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.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Should I give up expecting things to get better?

Well, we made it through Hurricane Emily just fine. The hurricane passed south of the island and, although some of the southern parishes had some flooding and loss of electricity, the parish I am staying in is just fine and was completely dry on Sunday, the day after. It seems that I am in a good location when it comes to hurricanes and such - if I were to the south or east more, I would probably have more problems when coming to that stuff.

Crusade is over, as of last night. They went out with a bang - they turned the volume up considerably louder (because, clearly, it was not loud enough the previous nights) and the preacher who spoke was actually intelligent and had a message prepared that was theologically correct and he didn't even scream it out. It was loud because of the amplification, but was very even-keeled.

Just as I thought that things would be looking up, now that Crusade is over and Vacation Bible School has started, I find that I should give up such hope. It seems that it is just one thing after another in this place. This time, it is that no one is prepared for the children who are coming to us daily this week, expecting us to teach them about God and let them have a fun time and stuff. We didn't have one meeting to prepare as a church for VBS (we only went to one training and it was to go through the curriculum and was, to be frank, a complete waste of time). So, I was told to come early this morning before VBS started at 9 a.m. so that we could meet and - oh, I don't know, go over how they want me to do VBS, since, you know, I've never taught VBS in this country before and I'm not even sure what they usually do, and all I have is the curriculum. Well, so I arrived at 8:15 and waited for 45 minutes until the women running VBS showed up to the church at 9 a.m., wondering who had keys to open the church. I was very frustrated that I was asked to come early and they couldn't bother to come because it was too hard to wake up.

Well, since they showed up on time for VBS, we had to spend the first half-hour preparing the church with the spare VBS materials that they had so that we could get this show on the road. I can't tell you how frustrated I was and how many times I thought to myself, "Don't despair - you have less than one month less in this place." (Granted, it is one day less than a month, but just saying the phrase helps considerably.) So, we had a short devotion and sang one song over and over again approximately 7 times and then we were all excused to our various classes. I am in charge of the teenagers (13-17), who seem already to be disappointed that they have the white girl teaching them. So I go over and do introductions and I almost cannot even make it through introductions because they are so unruly and all speak so quickly that I cannot understand one word that they say - it literally sounds like a foreign language, not like English at all. Finally, I make it through the introductions/registration procedure with the 10 students, and start to teach the lesson. Took some time to read the passage, after they finally quieted down because I yelled at them to, and then went through the lesson, which lasted all of 30 to 45 minutes. I now had the next 2:30 hours to keep them occupied while we waited for the time to be over and have lunch together. I taught them how to play this game called trainwreck, which they REALLY liked, but we could really only play that game for so long - say 45 minutes. Then we tried to play this other game, but they tired of that very quickly. They aren't really into arts and crafts, so we couldn't do something like that, and even if they were, we don't really have the resources to do something like that. So, for at least an hour to an hour and a half we just sat around. Some are way into hip-hop ("it's a way of life") and so they sat there playing songs on their cell phones and then freestyling/doing headstands (which is actually very cool to watch them to do).

It was the longest 3 hours of my life, and I don't know if I can go back and do it for the rest of the week. Later on, I asked the Jamaican VBS veterans what they usually do for the three hours with the students, and they all shrugged and said that they usually made things up. This made me even angrier. Sometimes I feel like I am being set up to fail here, and I know that Krista feels this much stronger (and with reason), but sometimes I feel it, too. But then I wonder, do they even care if I succeed or fail? Or, is it just that everything here is mediocre and they can't even imagine something being efficient or successful.

Friday, July 15, 2005

One month and two days left

Incredible. Can't wait to come home.

