Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When I am Weak, Then I am Strong

When Bill and I decided to move to Grand Rapids, we had just come through a season of significant marital strife, Bill had been laid off and had since landed a job where we could live anywhere. We picked Grand Rapids because we needed healing, we needed to do life differently and it seemed like a safe place to get close to family and where we knew we could be obedient to God.

When we came here, we knew that finding a church was critical. We visited dozens of churches in the Grand Rapids area. And I have to tell you, I didn't want to join Vineyard because I felt vulnerable, anxious and awkward when I came to church here. I saw people during worship putting their hands in the air - giving it up for a God that they clearly knew intimately. People walked up to people they didn't know and prayed for them.

I felt vulnerable here. And I didn't like that feeling.

I have come to learn that God wants to get us to the place where we are ill-equipped, feeling awkward, uncomfortable...where we feel vulnerable. I believe that's where God can truly move... that point when we are at the end of ourselves, when we're at our weakest.

2 Corinthians 12:10 - That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Four of us recently went to Thailand to meet with churches and non-profits to explore ways we could potentially partner with them to stop child prostitution and human trafficking. We had a series of meetings. It was a packed schedule. One of our stops was with a Canadian missionary with a nonprofit called Night Light. They help women in prostitution leave the business and learn a trade to support themselves. She said that when you're a missionary, you're a big fat zero. You're nothing.

I have thought a lot about that. The young mothers sitting in the dirty gutters in Bangkok with their newborns on their laps begging for money so they can eat don't care what degree I have, who my dad is, where I have been. Sheʼs not wondering if I attended the latest Beth Moore conference or what books I have read. I am nothing. When I am nothing, God is everything. The mission field is filled with people who are doing what they're called to do, roles that are - in most cases - way beyond their capabilities.

I learned what it looks like to die to self, to give it all up for God by meeting pastors and missionaries on our trip. It made me feel like my faith should be posted on the extra value meal menu at McDonald's - kind of cheap and not a lot of sustenance. I don't feel condemned, but I see that I have a long way to go to get to the point of laying every part of my life down.

Our last meeting in Thailand was with a pastor named Sukit. He worked with Jackie Pullinger in Hong Kong. Some of you know who she is. For those of you who don't, she's a legend in the Vineyard. She works with drug addicts under some of the darkest conditions and has had incredible success freeing people from their addictions. She has kind of a tough reputation which I'm sure comes from working in such a challenging environment. Sukit is cut from the same cloth.

Sukit is the toughest coach you've ever met. He reminded me of the those difficult professors in college that command your respect. They're tough. You end up learning the most from those kinds of people because they don't mince words and they don't have time for nonsense. We met with Sukit for a few hours asking him questions about his church and toward the end I somehow had a courage to ask if he would pray for us. What was I thinking?! Where did I get the nerve to ask that?! I hadn't asked anyone on our trip to do that for us. He quickly agreed and pulled three people in the room, but they didn't pray for us. They began to prophesy over each of us.

I broke down. It was too much. I had been traveling for nine days. I was tired and dehydrated. I was hungry. And now these people who didn't even know English, who had just met me, were reading me like the telephone book.

Some of you know Jenny Kuritar. She used to go to our church and she now is a missionary with her family in China. She joined us on this trip. When Sukit and his team had finished praying over us, Jenny said... “Why don't we pray for you?” Sukit immediately said, “not prayer - prophesy.” I told him light heartedly, “That's not really my gift, but I am great at prayer. How about we pray for you?” He said no, you prophesy as he thrust his pointer finger in the air and then he turned to me and said, “You go first.”

After a little while, he then got down of the floor next to me and started strongly encouraging me to prophesy over one of the people in the room. I remember praying, “Lord, I have nothing. I need you.” I started to feel surges of compassion and words of encouragement came out of my mouth. It was a miracle. I cried the whole time. Even then, Sukit wasn't satisfied. He said sternly, “There's more. Keep going.” So I


When I had said all that I had to say, I glanced at Sukit, and he said that I was spot on. Thank you Jesus. When I am weak, you are strong.

