Lights on in Ethiopia

Ethiopia was easily the wildest trip I’ve ever been on. Wild and wonderful. I landed in Addis Ababa and actually had no idea where I was going to sleep, vague plans for the next few days, and the simple goal to have a time of rest and retreat.

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My first Ethiopian meal in Addis Ababa.

A friend of a friend picked me up at the airport, and unknown to both of us, we started on an adventure together! We wound up in Debre Libbanos camping on the edge of a canyon. In this small town, there is an ancient Orthodox Christian monastery where there are still regular services that you can hear echoing beautifully throughout the canyon.  People travel to this monastery for healing, to pray and confess, and also to tour. I was there to be still and listen.

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Outside the gates of the Debre Libbanos Monastery.

I spent time watching the sun rise and set. I sat, drinking the most amazing coffee, and saw light inch over and into the vast canyon.

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Sandstone canyon at sunset from the Ethic-German Lodge.

It got me thinking about a prayer that I often said while I was at Smith College. I’d always ask the Lord to make me into a light, so that I could shine on the Smith campus and tell people about Jesus. And the Lord really blessed my time at Smith with heartfelt bible studies in my room over tea, great conversations with friends, apologetic events, bold sermons, sweet discipleship and much more. I had the wrong understanding of light at the time though. I wanted to project light out of myself. To work hard, create some kinetic electricity, and then turn on a flashlight. But the light can’t come from me. It can shine through my brokenness for the glory of God, sure, but it’s always Christ that lights the flame in us. Indeed, Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Walking with God involves accepting that Jesus is your Lord and savior and inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell in you. And I believe it is Christ in us that shines out into the world. Just as the sun peers over the Debre Libbanos canyon, “it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).”

At the monastery I prayed that His will would be on my heart and guide my feet to walk in His ways. Indeed, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).” Please pray with me that the Lords light would shine brightly in Mamelodi. There are so many nations represented in this township. So many hearts that need to be transformed by the gospel. I have faith that “the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations (Isaiah 61:11).”

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Narratives (part 1)

Let me tell you about my friend Gretchen. We met my first semester at Smith during Professor Link’s office hours for Advanced General Chemistry, or Chem 118. We both showed up so often to office hours with a few other students, that eventually we formed a study group. And let me tell you, I would not have survived three semesters of Chemistry at Smith without this study group. Fast forward four years, Gretchen is living in Nairobi and I flew up from Johannesburg a few weeks ago to visit her.

In more than a few ways, Gretchen inspired me. She’s spent the last four years learning Swahili and watching her speak to people really shifted my view on language and role it plays in connecting with people. Even though I couldn’t understand the words being exchanged, I could see people warm to Gretchen as she spoke and somehow give me grace for being her friend. People were so surprised to hear a “Mzungu,” the Swahili word for “white person,” speaking their language. It seemed like these Kenyans were used to Mzungus swooping in, speaking English, and swooping out, or maybe staying in the country but isolating themselves in nicer neighborhoods and rental cars. This reinforces the narrative that the only languages worth spending your time learning are European or maybe Chinese. If you want to get ahead per say, you must learn English. And indeed, we live in a globalized world.

But then, all of the sudden, they hear a Mzungu speaking fluent Swahili and the narrative changes. People start to wonder why she knows Swahili? And the simple answer lies in the famous words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understand, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.” Investing time in a language that the rest of the world says is useless to connect with others is radical love, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that Jesus calls us to.

Jesus spent time with the Samaritan woman at the well, a woman cast off from society (John 4). He seeks relationship with us, He wept (John 11:35), and ultimately died on the cross so that we may know Him. In Luke 10:38-42, when Martha and Mary hosted Jesus, Mary sat at Jesus’s feet while Martha was busy preparing the house. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha,”…” you are worried and upset about many things, be few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Mary chose connection and relationship, even at the expense of doing what seems practical. She was wise and sought Jesus first by being in his presence, because indeed, that’s what it’s all about.

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The view from our train from Nairobi to Mombasa.

One guy that we met on a train to Mombasa from Nairobi, another person amazed by Gretchen’s Swahili, said he’d like to exchange stories, and I found that interesting. He meant just totalk more, but it got me thinking more about narratives, the stories we embody, perpetuate, and internalize.