I am writing earlier this week because tomorrow it is anticipated that Hurricane Emily will hit Jamaica. I looked a bit ago and saw that it is a Category 3/4, so it is stronger than Dennis was. Jamaica is supposed to be hit, but at least the anticipated path looks like it's going to be directly south of Jamaica. Again, Jamaicans are not at all worried about the impending threat, so I am going to earnestly try this time to be less worried and enjoy playing dominoes on the porch in the wind and rain. There is a group of about 30 from Connecticut who are expected to come tomorrow to work with the church this coming week on some Habitat for Humanity homes going up somewhat close by, so I wonder if they'll even be able to come in. Tomorrow will surely be interesting for me.

This week we've been having our Crusade. I have been very disheartened with it, especially earlier this week. Unfortunately, I am finding that the sermons that are being preached are very shallow, not too theologically correct (one of the ministers was proclaiming that "God helps those who help themselves"), and are REALLY loud because the preachers insist that the only way these principles can be communicated is through shouting. One night, Monday, I believe, I was really upset because there were a bunch of the church members who got caught up into a "spirit" frenzy and I just really have a hard time believing that it was the actual Spirit who was working in the midst of them. Jamaicans love their TBN and broadcast religious services about healing and stuff, and sometimes I'm afraid that they might think that in order to be Christian, one must shake uncontrollably or speak in tounges or whatever. Not that those things don't happen in Christianity, but I think there is a difference when it happens because in this case, it seemed very...planned, which is a shame.

So...the Crusade has helped to contribute to what has been long days this week because the services "start" at 7 (people don't show up until at least 7:30 p.m. and even then, the music doesn't really even start until 7:50) and last until about 10:30 p.m. I think it is incredibly rude for the church to be broadcasting these loud services to the community on loud speakers, especially since they go so late at night. It just seems so intrusive to the people who choose not to go to the Crusade for whatever reason. I notice that I have to watch my words when church members ask me how I like the Crusade. At first I said it was nice, but that's lying, really, and I feel bad about doing that. Now I mostly say that I think the preachers are too loud and talk to quickly for me, which is true, but the Jamaicans tend to say when they hear this response that it is a cultural thing because they actually like this kind of preaching.

Yesterday Krista and I were excused from attending the Crusade meeting, which was wonderful. We went to an all-day denominational meeting called Council, which is like Presbytery (if you're familiar with the Presbyterian governmental structure), where the pastors and some elders from a given region meet to discuss denominational and church issues. Usually I like meetings like this, but I feel so distant from what is going on around here that I found I could not focus except for on things that dealt directly with the churches I am working with. The meeting was really long (6 hours), was two hours away in the parish of Portland, and as soon as we came back, we had to meet with a lay committee to talk about how Krista and I do while preaching and leading worship (the committee never realized - only one person, Mr. Bennett, showed up), so we were excused from going to the Crusade that night. Instead, Krista and I hung out at my house and we watched TV (the Bennetts have cable, so we watched some shows on NBC) and it was glorious to just be alone and to be able to relax.

Assuming that Emily doesn't come or doesn't destroy the normal way of life, I will be teaching Vacation Bible School (VBS) next week to teenagers. I am somewhat excited about this, because I feel like I can connect with that group, but I am also nervous because I usually can connect well with people and it just doesn't seem to be happening here in Jamaica, so next week may be horrible. Consequently, I am not sure if I'll be able to use the internet this coming Monday, so I may not be posting for a week or so. Not sure.

Hope all is well back home for everyone.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Give me an earthquake over a hurricane any day of the week