Hebrews 13:5 - God has said, “Never will I leave you; never with I forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

The Lord met me. And He will meet you too. We are called to be reliant not on ourselves, but on Him. For some of you, getting uncomfortable and becoming less self- reliant will mean joining this church. For others, it will mean going on the next mission trip. Perhaps you will join the other missionaries and live overseas. What does that mean for you? How can you get to a place where you need God to show up? I have learned that comfort stifles the spirit. When you rest in our own strength and your own giftedness, you don't need God.

Jenny said something else on our trip. There are people who are being called to mission trips and to be missionaries who are not being obedient to the call. After seeing all of the work that needs to be done in Thailand, I believe that to be true. Is God calling you? Have you stifled that leading by reminding yourself of all of the reasons you shouldn't or couldn't go?

Marcia Vela from our church felt led to go to Thailand with us. She didn't have the money to go and she felt God saying that she should not ask anyone for money. Can you imagine? Think about it. Marcia has her own business. She doesnʼt have a staff to fill-in for her. If she doesnʼt work, she doesnʼt get paid. And God tells her not to ask for money. Marcia walked through that tension. And God met her. He brought more than enough money, and He worked it out with her clients. For with God, nothing is impossible.

So I ask you again... What is God asking you to do? Where is He asking you to go? I dare you to get to a place where you are desperate for God in your life, that place where you don't have it all together, to do things that make you feel awkward and vulnerable. If you feel God has called you to do something and it makes you sweat and your heart starts pounding, it's probably right where God wants you.

- Susan

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Hate This Feeling

Here's the scenario: Someone asks you and your friends a question. Let's say it's "What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?" You are eager and proud to go first and respond, "We make popcorn on Christmas Eve night, open one present and watch It's a Wonderful Life by the Christmas tree." How sweet. So quaint. Now it's time for the next person to share. "We do something a little different. We make sandwiches and hot chocolate and drive downtown to spend Christmas day with the poor." Ugh. You know that feeling? I hate it. I have it often because I am quick to speak and slow to think and listen.

Well, I faced the dumb-answer scenario in Thailand in a very public, embarrassing way. My skin crawls even thinking about it. I feel like I need to physically shake it off!

We're getting ready to leave the orphanage in Chiang Mai and the director asks us to formally introduce ourselves to the kids at their chapel service. Up to this point we had only been playing with the kids individually and in small groups. Jenny and Susan step away from the microphone and leave me with the job. "You do it, Lauren. You're good at this kind of thing." Words we later came to regret.

I babbled on about who we were, gushed about how wonderful the kids were (I think I said "wonderful" about 10 times in two minutes) and wrapped it up with a powerful, "And I have three kids, Jack, Evelyn and Ella. Thanks so much for having us." I got so tongue tied. I didn't really know what I was saying.

Here's what happened next.

Naret, our tour guide and friend, introduced himself and began to share his story with the children. He grew up in an orphanage just like the one we were visiting. He encouraged the children to write down their dreams and chase after them. He told them about Jesus and his love for them. It was incredibly powerful. The kids were silent.

I was so moved and so mortified. Seriously, what was I thinking? Why didn't I say something like that? I hadn't even thought about it. Neither Jesus nor love nor hope nor encouragement never even entered in my mind. These kids were desperate and I came to them with, "I'm Lauren. You're great. I have three kids. Blah, blah, blah..." Ahhhh!

I can't help but laugh about it. I started laughing as soon as we walked out the door and I couldn't stop every time I thought about it. It did make for some pretty funny jokes between us! "I'm Lauren. I really like long walks on the beach, gardening, eating ..." Such a butt!

On a more serious note, it really made me think about my default setting. Why wasn't Jesus and His love and the life He offers the first thing out of my mouth? Why was it all about me? Why isn't He so real and present in me that I automatically think of Him first?

I've faced this scenario numerous times recently and always blown it. I am so self focused. It's all about me. Rarely do I jump right to Jesus or to prayer as the answer or the need.