There are narratives floating around about Mamelodi, too. I’ve spent the last few months talking to a lot of people about Mamelodi. I’ve talked to security guards, entrepreneurs, university professors and administrators, young people at bars, social workers, youth pastors, and artists, even Capetonians and people from Joburg. People talk about danger, chaos, busyness, and the rioting that occurs every few months in Mamelodi. One Capetonian woman remembered the Mamelodi soccer team, the Mamelodi Suns. Some talked about the lack of education in the township and others spoke about the high quality of education there. Mamelodi encompasses stories of rebellion, unkept promises, disrupted processes, and micro economies.

And as I listen to all these stories, I wonder if the narrative of the gospel has taken root in Mamelodi. Do the children of Mamelodi know that they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26)? Do they know that they are loved by Him (1 John 3:1)? The gospel is the ultimate narrative. It is the narrative through which I hear all other narratives. That “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” He died for you and I, and He died for Mamelodi.

Uncovering the whole truth

Everyday in South Africa is a new adventure, and the latest was sitting in on a class at the University of Pretoria on Leadership in Urban Transformation. This class is filled with people from different backgrounds, ages, and vocations, but all united by a desire to see South Africa transformed and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to be in the room. I’ve felt like this a lot lately because God has been meeting me so faithfully and clearly here.

When I first arrived in South Africa I felt overwhelmed. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing and my mind filled with doubts. Were the sacrifices I made to come here worth it? Am I doing anything worthwhile?

As I actually step out though, these doubts quickly fade away.  The words of Psalm 40 become real:

“I waited patiently for the Lord

And He inclined to me,

And heard my cry

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit

Out of the miry clay.

And set my feet upon a rock

And established my steps.

He has put a new song in my mouth,

Praise to our God!”

In just one month, He has allowed me to connect with people I never knew existed, listen to and read unique and broad perspectives, step into sacred space, walk through broken and hurting neighborhoods, and all along the way hear encouragement after encouragement. Indeed, He is faithful and keeps His promises. He will complete this work in Mamelodi.

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The University of Pretoria Leadership in Urban Transformation class walking the streets of Hillbrow, Johannesburg, a hurting and impoverished neighborhood.

So I found myself on Monday morning discussing Mark 5:25-34 with pastors, social workers, academics, students, missionaries, and government workers.

“(25) And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. (26) She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (27) When she heard Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, (28) because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” (29) Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

(30) At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched me clothes?”

(31) “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask ‘who touched me?’ “

(32) But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. (33) Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. (34) He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” “

We first reflected on the fact that this woman suffered for twelve long years. Indeed, people suffer in Mamelodi for a long time. She tried to get better, but instead grew worse. And eventually she literally reached out for Jesus to touch any part of him, even just the hem of his robe to receive immediate freedom. Incredible.

I read on and my western lens has looked at verse 25 confused. I wrestle with the question, is Jesus upset at this woman for touching his clothes?

But hearing other perspectives around the room caused me to conclude that just the opposite is true. Jesus is singling this woman out, but not to mock or condone her. Instead, He recognizes her and invites her into deeper relationship. She falls at His feet, confesses her whole heart, and is sent out in peace, free from her former suffering.

So when I think about waste in Mamelodi, I wonder where Jesus is in the thick of it all. How can I have faith like this woman to reach out and touch Him? How can faith in Mamelodi lead to freedom for the marginalized and oppressed?

The professor of this class, Stephan de Beer, actually wrote a paper entitled “Jesus in the Dumping Sites: Doing theology in the overlaps of human and material waste” and I think he makes some excellent points. De Beer looked at communities all over the world who actually live on dumping sites. Trash and waste are, in a way, home to whole communities of people.

I’d never thought about waste this way before. I looked at the burning piles of trash in Mamelodi two and a half years ago and was in shock, horrified even to see that this was the daily reality. I saw images that to me, looked post-apocalyptic. But what if I grew up in Mamelodi? How would I see it then?

While context and understanding my own bias and lens is important, there are core truths that motivate me to keep working. Truths such as our God is a God of order (1 Corinthians 14:40), we relate to God in His creation (Exodus 40:34-38), and man has been commanded by God to care for and steward the earth (Genesis 2).

