Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Daughters


“I’m exhausted,” they said in unison. It was said on two separate sides of town. One in a home made of wooden beams, straw mats and clay and one a makeshift house of odds and ends since the money for a real home had been lost long ago.

“I’m exhausted. But I think there’s one more thing I’d like to try.”

Seriously? Seriously.

“I’ve heard of a man, a teacher and he might be able to help.”
Jairus’ wife protested. “Jesus?! You’ve got to be kidding. You would risk your reputation, and our livelihood by going to Jesus?”
“If it would heal our daughter, yes. I would risk it all to petition that man.”

Anyone who lays down their life for their brother…

The hemorrhaging woman whispered to her sister. “There’s the teacher, he’s coming into town, they say. I’m going to see him.”
“Give up child,” her sister chided. “You’ve lost everything already and if anyone in that crowd recognizes you, you could lose your life too.”
“If I could just get close enough to touch him…”
“Touch him? You’re not even supposed to be touching me. I’ve got to go wash this dress now cause I let you cry your tears on my shoulder. You’re dying honey. Give it up. Die in peace.”

She who has the faith of a mustard seed…

One had plenty of money for doctors offering a plethora of prescriptions to heal his sick daughter. One had used every penny she had searching for a cure. One wasn’t supposed to be seen talking to the teacher because of his powerful position in the temple, let alone prostrating himself before Jesus begging for help. The other wasn’t supposed to be seen in public because of her illness, let alone bumping shoulders with people in a crowd. One risked pledging allegiance to Jesus and ruining his own reputation all the while giving credit to Jesus’. “Even that Synagogue leader went to Jesus, remember?” The other risked contaminating Jesus, polluting him with her uncleanliness. “Even that hemorrhaging woman touched him, remember?”

As if his reputation could be enlightened or his holiness compromised by a couple of human hands. ☺

If the unnamed hemorrhaging woman and Jairus the Synagogue leader told anybody, they were both probably discouraged from approaching Jesus, yet both did.

Faith will make you do things you never thought possible.

Jairus went boldly, publicly and fell down on his face in front of Jesus. Prostrate before him he cried, “Please sir. I know you can heal her.” The hemorrhaging woman went anonymously, slipping in with the crowd silently shouldering her way to the front and then down she went to the ground, perhaps already bent over from pain, and grasped for a moment the edge of his garment before she was pushed out of the way. Lots of people crowded in to see Jesus. They parted ways for Jairus the synagogue leader, but trampled the humoring woman already cowering near the ground.

“Someone touched me!” Jesus cried out and stopped, halting the crowd of people around him as they bumped into him and each other like dominos.

“Ya think?” replied the disciples. “This place is a mad house. There’re people everywhere. Come on Jesus. Keep going, this guy’s kid is sick.”

“No, someone touched me.” Jesus said again and the woman rose up from among the people. Standing tall now, the pain gone, the bleeding stopped she knew he was talking about her. She could feel the change in her body, and while it might have just been her fear, something in her soul felt changed too. “It was me, sir.”

I imagine the crowd stepped back. Now they’d all be deemed unclean if she’d been among them. That was the lady who carried the ostrich egg in a linen rag in summer and a cotton rag in winter. For a whole year she’d done that! Most of them had seen her, trying all the Talmud’s remedies to heal her sickness. And the ones who hadn’t were soon getting the story as whispered gasps of amazement and disgust rippled through the crowd.

“Daughter,” Jesus said to her. Daughter? I thought the daughter was the kid they were going to heal. Is she here? Or was Jesus calling this poor, sick woman “Daughter?” The crowd’s whispers simmered to silence. “Daughter, go and be free.”

There was no need to go to the temple and present a sacrifice for cleanliness like the man healed in the story before this one for the woman’s disease didn’t necessitate it. And there was no need to stand before Jesus embarrassed for her belief that he could heal her and there was no need to stand in front of this crowd and call out “unclean” so they would know to avoid her anymore.

Go and be free, Jesus told her.

Go and be free.

But then another voice was heard.

“It’s too late,” it said, with a hint of an indignant “I told you so” in its tone. “Your daughter’s dead. Don’t trouble the teacher anymore.”

Jairus’ face dropped. All the money or power in the world couldn’t save his daughter and now Jesus couldn’t either. It was too late. Jairus too felt the fear sweep over him like the woman had and he covered his face to hide his grief. But Jesus said to him, “Don’t be afraid. Keep on believing.” Jairus looked at Jesus and he looked at the back of the healed woman who walked away with a crowd of people interviewing her and patting her on the back. His heart stirred. He nodded to Jesus who singled out Peter, James and John to accompany them and the five of them carried on, leaving the rest of the disciples to deal with the remaining crowd.

But they found another crowd at the man’s house. The mourners had already gathered and had already ripped their clothing the appropriate length and the flute players had already begun their songs. “She’s not dead, she’s sleeping,” Jesus said over the noise. And at that the laughter of the crowd only added to the noise. “She’s dead, you moron.” “Jairus, you missed your daughter’s last breath.” “Wait ‘til the temple priests hear about this.”

Undaunted by their jeers, Jesus and Jairus, now with his wife and the three disciples went into the room of the dead child. And to their surprise, Jesus grabbed her hands. Touching the dead, like touching the diseased was forbidden, but Jesus did anyway. And to everyone’s surprise, he helped her out of bed. “Little girl,” he said, “Rise up.”

Rise up.

And she did.

Peter, James and John exchanged glances as Jairus and his wife threw their arms around their daughter, alive and breathing and giggling with surprise.

Rise up, go and be free.

