Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pictures: The Tennis Court


The hotel tennis court overlooks the sea, too. You can see it through the wind guards. They offer a free clinic by a visiting tennis pro every day and I took it and was the only one there and it's Thursday and I'm still really sore. I guess I'll have to play more in order to loosen up those muscles.

Pictures: The Pool!


I had been waiting to go into a pool all summer long. It was fabulous.

Pictures: View from the Hotel Room


Krista knows how to pick a hotel. This is the view from our hotel room in Montego Bay.

Pictures: The Boat House


Someone is building a house that looks like a cruise ship a few communities over from mine.

Pictures: Scrabble on Emancipation Day


Pictures: My room at the Bennett's


Lots of laundry to do!

Pictures: My Second Home


The Bennett's house on Mayflower Close.

Pictures: Overrated and Overpriced Tour


Nine Mile, Bob Marley's birthplace and burial place. Very overrated and overpriced. Would never go back again.

Pictures: My Friend Floyd


He is a very good soccer player and knows so much about sports that he won a contest a couple of years ago to go on vacation for a weekend in Curaco. However, he knows very little about the US, including how many states there are. Says Floyd, "How many states are there, anyway? 52?" I had a lot of fun talking to him and miss him.

Pictures: The Bennetts


Pictures: Crusade at Boscobel


Pictures: Moses, Elijah and Meshach


Three very sweet boys I met at the Crusade and Vacation Bible School.

Pictures: The Eyes of the Lord...


"The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good." ~Proverbs
Object lesson: do not steal money from the church during Vacation Bible School.

Pictures: Vacation Bible School


Some of the teenagers hanging out after VBS at the church.

Pictures: Nursing Home Ministry


An average Sunday at the nursing home.

Pictures: Ochi from Above


Pictures: Jenny


A picture of me. Or of Krista. We look so similar it's hard to tell, really. :)

Pictures: Juicy Patties


Whenever Krista and I would go into Ochi, we'd usually use the internet and get a Juicy Patty. I prefer the beef one (shown), but Krista loved the chicken ones.

Pictures: Domino Players


Domino players at the Boscobel Heights United Church Harvest Supper

Pictures: Jenny Leading Communion


My first experience leading communion at Immanuel United Church.

Pictures: $99 Discount Store


Nothing over $99...

Pictures: Downtown Ochi


Pictures: Krista


Very often Krista and I were asked if we were sisters. More than once we were asked if we were twins. I just don't see the resemblance.

Pictures: Boscobel Heights, my home in Jamaica


View from the manse of the Boscobel Heights community.

Pictures: Boscobel Heights Community Field


The soccer players from afar. I never took another picture closer - wish I had. The men (and sometimes teenage boys) would gather almost every day of the week to play soccer (football) on the field. I'd usually watch at least one day a week, if not more. I will miss the friends I made there.

Pictures: Boscobel Heights United Church


Pictures: Immanuel Church


Sermon #3: All are welcome

Lectionary Text: Isaiah 56:1-8

Kee bayti bait tefilla yicaray lecall ha amim.*
For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Loving God, we are again worshipping before you this morning. We pray that you will speak to us through this message and that we would be open and receptive to be led by your Holy Spirit. Bless us with this word so that we might bless you. We ask these things in the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.

I began my sermon this morning by reading part of a verse from our text in Biblical Hebrew. Kee bayti bait tefilla yicaray lecall ha amim.* For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Isaiah 56:7. I took a year-long course on Biblical Hebrew this past year at seminary. I recite the verse to you this morning not to show off, nor to claim value from the large amount of money I am taking out in loans in order to make my way through school. I recite part of verse 7 in Hebrew for you to hear and recognize that the Bible we read is actually written for an entirely different community from ours. The Bible, especially the Old Testament but also not excluding the New Testament, was written for the Jews as a means for them to know more about God and as a means to know how to live as God’s chosen amidst the nations. Sometimes we forget the specificity of the text and jump straight to interpreting it for our own means without looking at the cultural and historical background.

The book of Isaiah is a complicated book if you look at the text critically. Biblical historians separate the book into three different sections, all written by different people at different times. The prophet of the first section, or First Isaiah, writes about how God will not let Jerusalem fall into the hands of warring nations. First Isaiah is optimistic that God is in absolute control and that God uniquely favors the Jewish monarchy and nation. One of the reasons we know that Isaiah is written by different authors at different times is that the prophet of the second section, or Second Isaiah, writes some years after the city of Jerusalem has fallen into the hands of the Babylonians. The Jews are in exile in Babylon and are now wondering where God is, whether God is indeed sovereign and why they who are the chosen ones are suffering at the hands of another nation.