And I’ve seen glimpses of these truths. My friend Thato, who owns a small business in Mamelodi took me on a journey up the Magaliesberg mountain range on the outskirts of Mamelodi. He showed me is this private nature reserve where there are trash cans or “dust bins” as they say in South Africa, maintained green space, quiet, order, peace. And driving up to this preserve, we saw that homeowners are trying to change the tide of dumping with “no dumping” signs along their walls and fences.

Im wondering if faith in Mamelodi and hope for it’s future could be the lynchpin to freeing the community from the burdens of waste. I’m seeking the Lord’s vision for what the City of God looks like. But I know that I must uncover the whole truth just as the woman confessed to Jesus in verse 33.

So I hold all this in tension. Please pray that I would find Jesus in the dumping sites and adopt a new lens through which to see Mamelodi and everything in it. Thank you to all those who have prayed for the Lords provision on this mission. I am continually blown away by His goodness!

 

Here, now

In the Bible study workshop two questions were written on the board: who is God to you? And what is the purpose of Christianity?

We actually had more kids than expected in the workshop, so I got to stay on as a volunteer and pair up with a student, Vhuhwauho, to discuss these questions.

After just a few moments of thought, she responded, “the purpose of Christianity is to bring people to God.”

I was amazed.  In such a simple and succinct answer, she addressed a profound truth. In worship, evangelism, mission, liturgy, communion, fellowship, reading scripture, all of it goes toward the goal of bringing people to God.

The question, “what is the purpose of Christianity?” is an interesting one too. It’s something I haven’t heard addressed in western contexts. We are often focused on reconciling the existence of God and science or discussing the historical accounts of Jesus. We ask, “where is the proof for God?” or “isn’t their a grain of truth in all of the world religions?” instead of critically thinking about the church. I believe that apologetic questions are important, and that indeed, we should always be prepared to give and reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15), but shouldn’t we first establish what we are hoping for? When we ask, “what is the purpose of Christianity?” I contend that we are really asking, “What is the church? Why do we have the church? And what should we expect from the church?”

Vhuhwauho’s answer is clear: the purpose of the church is to advance the gospel. Jesus died on the cross so that sinners like you and I could enter into relationship with God. Experiencing the truth of the gospel goes far beyond simply hearing that Christ died for us. It’s believing this truth, letting it transform your life, and walking humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). The gospel is the only way through which humans can be brought to God. It is the rock upon which the church is built (Matthew 16:18) and ultimately why I have come to South Africa to work on a waste management project in Mamelodi.

The gospel, or good news that Jesus came to die for our sins and bring people to God, pushes ordinary people to go out and take extraordinary action for the Kingdom of God. It inspires people to care for the orphan and widow (James 1:27), to invite strangers into your house (Hebrews 13:2), to love their enemies (Luke 6:27), be radically generous (Matthew 19:21), and take up your cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24).

I am just another broken sinner, but the gospel has captured my heart and I can never go back.  I can’t chase the American dream of a white picket fence and steady paycheck. He has set my mind on the things above (Colossians 3:2), and I now see the things of this earth with eyes wide open (John 9:25). Waste in a South African township, and even more so in an informal settlement, is not glamorous, but being here, now, I feel aligned with God’s will. And that is the best feeling in the world. My hopes are to see the Kingdom of God built on earth and experience God’s character in new cultures. Please pray with me that the gospel would transform Mameldoi, that the people who live in informal settlements would experience the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and connect with Him in the environment around them, His creation. I pray that every child in Mamelodi could have quiet moments like I enjoyed in the Drakensburg mountains this weekend. He is the light that will pierce through darkness (John 8:12), release the captives from prison, restore sight to the blind, and set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18).

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Golden Gate National Park, Mushroom Trail

 

He completes good work

On the fifth day of program, I witnessed before my very eyes the Lords hand at work. When I helped to craft the Mamelodi Initiative (MI) Community Engagement curriculum, I had a vision. In my perfect world, students would work or projects related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and engage the community to reach these goals. I had no idea how this would take shape, so when my South African co-teachers suggested we take the kids on a field trip to the Mamelodi Old Age Home just down the street, I figured I had to settle for what was doable.

