full circle

I began working with the young adults group about a year ago.  Although I felt God’s leading in that direction, I was terrified to begin.  I had been doing youth ministry for some time–about seven years–but this was different, unknown territory, a new path.  I set the date for the first meeting secretly hoping that no one would show up and I’d be let off the hook.  But they did show up, and they’ve continued to show up nearly every week since.  We’ve celebrated getting new jobs, passing exams, and identifying personal strengths and gifts.  We’ve talked about hard subjects–self-discipline, difficult experiences at church, how to follow God’s will.  As our name implies, we’ve been walking through Life together for the past year.  It’s been a challenging and rewarding experience, but nothing has brought me more joy than seeing them serve at Desert Challenge last month.  We’ve been studying leadership for the past year, but as we all know, talking and doing are two different things.  Desert Challenge was an opportunity to put into practice everything we’d been discussing.  

From the beginning, this group has had a passion for worship, so when we began planning for Desert Challenge three months ago, I wasn’t surprised that God laid it on my heart to ask them to lead worship.  It was a risk, no doubt.  This group is young and has never been given this type of responsibility.  Could they rise to the challenge?  Would they be able to stay grounded in the true meaning of worship without being swept into the hype of being on stage?  I wasn’t sure, but I knew I had to give them a chance.  I was questioned about my decision and the risk I was taking, but I held fast and prayed for and with them.  Although I was present for nearly two months of practice, nothing could have prepared me for when they began the first worship session.  I stood at the back, tears pouring down my face like a proud mama, as I watched them leave it all on the stage for the glory of God.  I have never been part of a worship experience that was more powerful than what I witnessed in those two days.  I’m sure wrong notes were played and transitions were missed, but that all falls away when people with sincere hearts come before the Lord in worship.  After being a part of this experience, I am convinced that worship will be the foundation of all our work in YFC this coming year.  

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storms

even the storms in the desert are dry.

 

wind racing in off the ocean, whistling through palm branches, throwing sand against already brown facades

 

the rolling in of gray clouds, a tease of rain that won’t fall but will roll out across the ocean, returning drops to the already churning seas and leaving the winds to rattle through the dusty desert once more

 

sometimes life storms can feel like that in the desert too

hollow

rattling

bent over bracing

the tease of relief makes the dry cracks feel deeper

 

and just when you think the winds are too strong and the clouds will never break, you feel the strong press of a hand around yours

hands holding hands

a circle of strength

bracing the wind together

 

from this ring of community, the prayers rise up

cries for a new kind of wind,

a wind that stirs up dry bones and ushers in new life

a whirlwind of mighty strength and power

that will carry away the old and make way for the new

 

and as the words are carried heavenward, the tears fall down

the clouds finally breaking

drops settling into dust around feet

seeping into cracks and watering seeds buried deep

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hungry

Experience is a great teacher.  I try to implement that often in our youth group.  Don’t just tell them–show them.  Let them sweat and get their hands dirty; let them look into the faces and eyes of real people.

This pursuit of experience found us gathering in the church parking lot on a hot summer morning a few weeks ago.  My purse was stuffed with envelopes containing crumpled bills and dirty coins–the profits of our church bake sale.  The youth group had organized, made signs, frosted and baked, and their efforts paid off.  The envelopes totaled $450.  Now we were going to put the profits to good use–supporting a local charity that provides food for people in need.  Wanting the teens to have the full experience, I packed seventeen of them into a 15 passenger van, and we headed to the grocery store to purchase food.  It was about as chaotic as you would imagine a large group of teenagers descending on a quiet grocery store would be.  At first they milled about, not really knowing what to do, but we quickly organized them into groups and sent them off.  Soon the first group was ready, so we pushed the cart to the refrigerator downstairs.  This charity provides refrigerators around town which are filled by volunteers, and anyone in need is free to take from the food inside.  I stood back watching as they stocked the shelves with bread, yogurt, juice, and fruit.  When they were finished, the fridge was only half full.

“Let’s go back for more,” I said.

They looked at me a bit confused.  “What else are we supposed to get?”

“Well, let’s imagine you didn’t have enough food at home,” I proposed.  “What would you want to eat?”