Our text this morning is written at the beginning of the Third Isaiah, at the time some of the Israelites have begun to return from exile. The prophet of Second Isaiah promised a glorious return to Jerusalem, a return that would make the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt in the exodus look like chopped liver. However, the real-life experience of the returnees was hardly glorious. The Israelites found themselves faced with hardships, disillusionment, hopelessness and despair. They begged and pleaded with God to redeem their situation and to give them salvation from it – salvation in this case meaning the restoration of a prospering Israelite community.

Third Isaiah gives a response to the people that they might not have wanted to hear. He passes along the Lord’s exhortation to the people, “Maintain justice and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance will be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.” (1-2) The Lord is speaking through the prophet and is saying that the salvation the Lord offers is only through the Israelites’ actions. What should their actions be? To maintain justice and do what is right.

There is an unwritten separation in the Ten Commandments. The first four deal with humanity’s relationship with God. You shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make idols, you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain and you must remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. These commandments that signify how humanity must interact with God are what makes us righteous, or have right-action. This is what the people must do when the Lord admonishes them to do what is right.

Likewise, the second grou0p of the Ten Commandments deal with humanity’s relationship with each other. Honor your father and your mother, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor and you shall not covet. These commandments that deal with humanity’s relationship with each other is how we are to ensure justice among us. Thus, when the Lord was admonishing the Israelites to maintain justice, he was reminding them of what they were commanded to do long before.

Happy or blessed is what the Lord says the one who maintains justice and does what is right will be. Israel will not despair or feel hopeless in its situation so long as they keep the Sabbath by doing what is right and so long as they maintain justice by refraining from evil.

However, the Lord is not only telling the Israelites what they already know and need to be reminded of. The Lord is, in this passage, expanding the definition of God’s own community. Things are beginning to get controversial and uncomfortable in verse 3. The text says, “Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’”

It came to pass that being a member of God’s chosen people was not as simple as merely doing what is right and maintaining justice. The Israelite community was quite exclusive with regard to who could be a member and who could not. Much of their focus lay upon preserving their race and separating themselves from the other nations. Indeed, their identity was formed out of their exclusiveness.

Deuteronomy 7 talks about God’s chosen people. It says, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you…seven nations more numerous than yourselves, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods…for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (1-4a,6) We learn from this passage that to be chosen is to be purely Israelite and not to have any foreigner among them. There are some instances we can recall where foreigners can and do participate in God’s chosen community – the story of Ruth is an example – but the message, for the most part is exclusionary. Yet it is exclusionary with reason – by excluding foreign nations, the risk of acting unrighteously by serving another God is taken away.

Also excluded from the assembly were the eunuchs. Deuteronomy 23:1 says, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” Eunuchs, too, were excluded and looked down upon because of their inability to procreate and, thus, pass on their heritage and add to the number of the Israelite nation.

We humans are very exclusionist with each other. It is not just the Jews of the Bible who set up barriers between themselves and others. All of us are exclusionary, sometimes rationally and sometimes irrationally. It is not hard to think of social constructions that are used to designate people either belonging or excluded from a community. I cannot speak for Jamaica because I have only been here for some weeks, but in America, those who are in are those who are rich, who have certain material possessions, those who are educated, those who have power and can speak for themselves. Those who are out are the poor, those who are homeless, those who are uneducated, have no power and cannot speak for themselves.

We also place social barriers in our communities by making the healthy to be the insiders. Those who are unwell, those who might be alcoholics, drug addicts, or who might be mentally handicapped are our society’s outsiders. They find no home among us, our government or our church. Similarly, we also place as outsiders those who defy our laws. Criminals, prostitutes and others are people who we exclude because their actions are reprehensible to us.

Even the unconscious things we do separate and alienate those among us. This is my final day among you and I want to thank you for being kind and hospitable to both Krista and I. However, when I first arrived, I had a hard time being here in Jamaica because I felt quite excluded from the Jamaican community. A prime reason why is because some were speaking Patois to me, a language that I’ve been told is broken English, but hardly sounds like English to me. This simple, unconscious act put up a barrier and prohibited me from feeling as one among you when I first got here.

The good news is that even though we are exclusionary with each other, God is not exclusionary with his people. He addresses those who have been excluded and invites them to be included in his community.

To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (4-5) God invites those cast out of the Israelite community into his house, into his community. They now belong to God and God belongs to them. The eunuch’s worth does not consist in what he can produce. The eunuch is not a dry tree that will disappear when his life is up. The Lord promises to give the eunuch an everlasting name and a monument better than sons and daughters. In God’s community, the eunuch goes from being despised and excluded to being honored.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” (6-7) God also addresses the foreigners and invites them onto his mountain, in his house, to be members that belong to his community.