But actually, we couldn’t have taken the kids to a better place.

Leading up to the field trip, I introduced the students to the concept of sustainability and gave basic outlines to SDGs.  Groups split into five main goals: zero hunger, life on land, good health and well being, clean water and sanitation, and quality education. I hoped that first, The Old Age Home would get back to me and second, that there would be relevant jobs for the kids to do. Sure enough…

For zero hunger, students broke off to cut up fruit and clean the kitchen for the Old Age Home. And get this, no fingers were chopped off!

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MI students cutting cantaloupe for residents.

For life on land, a group went out to collect trash around the property. Though one of the kids, Patrick, complained about this job he confessed later, smiling, that he enjoyed the field trip. Plus, he showed up to program the next day!

 

For good health and well-being, the students gave residents haircuts and cut their nails. I was so impressed by how the co-teachers and students jumped right in, put on masks and gloves, and got to work. Just look at how cute these 10thgrade barbers are!

For clean water and sanitation, a group cleaned some of the common spaces at the home. Though not so glamorous, students and co-teachers worked hard and left the home with spotless windows and floors.

For quality education, a few students and I went around to residents and offered to read to them. The only book I had on hand was my Bible, which I let my students borrow. Watching these kids spend time with the elderly melted my heart. Students got to absorb wisdom from a previous generation and the residents were kept company, listened to, and hopefully encouraged.

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MI students Andy (back) and Hlogi (front) connecting with two residents.

I spent time with two ladies, Edna and Mita. Since I had given away my Bible, I whipped out my Bible app and what happened next brought the whole event, coordinating, months of thinking and planning, everything, into a moment of clarity. I started to read Philippians 1 and Mita, who is missing most of her teeth started to repeat every couple of words I read. I slowed down. We got into a pattern of reading and repeating. And finally, we made it to Philippians 1: 6, “for he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Indeed, He completed this good work and I’m still in awe.

Over twenty permissions slips in, no one got hit by a car crossing the street, all children accounted for, and the South African co-teachers rose up to lead the kids into their SDG groups. Amazing.  Praise God!

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind

It’s hard to believe that already four days of the Mamelodi Initiative Summer Jam are over! I have a class of 10thgraders, who are all wonderful in different ways.

The first day of class I introduced my students to the concept of Asset-Based Community Development, which is essentially seeing what a community does have rather than focusing on what is lacking. This means utilizing the strengths of a community and determining the skillsets, resources, and passions of community members. So, on the third day of class I had my students do just that.

I divided the students into groups that each of my co-teachers could lead and tasked the groups with drawing the outline of one person at a time. On then inside the body outline, the students were asked to write the qualities and interests of that person. And on the outside of the body outline, the students were asked to write the resources and supports around them.

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Prince in front of his asset map

Some students, like Lucky and Prince, were able to write outside their outline things like leadership roles in organizations and their support teams. Others, like Kagiso and Mahlatse, just listed their favorite rappers all over the page. Honestly, as a teacher, I was just so happy that all the kids were engaged in some way and pleasantly surprised that the logistics got smoothed out.

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Mahlatse and Kagiso in front of their asset map, rapper edition

One group actually ended up doing this activity communally. What I thought would be a very individualistic activity with some group encouragement, they turned into something much cooler. Community transformation sparked by engagement is only possible with a communal mentality and that’s exactly what these kids showcased. So with three posters, fours kids, crossed out names rewritten, and a mix of different marker colors, Bontle, Scelo, Hlogi, and Modiegi get an A+ from me.

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Team Mamelodi: (left to right) Hlogi, Bontle, Modiegi, and Scelo

I’m so glad that my students could be reminded through this project that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God (Psalm 139:14;Genesis 1:27). Indeed, assets to the community of Mamelodi!

 

With love from South Africa

I made it to South Africa! After 3 layovers, passing through 3 continents, and a few new friendships along the way, I have arrived. Isn’t it funny how, when you get a new place, you start really thinking about the last one?

I am so full of gratitude for the people God placed into my life during the past five months I spent in Denver. Thank you to every person who was excited for this trip and offered an encouraging word.