Suddenly it clicked, and the kids went back inside and eagerly began tossing biscuits, chips, instant noodles, granola bars, and chocolate milk into the cart.

As we pushed the cart back to the fridge, we suddenly stopped short.  The fridge was nearly empty.  We couldn’t have been gone for more than twenty minutes, but the food was now almost gone.

The kids turned toward me in confused shock, almost on the verge of anger.  “What happened to all the food?  It’s gone!” they nearly shouted.  “Who took it?”

“They came,”  I said quietly.  “Laborers, workers, people in need.  There are people in this country who don’t have enough food.  Let’s fill up the fridge as much as we can.  People here are hungry.”

As the kids began restocking the fridge, I remembered a command:  Feed my sheep.  It makes sense.  How can we expect people to hear the words of the Gospel over the sound of their growling stomachs?

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wells

The temperature was rising, the sun scorching, hope diminishing

Each step forward more difficult than the last

No place to go, no way out

Desperate and lost, she put her son at a distance; the only water in sight was trickling down her cheeks

Then the voice of the Lord called and her eyes were open–there, before her, a well–

There are wells in the desert, but we need eyes to see them.

Lord, open my eyes to see the wells, in whatever form they may take:

a glass of bubble tea with a friend,

a quiet evening at home,

an unexpected breeze,

a late night on the balcony,

the quiet understanding of a friend.

As the days grow long and hot, reveal the wells hidden in this desert, and allow me to lead the way to springs of hope for those who are lost.

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wadi in Oman

*inspired by Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts

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Storylines: Art

At the end of April, we had an event called Blueprint.  As the name suggests, the purpose of the event was to lay a foundation for the theme we will be working on this year.  For 2015, our theme is Storylines.  One of our goals at Blueprint was to explore the different ways we tell stories.  One of the mediums we experimented with was art.  We put together a team of 4 youth and had them plan and design the layout for the event, and then enlisted the help of about 20 other youth to contribute to the design.  The results were pretty amazing.

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spoken

I’ve received this revelation before, but it seems to be one I like to forget.  Perhaps because my natural inclination is to listen rather than to speak.  However God likes to take us out of what is comfortable, giving us an opportunity to grow and develop into the people he wants us to be.

There is tremendous POWER in the spoken word:  God created the world by SPEAKING; Moses was told to SPEAK to the rock, and it would produce water; Jesus CALLED OUT to Lazarus and he rose from the dead.  There is something about giving voice to the thoughts in our minds that adds another level of meaning, that infuses them with power and authority.  There are thousands of thoughts that float around my head in a day.  Some are fleeting; others roll around for days, building shape and momentum; yet it is only when those thoughts are spoken do they really come to life.  They can be used to DECLARE, ESTABLISH, and CALL INTO BEING.

I was reminded of this again on a recent prayer drive I took with a friend.  She has an incredible heart for prayer and a vision to pray over the whole country of Bahrain.  She often walks or drives though towns and villages praying over the land and the people that live there.  She mentioned recently wanting to do a prayer drive in my neighborhood.  Feeling lonely and desperate for companionship, I jumped at the chance to join her.  I admit, my motives were mostly selfish, desiring to fulfill my own social needs rather than to participate in the holy work of prayer and intercession.  But God broke through my selfish motives to reveal to me yet again, the power he has given to us in spoken words.

We began by driving through a nearby town that neither of us had really been to before.  I was a bit nervous and not really sure what to expect, but my friend is humble and gracious and didn’t make it awkward at all.  She began to pray out loud as we drove through the narrow, winding streets.  Intentionally driving through this area, I was amazed at what I was able to see.   Usually when we drive, we are focused on the destination.  We want to get somewhere as quickly as possible.  We pay attention to the traffic and bad drivers and signals changing.  Sometimes we are less focused on the driving and spend the trip lost in thoughts or day dreams.  In either case, we rarely notice what we are driving by or through.  This time I was keenly aware of my surroundings.  With no real agenda or destination, I was free to actually be present in the place I was observing.  I had the space and time to really notice what was around me–the crowds of children gathered in empty lots, kicking neon footballs or playing with leftover bits of construction material; the workshop of an old artisan, carefully carving out a perfect wooden boat; the laughing eyes of a group of women walking down the street; funny signs in shop windows; the intricate detail adorning old houses; the surprising splashes of color found on walls or parks.  As we continued through this town, my friend prayed for the people that we saw and also the ones we didn’t.  Listening to her pray, I was struck with the thought that although there is so much that happens behind these walls and closed doors, God sees and knows it all–the hurts and pains, the joys and triumphs; He is there.  Silently I prayed: Lord, dwell in these places.  Bring your light to hidden situations.  Plant your seeds of truth in these homes and in the hearts of the people living here…