The Lord is being radically inclusive in his grace in welcoming his people to his community. God embraces those excluded in this passage, the outsiders, and shows his universal love for all. This is not to say that there is no responsibility upon humanity in order to belong to this holy community. There is responsibility in membership. Those who claim membership must abide by maintaining justice and by doing what is right. They must minister, love, serve, keep the Sabbath, hold to the covenant and worship with offerings and sacrifices. In order to live in God’s gracious community, we must model God’s gracious community. God invites all to come in but those who come must be responsible to participate accordingly.

Lest we think, however, that we can earn our way in by our actions, the Lord God who gathers the outcasts of Israel says, “I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” (8) It is not we who let ourselves in to God’s community. We cannot either let ourselves or others in. Likewise, we cannot exclude others from joining. When we segregate or exclude others from worshipping with us, we are denying the ideal New Testament church. Ephesians 2:14 says that Jesus is our peace and makes us one and has broken down the dividing call of hostility in his flesh.

The New Testament lesson from Acts about the Ethiopian eunuch shows the radical inclusion of both a foreigner and a eunuch into the body of believers. That the Ethiopian had come up to Jerusalem to worship indicates his belief in God. As Philip told the Ethiopian about Jesus, the man sees the water and asks if there is something prohibiting him from being baptized into the community. This is asked because the Ethiopian knows the restriction of foreigners and eunuchs being rejected from wholly joining the assembly. Philip, knowing that God does not exclude, baptizes him, an outward expression of an inward commitment. The invitation for us to belong and participate comes solely from the Lord and only as individuals can we decide if we want to enter and participate in God’s community.

The most meaningful experience I have had here in Jamaica was allowing myself to include members I had excluded from belonging to the body of believers. It was hard for me to minister to those at the nursing home who were physically and mentally unwell, and I wondered if their lives had any worth. With repeated visits I became accustomed to worshipping and ministering to them, but it was not until we took communion together that I recognized that just as I am a member of the body of Christ and have a purpose for my life, that so, too, are the residents of the home members of the very same body that I am a part of, and have a unique purpose that God is using them for upon this earth.

I invite you today to hear the Lord’s admonition to act rightly and maintain justice in your own lives and to the people you come into contact with. See the community that the Lord has invited you to be a part of and claim your membership by participating accordingly. Humble yourselves before the Lord and see what he will do with you and through you.


*I did not properly transliterate the text - I wrote it down how I would pronounce it for ease in speaking.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Soon Come

"Soon Come" is a Jamaican phrase that stands for "coming soon." However, I have found that it is wise to ask Jamaicans to define "soon" when they tell me "soon come." For instance, it could mean anything from fifteen minutes to three hours..."soon" is really subjective here.

In my case, "soon" means that I will be home next week. I think I am in the single digits both in number of days left in my internship and number of days left on the island. It is hard for me to realize that next week I will be back in America. Part of me is excited to see my friends and family and worship at my church, but then the other part is sad because I have just begun making friends here. And it seems that the friends I have made (even some around my own age!) will miss me when I leave and I actually believe them because I will miss them, too.

Last week I was concerned about doing visitations by just showing up at homes unannounced. Probably the most interesting and rewarding visitations I have made the whole time I've been here were all last week. One day Krista and I went only to one house in the hills. There is a member there who is dying of cancer (which kind is unclear to me). The day that Krista and I went, he told his wife that it was going to be his last day. Our time with him was really wonderful, even though the situation was not wonderful. We sat with him and talked to him. He is too weak to talk, so he mostly gestures (although if it's something he needs to say, he'll say it). We also read some scripture to him and sang to him and just sat with him and the experience was probably one of the most meaningful situations I have experienced in my life. I have not heard if he is still alive, so I suspect that he's still holding on. I'd like to see him one more time before I leave, but I don't know if I'll have the time to do so.

The other day of visitations we did was interesting. It was very difficult for us to find people who were at home and who wanted to visit. We were shooting to do three different visitations and we had to visit six different people in order to find three people. I think, though, that the people we ended up visiting were touched that it was just Krista and I alone (instead of having the Rev. with us) who were going to visit them.

Otherwise, time is wasting away and is sorta like an hourglass. At first the sand doesn't seem to be moving, but as it nears the end, it slips through with ease. I have about a million things to do this week, so I am feeling scattered and a little stressed out because I don't know when I'm going to have time to get it all done. I have to prepare my final paper (there are several components), write my final sermon, give my final Bible study, pack and do my normal duties, along with go to a farewell party for Krista and I on Wednesday and a family fun day at Aqua Sol on Saturday. Additionally, something that is nice (but frustrating) is that the friends that I've made who are all around my age all of a sudden want to hang out with me all the time. So, I just have to be really diligent with my time and be responsible to prioritize and do what I can.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Emancipate Yourselves From Mental Slavery

Happy (Belated) Emancipation Day!