“Rise up, go and be free,” I wanted to say to the 14 year old girl named Tabita in the Chilean Girl’s Home. I and 11 others from FBC went down to Temuco, Chile to volunteer at the Baptist children’s home last month. We worked and played with 23 girls between the ages of 6 and 19 years old. All the girls living there have been court-ordered removed from their abusive or neglectful homes. Tabita was sitting in the corner hunched over, wiping tears from her red eyes. “Rise up honey, go and be free,” I tried to tell her with my eyes. “You have experienced the love of God through the women and men who work at this home, the Tias and Tios, the aunties and uncles who love you, you’ve experienced love through your 22 sisters here at the home and now, through us, twelve U.S. citizens who came to serve you. Rise up. Go and be free. You too have a second chance.” But she sat crying in the corner, while the rest of the girls played with the North Americans. She was angry with her mother I learned from one of the Tias. No matter how much love and compassion the girls experience at the home some of them still want to go back to their real families, she explained. Some of them still believe things will get better at their real homes, that things will change. Some of them want healing for their bleeding families. Some of them want resurrection for their dead homes.

Unfortunately, healing abusive relationships between parents and children can feel like a greater challenge than raising the dead. And most of those girls will never be allowed back in the homes they’ve been removed from. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been left alone.

It’s true; Jesus isn’t here on earth right now. There’s no reaching out to touch the edge of his garment. There’s no being taken by his hands and helped out of bed. There’s no healing in that way anymore, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t still among us.

I’m sending a comforter to be with you he said. And of course, you’ll have each other. There’s a reason Jesus took Peter, John and James with him. Someone had to take what they saw and tell the story and share the love.

And what a story it is, this tale of two daughters. Mark 5 is a story about sickness, illness, disease and death. And it’s not a story we’re unfamiliar with. In an age where as the world’s number one super power we can’t provide healthcare, let alone adequate healthcare, to our own citizens, we know this story. In a state where 24% of Texans don’t have healthcare and where we have the most uninsured children out of any state in the entire United States of America, we know this story. In a city where House Bill 1541 and CHIP, both aiming to provide healthcare for children in Texas, didn’t even make it to the House floor, we know this story. In a church where this week alone we had spiritual giants Millie Bishop and Mary Guemple in the hospital, we know all about this story of sickness.

But it’s also a story about faith. And sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes, like the hemorrhaging woman, we can muster enough faith to stand on our own in the middle of a gawking crowd and say yes, this is me, reaching out to Jesus for help. I’ve got nothing but faith right now, but by God, I’m clinging to it with all I’ve got.

Sometimes we need some help from others. Sometimes we need other people, our fathers and mothers, our Tias and Tios, our brothers and sisters to go to God with their faith on our behalf. And hopefully some of their faith spills over on us too. To us, those faithful men and women of God bring hope and healing in the spirit of Jesus Christ.

But sometimes despite our faith or the faith of others, we don’t get healed. Situations don’t get better and the disease doesn’t go away. And this too is a story we know all too well. Confessing faith in Jesus Christ isn’t a sure ticket to health and happiness.

But it is a ticket to freedom. Rise up, go and be free Jesus tells us, our pastor tells us, our brothers and sisters tell us, our Tias and Tios tell us. Rise up. Be free. We don’t have Jesus to cling to here on earth anymore, but we’ve got each other. We’ve got each other. That’s why it matters what you say. It matters what you do. It matters how you vote. It matters how you spend your money. It matters how you feed your family. We live in a world full of disease and death sometimes in obvious forms like hemorrhages and cancer and mental illness and sometimes in more metaphorical forms like abuse and negligence and greed and lust.

Maybe you’re exhausted. Maybe like Jairus and the bleeding woman you’re at your wits end and are willing to try anything. In that case, I say just do it. Try anything. Try believing in a Savior who was also a carpenter. Try believing in a God who wanted to become human. Try believing in a Spirit who communicates what with words we cannot. Try placing faith in a Messiah who said love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Try placing faith in a Parent who loves without distinction of class, race or gender. Try placing faith in a Comforter that unites instead of dividing.

And when you’ve done that, everything changes. Now it’s your responsibility to tell the world, rise up and be free! Because sometimes our own faith is sufficient and other times we get by with a little help from our friends.

The woman was poor, Jairus was rich.
The woman had no social worth, Jairus was a synagogue leader.
The woman was sick, Jairus was speaking on behalf of one sick.
The woman was estranged from the community. Jairus was respected by the community.
Both had tried lots of other options.
Both risked being exposed in front of the crowd.
Both were faithful.

And both were recognized and accepted and changed by Jesus and both left with a story they couldn’t help but tell.

And we’ve been telling it ever since.

Rise up. Be free.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Chile 09: Day Seven

Oh my gosh it's getting harder to remember everything. I wish I had written this all down earlier. But a month ago I was in Chile and I'm not done telling our story, so here goes.


We woke up to find even fewer kids waiting to walk to school at 8am. The strike, remember? So we headed on to breakfast and on to our second full day of manual labor. It was pretty much the same, not enough tools, not enough heat and not enough sunshine. But we ploughed through. In the meantime we met Carlos.

Carlos is a badulaque. Or something. He was obsessed and I mean obsessed with this word. He would say the word to one of us and tell us to repeat it (he'd been in the military so he knew English pretty well) and then when we did he would laugh and laugh at himself or us or the word or I'm not sure really what. Apparently badulaque means jokester. And Carlos was one. But he was also a devout Christian. He grilled both Glenn and me and separate times about whether we were called. Called. CALLED to the ministry. "YES! God. Get off my back Carlos, I'm doing my best," I wanted to say to him, but I just smiled sweetly and said, "Yes Carlos, I am called to the ministry." Like the Tias, he was impressed that I'd been to seminary but I could tell he was skeptical. With Glenn he prayed for discernment and teared up, sharing his story of how God had called him to work at this home and be a Tio to these children even if only as a janitor. Carlos would sing songs in the hallway and always wanted to sing a duet with Elizabeth or me. Or he would sing a verse and then tell Esteban to translate it. Then he'd sing another.

