define what it is to be Mexican/Mexican-American, but these kinds of "stereotypically" Mexican things are arguably embedded in the American psyche notwithstanding.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Taking Off in Prayer

This post is part of a continuing series about the School of Christ in Cochabamba, Bolivia. All posts will be tagged "Bolivia." Read all Bolivia posts here.

As you may already be aware, a part of the daily rhythm of the School of Christ is praying for two hours every day (from 6:00am-7:00am and 6:30pm-7:30pm, respectively), no exceptions (not even on Sunday!). I must say, this was actually one of my favorite parts of the school. But it wasn't at first.

I think many friends and family of mine can attest to the fact that I am not a morning person. In the evenings I lay out my clothes, pack my lunch and purse so that when I wake up, I can get dressed and go without having to "think." I've got it down to a science: once I get the wherewithal to actually get out of bed, I can be ready on 20 minutes (leaving maximum time to sleep).

So when on the first morning of the school we were woken up with a piercing siren not unlike a dormitory fire alarm, followed by a voice on a megaphone yelling, "Get up, get up, get up!"* I groaned and grumbled to myself, "It figures." It would still be dark outside at 6:00am when I would enter the classroom to pray and by the time we concluded the sun would be up, illuminating the high, snow-capped mountain peaks that surrounded us on every side.

The style of prayer at the school is very much different from the kind of "typical" prayer in an American Presbyterian church (which is the tradition I grew up in). Whereas in the States, most corporate prayer is led by one person praying over a microphone with everyone else agreeing silently until the "Amen," prayer at the school can, at the outset, appear to be a disorderly, cacophonous mess.

A strong memory I have of prayer is walking in at 6:00am (I was usually one of the last to arrive because I was herding in my fellow roommates to get there on time, see my older blog post for more info.), and the first thing I noticed is the low-grade sound of murmuring. You see, in the School of Christ, everyone prays out loud at the same time. For an hour.

Add to that baseline layer of whispered/spoken prayers (1) the oftentimes assertively loud worship music in Spanish being transmitted by large amplifier speakers (one at the front of the classroom and one at the back), and (2) the prayers of the pastor on the microphone up front and well, it's a party!!! I can't imagine what it was like for my teammates that didn't know Spanish; at least I could understand the lyrics of the songs (and even sang along with a few that were also popular at my church in Mexico) and could follow along and agree with the pastors' intercession up front.

In the School there were about three different options for physical postures of prayer: on your knees with your face to the ground, kneeling over a chair or standing. That first week I found myself standing quite a bit because, well, if I hadn't been standing, I would have straight up fallen asleep in those intensive morning sessions. One morning as I slowly got down onto my knees to pray, I sighed into the ground and said out loud to the Lord, "Okay... Here we go." Little did I realize that my teammate Heather was nearby, listening. She laughed out loud. I'll tell you this, prayer at 6:00am is not glamorous! At first I was seriously dragging to get there. But by week three I would walk into the room, that low-grade murmuring would hit my ears and I would be comforted. And then I'd get down on my knees and get to work.

Pastor Fernando, who taught for the first week, explained to us early on that praying in the Spirit is like a plane taking off. He even conceded that sometimes the first 45 minutes can seem utterly fruitless, and a struggle to concentrate and focus on God. "But when you take off..." he explained, with somewhat of a wistful look, "That is when you soar with God." He added further that prayer in the Spirit does not necessarily take on a certain "form" outwardly. Some students would yell out in prayer, cry, weep, groan. Yes, Pastor Fernando affirmed, this can be praying in the Spirit, but even someone who is completely still and silent, they too can be praying in the Spirit. "I can just look at people and know," he explained. There's no getting past him!! :)

For me, praying in the Spirit was like going underwater. It was immersive. I would just submerge myself in prayer, not opening my eyes once until the pastor said "Amén" an hour later. Sometimes I would have lots to say to God but other times I would run out of things to say and just worship him the rest of the time. I would wait before him in silence, thanking him. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would bring to mind a certain passage from scripture, or a picture, or a brief little phrase. Sometimes he would highlight a mindset or actions that I needed to repent of. Sometimes he would break my heart to pray for someone in particular. Other times I didn't really have a clue what God was doing in that hour other than sanctification in general terms. But I knew something was happening.