I feel so humbled after these realizations. I'm thankful for the awareness, but unnerved by the feelings it brings.

After I shared my thoughts about the situation with everyone in the car, Jenny laughingly sang this song to me. It's spot on...
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way.
I can't wait to look in the mirror cause I get better looking each day.
To know me is to love me I must be a hell of a man.
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble but I'm doing the best that I can.
I used to have a girlfriend but she just couldn't compete
with all of these love starved women who keep clamoring at my feet.
Well I prob'ly could find me another but I guess they're all in awe of me.
Who cares, I never get lonesome cause I treasure my own company.
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way,
I can't wait to look in the mirror cause I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me I must be a hell of a man.
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble but I'm doing the best that I can.
I guess you could say I'm a loner, a cowboy outlaw tough and proud.
I could have lots of friends if I want to but then I wouldn't stand out from the crowd.
Some folks say that I'm egotistical. Hell, I don't even know what that means.
I guess it has something to do with the way that I fill out my skin tight blue jeans.

Some more favorites...

We're home. I can't believe we're home. It's strange. I still have so many blog posts forming in my head. Until I finish them all, I'm going to keep writing like we're in Thailand. In my heart, I think I still am.

Adding on to the list of our favorite things:
  • On Monday, we flew to Chiang Mai on Bangkok Airlines, Thailand's boutique airline. It was very nice. The flight was short and perfect. Jenny took a different flight and we met her an hour later at the airport.
  • Our new friend, Naret, picked us up at the airport. He is friends with Jeff, the pastor of the Vineyard Church in Rayong. Naret served with YWAM for several years and has worked as a tour guide in Thailand. He's a great host!
  • We were nervous on our way to the hotel because Naret said he had never heard of it. You can imagine from my previous posts that my hotel snobbery took over and I was feeling very anxious about staying in a dive. Turns out, it was one of the most amazing places I've ever stayed. The Lanna Mantra is a hidden sanctuary complete with infinity pool, riverside restaurant, two-hour poolside Thai massages -- not that I know any of this from first-hand experience. I just saw it ... hehehe.
  • Naret took us to the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center for our first evening in Chiang Mai. Amazing! We ate an open-air Khantoke dinner. Khantoke is a form of tiered tray used for serving food. The trays are popular among all Thais. It was full of amazing food -- curry, fried vegetables, crispy rice noodles, sticky rice. Mmmmm... Then we watched several cultural shows and even got up and danced with some very dainty, elegant Thai women! It was hilarious! We aren't so graceful.
  • We met with Norbert and Cathy Bauer, pastors of the Vineyard Community Chiang Mai. They shared their stories with us and how God is leading them to serve in Chiang Mai. Cathy is from the U.S. and Norbert is from Germany. They have been on the mission field for years and have seven children. Wow! We were again blown away by the sacrifices people are making to serve God in radical ways. The Bauers are reaching out to the international community in Chiang Mai and also helped start a Thai house church in one of the city's slum areas. So inspiring!
  • After meeting with the Bauers, we ate some fabulous Thai food at a restaurant owned by one of Naret's friends. We got to pray for a young woman there who just moved to Thailand to be with her fiance. She was in a bit of culture shock. We could relate! Then we went to a Walmart-like store and bought gifts to bring to the Care Corner Orphanage we were visiting that afternoon. We bought a basketball, soccer ball, toothpaste and toothbrushes, candy (of course!!), ping pong balls and paddles, printer paper and some other things. It was the most fun shopping trip!
  • As I wrote about earlier, the visit to the orphanage was both amazing and heartbreaking. The kids and the workers are incredible. The facility was located in the country outside Chiang Mai. It was clean and kept up nicely. The kids had a soccer field, a fishing pond, a pool, a vegetable garden and a jungle gym to play with. We only expected to stay there a few hours, but the directors invited us for dinner and to their chapel service. We couldn't resist!