A few specific shout outs:

Wellspring global missions small group

This group of people taught me so much. Being around a group of people living life missionally right where God has placed them has inspired me more than I can say or write. Every person in this group sought the Lords will for their life and understood the call to missions: brining the gospel to every nation. We talked about what it means to share with people at work, how pursuing missions really looks, and the impacts that a misisonal life can have on relationships. These people fed me with physical food but also rich wisdom and knowledge. They asked me questions, offered advise, showed me what it was to live like Christ, and prayed for this mission. Thank you to the Merrills, Pollocks, Moores, Janet, and Jamie!

Denver Seminary Culture and Mission class

I wasn’t expecting to take a Seminary class when I moved back to Denver, but boy, am I glad that the Lord put this into place! My classmates were BRILLIANT, insightful, kind, and open. I am so excited for what the Lord will do in each of their ministries. This class transformed the way I thought about missions. We read the Bible missionally, going through key passages and seeing how God calls us to gather and scatter. I started to see flaws in the individualistic American church and how that affects my own views, desires, and motivations. I tend to go off on my own, come up with my own plans, and attempt to build my own little kingdom. I used to think about church mainly as a place where I could be fed, but now I see that God designed church for so much more. He gave us community to live out missionally. He calls us to meet together so that we can be sent out. Gather and scatter. Stay tuned for more on that later.

I also enjoyed meeting and often bumping into Tyler who lead my send off prayer, thank you for all the encouragement! Finally, being at Denver Seminary allowed me to spend many lunches with Christiana who has been such a dear friend for so many years, what a blessing to share so many meals with you!

Summit Church

I actually found Summit in two ways. The first was through the recommendation of an International Mission Board representative and the second was through a job posting at Denver Seminary.  Eventually, I made it to Summit and wow, I am so impressed with this community! The first service I went to I was invited to dinner afterward. Immediately, me, a newcomer, was invited into intentional community. I learned about the members of the church who were involved in prison ministry and foster care—two very difficult fields. The church hosted conversations about racial reconciliation, a topic I’d never heard in a sermon in Colorado before. This community understands the gospel and lives it out. I’m so grateful to have crossed paths with the Highlands small group, Brian, Jason, Stephanie, Kayleigh, and Kerry.

FRCAN

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My first hike around Palmer Lake with FRCAN.

I just knew that there had to be a group of Christian hikers in Denver so I did a quick facebook search and sure enough, there is! I highly recommend it to anyone reading this. Spending time in nature with a group of believers is really wonderful and filled my soul while I was in Denver. Special thanks to Jonathan for organizing all the fun adventures!

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FRCAN trip up Jones Pass.

Wellspring Church

This is my Dad’s church and it’s a great church! Bob made me feel so welcome every time I walked through the door with a big hug and Pastor Billy’s sermons were so spot on. I’m grateful for all that wellspring has taught me over the years and the way that they display Christ to their neighbors and care for the poor and sick. I’m also so grateful that I met Kristine through Wellspring! We met up for coffee and in just a few hours I learned SO much from her. She is a gem and I am so excited for God has in store.

Smithies

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Allegra and I enjoying a Swedish dinner at the Kvarnen.

I’m grateful for Rachel who invited me over for dinner in Denver and let me take care of Jasmine. I only watched Jasmine for a few days but I seriously think she is the best dog. Rachel makes a 10/10 chicken dinner. I’m also grateful for Allegra who hosted me in Stockholm! I was a perfect stranger, apart from the fact that we are both Smithies, and Allegra took me in for a night, fed me, showed me around. Just wow, she is amazing and the kind of host I aspire to be!

Colorado Secretary of State office

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Julia and I at the Young Catholic Professionals Christmas party in RiNo.

Thank you to Julia, who listened to me ramble on and on about waste management in South Africa! You are a dear friend and a I’m so glad out desks were within shouting distance. Of course, Suzanne, thank you for being an inspiration and mentor to me for so many years. Lynn always gave me interesting work to do and key blogging experience to support my new blog venture! Being a Policy Fellow taught me a great deal about the law and gave me the time I needed to makes steps toward future goals.

Of course to my family and friends, thank you for loving and supporting me.