After most prayer sessions I would check-in with my teammate DeAndrea, trading notes on what God had been speaking to us. We were in total agreement that in that first week with Pastor Fernando, the presence of God filled that classroom in such a sweet and powerful way that it was undeniable. "It almost makes you sway," DeAndrea observed. I mean, it really did hit you when you entered the room.

One of my favorite memories from the school is when, one evening for prayer, Fernando asked those who had a special calling from God over their lives to come forward. "You know who you are," he said, with a serious look on his face, referring to those over whom he had prayed earlier in the week (during prayer he would usually set down the mic and then go to pray for people as the Holy Spirit led him). Of course, then just everyone in the school pretty much got up and stood in the front (I mean, who doesn't want to be chosen?) but he reiterated again, "I'm going to pray for those with a special calling in God, those on whom he will place his burden on and use in a significant way."

So everyone began to pray (that comforting thrum resuming again), and Pastor Fernando started "making the rounds." I realized, however, that many of the American team wouldn't be able to understand what he was praying because they haven't studied Spanish. So I started following him around, interpreting his prayers so they knew what he was saying. And man, I would just cry as I was translating because God was truly using Pastor Fernando to bless my American brothers and sisters! Through the Holy Spirit Pastor Fernando spoke such words of insight into folks' hearts, things that could only come through revelation--and they were such specific words of truth, love and encouragement that one after another would break down in tears as he prayed. God was healing them and building them up spiritually before my very eyes.

So like that airplane, praying was a struggle to start and get going (especially in the mornings)... But once I got into the rhythm of it, I grew to treasure it. It was, in fact, one of the only opportunities I had to "be alone" with God (albeit in a group of a bunch of people but trust me, I am and expert at blocking noises out). I would just get "in the zone." And afterwards I would frequently leave the room, remarking to DeAndrea, "That was just nuts..."

"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18).

*Thankfully after the first morning they used the doorbell to wake us up from then on.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bolivia Anecdote: Cinco minutos, hermanas...

Author's Note: So although I had planned on drafting blog posts while I was in Bolivia to post once I returned (because we didn't have internet at the School of Christ), I definitely didn't get around to doing that. Whoops. There wasn't really time. In lieu of that, I'll be periodically posting anecdotes, memories and revelations from God that I received in the school, as they come to mind. I hope to mix the humorous and absurd stories with the profound and serious. Buckle up!!

Cinco minutos, hermanas...

So one of the responsibilities I had during the three-week long school was to be "room warden" for a group of 20 or so of my classmates. There were two women's rooms; my friend Jessica was in charge of Room One and I was in charge of Room Two. We were chosen because of our bilingual skills, mostly (as Bolivians and Americans were split evenly between the two rooms). As you can imagine, each room had row upon row of bunk beds and our room had the special privilege of a wooden door that scraped nails-on-a-chalkboard-style against the floor every time it was open or shut. Good times.

One of the first days in the school we were instructed on the way that our bunk beds needed to be: signs with our names on our bunks (in case individuals needed to be punished for not following room regulations), towels ONLY hung onto the frames (not even jackets or coats were allowed), beds neatly made each morning (our Bolivian peers tended to bring legit bedding, like sheets and blankets, rather than sleeping bags), luggage/backpacks zipped and placed directly underneath the bed with two pairs (maximum) of shoes lined up meticulously in opposing corners.

Part of my duties were to make sure folks were adhering to these regulations, but also make sure that everyone got up on time and went to bed on time. First off, this was a bit of a challenge seeing as I didn't have a watch... but that was soon remedied as my American teammates Matthew, then Jacob, graciously lent me theirs. You see, the tricky thing was that if anyone from my room was either late to 6:00am prayer or caught up past the 10:00pm lights-out hour, my butt would be on the line AND the entire room would be punished. So the stakes were *high*.