Jamaican Emancipation Day was celebrated yesterday on August 1st. I spent the day at the Reverend's house at a party for the United Church ministers in the area. There was lots of food, specializing in Jamaican delicacies such as Manish Water (aka Goat's Head Soup), Buzo (some shellfish soup), Rice and Peas (what we know as red beans & rice), Stewed Pork & Chicken, Fried Chicken, Jerk Pork, and some salads and fresh vegetables. Along with the food, there were games galore - many tables of dominoes, scrabble, video games (for the kids) and the like. The day sounds like it was a lot of fun, but really I was very lonely at the party. None of the guests either talked to me or invited me to play games with them. And since I love playing all sorts of games, it was particularly excruciating for me to just sit and watch people having fun together. At the very end of the day, around 5 p.m. (I was there since 10 a.m.), my friend Miss Davis invited me to play Scrabble with her and someone else, which was nice. But even that was frustrating because there were a couple of words that I wanted to play but couldn't play them because they were the American spelling. At least someone played a game with me but, overall, I was disappointed the whole day long. The consolation that came to me is that it is now AUGUST and my return to the US is close and, when I return, I can play games as much as I want and I will have a wealth of people with whom to play them with.

This coming Saturday is Jamaican Independence Day. I don't think there are any celebrations (at least, that I'm involved in) that will be going on that day, but there will be a baptism. This'll be the second baptism that I'll have gone to in Jamaica. The first was a few weeks ago. Both are held at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. and are done by immersion into a pool at a United Church conference center by the seaside.

Otherwise, things are winding down here for me. I am continuing to develop friendships that have begun within the past week. On Sunday night I had a fun conversation with four guys I have met at the soccer field who are all approximately around my same age. They were asking me all sorts of questions about what my life is like back home and what I thought the weirdest thing about Jamaica was (flying cockroaches, without a doubt) and just general getting to know each other.

I've begun my final paper and am nearly half-way done with it. There are some hard questions that I have to answer in order to evaluate how my time here has been, so I have not been taking the time I need to take in order to just get it done. I have begun reading for my last sermon, but have not had the time or inspiration just yet to write it. I believe I will preach on Isaiah 56:1-8. Otherwise, I have been continuing on with my normal duties. This morning the Reverend let us know that the normal visitation to people's homes Krista and I will do on our own from now on. This sounds fine to me...I enjoy doing them and have missed going to visit people in the past couple of weeks when our schedule was different with VBS and the Crusade and stuff. The only thing that gets to me is that you just show up uninvited, and this is hard for my American sensibilites to come to terms with. I just have to remember that Jamaicans like it if you just come over unannounced and that it is not rude.

I am feeling better - I don't feel like I have the flu anymore, but I do still get headaches. I think it may be allergies and the bright sun. Also, last night I had a full night of sleep and even went to bed early at 9:45 p.m. It felt great to wake up this morning!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Well, I fear that I have caught the flu

It's always something here in Jamaica. I still have peace about being here the remainder of my days (which is some gorgeous number like 18), but within the last few days I have been not feeling well physically.

It started with the fact that I cannot seem to fall asleep and, when I do, I wake up after a couple of hours. The thing is that it's not always the same thing that keeps me up. Sometimes I am just too unbearably hot, sometimes I cannot stop thinking, etc. Then, a couple of days ago, I started to feel lousy in the early afternoon into evening. Headache, itchy eyes, etc. I thought it may be allergies, but then my tummy also felt unsettled. So, I went to bed really early that night and the next day felt ok. But yesterday feeling lousy started again. Sore eyes, massive headache, sore throat, upset tummy, achy pain in my lower back and feeling both really hot and really cold at the same time. I usually feel fine in the daytime (only having the eye/headache problem), but it escalates into the night and I end up feeling very lousy.

I am not sure why the flu-like symptoms only occur at night. There is a chance that it is indeed a flu. Both the Bennetts were struck with the flu last week and it leveled them for the whole week. Plus, I have been around a few people this past week who were sick with the flu. So, it is likely that I could have picked it up. I just really hope that I didn't and that I get better. I have to finish things up here, which include writing another sermon and my final assessment paper (which I have started and am almost half-way done with) along with my other regular ministerial duties. Getting sick would not be good. But then again, I don't want to get sick when I get home, so maybe I should just get sick here and get it over with so that I can come home and have a nice three weeks before going back to school.