(that's Carlos on the edge of the picture... I'm trying to find a better one of him)

In addition, Carlos had a wife (though you would have never guessed it the way he carried on with me and some of the other girls) who made organic vegetarian dishes. And after Viviana cornered me one day and demanded to know how many vegetarians we had in our group since they'd noticed us passing the food off to other people, several of us got to try her veggie dishes. They were a welcome alternative to horse...

Tuesday afternoon we (North Americans) gave a presentation on us. Or the U.S.... depends on how you look at it. The home asked us to tell about ourselves so most of my students brought pictures or small memorabilia of our families or where we live or where we go to school. So Meredith talked about D.C., Katherine talked about Louisiana and Mardi Gras., Molly presented on Colorado. The rest of us spoke about Texas and what we do. Naomi illustrated a dance she does with her company where they put candles on their heads. David showed pics of the Appalachian Trail that he hikes with his dad. Glenn juggled and showed pictures of his fishing boat. You get the picture.

Steve started our presentation off by hooking each girl up to an earpiece so that they could hear his translations of what we were saying while we gave our presentation. They LOVED that. He told about his job of translating around the world. Then I spoke about my family and Janie and Potter and Zorba and I talked about loving the theater and how I get to do that as part of my job. I showed pictures of me preaching, doing a wedding, leading worship, and a pic of me and Roger on my ordination day. Several Tias asked questions after my presentation. Did she go to school? Yes, Steve responded. College and Seminary. She is ordained? Yes, in 2006. Even though this is a Country with a female President, a Baptist Convention with a female president and a Baptist Home with a female director, they all were very impressed that I (I'm assuming as a woman) could accomplish that. I'll never forget looking at Tabita's face after I (Steve) answered the Tia's questions. She looked at me with an expression of surprise that seemed to say, "You go, girl."

And you can do it too! I wanted to say to all those darling girls. You can do whatever you want. You can finish high school and go to college and get a career and succeed if you just put your mind to it and set your heart on it!

Friday, June 19, 2009

I'm In New York

We take a brief hiatus from the Chile Memoirs to travel to NYC. The big apple. One of the first songs I ever learned was about New York.

"NYC. Just got here this morning. Three bucks, two bags, one me." and while I came with a little more than $3, the rest pretty much applies.

Traveling here was torture. For as much as I travel, I hate planes. I'd usually choose driving over flying but as that is most often not an option, I fly a lot. This trip was terrible.

I woke up at 4:15am after having finally fallen asleep around 1:30. At five Johnson drove me to the airport where I checked in and discovered I had a middle seat for a three and a half hour flight. No other seats available. I would be sleeping sitting up obviously. At 5:40 I boarded the plane behind a man who had to weigh over 400 pounds. "Please don't let me be sitting by him... please don't let me be sitting by him... please don't let me be sitting by him."

I was sitting by him. I scooted as far to the right in my seat to give him as much room as possible as he overlapped both our seats. The man's arms rested a good foot and a half above me on his belly. I tried not to act too uncomfortable since I figured he was probably self-conscious about his weight and Lord knows he had to have known that the seat was too small for him.

And I forgot my earplugs.

I'm anal about my earplugs. I sleep with them at night. I use them on planes. And I forgot my beloved earplugs. So the crying baby a few rows behind me was difficult to tune out.

After take-off, I lowered my traytable and put my pillow on it and laid my head down. About ten minutes later I got bonked on the head when the person in front of me reclined.


I scooted as far back in my chair as possible, looked longingly at the girl on my right who had the window seat and was resting her head against it, and leaned forward again, cocking my head to the side so I could fit it on the traytable despite the lean of the chair it was attached to.

I wonder if this is going to affect my abililty to hold my head straight up at the wedding I have to officiate tomorrow night.

I did sleep though. On and off and with major pains upon awaking. But we landed, disembarked and began the journey of navigating the subway which first started with a tram and then a train ride.

Three hours and a gallon of sweat later, I arrive at my hotel.

Good God this city is complicated.

But I met two lovely people who helped me get to my destination. One girl saw me dragging (literally) my suitcase up a flight of stairs at the train/subway station where I had already dragged it up and down two wrong staircases. She picked it up despite my protests and asked me where I was going. I told her what I thought was correct and showed her my hotel reservations.

"Oh no girl, you need to get off here," she pointed to the map and corrected my directions. Turns out she is a designer for NY and Company who is originally from Nebraska. What a god-send. "You would have ended up way out of town if you'd gone the way you intended," she explained.

Once out of the subway, I emerged to find three more flights of stairs in front of me. This is not exactly a handicapped or luggage accessible city. I sighed and lifted my stuff up the first two. I paused to catch my breath and look around. Where was I?

"Can I help you with that?" some guy in a suit asked. "Um. Sure." I didn't even fight it this time. I let the man carry my bag up the remaining flight of stairs. He then pointed me in the direction of my hotel and said good-bye.

New Yorkers are nice.

Their city sucks. But they're pretty cool.

No, I'm sure it's lovely. I'm just not used to it taking three hours to move 18 miles.

Traveling. Ugh.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Glorious Homecoming Or At Least Coming Home

My family has always struggled with homesickness. When my sister and I were little girls I remember the phone ringing at 11:00pm on a Friday night and my mother slipping back on her shoes and throwing a coat on over her pajamas to go pick my sister up at her friend’s house where she got too homesick to be able to stay the whole night. “Who doesn’t like to spend the night at a friend’s house?” I always thought. My sister is so weird.