Each morning we would be woken up by a bell ringing at 5:30am. I would quickly albeit with a noted absolute lack of coordination, fumble my way down from my rickety top bunk and shuffle over to turn on the lights. The first week or so, people would get up as soon as the lights were turned on. By week three, though, there were a handful of regulars that continued to lie there, unmoving, perhaps attempting to squeeze in a few more minutes of precious rest. I mean, seriously, some girls knew how to take it down to the wire. I tried to be fair by giving folks multiple warnings, 20, 15, 10, 5, 2 minutes and then 30 seconds out from our 6:00am call time. The same would go for counting down to lights-out at 10:00pm. I would just say tersely, "__ minutes, sisters [__ minutos, hermanas]." It became such a regular thing that my American teammate DeAndrea (who knew very little Spanish) would repeat perfectly after me, "Cinco minutos, hermanas!"

The strange thing was that even with these (what I believed to be) ample warnings, some girls seemed absolutely shocked when I would give the final warning in the evening, "30 seconds and I'm turning out the lights!" I would hear cries of alarm, followed by pleading, "Hermana, por favor," or "Ay, no, hermana!" Hermana! Hermana! and a half-hearted scrambling to get ready for bed.Without fail, though, I would turn out the lights at 10:00pm, because if not, the guy in charge of discipline would have my head for it (he would regularly be patrolling the hall at this time).

One time when the pleading was especially numerous and insistent, and I abruptly turned out the lights anyway (to further cries of distress), one of our Peruvian classmates, Eina, said, "April is a good soldier of Christ Jesus! She cares more about pleasing God than pleasing man!"

There may have been some truth to that.

Mostly, though, I was just happy to finally go to bed.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Along unfamiliar paths

I've been putting off blogging because I thought I had to have something deep, profound and well thought-out to share that was 'worth' reading or whatever. To be honest, I haven't had gigantic epiphanies or revelations lately, and I guess that's okay.

I'm leaving for Bolivia on Friday morning. This will be my first international trip since returning from Mexico last year. I intentionally cleared out my calendar to leave room for rest, reflection and prayer in the days leading up to my departure.

The past few weeks have been a bit melancholy and angst-ridden to say the least. I've been wrestling with issues of spiritual and professional identity and therein have encountered my own weakness and vulnerability. Every third Sunday at our church, we have time in service for 'prayers of blessing and anointing with oil.' This past Sunday one of my dear mentors was tasked with praying for me. "Is there anything specific that I can be pray about for you?" I looked at her, pausing before I admitted (with a noticeable tremor in my voice), "I've just been pretty broken lately."

All this to say, I'm not quite sure what my prayer is for Bolivia. Initially I was hoping that God would throw me a bone and tell me about the next spiritual assignment he has for me. I still really desire this: direction and clarity. But the frustrating thing has been my own spiritual blindness--my inability to hear God, my inability to discern his will. It's been maddening and heart-rending. I can't "fix" my own spiritual condition. I can't "figure out" a solution. Only God can heal me.

"I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them" (Isaiah 42:16).

Yes, God is leading me along "unfamiliar paths." I'm literally(!) going somewhere I've never been before. But more than that I believe that God is taking me somewhere new and unknown spiritually. In a big way. Please pray for me. 26 June-19 July.

In it to win it. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

Monday, April 27, 2015

There Is One Body

"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Corinthians 10:12). 

This Wednesday will mark the conclusion of a four-week series on the subject of race and reconciliation at University Presbyterian Church. A co-worker and I have been planning it since last October. I must say, it has been a very intense experience. I knew that race was a sensitive subject, but I didn't quite anticipate the strong responses (both positive and negative) that we have received from participants and the enormous sense of responsibility I have felt in stewarding these weekly conversations.

Through this planning process I've become a bit upset about how divided the church is: particularly across race, denomination and socio-economic status. "There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). The "church" does not appear to be "one" just yet.

In the past few weeks, we have heard from Christians of color share their painful experiences of racism in the church and in Christian settings. We have heard from White Christians who work in the criminal justice system and the ethical choices they make every day that affect communities throughout King County. We have heard in a small degree the pain and loss that the Black community experiences through systemic oppression and acts of violence that lead to the deaths of their loved ones.