We briefly exited onto the highway before turning into the next village, one that is known for violence and frequent clashes with police.  There was an almost palpable change in the atmosphere.  These streets were different.  Ominous black flags stood guard over rooftops and street corners, broken bricks and stones littered the road, layer upon layer of dark graffiti was scrawled on nearly every wall.   These defaced walls held the bitter outpouring of angry hearts; these broken windows had felt the sharp and sudden blast of violence.  These streets were not filled with children; instead, groups of young men with dark, brooding faces gathered for afternoon tea and hushed conversation.  Every turn revealed a new alley, somehow darker and heavier than the one before.  Each flag, each slash of paint, each tight-set jaw was a weight in my chest.  I silently pleaded with God for this place, but the weight increased, crushing against my ribs, filling my eyes, and drowning my thoughts, and then like a whisper it came:  speak.  But Lord, I don’t have the words….speak…I don’t know how…speak….where do I start….SPEAK.  With a weight all its own, that command crashed through my doubts, making a way for words to follow.  “God, we call out to you…”  As the words took shape and entered the world, something was released.  I could feel something break in me, releasing a well of emotion.  It filled my eyes and saturated my voice, yet instead of weighing down the words, it added a different kind of weight, the kind that comes from gravity and authority; the kind that is filled with meaning and power.  Then the words were no longer hesitant, no longer meekly tumbling out but streaming forth, like an army sent into battle, an army that had the strength of thousands.  “Lord, every wall and house and flag that is covered in black, we claim for you.  Lord, Jesus, with your blood, wash these places clean.  May they be white as snow.  May the power of your blood transform these places of darkness into places of light.”  These thoughts, these words, had been transformed into mighty weapons, swords that had the power to cut through any defense.  “Lord, we pray for the children who live here.  May you fill them with a desire for something more than the violence and anger that they see.  May this desire lead them to You, the giver of life and eternal peace…”

The words went forth and invaded the village.  They landed on doorsteps and rooftops and set up camp like little sentinels guarding what had been declared.  They penetrated walls and houses, carrying messages of hope and truth to those within.  They sought out every crack and piece of brokenness and planted a stake of restoration.  Although nothing was visibly changed, everything changed.  In the spiritual realm, those words were heard.  Evil shuddered at the proclamation of its destruction for it knows that everything falls under the authority of Jesus.  The angels heard and rejoiced; those that will be sent forth will go with gladness for faith has been proclaimed.  The Almighty King, who sits on the throne over all the universe, smiled because He knows the end; there is no power that He cannot overcome; there is no brokenness that He cannot restore; there is no storm that He cannot calm with the utterance of a single word.

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bake sale

This past month our youth group had a bake sale, organized by Lakshmi (see previous post).  The bake sale served as a fundraiser for a charity project called Feed the Need.  In the fall we supported this charity through money gathered by the youth; this spring we wanted to extend the invitation to the congregation so they could participate as well.  The youth designed posters, baked goodies, and made wristbands for our big day.  Then after a church service one Friday we had the sale.  The results were fantastic!  We sold out in about half an hour and the youth raised nearly $400.  This money will be used to buy food to feed hungry people here in Bahrain.  The food distribution will take place in a few weeks–stay tuned for more pictures!

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Meet Lakshmi

I decided to do a short series of interviews with young people in Bahrain.  I wanted to document their stories and experiences of growing up in the Middle East.  This is the first.

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Lakshmi Achary is a 17 year old girl, who was born and raised in Bahrain.  Believe it or not, she’s never left this desert island.  She has two older brothers and one younger sister.  Born to an Indian father and a Sri Lankan mother, Lakshmi was raised with very strong Hindu beliefs.  In fact, her family back in India was involved in working at the temples.  Growing up, they prayed to many idols and believed in lots of superstitions.