All of these people and groups have prepared me for the work I am about to do for the next four months. They have given me the courage to rise, step out, and seek Him.

Please pray with me, that on this mission “I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations. For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, and Your truth unto the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; Let Your glory be above the earth (Psalm 57:9-11).” Please pray that the Lord would prepare the hearts of the children I will teach to be open to the gospel. Please also pray as I prepare to train my fellow volunteers on the Commune Engagement curriculum, that the Lord would give me the words to say, activities to do, and a humble heart toward wherever He would take  the training and course in general.

Reflections on Acts, fast forward one year

Last year, I wrote a blog for the Smith Center for Religious and Spiritual Life about the UMass Cru fall retreat. For some reason, it was never published. Nevertheless, one year later, I’m learning about the missionaries in Acts again as I take the class “Mission and Culture” at Denver Seminary.

More than ever, I feel called to missions and challenged to pursue it in the same way Jesus did. In “A Light to the Nations,” Michael Goheen describes mission as both centripetal and centrifugal.

“The Old Testament had envisioned a centripetal movement from the periphery (nations) to the center (Jerusalem). Jesus’s words in Acts 1:8 outline the (centrifugal) path from the center to the periphery, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (131).”

What’s interesting about Goheen’s argument is that he asserts the Jesus creates the shift the Old Treatment centripetal movement to the centrifugal movement. He is the firstborn of the new Kingdom, the pioneer, the inaugurator. His death is the end of the old and his resurrection is the beginning of the new. We are now transformed by the Holy Spirit to go out to the nations and bring the light of God with us. This is how it was for Paul and Barnabas being sent out from the church of Antioch and so it is today.

Here’s the blog:

Over 100 students from the 5 colleges and surrounding area gathered at Camp Spofford in New Hampshire for UMass Cru’s annual Fall Retreat this past weekend October 13th-15th.  Students represented a number of community colleges, Plymouth State, Smith, and of course, UMass.

The focus of the weekend was to provide students with time to fellowship with one another and spend time growing in their walk with God on their own, as the group reflected on the sermons given by the speaker for the retreat, Pat McLeod.

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Cru Boston Director Pat McLeod giving a message to UMass Cru

Though his roots are in Montana, McLeod now leads the Cru movement in Boston and serves as Chaplin at Harvard. He has been serving in the Northeast for a number of years, encouraging students to follow Christ and proclaim the message of the gospel.

McLeod gave a series of four sermons all on the book of Acts. He began the series by focusing on who the main characters are in the book of Acts, focusing on the life of the Apostle Peter. McLeod outlined four impactful moments of Peter’s life and character development. The first was when Peter, a self-conscious sinner met Jesus. McLeod pointed the group to Luke 5:4-11 where Peter admits that he is a sinner while fishing and Jesus famously responds “From now on you will be catching people!” after which Peter left everything and followed Jesus, becoming a disciple. The second was when Peter, a self-reliant Christina fails Jesus. McLeod then read Matthew 26:31-35, where Peter tells Jesus “even if everyone runs away because of You, I will never run away!” to which Jesus responded “I assure you, tonight, before the rooster crows you will deny me three times!” McLeod made the point that Peter was self-reliant, and eventually he did deny Jesus in Matthew 26:69-75, despite his genuine intentions in this verse. The third was when Peter, a surrendered Christian meets Jesus again after his resurrection. The group looked at John 21:4-6 where the resurrected Jesus meets Peter, fishing once again. Jumping ahead to Acts 1:8, when Jesus says “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” McLeod then concludes, the main character in the book of Acts is actually the Holy Spirit. McLeod referenced Acts 4:5-10 where Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit stands up to Jewish leadership to spread the message of Jesus Christ.

McLeod continued the series with this foundation of the power of the Holy Spirit, encouraging students to live with courageous determination, overcome reluctance and fear, and trust in God so that His power may be released in our hearts.

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Camp Stafford, NH

Activities for the weekend included black light volleyball, ultimate Frisbee, canoeing, group yoga, and free time to relax. During free time, students also had the option of attending seminars on the topics of conflict resolution, praying for missions, and a panel on relationships.