The title of the series is "What Ferguson Means for Us." I learned early on that I had made a mistake in considering Ferguson to be symbolic in nature, a lesson for us in Seattle to learn about from a distance. It's impossible to look at photos of Michael Brown's uncovered dead body, desperate protests in the street and images from his funeral "from a distance." Things became very "real," very quickly when  I read a cover story article in TIME magazine, "Black Lives Matter." The published images of Walter Scott being shot to death shook me to my core. The article also lists incident after incident of young, unarmed black men being shot and killed by the police. I know for a fact that a similar situation of a white male police officer shooting and killing an unarmed young black boy has happened here in our very city. There is nothing distant about Ferguson.

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?...[N]ot to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (Isaiah 58). 

I believe that now is a time for the church to pay attention. We're going to need to be alert. We're most likely going to need to repent.

"[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7).

Do your work, O Lord, to form us into one Body--the Body of Christ!!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Taking a Second Glance at Evangelism

It seems to me that pretty much all of us have a 'gross' evangelization encounter story. By that I mean, a stranger walking up to you and "sharing the gospel," oftentimes with the help of some sort of pamphlet with a diagram that visually represents salvation in God and has Bible verses on the back.

So for me, I was at the HUB one day back in my college years, getting lunch. I was headed toward the cafeteria to return my dirty tray when I was unexpectedly steered to sit down with a woman on a ledge next to an overgrown indoor plant. Perhaps the word 'ambushed' may be too strong to describe this encounter, but that's kind of how it felt at the moment.

The woman who had stopped me then proceeded to flip through her pamphlet with the diagram and the Bible verses, asking me some questions about who I was and who I believed God to be. I pride myself on being a thoughtful person, so responded honestly and from the heart, but discovered quickly that this woman was not as interested in knowing me as she was in getting through that pamphlet!

She asked me if I had "received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior," to which I replied in the affirmative. She looked at me suspiciously, squinting her eyes slightly, then proceeded to explain in great detail that many people may *think* they are saved but in actuality are not. It was obvious that she doubted my eternal salvation. At this point I started to get a bit ticked off by this woman's audacity and boldness to think she had me pegged as 'not really' a believer, that she had to 'save' from my own self-deceit and delusion.

"I have to go," I interjected firmly, and she looked a bit crestfallen not to have been able to 'seal the deal' with me by having me pray through the Sinner's Prayer (or so I assumed). I stewed on that interaction the rest of the day and still get riled up recounting it now. Who does she think she is? How dare she?

One thing is clear: that day I made a vow that I would never become an evangelist like that.

'Gross' Evangelism

A couple of people in my life have had even worse experiences. A classmate in high school told me that as a waitress at Johnny Rocket's a table of young men told her (as she was trying to take their order) that she was a sinner, was going to hell and then didn't leave a tip (but of course left a Bible)! Assholes! My dad was evangelized to in Mexico by a white guy who told my dad he was a sinner "didn't know anything" and heaped one verbal assault after another against him as his seven-year old daughter (I presume) looked on. Evangelical encounters like these are absolutely disgusting. The overt message is one of condemnation. There is no love. This kind of evangelism damages those it professes to 'save' and misrepresents the gospel of Jesus Christ (and Jesus Christ himself).

Shrinking Back

As a consequence of these hurtful experiences with heavy-handed evangelists, I became extra sensitive not to 'inflict' my beliefs on others, and did my best to keep my faith somewhat hidden out of courtesy. I definitely didn't share the gospel. In many ways I agreed with postmodern values of pluralism and relativism--that everyone was entitled to believe what they wanted. Who was I to convince them otherwise (i.e. tell them that they were 'wrong' and I was 'right'--GROSS)? So while people around me may have known that I went to church, or may have seen me reading my Bible in public, I was not interested in evangelizing (sharing the good news).