  • Wednesday morning we woke up early and drove to Doi Chang to visit the coffee fields in the northern Chiang Rai region of Thailand. Naret was born there and his mother still lives in the village. The four of us piled into our little car and we drove high into the winding mountains. I can't believe I wasn't carsick. Bleh. Lots and lots and lots of bumps and turns. I slept most of the way, both there and back. The village was beautiful. Amidst the poverty, there was so much beauty and kindness. It felt surreal. Doi Chang and more specifically, Naret's mother's land, is where the coffee comes from that Jeff wants Susan to help market and turn into a "local" business. We'll see. Exciting stuff.
  • Naret took us out for Mexican food for our last night in Chiang Mai. We were all craving it! Eating taquitos and chips and salsa in Thailand felt a wee bit strange. But is was a nice break from noodles, curry and rice.
  • On Thursday (Jenny's birthday), we flew back to Bangkok. Jeff picked us up and took us out to celebrate for a yummy Italian meal. So good. Kind of feels like this is turning into a food blog!
  • That afternoon we met with Sukit and Em, pastors of the Vineyard Church in Bangkok. Words can't even describe our experience there. The church is located in the biggest slum in the city. There are so many people packed into such a small space. I've never seen anything like it here in the U.S. I don't think there is anything like it here. Their church is all about reaching people in their community. They open up their doors every day for kids to come hang out, to teach English, music and dance classes, to pray, to serve food. Teams go on "search and rescue" missions every day in the community where they pray for people and bring hope. We met with Sukit and some of his team for several hours. They are the real deal. It kind of felt like to us what it must have felt like to be the disciples sitting at the feet of Jesus -- Who are these people? Can this be for real? If so, how do I do it? Can I do it? Their team prayed for us and shared words with us that they never could have known on their own. Then Sukit insisted we pray for them and do the same. I'll be blogging on that at a later time. Whew. So good.
  • Thursday evening we reunited with Marcia. It was so good to see her. Jenny and I were upgraded to a larger hotel room because it was her birthday and they sent us a super fancy cake! We screamed in excitement! Simple pleasures...
  • Jenny and I decided to head back to Patpong (Red Light District) since she hadn't been yet. We decided to just walk through and pray. I thought maybe it wouldn't upset me as much as it had before, but it did. I don't ever want that to not upset me. I don't ever want to be desensitized to that. So many girls, so many boys, young and old, for sale. It made my heart hurt.
  • Late that night in the lobby, Jenny and I were on our computers and about 75 percent of the people coming and going were very mismatched couples - young girls, old white men. I couldn't help but send out the stink-eye vibe. It's so hard to see it, right there.
  • Early Friday morning we left for the airport and after 21 hours of great flights, we arrived in GR. I can't believe it.
  • I ate Japanese tonight and it was refreshing to see all the Asian faces. My heart is still overseas. I'm not sure if it will follow me back here. Maybe I'll have to go back to find it!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bad Blogger

So, crazy processing Lauren is back. Went to the Red Light District in Bangkok again tonight. My head is spinning. Too much. I am so tired. Our trip is coming to an end and so is my energy level.

Today was the craziest day yet. But I simply don't have the energy to write about it at the moment. I stink as a blogger. I can't keep up. I plan on writing on the plane.

Pray for our flights. We leave here at 7 am Bangkok time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Catching up...

It's 11 p.m. and I can barely keep my eyes open. Our days have been so full since arriving to Chiang Mai. I thought I would post a few brief updates about what we've been doing. Also, here's the link to my Facebook page with a bunch of pictures on it. I changed the privacy settings so anyone can see it, at least until I get home and can upload my pics to the blog and my FB in a hurry!