Anyhow, things are going better here. Within this past week, I have been told multiple times that the people in the community and in the church like having me here. This was shocking news to me...and shocking even that members of the community who I know (but who don't attend the church) are even asking me when I'll return to Jamaica, as if they actually want me to return. This is absolutely huge news to me.

I feel as if I passed some rite-of-passage in this past week and am now more on the "inside" than I was before this past week. Sometimes I go down and watch these young men play soccer on the community field (they play daily from 5:30-7p). I think there may be one who attends the church sometimes. Anyway, I figure it's nice to go out and do something instead of being inside and it's a way for me to learn about soccer, which I know very little about, and they're really good. They do cool things with their feet and the ball. Two days ago I went down to watch them play and they were still warming up and there were fewer of them that day. They told me to go and get my "boots" (which is what they call shoes here) and come down and play with them. I was dumb-founded because a.) I don't play soccer and I don't know how and they weren't bothered by that (when I said that I didn't know how to play, one of them responded with, "What's there to know? There's a football and a goal."), and b.) no other women play with them.

Then, later on that night, I was passing by the house of someone else I know in the community and I asked him if he was having a party because there were a lot of cars out front. He said he was having some friends over and asked if I would come in so he could introduce me to them. Before I knew it, I was being served dinner and dessert and was part of the party.

So, something is happening inbetween the members of the community, the church and myself. It is nice, but on the other hand it is frustrating because I feel that I worked hard at getting considered as an insider and now it's happening just as I am getting ready to go home. This all just makes leaving harder and more complicated in deciding whether to maintain friendships I made here or not. But, it is at least nice to see that my situation here has been redeemed in many ways as compared to how it was in the beginning.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Someone must have prayed for me yesterday

Someone must have prayed for me yesterday because last night I felt this peace about being here, thinking that I can make it through the coming twenty days or so, realizing that it can't be much more bad. Hopefully this peace will last because it felt really good when I realized it last night.

Even though I posted on Saturday about the interesting cab ride, we are back here in Ochi today and I thought that I'd post again since we are on the internet today. Krista and I are going to reserve a hotel room for the last two days of our stay here in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Look at the pictures on this one website, especially the fourth one down on the left. Does this not look fun?!

On Saturday Krista and I went to the Margaritaville here in Ochi after we saw the movie, and I was shocked to discover that they have a pool with a slide that you climb up to on the top of the restaurant and you can slide down into the pool that is in the eating/bar area. It looks really fun. Krista and I will plan on going back to eat there (and use the pool! and the slide!) sometime in the coming weeks. Eating there was like eating at a restaurant back home, and kinda gave me this weird sensation. It sort of felt like to me that the restaurant was mixing two different ideas of paradise, the island one of Jamaica and the commercialized one of America, and it just left me with a kind of weird feeling, like I wasn't in either place. But, my cheeseburger was really good and they have a pool and a slide and so I'll be back.

I have posted my second sermon, which I preached here on July 3rd. This one I had a really hard time finding inspiration for until the Thursday before I delivered the sermon. Whenever I think of this text, I think of KC because I know it's one of his favorite scriptures.

This week is back to somewhat regular duties. Tomorrow we're going to a children's orphanage called Pringle Home and then on a tour of a banana plantation, which sounds really interesting to me. Wednesday we'll be having our supervisory meeting with the reverend and then we're having a memorial service for the wife of the pastor who founded one of the churches, Immanuel. Thursday we'll probably do some visitation and Friday will be our normal day of preparation.

Sermon #2: Come To Me

Lectionary Text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. What appropriate words for us to hear this morning as we draw near to each other and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Come to me, all who labor. We are all workers in this room, whether we are young or old, employed or not. All of us are to work and labor for the Lord. When I hear the word “labor,” I think of hard work, work that does not cease, work that is taxing. In America, we have an annual holiday on the first Monday of September called Labor Day. This holiday is near and dear to me because I was born on it! Yes, my mother labored to deliver me into this world on the first Monday of September in 1978. Labor Day is a national holiday that all (or most) in America receive as vacation – a day of rest to take a break and a breather from how taxing, how laborious labor can be. I am thankful that my mother did not take a break from her special labor that first Monday of September in 1978.

The concept of work has been with us for a long time, since the fall of humankind in the garden. One of the results of the sin of humanity is that we are left to work and to toil in the tasks that are set before us. When Jesus called those from their ordinary jobs to be disciples, he was inviting them to join in the task of the harvest, to labor in the fields where the harvest is plentiful. Jesus was not leading his disciples to join him in a task that was free from labor. No, Jesus was leading the disciples to transfer their idea of work from their occupation and apply that idea of hard work from their profession onto their new calling; to go from being fishermen to being fishers of men, from being a tax collector to a people collector.