Gross Evangelism=Proclamation-Love
My 'Evangelism'=Love-Proclamation

For this reason I stayed clear of working in 'church ministries' to serve the poor, or faith-based organizations, preferring non-profits or government work as a means to be present to the oppressed. I wanted to steer clear of 'gross' charity work--only offering to help with physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) if those served go to chapel. That carrot and stick stuff seemed so disingenuous to me and even, perhaps, manipulative.

All this to say, I became a very passive evangelist, if I was one at all. I was all good with being friends with unbelievers, listening to them, praying for them (when alone in my room, of course, never WITH them). Again, I was not going to be that gross evangelist!

The Stigma of Evangelism

In academia I learned of the term proselytization ("to induce someone to convert one's faith"). It was always used with pejorative overtones. Proselytization was nearly synonymous with 'cultural imperialism' (i.e. the Crusades, Spanish colonial 'missions' to Latin America). Proselytization implied an intrusion, usually with a strong arm, against a population, forcing them into belief. It was oppressive. To proselytize was basically to be an asshole. My professor of 'The Political Economy of World Religion' would talk self-deprecatingly about his Christian faith in class but always made sure to assure us quickly, "but I'm not here to proselytize [i.e. impose]." Evangelicals and evangelism in general were presented in pretty dim light.

The gospel is good news, meant to be a gift, yet it seems that in these days, to some it's seen as only inflicting injury.

Reclaiming the Gospel

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).

To be honest, I still carry vestiges of shame about the gospel because it has been misused by so many of these gross evangelist types, and a part of me is super embarrassed to be associated with them by sharing the gospel with people in my life. Recently I was convicted of the need to pray forgiveness over the evangelists that have hurt me in the past, to renounce that vow to never be like them, and to bless, yes bless, gross evangelists in Jesus' name. It feels like a turning point.

A part of me really does believe in the power of the gospel, and that it really is good news! Nowadays I am willing to openly talk about Jesus Christ with people, simply because he has done so much for me--like, I have a lot to share, if people are interested in hearing my story.

What I'm trying to say is that, gross evangelization encounters notwithstanding, I am ready to live into being an evangelist, even if that means risking looking or sounding stupid when sharing the gospel. This is kind of big, guys!

My Old Evangelism=Love-Proclamation
My New Evangelism=Love+Proclamation

Here goes nothing!

Friday, January 23, 2015

On Not Being a Pretentious Shepherd

"The next session covered briefly the three types of relationships we need, if we are to be people growing. We need those who are further along the way, who give us hints of where we are and raise the question of where we are going--what the next step might be. They may be teachers or counselors, or, when we are without these, books. Then we need those who are our peers--fellow pilgrims with whom we share the day-by-day events of our life in Christ, the discoveries we make, the places where we are challenged, our discouragement, our hope; brothers who hold us accountable, who remind us of our covenant relationship; brothers who mediate forgiveness. And thirdly, we need those who are not so advanced as we--a little flock which is ours to tend and nourish. 'All these relationships,' said Gordon [Cosby], 'are utterly necessary to our spiritual development, but the one I want us to look at in this class is the one of being shepherds, because it is at this point most of us will feel the most hesitancy or timidity. We will feel that it is pretentious for us to be guides to others at the point of their life in Christ.'" (110).
-Elizabeth O'Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward

So I've been reading this book about a group of folks in D.C. who started a coffee house church before it was "cool," and am fascinated by this quote. According to O'Connor and her peers, there are three essential types of relationships that every believer needs. I'm going to rename them into my own vernacular:
  1. Titans
  2. Sisters
  3. Little Sisters.
I had a bit of a contentious discussion the other day with a colleague of mine who was reluctant to consider anyone in his life to fit into category #3: "Little Sisters" (or "Brothers" in this case, whatever). In O'Connor's words, "We feel that it is pretentious..." I hear that. I feel that. I understand that there are hierarchical overtones to the notion of shepherds and the "little flock." Yes, the shepherd/flock "construction" creates a dichotomy that has implications of power and influence. Yet somewhere along the way, in our postmodern culture, hierarchy has become nearly synonymous with evil! I don't necessarily believe that to be true. I'm not saying that it's unwarranted. It seems that aversion to hierarchy is a reaction to countless misuses of power in the form of paternalism and dogmatism in the church. I mean, that and the fact that this country was founded on supposedly "egalitarian values." So it's in the American bones and psyche to defy hierarchy, so to say.