As you may have heard, Hurricane Dennis was our main attraction this past week. As of the Tuesday before, I had heard that the hurricane was headed straight for Jamaica and all I heard about was the incredible destruction that would occur from it, as the island is fresh with experience from Hurrican Ivan last year. They were telling me tales of how they didn't have lights or water for three weeks afterward, but they're Jamaicans, so this didn't seem to bother them much at all. Me, on the other hand, I didn't like hearing this at all and really didn't want this storm to come. Meanwhile, everyone was shocked that I haven't been through a hurricane yet and Joyce (Mrs. Bennett), thought it was incredible that California doesn't get hurricanes, only fire and earthquakes. The morning of the storm I woke up and had breakfast and then went back to bed to read some. I came back downstairs after about a half an hour to find not only three visitors (a neighbor from down the street, a cab driver named Cartoon and his girlfriend, a chain-smoker), but also heard about the bombings in London and watched extensive news coverage on that. The Bennetts have two children still in London who use that very exit to go to work at that very time in the morning, and hadn't been able to reach their children to see if they were alive or not. So, as the preparation for disaster sunk in and as I watched how horrible we humans treat each other, I began to get very sad and very homesick and I just really wanted to go home. So, my eyes started to tear and Mr. Bennett looks at me and he says to me, "Are you crying? Don't cry, I'll protect you! This is what your faith is for!" And so I realized that it is indeed what my faith is for and I tried to get over it. Later on that afternoon, I ended up playing dominoes outside on the porch in the middle of the hurricane and did pretty well. Who plays dominoes outside on a porch during a hurricane? Jamaicans.

Anyway, even though I didn't fully go through a hurricane, I have to say that I don't like this whole "you know destruction is going to come and that's why hurricanes are better than earthquakes" attitude. Give me an earthquake any day of the week. Thankfully, Dennis missed Jamaica (unfortunately, it hit Cuba hard, I heard, and who knows about Florida) and didn't give us too much damage to deal with, and we only had to use our tank water for a day before they turned the water back on and the electricity never went out.

This past week was pretty low-key, I think probably because of the hurricane/weather. I have been noticing, though, that the Jamaicans are very gracious in me moving houses. People have asked where I am living now and if I am happy, but seem to pose no judgement on me or the Francises, really, for having moved houses. I am actually really amazed at this, but also very thankful. It is also nice for people to say that they are even noticing a difference in me, a happier Jenny (Krista), etc. Things are not anywhere near to perfect now, but they are better, and having this new living situation helps me to have an easier time dealing with the imperfections that come up.

I posted my first sermon below. It is long for the blog, but actually not a very long sermon at all. I hope, if you read it, it is meaningful in some way to you.

Yesterday I led worship for the first and only time, which involved planning the service then getting up in front of the congregation and leading people in singing, praying, reading, etc. I've done the reading and praying thing before, but singing is a different matter. I thought that service was horrible and so did Krista, but then again we also worshipped at the one church that both of us have a really hard time at and have since the first day because it is just so lifeless. There was actually a commotion during part of it, and I didn't find out until later that someone fainted at the beginning and had to be taken to the hospital.

As of yesterday, this week begins our Crusade, six nightly meetings at the church to evangelize to the neighborhood. The whole service is broadcast on loudspeakers for all in the community to hear. I have a hard time with the idea of services like this and wondered at some of the theology that was going on last night, at least. I think that with services like this, there tends to be less follow-through with the people who decide to follow Jesus. And following Jesus is not a one time decision, it is a lifetime committment, and I just don't see people from the church following up to help these people along life's rough road. So, that's one of my problems. But then my other problem with this type of service is that it seems to be more for ourselves than for God, with people patting themselves on the back for finding non-Christians and then saving them so that they can have jewels on their crown in heaven. Certainly, as a Christian, I believe that there is much to be found in the Christian faith and is worthy for people who aren't Christians to look at and explore and see if they can grow closer to God, but at the same point, I just think that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that God is actively pursuing us and we just have to be open to him and instead think that it is all about winning souls to Christ and that's it. It just seems very shallow to me, and so I really am very curious to see the outcome of this week and how the church plans on discipling the people who choose to follow Jesus.

I guess that is all for this week. Thank you all for your prayers, and keep on praying, please. :)

Sermon 1: No Take-backs

Lectionary Text: Genesis 22:1-18

Our text this morning is indeed a familiar text to many of us – the binding of Isaac, or the sacrifice of Isaac, as it is also called. This text is so famous because of the sheer drama that it offers to its readers. If we take the story from the beginning of the text, we see that we do not quite have the full story if we merely consider only these verses. No, the text leads us when it opens with the words, “After these things…” (22:1), we are to ask ourselves, “After what things?”

