masses_Fotor

die here or go on … the cry of Afghanistan

fences_Fotorpeace sign_Fotorboots_Fotorpolice_Fotormasses_FotorHelmand. Kabul. Kandahar. Kunduz.

I have to look up the unfamiliar names.

They are distant places connected by a geography of terror and hate that translate into one thing: the Taliban. Continue reading

I am THE refugee: ragtag stories

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Peel back our ribs again and stand inside of our chest.                                                                               Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity on the lips of the found.                                                                                              Oh let us adore the Son of Glory drenched in love.

John Mark McMilan / Skeleton Bones

Continue reading

unscripted

autumn

like a 3-year old who refuses to go to bed

The last rays of summer have snuck into our autumn room, like a 3-year old who refuses to go to bed. We know that she should not be here, it is past her bedtime, but who can resist the temptation to laugh at her antics?

I sit on our morning balcony, raise my face to her playful touch and drink deeply of the moment.

They say that the winter will be a cold one.

They say that Russia might turn off the gas.

They say … and I look around me and see people digging in the trash. I believe. Continue reading

snippets of thought

snippets

catching thoughts

catching thoughts

PAUSE

Saturday morning dawns like a secret weapon in the middle of a heartstopping video game. Here at the completion of a whirlwind 9 day journey that left 3 sweet girls waiting at home and 1 young woman starting a new life across the ocean, with the bank account at zero and the school year set to ‘go’ and the house in shambles, just for a second Saturday morning with the scent of Fall on her breath beckons. I willingly hit PAUSE.


memories of the Black Sea

memories of the Black Sea

QUILTS

Sending a child away to college is much like making an old fashioned quilt. I do not mean a new, designer creation with planned color-blocks that you find at Pottery Barn. But, rather, the old kind that grandma hand-stitched from the remnants of her sewing box. The denim from the days when her boy searched for frogs and came back muddy. Lace from her baby-girl’s Sunday baptism dress. Soft, worn, pilly plaid from her husband’s work shirt. All pieced together with an uncoordinated, unplanned, mixture of heartbreak and pride and sewn together with the tears of parenthood.


it's a journey

it’s a journey

EDUCATION

College is a precious opportunity to grow into the person God created you to be. Do not waste it on learning facts. Study how to become the person God made you to be. Begin today.


Paul Restaurant

airports = yes. airplanes = no.

STRESS

THE 17-hours on three airplanes that you are convinced will lose a wing, an engine, or be struck by lightening because humans were not made to fly. And, the corny sense of humor of a faithful Creator who gives you a job that requires you to fly so that you can learn to say, ‘God is good all of the time.’


ready. set. go

ready. set. go

ACCOMPLISHMENT

The feeling that comes AFTER you complete a run.

DREAD

That feeling you have as you pull on your sneakers BEFORE the run.


windows of insight

windows of insight

NATURAL HIGH

Digging into literature with students and finding treasures of insight and connectivity.


entryway

Our entryway – welcome everybody.

CONTENTMENT

Home again and cuddled into the busy craziness of family life and challenging ministry and puppy shenanigans and welcome guests, and cooking and cleaning. The heart-racing, heart-stopping, insanity of life at video-game pace.


Sunberg

Bring it!

Hit Play. The blog resumes with stories from the field of mission that is our home sweet home.

Jesus Saves

foot

church

 

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lazarus stopped dancing

Just when we thought that missioning was all fairytale adventures and warm fuzzy feelings, reality reminds us that there is another side. The character of this breaking-in kingdom, this good story, this freedom tale is humility. But, like most worthwhile things, it comes with a price. Humility is not free, you see.

This reality cuts, it burns, it refines by bringing humility out of weakness. My friend, this being humbled is painful. Not at all like the triumphant tales of Saint George slaying the dragon. One of the hardest things about being a missionary is coming to terms with how incapable we really are and having the world witness that truth.

And, so, you come into a culture that is not your own with intentions to bless, to work, to teach, to rescue because that is your calling. Along the way, you discover that you skipped a vital step, spoke the language incorrectly, missed a cultural cue. Made a mistake. Maybe big. Maybe small.

Suddenly, Lazarus has stopped dancing. In the middle of a beat, right before the apex of the jig, he just turns his head and looks at you with disappointment rolling through his eyes.

‘Live missioning’ you say? I just want to crawl into a hole somewhere and hide.

The brutal truth, if you want it, is that the people you are called to serve with are, well, people too. Even Believers have baggage. The people that you have grown to love can sometimes hurt you. And, sometimes you hurt them. It is the underbelly of ministry. The tale of which we seldom speak. The side that stinks. The reality that drives fairytale seeking servants to pack up and go home.

The truth disturbs, for it is where the dreams of heroes end and the hard, bare bones, ‘grit my teeth through the tears’ begins. This humbling is not easy. This ‘live missioning’ looks nothing like I expected.

We took classes and learned formulas. We studied how to be culturally sensitive learners: the theology of wholistic, humanizing hospitality. But, humility; beautiful, life giving humility comes through pain. Can you still serve a baba (granny) who just called you fat? Can you serve a brother who chastises your attempts to speak his language? Do you have the broken strength of will to serve though you burn with embarrassment?

Throughout the story of the Gospels, this is what draws me to Jesus. This humble servanthood makes me dwell in deep depths because Deity sheds his royal robes and puts on the chains of skin. He limits himself, separates himself, and enters a stinking stable; helpless, naked, dependent, poor. Humility, it seems, costs something regardless of who you are.