This being said, I am coming to a pretty strong conviction that there are varying stages of spiritual maturity (in the Greek it'd be nepios, teknon, paidion, and huios--see Cooke, Prophecy and Responsibility), and that any any point in time, any believer has people "ahead" of them (titans), "beside" them (sisters) and "behind" them (little sisters). I have also come to the strong conviction that it's high time that I start giving some attention to my lil' sis cohort and stop being a greedy asshole!


If you know me to any degree, you'll probably hear me at one point and time rant and rave about the 'titans' in my life. These are the folks that I just 'want to get in the room with' to soak up their words of wisdom, receive their prayers, encouragement and teaching for the journey. I also often describe these people as "nuts" (in the best way, duh). In the spirit of the now far outdated meme, here are my titans in somewhat chronological order:

Grandpa &
Susan &
Ann &
Ruby &
Joyce &
Celia &

These are people that have walked beside me, shared of their lives with me and listened to me. I pretty much just draft off of them. They are my coaches and consultants. I love them and thank God for them VERY frequently.


My peers are also folks that I cherish deeply and love and want to hug constantly. They're the ones that I talk to on a regular basis, who are usually grappling with similar questions. They're less intimidating than my titans but they go hard spiritually:

Hillary &
Faith &
Laura &
Lisa &
Courtney &
Naomi &

These are my peeps! They're the ones I can pray with throughout the week and who keep me accountable. I love them so much, too!

Little Sisters

Okay, so now I hit the dreaded "growing edge." It was a sobering realization that while I love to receive oodles of instruction and encouragement from my titans and my peers (who wouldn't?), I'm making little to no concerted effort to "pay it forward" by seeking out and staying loyal to any "little sisters." Do I actually have little sisters in my life? HAHAHA, maybe two, perhaps three, and those being very informal mentorship-esque relationships. My best friend has an older woman at her church to prays for her literally every day. I am not that dedicated.

It has recently emerged in prayer that the Lord is calling me to step into a new role of discipling some of the people he's brought into my life. Is it "pretentious" of me to start moving in obedience to that call? I'd like to believe not. Did I think it was pretentious of my grandpa to disciple me while I was in high school? Hell no! "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16). My grandpa would have laid down his life for me, so I could all the way trust him to be my shepherd. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11b). I believe God is inviting me to shepherd others with this same heart of love. I mean, literally in prayer I heard, "Are you willing to lay down your life for these people?" My first thought was "Fuck," but, after some crying and stuff, I said, "Yes."

I've been thinking a bit about what it means to be a part of the "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). It's part of my priestly duty not to be a spiritual elitist, and to draw near to those who may be (relatively) immature spiritually (believe me, I have plenty of immaturity issues I am praying through). "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God... He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness" (Hebrews 5:1-2). This just makes me think of Pastor Kerry, of Japanese Presbyterian Church, who in my opinion is a shepherd of shepherds and lives this out daily. Rather than disdaining people around me, or getting overly frustrated with them for being fearful, hard-hearted, unbelieving, etc., God is inviting me to intercede on their behalf, love them and in humility consider them to be better than myself (Philippians 2:3). In many ways I sense the Lord reminding me to remember the condition I was in when he first found me, so as not to become blinded by my own self-righteousness and self-importance. I'm just learning loads!

As you go, disciple

All this to say, I'm entering into a new season and stepping into a new role of discipling others. *Scary!* What I am writing about isn't especially revelatory and it isn't profound. It's just that I am discovering new levels of meaning to the words of the Great Commission, which used to make my skin crawl (I save that for another blog post), but now have a whole lot of operational meaning: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). A student who was doing Fuller extension once told me (and I never went back to fact-check, just trusted him blindly so... *shrug*) that a more accurate translation of the verse would be as you go, disciple, like it should just be part and parcel of the whole following Jesus thing. It doesn't necessarily feel natural to me now, but I am praying that one day it will.