Walking in the Water

For the past year, I’ve really felt like I’ve been stuck in a pit. It’s been confusing and dark at times. The worst part about the pit is that you can kind of see that there is light and a better place above, but you’re stuck. The walls are high. Kind of like this wall that was behind a London hostel I stayed in last January.

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The Highbury Centre in London, England

If I cold just climb out of the pit on my own, believe me, I would. One of the truths in life, though, is that we humans tend to dig deep, deep pits. The weight of sin is so large that we don’t even realize that we are in a pit half the time, much less have the wherewithal to get out. And that’s why we need Jesus. He came down to earth and created a way out. He died on the cross so we don’t have to live in the pit anymore. He is the way, the truth, and the light. Jesus said, “ I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me (John 10;14).” He leads us to green pastures, to a life of purpose, to salvation.

 

Living in a pit is an interesting phenomenon, though. For some, it almost feels comfortable because it’s familiar. It actually takes a great deal of trust to get out of the pit. You have to trust that Jesus really knows His way and that wherever He is leading will be better than the cold, dark, familiar, and seemingly comfortable pit. That’s a big deal!

 

Plato’s Republic talks about a pit of sorts in the allegory of the cave. The people live in a cave, devoid of light and greenery. One person managed to get out of the cave and see the life above, but he’s faced with a dilemma of whether or not to go back into the cave because he knows that he will be killed once he does. The people in the cave are so “comfortable” they are willing to kill the very man that could lead them to true life! This points to the story of the gospel and the struggle of our human hearts.

 

We look for comfort in tangible things right in front of us, but miss out on the bigger picture. We often miss out on life outside of this dark cave and in the light because following someone, Jesus specifically, out of this pit requires trust in the things unseen. It requires hope in something better, a perspective beyond life in the pit.

 

That something better is described in Isaiah 62, the restoration of Zion.

 

“You will be a glorious crown in the Lord’s hand,

and a royal diadem in the palm of your God.

You will no longer be called Deserted,

And your land will not be called Desolate;

Instead, you will be called My Delight is in Her,”

 

Our God will not desert us on the journey. He has called me to such a time as this.

Out of the pit “we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5: 7),” as Paul writes.

The really beautiful thing is, when we trust in God, we believe the gospel, we have been transformed. Paul continues, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passes away, and look, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).” I am convinced that trust is the key to growing in relationship to God and renewing our hearts in Him. That is, to “draw near to Him, wait on Him, bind yourself to Him” for “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;

 

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40: 28-31).”

I thought about this verse last summer when I was in Greece.

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Acropolis, ancient greek ruins in Athens, Greece

I sat under a tree in Athens and reflected on the legend of Icarus. The Greek myth is the story of an expert crafts man Deadalus who makes wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son, Icarus, to escape from Crete. Icarus’s father tells him to follow a path not too close to the sea or the sun but of course, in the elixir of flight, Icarus fly’s into the sun, the wax on his wings melt, and he crashes into the ocean. Here is the big lesson for me– I can’t make my own wings and expect to fly. Relying on my own inventions without God will make me crash into the ocean every time.

 

Trusting the Lord is a radical act of faith and the only way to walk is with him. Being a Christian is not a calculation or philosophical theory, it is an everyday lived experience of bold, life changing trust. I agree with John Steward Mills, “there are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be realized, until personal experience has brought it home.”

 

Trusting God is kind of like swimming in this river–exhilarating and difficult, and also the only path through the confusing forest.

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Smith College, Mill River

So yes, some things in life are confusing, but the character of God, that is crystal clear. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “but God has no history. He is too completely and utterly real to have one.” Indeed, when Moses asked God what to call him he replied, “I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:14).” He is constant, sovereign, my rock and my good Father. I can take heart, for He has overcome the world.

Forever Green

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In Tompkins Square Park

there is one beautiful, lonely evergreen

that I noticed

In fact, the only one that I noticed

in a city where so much seems to go unnoticed.

 

Sleepy subways stations

Ear buds in,

Bodies moving

 

He notices me though

He see’s me like I see this evergreen

Placed here,

Green and growing,

Perfectly and uniquely made.

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For “are not two sparrows sold for a penny?

Yet not one of them will fall to the ground

apart from the will of your Father.

And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered.

So do not be afraid;

you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).”