Going away to summer camps was an even greater challenge. Fortunately my sister and I were very close in age so when mother would send us off to camp, she would specifically tell Amy, if you start to cry at night go to your sister’s cabin and sleep with her.

She usually did.

I remember one year as we were preparing to go to children’s camp and my mom was doting over Amy who was weepy in the parking lot, I felt my own pang of homesickness, my own desperate feeling of not wanting to be sent away, but as I looked back and forth between my mother and sister, I swallowed hard and shook it off. Amy was the one who got homesick. Not me.

College is what finally did me in. After a rocky road through my teenage years navigating my low self-esteem and the need to assert myself and succeed through the hormones and opinions of four women living in one house together was a challenge to say the very least and I often failed. But when I finally left for college low and behold I discovered I actually loved those people I’d spent the last four years fighting with and homesickness set it. There was no driving home on the weekends because I didn’t have a car. And by fall break when I went on tour with my freshman choir instead of going home, I choked up at McDonald’s, not because of the bad food, but after explaining to my professor why I wasn’t having a good time. I was homesick.

Moving to Texas was the worst. My mother and I drove to Texas with all my stuff not knowing where I would live. When we found an apartment with three girls I didn’t know and got my stuff all settled in, she left and I stood in the middle of Texas and wondered how the hell I got down here and if I could get out. At Christmas break that year, I drove home for the holiday and when it came time to return to school in Texas everyone said their goodbyes, went to work and I headed down I29 towards I35 which would take me straight back to Texas. But I never made it to I35. At Platte City I was crying so hard I turned around and drove back to St. Joseph. My mother came home from work that December afternoon to find me sitting on the couch in the TV room. I should have been cruising through Oklahoma by that point. We tried again the next morning and with new resolve the second attempt was successful. I returned to Texas.

Spending a semester studying abroad in France proved a challenge too. And by that time I had a boyfriend which only magnified the homesickness. I was miserable there and one morning I woke up alarmed to discover that I had dreamt in French. Not only was I living in France and doing as the French do but now I was speaking French in my dreams too! “Please God,” I begged. “Let me at least go home in my dreams. And let me at least be speaking English in them.”

Sometimes I wonder if Joseph from the Genesis narrative felt the same way. It was no secret that he didn’t get along with his brothers but we have to think he loved them despite the way he gloated around them. And certainly he loved his father Jacob the patriarch and his baby brother Benjamin. Already we know he had lost his darling mother who had died in childbirth with Benji. And so his dad, his brothers and his other aunties, Leah, Zilpah and Bilhah were his family.

But his brothers turned on him. His stomach must have dropped along with him when they dropped him in that pit. Were they leaving? Were they leaving him in there? Or was this another prank? Some of them sauntered away in delight. And then with relief Joseph saw the rope swing down into the pit and he began to climb out of it, figuring the gag was over. Okay guys, very funny. You’ll be lucky if I don’t tell dad.

But it wasn’t just his brothers waiting at the top. There were some merchants probably Egyptian, Joseph figured based on their clothes, jewelry and smooth skin. What were these boys up to now? Joseph’s hands grabbed the top of the rope and his brothers pulled him up, yanked his arms behind his back, bound his wrists with the rope and handed him over.

To Egyptians.

Talk about homesick.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have shared that last dream with the fellas,” Joseph thought and desperately began his shower of verbal apologies. “Guys, seriously. Please. Y’all, I didn’t mean it. Okay, this is very funny. Reuben, come on. Benjamin, get dad. Benjamin!” But one of the men speaking a language he didn’t understand stuck a sweaty stinky rag in his mouth that made him gag and yanked so hard on the rope tied to Joseph’s wrists that he would have fallen down if the rope had been long enough. But it wasn’t so he stumbled forward, alongside the camels carrying his new masters across the desert. He turned his head to look behind him as they headed off, no longer sick to his stomach but sick in his heart because he now knew what had happened. He’d been sold not only from his family but by his family into slavery.

Talk about homesick.

Of course that’s just the beginning of Joseph’s story. Then comes the saga in Potipher’s house where he made it out of servitude and into actual employment to a man who became a father figure to the now fatherless Joseph, teaching him his business and grooming him to someday take over. But Potipher’s loose wife fouled all that up. And then there’s the jail stories where Joseph again makes some new friends and seems to find a community again, a new home if you will. But his friends are either released from prison or killed on death row and Joseph is forgotten. But only for a few years. Years.  Because when Pharaoh has a dream he can’t get interpreted one of Joseph’s cell mates remembers his old buddy in prison who interpreted dreams and suggests to Pharaoh Joseph’s services and after a good dinner and a shower, Joseph finds himself making a new life for himself a third time, now at the top.

He even got married and started his own family, naming his sons, Manasseh, “For God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” And the younger son, Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.”

But was it enough? Was all the power and jewelry and fine clothes and fine dining and the pretty wife and the cooing young sons enough? Was it enough to hide the ache in his heart for his own father, for his own younger brother probably all grown up now, even for his pain-in-the-butt-brothers who got him into this mess? If bitterness didn’t get the best of Joseph, then was the longing to go home, to his real home, still in him? If God healed him of remembering his hardships, was the luxury and power enough? Or did Joseph still experience pangs of homesickness?

Let’s look at the text. Genesis 42.

Reading verses 1-7 we would answer no, he didn’t still feel homesick. He didn’t miss what once was. But let’s keep reading. In verse 15 Joseph insists that the men bring their youngest brother to Egypt to prove they aren’t spies and the reader begins to wonder what Joseph is up to. And by verse 24 we realize that indeed Joseph is not only touched by seeing his brothers again, but he weeps, overwhelmed one can only assume, by the memories, by the love and by the frustration of being a family. Everything is coming into place: the dreams are making sense, his brothers are remorseful. Maybe it’s not strange that all these years he has longed to go back to a place where so much misery surrounded him. These men were his family and they had come home.