Her family faced some hardships while she was a child.  Her dad had to return to India for some time, and Lakshmi had to leave school.  During some of these challenges, Lakshmi began to question some of the family beliefs.  Did praying to idols really accomplish anything?  She wasn’t sure. It didn’t seem to produce any results, but what was the alternative?

Things started to change when a friend invited her older brothers to a youth meeting at church.  There they heard about Jesus and became Christians.  Coming from a strict Hindu family, this was not allowed.  The sisters knew about their change of heart, but it wasn’t discussed in the family.  Little by little, Lakshmi began to wonder about this change in her brothers.  She remembers one time when she was very sick, and one of them offered to pray for her.  She was amazed that he could speak to God so freely and that he could ask for her to get well.  Her brother began to share more about what he was learning about God and Jesus.  The biggest shock for her was learning that Jesus loved her so much.  This just didn’t make sense–she was a stranger to him; how could he love her so much?  It wasn’t long before Lakshmi and her younger sister became Christians too.  Together, the brothers saved up to buy Lakshmi a Bible.  All of the children  were believing Christians, but Christianity was still not allowed in their home.  They would sneak out of bed at night and read the Bible together after their parents had gone to bed.  They prayed late into the night and learned worship songs together.  Through these secret late night meetings, all four began to grow in their faith.  They prayed that their parents would also come to know Jesus.  Praise God that their prayers were answered!  From a simple invitation from a friend, Lakshmi’s entire family converted to Christianity.

The family began attending church together.  In church, Lakshmi was a bit taken aback by what she saw.  She expected it to be a joyful place, a place where people were alive and excited about God.  Instead it seemed like the people acted as if God were dead.  But not everything in church was negative.  Lakshmi came to love worship.  She is now a member of the church worship team.  She loves the openness that comes through worship and the opportunity to hear God speak.  She wants to see more youth worshiping in the church and around Bahrain.  She has recently begun leading worship in the youth group, and her love for God and worship is very apparent.

As much as her life changed though becoming a Christian, it wasn’t without its challenges.  When she was 16, she went back to school.  It was a very eye-opening experience.  She remembers feeling lost and confused.  Being in a place with so many different people with different beliefs, she began to wrestle with what it meant to live as a Christian.  It was hard being a Christian at school.  How do you treat your friends or how do you react when someone hurts you?  She had never had to deal with these questions before.  Through journaling and talking with youth leaders, she began to find answers to these hard questions.

Now Lakshmi is looking towards the future.  She doesn’t know what it holds, but she wants God to direct her.  She’s interested in art and design as well as doing hair, so maybe she will do something with that, but she’s just praying now and waiting to see where God leads.  In the meantime, she is working at an after school tutoring center, singing on the worship team, and creating fantastic art.  photo 2

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a call to prayer

pray for the city

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to follow

Others are led to the desert to be tested.  Obediently they follow the Spirit into the barren wilderness.  Step by step, steadily plodding forward.
A pillar of cloud by day.
A pillar of fire by night.
As the days stretch endlessly, seamlessly, the path loses its definition, blurring into rocks.  Each step a step of faith.
The sun beats down mercilessly.  The wind whipping sand, stinging the cheeks and burning the eyes.  And still the cloud moves forward.  Deeper into the unknown. Pushing boundaries of nature and the soul.
The trail of the forefathers has long been erased in this unforgiving land.
Then
The Spirit beckons heavenward, up the craggy side of an ancient mountain. Muscles burn with each step, straining forward, upward.  But mountaintops bring hope.
God’s glory dwells on mountaintops.
He speaks to his people on mountaintops.
The climb continues.  Breathless, drained, one final push and the edge has been cleared.
Relief.
Fresh air.
A flood of new mercies.
The delicate hope-bird alights in the chest.
Hungry, desperate eyes look beyond the rocky ledge, straining for a glimpse of the Promised Land.
But what awaits is not milk and honey, not a speck of green nor a drop of water.
Instead a daunting sea of brown, waves of rocky hilltops cresting over rocky hilltops, the sun burning the edges into a hazy fog all the wayto the horizon.
Then the voice of temptation speaks:
To whom will you sing praise?
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