Abraham, the great patriarch to our faith, has much written about his life before these verses. At the beginning of his narrative in Genesis 12, we learn that Abraham, then Abram, is about 75 years old and that Sarai, his wife, is barren. Abram has no children to pass his lineage on to. So, when the Lord calls to Abram and tells him to “GO” and to follow the Lord to a land the Lord has for him, it is risky, but a great deal for Abram because in return the Lord offers to “make Abram into a great nation and the Lord will bless him and make his name great, so that he will be a blessing…and in Abram all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (13:2-3)

If we fast-forward to chapter 15, we see Abram interacting with God again. Abram is still childless and seriously questions the Lord because he has followed God and has not yet received his promised reward. Again God gives Abram the promise that his heirs will be more numerous than the number of stars in the sky. Sarai, anxious for God’s promise to Abram to be fulfilled, takes the matter into her own hands, and has Abram conceive a child with his servant Hagar because, surely, Sarai thinks, the Lord cannot work within her barrenness.

If only Sarai knew to place her trust fully in the Lord, all of their lives would have been much easier. You see, jealousy and pride sprung between Sarai and Hagar because of Hagar’s ease of conception of Ishmael, Abram’s first son with his servant. As we continue reading, we see that in chapter 17, the next time God interacts with Abram, his promise to provide an heir to Abram is yet unfulfilled, but not forgotten. The Lord renames Abram to AbraHam, adding an H to his name to signify the breath of life [exhale] that the Lord will blow into Abraham’s descendants, as the Lord did when he first created humanity. And so we see God promising to give Sarai a child in her womb and also renaming her to SaraH, giving her the breath of life [exhale] to her name, as well. Fast-forward yet again and we see the Lord fulfilling the first promise to Abraham, which was to give him an heir, Isaac, in whom the second part of the Lord’s promise to Abraham will be fulfilled, to make Abraham the father of many nations, in whom all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.

Since we are still considering “After these things…”, the first words of our passage this morning, it is important to note just one more thing that happens before we see the severity with which Abraham finds himself in our text. Just after Isaac is born, Sarah kicks Ishmael and Hagar out of their home into the wilderness with only one skin of water. Abraham is disturbed with this because of his son Ishmael, but God reassures Abraham by saying, “Do not be displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah tells you to do, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also because he is your offspring.” (21:12-13) So, now Abraham is left with his one son, Isaac, the son of the Lord’s promise.

These are the things that we need to consider and hold in our minds as we continue reading on in our text this morning. We, the narrator and the reader, are told that God is now about to test Abraham, but Abraham is unaware of this as he hears the Lord say to him, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering.” (22:2) We can almost hear Abraham’s heart drop like ours as we hear this message and can imagine the conversation between the Lord and Abraham going something like this:

The Lord said to Abraham, “Take your son.”

And Abraham would reply, “…But I have two sons…”

And the Lord would say, “Your favored one.”

And Abraham would reply, “…But I favor them both…”

And the Lord would say all too clearly, “Take your son Isaac, the one you love, and give him up as a burnt offering to me.”

The Lord’s words were decidedly clear. This had to set Abraham reeling. His only other son, Ishmael, had just been kicked out for good and his son Isaac is the one through whom God has just promised to fulfill his promise to Abraham. Abraham has got to be wondering just what exactly God is doing and why all of this is happening after things were now finally straightened out. The Lord is asking him to give up his promise.

I have read this story and heard this story countless times. It is a powerful one to me, one with many messages embedded within the text. No matter my experience with the story up to this point, I don’t think I can fully grasp what the Lord is telling Abraham to do until I become a mother. I have no doubt that those of you in the congregation who are parents have a much deeper understanding of the enormity and severity of Abraham’s situation. Abraham is being told to give up more than a trifle in his life. He is being asked to sacrifice his son – to kill not only his flesh and blood, but also his livelihood; to abolish all of his dreams for the future, to take the life of the one he loves.