Of course, like any good sibling, Joseph messes with them. Or as the Bible puts is, “tests them.” He hides money in their sacks and holds one brother ransom and demands the return of the youngest brother and frames them again with his gold cup and all of this to test his brothers before his final revelation to them in chapter 45 verses 1-15.

And his revelation is this: that it is not in bitterness or anger that he remembers his family, for God orchestrated everything in Joseph’s life for a purpose. It is in love and affection and fondness and indeed homesickness that he remembers his family and longs for them to be reunited again.

And except for the fact that the Hebrews eventually become slaves under Egyptian rule after Joseph is long forgotten, his story ends happily with the reunion of all 12 brothers and his father (and presumably his aunties and Dinah too) where they all live in Egypt with well rationed food for the rest of their lives.

The End.

I just love happy endings.

So why did I choose to tell a story tonight of homesickness? Seems a strange topic for a bible study at a church.

Most of you know, or should know (and if you don’t you need to read your Clarion more often and quit sleeping through church) that I just returned from a mission trip to Chile. Everyone asked me if I was excited before I left, and the answer was yes! But in my mind there was a little reservation. If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a homebody. I love my little house and my Austin family, even if they have four legs and are covered in fur. I worry about them and leaving and whether the cats will run away or whether the dog will sadly stare out the front window all ten days I’ll be gone or just five of them. I worry whether the pet-sitter will remember to give them water or whether my neighbor will remember to water my plants. I’m a worrier (Sundays sermon was very good for me) and I get terribly homesick, even if my home is only a dog, two cats and some cacti.

But the trip was amazing and went off without a hitch. And when I returned I discovered something I hadn’t ever noticed or experienced before.

I was homesick for Chile.

Well, not Chile necessarily, but for the girls at the Baptist Home we worked at while we were there. I’ve been writing about the trip on my blog every night, trying to tell our story. And every night I upload pictures to the internet and while I’m picking out the very best ones to share with the World Wide Web, I scroll through and whisper the girls’ names. I giggle as I remember the contexts of the pictures. I get sad when I remember which girl was angry at her mother that day and wouldn’t smile for the camera or which girl is missing from the photo because she hadn’t taken her medicine and ran away.

And I’m homesick for those girls. And I wonder if they’re homesick for us. Or if they’re homesick for the homes they’ve been court-ordered removed from. I wonder if they’re homesick for the parents who abused and neglected them. For the siblings left behind. I’m homesick for Tabitha whom I could have adopted a brought home with me to Austin.

And I wonder if someday they’ll be able to say to their mothers who neglected them to their uncles who took advantage of them, “Now therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God.” I wonder if they’ll be able to see the evil that they have experienced already in their young lives and part of a bigger story of redemption through the love of Jesus Christ. I wonder if they’ll see God delivering them and putting them in the position to choose to help others as a result.

I wonder what will become of their homesickness. Bitterness and anger? Forgiveness? The opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and abuse? A chance for success, normality, school, friends, college, a job and a family of their own?

I’m homesick because I worry I admit it. I’m homesick because in just one week I fell in love. I’m homesick because I want the best for children who are a lot like Joseph.

And when I look at those pictures on my computer, and read stories from the Bible about hurting people and tell about my trip in my sermons and on Wednesday nights, I utter prayers for all those girls who get just as homesick as I do. If home is where the heart is and our hearts are with God then we can be home all the time. And I want those girls to feel at home. Home with God. Not in a dying and living in the clouds for all eternity home, but in a here and now “God has healed me from the hardships of my father’s house” home. I want those girls to find their home in God. And someday maybe this year, maybe next, I’m going back to the Baptist Home to be reunited with them again.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Day Six or Our First Day

Although it was the sixth day into our trip and although we had arrived at Fundacion Para Amar two days earlier, Day Five was our first full day of work at the Home.

We awoke early enough to walk with the girls to school. And three of us rode with Jessica, a deaf and mute girl at the home to her school where she would live for the week. It was a little sad to have to say goodbye to one of the girls already. She had been the second child we met, hanging around the stairs up to our apartments and then clinging to Rodrigo (Viviana's husband) when we found her. We were consoled because we knew she would return on Thursday for the girls' birthday party (it was Monday).

I wondered how the girls would react walking to school with a bunch of Tias and Tios. I remembered the kids from my elementary school who went to a Home as well. Everyone knew who they were and they didn't have a lot of friends because they smelled different, looked different and had lice. But the girls (after a greeting of kisses) had already found their favorite Tias and Tios and slipped their hands into ours and we headed down the block to school. I walked with a middle school aged girl named Rebecca and carefully monitored her reaction to me. She called out to a friend getting off the bus and hand in hand they walked in front of me toward the school. We crossed at the walk together and when we arrived she kissed me good-bye, as did her friend, and bid me good-bye as did who friend who looked sort of jealous of our relationship.

(picture from later in the week)

Maybe it's cool to have a bunch of Americans walk you to school, even as a teenager. Who knows.

Several of the girls didn't go to school at all though because their teachers were on strike. Not getting paid enough or something, who knows. So after we return from the short jaunts to schools and had our breakfast, as we began our work we were often spied upon by a little nina or two.

(our dinner table)

Our jobs were as follows:
1. Paint the fence
2. Paint the storage closet
3. Beautiful the study room

Piece of cake! I thought when Viviana told me. But each job proved to be more challenging than I first anticipated.