In the chapter before Jesus’ invitation for us to come to him as laborers, Jesus instructs his disciples about going out into the mission field by themselves, giving each of them the authority over unclean spirits, the ability to heal every disease and affliction. This is a new role for the disciples, but they have had the example of Jesus leading them, as he went about doing the same things in front of them as he proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven to be near.

Even so, I wonder how the disciples looked at and thought of the task set before them. When Jesus tells them to “proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.” (Matthew 10:7-10) What must the disciples have been thinking? Maybe Simon Peter, the one who was impulsive, the one who always jumped headfirst into things was ready to go. Sometimes this kind of impulsiveness is quite a gift when set before a big, heavy task. But not all of us are impulsive and, certainly, the rest of the disciples Jesus called did not have the identical personality and character of Peter. If I was a disciple and my previous profession was that of a fisherman, out on the sea, away from men, at one with the ocean, I would have a hard time knowing what to do with the mission that Jesus called me to. What would I, a fisherman, know about going to and fro, interacting with people, healing the sick, casting out demons? As a fisherman, I would only know how to cast out a line! Furthermore, I would have a hard time trying to wrap my mind around Jesus’ command to acquire no gold, no wealth, no possessions. Isn’t that the reason why we toil in the first place? And yet Jesus, this man who I’ve been following, this man who called me, who loves me, who was wiser than the teachers of the Law, who raised a girl to life, this man has not only called me to this task, but has also given me the authority to do it.

So the disciples set to work. And we must also and have also set to this same work that the disciples were called to long ago. This fishing of men is not an easy task, as I am sure we all can attest and witness to. And so we labor and we toil, working for Jesus, loving our neighbor. We do this work, this labor for the harvest in all that we do. We work for the Kingdom of God through this church, organizing committees, programs, outreaches – and also by other means in order to reach our brothers and sisters with the love and good news of Jesus Christ. But we also do this work as we go about in our neighborhood, as we go about working gin our jobs, as we care for our families and those around us as we live in gratefulness and thanksgiving seriously taking upon us the work that God has called us to do.

Come to me, all who are heavy laden. Our work, our toil brings heavy burdens upon us. When I think of a visual of someone or something being heavy laden, I think of the mythological god Atlas holding the world on his shoulders. I think of a donkey or a mule having pack after pack loaded upon it in order to travel with goods over rough terrain. I think of those Jamaicans I see from the road, carrying enormous bundles on their heads, that look quite heavy (and just look even heavier the hotter it gets).

The disciples, as they took up the work that Christ set upon them, knew what a heavy burden their task was. As Jesus explained their task, he also explained the persecution the disciples could expect at any moment during their journey. Jesus says to them plain and clear, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and synagogues and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:17-18) Jesus also says to them, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against their parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 10:21-22)

If I were a disciple, I would be heavy laden hearing and knowing what my call was and knowing what to expect as a consequence of it. Is Jesus crazy? Why would he be calling me to do something so disruptive, so risky? Why, I would wonder, could I expect these things if I am bearing the good news to people, if I was doing good things among them by healing the sick, casting out demons and cleansing lepers? The labor set before the disciples was not only difficult, but was also burdensome.

I think we Christians really relate to the burdens of the task that we are called to do. Our lives are full of so many things, and church and our call from the Lord to make disciples of people just adds more burden. Working together, devising schemes, devoting ourselves to these tasks is not at all easy and quickly becomes burdensome for us as we fill our lives and our time with more than we can bear. And when we are pushed to that point, it is all too easy for us to be pulled into becoming selfish with the tasks that we have. Either we are too proud to give up what we cannot bear, or we totally dissolve our involvement completely from everything we are to work at. We end up bearing the burdens ourselves.

But Jesus says to the disciples, Jesus says to us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Rest. Who among us cannot picture a scene that is completely restful? Some may picture rest as relaxing in nature, lying upon a beach, listening to the sound of the waves. Those of us who are less into nature may picture our bedroom as our own haven of rest, prepared in such a way as to promote us into relaxation in order to be rejuvenated for the coming day’s toil.

But Jesus says, “Come to me…and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) As Jesus says this to his disciples, he has just finished his discourse to them regarding their mission as they are sent out into the world. The disciples were Jews, lived among Jews, and as Jesus called them to their mission, they were to go about ministering to the lost sheep of Israel. As Jews, the disciples had to measure up not just to Jesus’ call, but also the Law. The Law was designed to help people to live (the Law, or Torah, means “instruction” or “teaching” in Hebrew). But the Law strayed so far from its intention that some Jews came to see it as burdensome and oppressive.