A few of our favorite things:
  • We met Jeff, the Rayong Vineyard pastor in Pattaya and he drove us to Rayong on Saturday. He spent the afternoon sharing his story with us and his vision for starting a coffee business in Doi Chang and Rayong.
  • We ate at a very authentic Thai seafood restaurant on a pier in Rayong. I tried two kinds of fish and ate a crab cake. Not so bad.
  • I preached at the Rayong Vineyard on Sunday morning. I spoke on Jesus and his revolutionary treatment of women. Susan led worship on the electric guitar! She's never played before. It was awesome. We got to pray for several people who attend the church. An 80-year-old man that Susan and Jenny prayed for had never been to a church his entire life. They prayed for his eyes and he said they felt warm and he didn't understand what he was feeling. But he said he would come back to church next Sunday.
  • After church, everyone eats outside together. A woman made homemade pad thai and mangoes and sticky rice. OMG! Amazing!
  • We led a short program for children at an art school in Rayong. We taught on being the body of Christ. All the kids had to draw a specific body part. Then we blindfolded them and they tried to put their part in the right place on a big body. It was hilarious. We also got to pray for the owner of the art school. She doesn't know Jesus, but is searching for meaning in her life.
  • We ate dinner with Jeff and his family at an amazing place he called "the jungle restaurant." It was like the Rainforest Cafe on steroids.
  • ...
I can't write anymore. So tired. Will do more tomorrow! Just wanted to give a quick update!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nowhere to go...

This afternoon we went to Care Corner Orphanage outside of Chiang Mai. Susan and I were nervous about how we'd respond to meeting the 60 children living there. Would it be too much? Could our hearts handle it? They are incredibly adorable, ranging in age from 5 to 18. We played badminton, soccer, hopscotch and all sorts of hand-slapping and clapping games. It was an amazing experience.

I played Miss Susie had a Steamboat with a little girl who is now deaf because of HIV. I whooped it at badminton with a sweet little girl named lai-lai! Oh the kids. The sweet little kids (even the old ones are little).

Sometimes in the middle of our fun I would look around and realize these kids can't go home. It felt like we were at a camp that never ends. They wake up at 6 am for devotions, do chores, walk to school, come home, do chores/play, eat, play, go to chapel and then bed. Every day, with the exception of the weekend, is like that. Can you imagine what it would feel like to be at camp and to know that you can never go home? I started to feel that trapped feeling. Like, I want to go home, but I can't. I have no where to go. What would it be like to not be able to go home? Especially as a little kid? The world is so big and you're so little. It must be so overwhelming. There's no mom or dad to give hugs, kisses and "there's no place like home" kind of comfort. Really, put yourselves in their shoes for a minute.

I talked with our new friend Naret who is driving us all over the place here. He lived in an orphanage from age 6 to 18. I asked him if he felt lonely a lot. He said it came and went, but that every kid longs for a family. To fight those feelings, Naret said he tried to keep busy during the day "to fill up his time." That's so many years of filling up time.

While all this makes me feel overwhelmed and sad, I also strangely feel thankful. I'm thankful to serve a God who cares deeply for the orphans and widows. In societies that cast them out to the streets, God, creator of the universe, comes to the defense of the least and lost. “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless." - Ex. 22 Whoa. This is hard core. "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing." - Deut. 10

Seriously, how amazing is this? God's love is so great for the fatherless and motherless that He hears their every prayer, defends them, demands that they be provided for. They may not have their parents caring for them and loving them, but they do have the full attention and affection of the God who created the heavens and the earth.

Mmmmmm...Loving this.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Despair in Pattaya

Yesterday we were stopped at a red light and witnessed a woman crying inside of a clinic. The English words on the storefront said, “HIV Quick Test”. I knew we were witnessing something so personal, so raw and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. You could tell she was trying to hold it together…. to gather herself. She ended up walking outside, and started sobbing again with the weight of her body too much to bear and leaning against the cement wall.

So many questions ran through my mind, “Did she just learn she had HIV?”, “Does she have children?”, “Does she have an avenue for medicine?”, “Will she tell her employer that she is infected?”, “What will she do for money now?” and finally “Who will tell her about the hope found in Jesus?”

So much to think about, assess, analyze in the good old American way.

What is the church’s responsibility? Where are the Christian counseling centers? Where are WE in this woman’s life?

This is all of my processing…..

All part of Thailand.

- Jenny