The fence painters had to first scrape off with a metal brush the old paint chips. And there's four sides of each tall skinny pole to paint black. And you can only paint when it's dry and sunny... riiiight.

The storage closet people had to first remove every book, paper, phamphet, toothpaste bottle and piece of trash from a closet that was probably 8x8 feet wide. That took several hours. Then they had to sand the shelves and clean them. Then finally paint. Probably 50 shelves and each of the four posts around them. Whoa!

And the study room people got to do the fun stuff. Those studying to be teachers got to make initial plans for the room. Then they left to buy supplies while others began washing walls (which would be polished), moving huge furniture items to the hall, sanding tables (which would be painted) and cleaning out the room.

We broke from these jobs around 1pm to clean up. During this process, Glenn, Grant and I discovered that we had been painting with corrosion-free black paint which would not come out of our brushes or off of our hands.

"Find Steve."

After some question and answer sessions with the Tio Carlos the custodian and Tio Jaime the business manager, we finally got some paint remover stuff to begin washing... and washing... and washing our hands.

We were late to lunch.

But at least our hands were no longer Black. All. Over.

That afternoon we piled into two cars and headed out to Mapuche land again. This time (now in sunshine) we visited a religious site where they have ceremonies and religious festivals. Here is the god(?) who stands in the middle of the big open field.

From there we squeezed back into our cars and headed to the Temuco market to shop. That was fun and reminded me of all the shopping malls anywhere overseas. Name a country and I've been in a little shopping pavilion like that. Lots of touristy things for cheap and you have to haggle for your prices. I picked up a couple of small gifts for my sister though. And a little wooden Tea holder. I really wanted a sheep fur rug but didn't want to fork over the money for it. But it was SO SOFT!

We were late to dinner that night and Tia Ceci was not happy with us. I don't know what Steve said to her but he apparently smoothed things over.

That night we gathered, a little poorer than the night before, and had our next devo. Meredith led with some questions about community. And I kind of started to push back on the students. Several of them talked about their churches and where they are now and Christians versus non-Christians and what community looks like with different people. I realized I have had very different experiences with community than most of these students. And that was weird. By this fifth night of devos I was having fun just being in a community myself. So often I've leading the bible study or discussion or am at "work" where I have to behave and monitor what I say, but with these students and Steve, I was safe, so I felt comfortable talking. That was an amazing feeling. Gosh it was fun just talking and throwing out ideas and discussing things as a group where I was just one of a crowd. It made me realize how much I miss being in a small group or bible study of my own apart from my role as Minister at the church.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Day Five: This Is the Day the Lord Has Made

Sunday morning started early with a breakfast of white bread, butter, jam, cheese slices, meat slices (ew!), eggs and tea. We did not yet know that this would be our regular morning meal and that this was the beginning of all the white bread I ever want to consume in my life. But Tia Cecelia came in special Sunday morning to make it for us, so we were grateful.

Afterwards we gathered with the children for church. We piled into a bus that they had rented (still not enough to seat 23 girls, 12 North Americans, 2 Germans, a driver, and a handful of Tias. So we sat on laps and stood up and scrunched in for the hour drive to Mapuche land.

I read about the Mapuche people in my Chile guidebook. They are comparable to our American Indians in that they were here first and of course the European, Peruvian and Argentinian settlers came in and eventually won the land and developed it. Now the Chilean government allots land and a small allowance to the poverty stricken Mapuche people who are generally looked down upon by the upper class. For example, one girl at the home is Mapuche by birth but was punished in school if she spoke Mapuche and is now ashamed of her heritage. Awful.

In planning the trip to Chile with Raquel, the President of UBACH (Chilean Baptist Convention) I had requested a visit to an indigenous church, not an FBC America transplanted in Chile. She was thrilled and spoke with Viviana at the home. We ended up being invited to a small Mapuche church about an hour outside of Temuco where the church honored the children's home on their 55th anniversary. The children sang a song and Viviana spoke a lot.

The men and women's equivalent of our WMU each spoke as well and presented gifts (monetary) to the Children's Home. We sang Spanish songs to a guitar and keyboard and finally the pastor preached on the Good Samaritan.

Consequently, it felt more like an awards ceremony than a church service, but it was beautiful seeing the man who had travelled all day to come to this small church to see the leaders of the children's home and the girls themselves and present money his men's group had spent all summer raising from out of their own poor pockets. And we loved listening to the girls' choir perform. I got the impression that the church's natural look would have still reflected a western service had we not been there and that was challenging to observe. Western Missionary fingerprints were all over that church.

But so were the fingerprints of the Mapuche people themselves. I sat next to a man at lunch who is the father of the current pastor. He built that church with his own hands. And while we ate (and Steve translated) he taught us (and Steve!) Mapuche words. And we taught him English ones.

The dinner was extraordinary and was prepared in honor of the celebration of the Children's Home. Unfortunately the night before (as I mentioned before) there had been hard rains and the Mapuche realized their water sources had all been cantaminated. I kid you not, two people who lived several miles away WALKED IN enough jugs of water to cook for the 41 of us, the 10 other Baptist visitors and the regular members of the Mapuche congregation. They walked in water to feed around 75 people.


Unfortunately the dinner was horse. As in Mr. Ed, Black Beauty and the likes. I am not lying to you. I knew this ahead of time as Viviana had warned me and left it to my discretion to tell my students. However one of them overheard and not being of the keep-it-to-yourself sort of girl, she promptly informed everyone before we boarded the bus. Great. But I planted myself next to a hearty American boy and passed the meat from my stew on to him and just ate the potatoes and squash. This was a feast for our new friends.