When Jesus says to them, “Come to me…and I will give you rest,” this is a statement of grace. The disciples are having thing after thing piled upon them – the Law, the work, the burden. Jesus is not taking away their work or the burden from it, but he proclaims that if they come to him, he will teach them, he will lead them. With his help, the work becomes easy, the burden becomes light.

When Jesus says that this generation is like children in the marketplace who sing, “We played the flute for you and you did not dance, we sang a dirge and you did not mourn,” (Matthew 11:17) he is illustrating to the disciples that no matter what, they will face rejection. John the Baptist came proclaiming the Kingdom and he was too straight. Jesus came and he was regarded as too loose. Rejection will come, burdens will come, but the disciples are not under the yoke of the law, they are under Jesus’ yoke of grace.

No matter what, some will reject the message. Some will not want the good news that we bear, no matter how great or successful whatever program we can devise to proclaim the message is. Jesus is not taking our task away just because of these people. Instead, he is giving us grace as we try to do the work he has called us to do. So as we prepare our hearts to be in communion with Jesus and all believers from every time and place, let us remember that we cannot do the work he has called us to alone. We need not to be under our own yokes, but instead we need to be under Jesus’ yoke because it is he who works through us. Take upon his yoke, for his yoke is easy, his burden is light.


Saturday, July 23, 2005

An Interesting Cab Ride

VBS is now finished and nothing much changed since I last posted about it, other than I don't have to show up next week and do the same thing. On one hand that is frustrating to me - the relationships I worked hard at forming this week now have little meaning, other than to see the kids on the side of the road, but on the other hand, it'll be nice to go back to the regular routine of visitations, etc.

Since I have nothing new to say about things ministry-wise for this post, I will impart to you an interesting/funny cab ride that Krista and I took a couple of weeks ago. Krista and I, to get to and from Ochi, usually take a cab and we try to either take Mr. Harris or Cartoon's cab because they are safe drivers (most of the cab drivers really are not safe at all).

On this particular day, we were riding back from Ochi to Boscobel Heights (where we live) in Mr. Harris' cab. Krista was in the front, and I was in the back with two other people. The lady in the back of the cab with me asked me what I was doing here, and I said I was studying to be a minister and pretty much left it at that. I was hot, tired and quiet after a long day in Ochi on my day off. As we were riding down the road, this same lady was arguing with the man next to her about something, but I wasn't paying attention. Then, out of nowhere, she turns to me and said something like, "If you're a minister, can you explain to me why bad things happen to good people?! And why jerks like this guy next to me prosper while I, a good person, am always struggling for money??" I really, sincerely wanted to say, "Look, today is my day off," but instead I said something like about how people sin and everyone's sin affects the people around them and stuff like that, and how there is more to prospering than just wealth. I was frustrated with the ordeal because how could I even begin to answer a question like that in a cab ride, especially when she was getting out of the cab in five more minutes? That is a huge question, and one that I don't even think she really wanted an answer for because she wasn't even listening to the answer I was giving her. Did she sincerely think I had an answer and that's why she asked me, or did she just want to air her frustration?

So, that was the interesting part of the cab ride. Now it gets funny. Both the lady and the guy got out of the cab at the same place, so it was just Mr. Harris, Krista and I in the cab. Previously, we had learned that Mr. Harris' wife is abroad, and so Krista asked him if his wife was back. Meanwhile, in the back seat, I heard Krista ask him if his wife was black, which I thought was really weird because it seems that almost everyone in Jamaica is black. But Mr. Harris heard something completely different. He responded to her, "Well....I mean, she's short...." And then Krista, puzzled, said, "Well...yes, but has she come back from being abroad?" It turns out that Mr. Harris heard Krista ask him if his wife was fat, which is a very common statement here in Jamaica. Jamaicans have no qualms with calling people fat. None at all. They are, in fact, very blatant about it.

It was an interesting ride, one that still puzzles me with regard to what I should have said to that lady and one that still makes me laugh and laugh and laugh when I think of Mr. Harris' answer, "Well...she's short..."

This afternoon Krista and I are going to the matinee at the theatre to see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Air-conditioning and a chance to escape for two hours sounds great to me.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The week is almost finished

I only have one more VBS class to go to. This week has gotten somewhat easier than Monday, although not really...I think it just sorta depends on my patience level of the day...some days you win and some days you lose and I think today I lost.