How many of us can identify with Abraham? How many of us have been asked to do something so extreme by our Lord? In all likelihood, not many of us have been in such a dire position. One of the theological thoughts about this text is that it is a treatise about how the Judeo-Christian God does not desire or require human sacrifice. But beyond the literal reading of human sacrifice in this text, I believe that each of us can have an understanding about what the underlying demand of the text is.

The Lord is asking Abraham to totally give up all of his goals and desires, all of his hopes and all of his dreams, all that he loves and all that he holds dear. Each of us has something we continually hold back from the Lord. Either we lie to ourselves and think that our omniscient God has no knowledge of our guarded secret, or we lead brazenly hypocritical lives when we declare we give our whole selves to God and yet do the very opposite. These dark places of our soul take on different form and volume in each of us. Maybe we have an addictive habit, maybe we have a dream we are unable to give up. Maybe we are unwilling to give up our finances or the comfort of our lives. Maybe we refuse to forgive someone who has hurt us considerably.

Just as the Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, so the Lord also asks us to sacrifice all that we are and all that we have. It would be audacious for someone to demand that we sacrifice our whole selves to him or her, but it is not audacious for the Lord to demand all of us. You see, all that we are, all that we have, is the Lord’s. To quote Job, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

And so it is with resolve that we see Abraham responding to the Lord’s call. The text says that Abraham rose early in the morning to set about to God’s call. The text, however, is silent about the night before. I imagine Abraham is restless and spends the whole night tossing and turning, questioning if it is truly the Lord’s call, wondering why God would want to take his promise away from him, dreading that the next day he would have to kill his son. Early the next morning, as he sets about the tasks for their journey, it seems he has decided to follow the Lord, but the text is yet again silent with regard to his attitude about following God’s call. In this moment, is Abraham able to say, like Job, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord?”

Regardless of his feelings and desires, Abraham sets out, obedient to the Lord’s call. When Isaac asks where the lamb is for the offering, we hear Abraham say that God will provide the lamb. Does Abraham believe his own claim? Maybe…maybe not. Maybe it is just something to say, some answer to give when he doesn’t have any answers and doesn’t know why the Lord is taking away his promise. The important thing is that Abraham presses on in obedience, knowing that it is not for him to keep what is not truly his.

At the conclusion of the story, we see that Abraham has passed the test. God calls to him just as he thinks all is lost as he places Isaac on the altar and raises his knife. God calls to him and says, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” (22:12) Abraham lifts his eyes and sees that God did indeed provide, giving him a ram to sacrifice in place of his son, in place of his promise.

God’s promise to Abraham, to give him an heir and more descendants than stars in the sky or sand on the seashore, and that through Abraham’s descendants all peoples of the earth will be blessed remains true and is not taken away. While Abraham probably feared that he could have lost all that he had, he finds that God is benevolent and merciful, blessing not only himself, taking care not only of his needs, but also taking the opportunity to care for all peoples in this one promise.

The Lord Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) You see, we are not our own. We are God’s; everything we have is God’s. The Lord calls each of us to give ourselves to himself totally. Not in part, but in whole.

Reverend Samuels has told Krista that your congregation’s theme for this year is stewardship. This is the very heart of stewardship! We are but managers of the gifts, talents and resources that God has given us. They are not ours to horde, they are ours to use in community with each other. When we horde them, that is when God’s good gifts to us spoil and become perverted, turning into a fraction of their value and potential.

God is asking us to give up all that we have in order to make us fully all that we are. Be quiet and listen to the Lord. What is God telling you to do? What is the Lord asking you to give? Consider these things prayerfully and thoughtfully. Who is the true owner of what you are being asked to give? What will you lose if you give it up?

Give, and give of your whole selves joyfully to the Lord. For what we have is his and what we know is this: our God is a good God who lovingly and lavishly bestows gifts to his people, without end.


Monday, July 04, 2005

Just call me Krista

...because everyone else here does. Apparently, we look too much alike.