After lunch, because we couldn't travel through the mud in the bus to visit the indigenous, traditional homes of the Mapuche people, one couple let us carry them back to their land (more people on the bus!) where they let us walk around and see a now raging creek and the bridge their children had built years earlier. It was beautiful countryside. In return, the North Americans sang Amazing Grace at the request of the Choir Tia for the Mapuche couple. It seemed to be appreciated.

After most of us snoozing (while the girls used our cameras to take pictures of each other) on the way home we arrived in time for dinner (white bread, jam, etc.) and then headed up to our dorm rooms for another devo. David (our children's minister's son) led and read to us from Ezekiel 34:1-16. He spoke about his expectations and asked us to reflect on ours as well. He nailed our reason for being in Chile at that home when he said, "I expected to come here to take care of people and instead I'm coming to join the flock." The Mission Trip I planned was designed for us to be extra helping hands to a hard-working Christian social justice outreach. We can do what they don't have time or sometimes money to do. We were there to provide relief and encouragement to the God's workers by giving them time off or at least hopefully alleviating some stress by entertaining the girls in the afternoons. We were there to play with and love on God's little girls. We were there to work where God was already at work. And David understood that. "God takes care of people," I wrote in my journal, "and we are joining who God is already taking care of..."

Friday, June 05, 2009

Chile: Day Four or Day Is Done, Gone the Sun

On the morning of our flight out of Santiago and on to Temuco, Steve argued that we had time to visit Santiago's cathedral before we headed to the airport. So, sure enough, I complied and our Shalom amigos (Julian and Freddy) dropped us off back downtown to view the inside of this beautiful cathedral. I asked my students to take in their journals and spend not only some time admiring all the art and craftsmanship, but to also meditate and prepare for our day ahead.

The cathedral was beautiful and I spent some time writing on thankfulness.

After yelling and hollering and threatening that if they bought one more postcard they would miss our flight, everyone was back on the bus and headed to the airport.

The flight to Temuco was short and not in a puddle hopper which I think everyone was grateful for. I've flown in some real doozies overseas and so it was nice to be in a stable aircraft. After landing and searching for our bags we met Jaime, the first member of the Fundacion Team.

He spoke no English.

Thank God for Steve.

Outside, we met Viviana, the director of the children's home. And after explaining to each other that neither of us spoke much of the other's native language we began the long haul of stuffing twelve people (and three adults from the Fundacion Para Amar) into two vehicles. Little did we know that this trip would merely foreshadow many more to come.

Three minutes down the road, we stopped. Now, I need to explain a little something about dynamics in our group and some jokes that developed - rooted of course, in reality. One such joke goes like this: Can I change money? Sure... tomorrow. You see we NEVER seemed to be able to find or have time for changing money from dollars into pesos. It became a little ridiculous actually. In the airport: "Can we change money?" Too expensive, wait for in the hotel. At the hotel: "Can we change money?" Not a good rate, wait until later. On the city streets: "Can we change money?" I can't find a place that's open. I mean, seriously, as a group we changed money ONE TIME in 11 days that i can remember.

But three minutes into our drive into Temuco, we stopped. "Steve is taking us back to the airport to change money." This came over the walky talky about a bunch of niners and ten fours. But changing money? Brilliant. Finally. This is what could have happened before we loaded 22 suitcases and fifteen bodies into two cars, but whatever. We headed back.

The money change place was closed. So Steve loaned money (as he did most of the trip) to the students in dire need at that very money and we piled back into the two cars.

And after half an hour facing backwards and practically sitting on the dashboard of our van...

... we arrived.


The orphanage.

Our mission was beginning.

It was pouring. The sunshine and cool warmth of Santiago had been replaced by pouring rain and cold wind. We came out of the van like clowns from a car in the circus and rushed inside the building that would be our home.

A cute girl of fifteen wearing anime-looking pigtails and a pink shirt greeted us at the door with a kiss on the cheek. She grinned from ear to ear. The men who picked us up were bringing in our wet suitcases which began piling up at the bottom of the staircase to our right. We just kind of stood around until Viviana showed us upstairs to our room.

The main building had two wings: the side the girls use with the kitchen, dining area, study room and offices and another side that can be rented out by groups for small conferences, meetings, retreats, etc. Above the two wings are the "girls' side" and the "boys' side" suites with bedrooms. Each area has a small kitchenette, dining and living room area and 7 or 8 bedrooms with one large bathroom like on a dormitory hall.

The accommodations were excellent. Better than I expected. But that would turn out to be a theme for the week.

"I was beginning to wonder why we came all the way over here to work" one student reflected on the first hour a couple of days later.

We took quickly split up rooms and unloaded our luggage and put some extra layers of clothing on. (There was no heat at the Fundacion). And then we headed downstairs to the left wing for a late lunch: some sort of ground beef stirred into mashed potatoes with melted cheese on top. A huge plateful. I ate around the meat as my stomach was still irritated by the short plane ride earlier that day. Best not to make it any angrier by adding cow to it's digestive agenda. "No te gusta?" Viviana asked. "Airplane," I responded and pointed to my stomach and gave the thumbs down sign. She nodded her head.

"Now the girls will be coming in soon for afternoon activities. Do you have games you can play?"
"Uh..." Most of them were outdoor games. But based on the gushing of water outside the window and the flickering lights, I guessed we wouldn't be playing outside today. "Si. No probleme."

After lunch all the tables and chairs were moved to the sides of the room and when we re-entered the dining hall having had a brief brainstorming session the little ninas began to trickle in. One by one they came by all twelve of us giving us an hola and a kiss on the cheek. One by one they filled their chairs laughing and giggling and talking, I suppose about the new gringos.

"Okay girls, quiet down, first we are going to do introductions," Steve translated. "Let's start with the visitors." Oh god. Here we go. One by one we went down the line saying hello, our name, where we were from and where we went to school and Steve translated to the children.