Tuesday was the worst day. My class went up from 10 to 15 students, adding only more hoodlems than nice youth. Now, to put this into perspective, I like youth and, to an extent, I even like hoodlems. I asked specifically to be with the teenagers because I like teenagers, even with all of their faults. I've worked with teenagers at church for a really long time (8 or 9 years or so) and I'm used to them and stuff. I'm into youth ministry, I've read a lot about it, I've practiced it, etc. My church has even seen fit to pay me to be their youth director a couple of times. So, I like it and I'm good at it. When I asked to teach the teenagers, everyone laughed at me or raised their eyebrows at me and thought I was weird that I would request that age, since no one in the church likes them. The younger children are all frightened of the teenagers and the older people are all very distrustful of them, I think somewhat without reason. Most of the boys (of the ~15, about 10 are hoodlem boys) are harmless really.

So, Tuesday. I had to register the newest 5 boys, which involves getting information that they do not want to give, like their name. Getting the information was an ordeal in itself and by the time that I had finished getting the information, I probably reached the peak of my patience. After that, since Monday went so horribly, I thought I'd start it out with a game, then do a lesson, then do another game and then maybe the time would be filled out more. So, I tried to teach them this one game, but not one of them cooperated or participated. Then some of the boys just got up and left and when I asked them where they were going, they said they were going to go and pick mangoes, which I thought might be a euphemism for smoking, but turned out to be a legitimate claim to go and pick mangoes. So, I was even more frustrated and I decided to just go into the lesson since that wasn't working. So, I started teaching and I got about one and a half questions into my lesson and that wasn't working, either. Nothing was working. I had split them into groups and that wasn't working, so I called them back together and tried to have the whole group talk about the lesson and all of the new boys were completely disruptive. Finally, I had reached my peak and I got very angry and I told all of the new boys to leave and I would not continue with things until they left. There was no point in them being there, and they were causing more harm than good. So, I told them to leave and they wouldn't. After I told them three times, I told them that I was then going to leave and go back to another area around the church (our class is held at the under-construction community center and field across the street) and if they actually wanted to learn they could follow me, but if not, they could just do whatever they wanted, but I was not about to put up with them. At that point, I expected that none of them would follow me, but was shocked to see that all followed me (except for two) to the new area under this tree at church and were very silent and well behaved that afternoon. Our theme is about serving for VBS this week, and we were talking that day about whom we are supposed to serve, and so that lesson actually went very well, especially when talking about barriers that divide people. We also spent some time talking about barriers that divide them and me and I felt very good about that lesson afterward.

Wednesday came and I showed up and I didn't think that I would have any students that day, but I was surprised to see that I had 16 students and surprised to see that one of the girls purposely sat her chair next to me. That was a little bit shocking to me. The students were just as disruptive and non-participatory for yesterday's lesson, but my patience level was restored, so I shrugged it off. I am not sure if they are learning anything at all. I am not even sure if they even know what it means to serve God. Since Jamaica is essentially a Christian country, I find that everyone has the rote answers, and talks a lot about God, but I find that there's little to no depth in the relationship people have with God here and how they use their faith.

Today my patience was a little bit thin, but I didn't blow up. Today I had 18 students and no helper. I think I am doing pretty well for having to manage about ~13 hoodlem boys and ~5 girls without any help. Our lesson today was "When to serve" and we talked about the story Jesus tells in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats, and how the sheep help those in need and the goats don't, and how when you do something to others, you really do it to Jesus. As usual, the students really didn't get the passage, and so I tried to help them to understand it as best I could and I asked them about it, how they felt about the story. It can be a hard story to like because it's pretty harsh - the sheep go to heaven and the goats go to hell, and a lot of people have a hard time with that concept. I was surprised to hear that some of them liked the story because they are very interested to know more about heaven and hell, so I thought to myself, "Finally!" Finally, something they're interested in! So, I tried to discuss that a little bit more with them and it was going somewhat well to a point and then all of a sudden, mass confusion broke out and from what I could understand in their quick Patois speak, they were arguing about whether or not mermaids were real. Everything degenerated pretty quickly from there and they were just shouting at each other. And then all of a sudden, they wanted to have a freestyle contest and they all were about to get up and move their chairs so that there could be stage for the contest and then one of them, Miguel (the oldest/somewhat the leader) stops and asks me, "Miss," (they all call me "Miss") he says, "Miss, is the lesson over?" I thought this was a hilarious question and I said I guess. Talking about whether or not mermaids were real was not really part of my lesson plan, so I guess you could say that the lesson was over.

So, I only have one more day, and then the schedule goes back to normal next week, and I think next week is when I have to start writing my final paper, so that thought just makes me get somewhat excited because it is yet another sign that the end is in sight. Today Krista and I discovered a pseduo mall and a movie theatre in town, so I think we're going to go to a matinee tomorrow. That will be a welcome diversion because, frankly, going to the beach for a swim is getting pretty old.