Anyhow, things are SO much better. I have moved this past week to Mr. & Mrs. Bennett's house in the same community. The Bennetts are in their 60s or 70s and are Jamaicans, but lived in London for about 30 something years, so I am learning some British customs while in Jamaica as well (like they call desert "afters"). I like very much interacting with Mr. Bennett. He is very much a character and will go about the house saying that he is "the odd man" for various things. He is teaching me how to play dominoes (we make a very good team), and teaching me British and Patois slang and occassionally gives me some rum, but makes me promise not to tell the "vicar" or anyone in America because he doesn't want to get me into trouble. I think the Bennetts would get along very nicely with my family, and so because of that, I feel so at much so that sometimes I get annoyed that I have to go out to do my ministerial duties because I'd rather stay home and hang out with the Bennetts.

I love the Bennetts. I cannot tell you how night and day the difference is in my experience here now that I am living with them. I think the greatest thing I've learned so far is how much your living circumstances color everything else that you do when you interact with the world. I have not cried at all since moving, I am enjoying being here, enjoying being with the people, etc., and I think it's all due to my living circumstances. Thank you all for your prayers and support - I needed it so much during this past month to help me get through it all. To an extent, I feel like I had to struggle to receive my "birthright" (see Jacob of Jacob and Esau in Genesis in the Old Testament), to be placed somewhere where I could flourish in this internship instead of being placed somewhere that made me hate being here. I still miss home, and am so curious how everyone is spending today (the 4th of July), but I now believe I can make it through the rest of my stay here and am actually content to be here for awhile.

I preached for the second time yesterday. I was quite nervous most of last week because by Thursday I still hadn't received any inspiration to talk about my text (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30), but on Thursday afternoon while I was at the longest service EVER (4 hours), I got an idea for the sermon midway through the service, and started writing it down during the midst of it all, and actually wrote 2/3 of the sermon right there. I just had to finish it off on Friday and practiced it on Saturday. I think, through this experience where writing this time was much tougher than the first time, I learned that inspiration will come if you trust, have faith, and keep with the same text (instead of constantly changing it in order to force inspiration). I delivered the sermon yesterday at the other church, and found myself sweating so much (I didn't take my sweat rag up with me - you constantly need a sweat rag here in Jamaica) that I was dripping sweat on my sermon manuscript. The preaching went well, and I tried to slow it down a bit as I preached this time, but I think I still talked too quickly. The next and final time I will preach is the last Sunday I am here, so for now it's slow-down time when it comes to that stuff, as we have new things to work on. Not this week, but the week after will be our Crusade, where we will have evangelistic services each evening. Jamaicans like crusades, and will attend their own church's and other church's just because they like them. I can't say that I like them too much, but maybe I will change. Then, the week after Crusade is Vacation Bible School, and a group from Connecticut will also come down and work on building houses for Habitat for Humanity. So, I think these coming weeks of July will go by quite quickly.

As per Susan's request, I will post my sermons on here next week or the week after - I will have to retype them because the computer I used doesn't have a working disk drive or a USB hook-up.

Well, I have to go because Krista has been waiting for me to finish, and I feel so bad that I always take at least twice as much time on the internet as she. Before we came to town today, we went to Dolphin Cove because it has always been her dream to swim with the Dolphins, which you can do there (for a price). It is not my dream to swim with the Dolphins at all (and, by Dolphins, I mean the mammals, not the Miami Dolphins), so I stood by the side and took pictures for a bit and then lounged on the beach and read a book for a time. I can't see right now, but I think my face is sunburnt (it feels that way) - my sunblock must have washed off in the large amounts of sweat I perspire. Even though I am quite sure it is very warm at home, at least I don't have to carry a sweat rag along with me everywhere I go.

Hope everyone is enjoying their July 4th and has fun plans to see fireworks. Wish I could be there, but as it stands, I am content to be here for the next six or seven weeks, which is not something I could have said last week. Praise God for helping my situation to change. Thank you all so much for your prayers and support.