"Hola, Mi nombre es Ann. And I'm from Austin, Texas where I'm a minister. I'm not married, but I do have a dog and two cats." Steve translated and everyone laughed. Only later did I learn he told them "two cats: a good one and a bad one."

Then the children introduced themselves saying their names and where they went to school, how long they'd been at the home and also pointed out any siblings sitting in the room too. There was the shy new six year old who had just arrived the night before. There was an 18 year old in school to become a teacher. There was a set of three sisters. There were the squirrelly girls who when it came time to talk mumbled with their heads lowered and their eyes peeking out from under their bangs.

We ended by meeting the tias, the adults in the room with us: a social worker, a sign language linguist, two german volunteers, a psychologist, and a cook. All tias.

"Geez there's a lot of women named Tia who work here," I thought to myself. Someone explained later that Tia means "aunty." And Tio Steve means Uncle Steve.

I became Tia Ann.

After countless rounds of "Ride That Pony," "Gorilla, Man & Gun," and "Look Up, Look Down," and some other games the girls taught us,

we were exhausted and took a break to move the tables and chairs back into their lines, wash hands and prepare for dinner.

Before we ate though, Viviana asked if any of the students had anything they'd like to say.

The 18 year old (who got to sit with the adults at our table) said thank you to the visitors from America for coming here and gave thanks to God for us. As we began to start grace one of the little girls piped up that she would like to speak. She too gave a brief but mature word of welcome and thankfulness to the Americans for joining them. Then the girls all sang their grace in Spanish of course. Don't ask me for the words. I listened to them all week and never picked it up.

Then we ate. Hotdogs in a huge white subway bun with mayo and guacamole and tomatoes slathered on them. And there were some chips and crackers and a slice of cheese and (as I was coming to realize would be a regular at every meal) tea. With sugar. Lots of it. The lights flickered and went out. "Oooohh," the girls all squealed. Just like North American kids.

After dinner we received our second round of kisses as the girls filed through us saying Buenos Noches and Ciao. We looked at each other amused and retreated upstairs.

"Devotions in fifteen," I hollered into both suites.

Anna's turn to lead Devo Time, as it came to be called revolved around her question, "How do you experience, God?" Several students mentioned music or traditions as how they experience God, but relationships was the real winner: experiencing God through other people. Hmm. How do I experience God? "In words, I think..." I finally answered. "I mean, it's no surprise to most of you that I'm not really a kid person. I like children one on one or one on two, but mass quantities of children make me tired and quite frankly, I'm exhausted after the afternoon's activities. But what gives me energy is words. I experience God best through beautiful words, well crafted sentences. That's why I like the bible and story telling and preaching and music so much, I love well beauty created from words... I learn about God through the creative communication of words and I return that love to God through words. I think that's my final answer."

Anna closed us in prayer and most of us headed to bed, seduced to sleep by the pounding rain and our pounding hearts. Tomorrow would be our first full day at the home.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Chile: Day Three

Friday we woke up early for our second and final day of sightseeing before flying to Temuco to work at the children's home. Our friends at Shalom picked us up and took us back to the "palace" we'd visited the the previous night before the bus debacle. It was even prettier during the day.

And once we hiked all the way to the top we had an amazing (if smoggy) view.

After that we piled back in the van and settled in for an hour's drive to THE BEACH! I promised my students we'd go to the beach, I just knew they wouldn't be wearing swimsuits! Some of them did still dip their feet into the pacific ocean and this is my favorite picture capturing their surprised faces when the waves crashed in on their bare legs.

However before we reached the beach we got to visit a b-e-a-utiful winery. Oh my gosh, Michelle would have loved it.

It was up on a hill and we ate the grapes and toured the production room and cellar and then many of my students had their first wine tasting. They got a big speech on the bus about what was kosher: smelling, swishing, tasting and then NOT FINISHING because we would be sampling several wines. I explained spittoons and pouring out the wine after you sipped it and they listened very carefully. Of course, once in the tasting room we discovered we'd only be tasting three wines and there was no spittoon. But they were very well behaved anyway and just tasted (rather than gulping and finishing all three glasses) the wine, which was delicious.

When we got to the beach we picked out which restaurant we were going to eat at (the one with the giant shark in front of it of course)

and inside we spotted a stuffed penguin.

I announced my goal (far-fetched I figured) to see a penguin at the beach. And you guys, I'll be darned in when we walked down to the beach there wasn't one swimming in the waves. We even sought confirmation from some Chilean guy laying out (in 50 degree weather?!) on the sand. I got a picture of the precious little penguin, but it's just a little black dot and there's no point. But seriously, we saw it. I thought it was a drowning duck at first but then someone said it was swimming and thus we determined that indeed we had seen a penguin.

That would have been enough for me quite frankly, but we had much more to do. After an amazing late lunch at the aforementioned restaurant (where I tried eel - eek!! gross) with all fresh fish, we headed up into the town to see what else we could see before nightfall.

The city was very colorful.

Houses, walls and businesses were all painted blue, red, purple, yellow... I made for a lot of neat photos.

And to get back down the hill, we had to ride a ski lift type thing on rails down a steep slope. It was a little unnerving.

But the bus met us at the bottom and we were able to see the cathedral in this beach city (which I can't spell the name of) before we left. The most interesting part of the Cathedral was a statue of Jesus given to the church from the Polynesian Islands (i think - correct me someone if i've remembered incorrectly) with interesting polynesian symbols of royalty and love.

After that, the students (and I) were exhausted. So we made the LONG (it was apparently rush hour) trek back to Hotel Bonaparte in Santiago. That night we had our first devotional as a group and Steve led it using some scripture on thankfulness. Little did we know how much we would really have to be thankful for...