Today, I post from Chishenau, Moldova. A spot on the continent of Europe where every kind of vulnerable lives. The addicted. The trafficked. The impoverished. The marginalized. The helpless and the homeless and the hope-less. We are all here.

And, I have a choice. Be discouraged. Be angry. Be bitter. Be stubborn. Be difficult. Or be humbled.

The greatest agent of change that our world will ever know? He was born, not from a place of power, not in a king’s palace, but in a stable, chained to stinking skin. Vulnerable. Like us.

You see, we thought we came to save the world but learned that it is a God-job. We read books to determine excellent missiology but found our self-centered reflections staring back through the mirror. We imagined that God would use us but discovered that He really wanted to transform us. How do you spin that story from newsletters and pulpits and blogs where a $3 donation can save one helpless human? Who wants to hear that today, the missionary’s soul had to gulp a breath of kingdom air to make it through the day?

This is not the stuff of fairytale hero-missionaries. This is not even the stuff of suffering missionary servanthood. This is simply the Gospel exhaling today on a stinking pin-prick of a planet, google-mapped to a pixelized Moldova where a missionary sits on a bench spinning a story.

Until we learn that the broken, victimized, prostituted, addicted, dependent, victims AND victimizers is WE not THEM, God can do very little with us or for us or through us because the story that we tell the world is a myth, at best.

This freedom story out of Egypt, across a desert, through a sea is our story, not just theirs. The sitting in the darkness with blood dripping from the doorway while the death angel passes is our story not only theirs. This vulnerability. It is a WE story.

How much pain do chains of skin bring a king?

Humble.

How much brokenness can a Jesus-man carry on his back?

So, this is the un-fairytale that we live. Skin does not get prettied up and dance away the night at a ball. Skin takes a look at the rotting flesh, the jaggedy edges of sin, the oozing welts of tightly wound grave clothes, and exhales one final, desperate kingdom-coming breath.

‘LAZARUS come forth.’ And, the dead man does a jig by a bonfire do celebration. His death and his new life, they are born out of pain; vulnerability.

We live out of a core of shared recognition that we are all vulnerable.
We live by remembering our slavery.
We live remembering

Or we die in a fairytale of our own creation.

memories of the Black Sea

a little boy eats chicken salad sandwiches

It is 1:30 AM and our bus stops at a petrol station somewhere between Romania and Moldova. The bus is sticky, smothering hot, the bathroom does not work and the seats are cramped. Really cramped. The ‘I can’t sleep but I’m desperate to,’ kind of cramped. The roads swirly zig zag like a scene from your favorite fairytales. Only this does not feel like a fairytale.

When we pull into the station, 13 TNU students, 2 professors, a passel of Sunbergs, and some Central Europeans tumble into the fresh air.

We almost missed the little boy trying to board the bus. While everybody else is seeking fresh air, he was working his way into the stale innards. Hoping for what? And, I watched Curtis and Jay stand guard at the door, good-naturedly but firmly blocking his entrance. I heard that they gave him the last of our chicken salad sandwiches and chips. Maybe tonight he will sleep with a full belly.

My mother’s heart wonders how a 13 year old finds himself counting stars in a midnight sky. Where is his mom? How long since he ate? Where does he sleep?

Quite frankly, he is one of the forgotten. The chances are slim that Compassionate Ministry donations will ever reach his reality. And for a missionary who believes that the kingdom is breaking in today, who believes that we carry the very image of God to a desperate world to fill their needs today, I am stuck. I am at a loss for words and answers. Because, if the kingdom is more than chicken salad sandwiches, and I believe that it is, I fail to connect the kingdom dots tonight.

But, I do believe. I believe in the power of an ancient prayer that goes something like this :

Our Father who is in heaven.
Glory to your name.
Let your kingdom come.
Let your will be done both on earth and in heaven.
And fill our needs today.
Forgive us and help us to forgive those that harm us.
Don’t let us be tempted beyond our endurance but deliver us from every evil.
For it is your kingdom, your power and your glory.
Let it be so.

Somehow, when my heart recites that precious creed, not only with my world in mind, but also with that of a little boy at a bus stop, there is new meaning – new depths.

I don’t have very many answers here in the black night of Eastern Romania. I don’t have a theology that explains how chicken salad brings a kingdom. But, I have a faith that says the kingdom came tonight in the life of a little man whose hope was tied up in a midnight snack.

As our big bus pulled away, I glanced back at the boy and I think I caught a glimpse of Lazarus.

He was dancing.

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Sunday unplugged

Tonight, the world shares our doorstep. Argentina, France, the Czek Republic, Bulgaria, Romania – they sing and dance and for a moment forget that wars rage, and people die, and bills plague. They have come to watch the World play futball on a tiny screen on a big planet, but this corner of Razgrad has lost its electricity, so, the guitars come out by candlelight, and cultures that exhale music begin to communicate.

The melodies are sometimes off key, it’s passionately eclectic, impromptu and sung in this Bulgarian outdoor cafe that has suddenly gone dark. But, somewhere in the midst of all that is worldly here, a part of me wonders if this isn’t somehow closer to the nights that Jesus spent on this planet than we think.

I know how that could sound, but I am not questioning God’s holiness. Nor am I suggesting that we compromise ethically. There is absolutely no doubt that Jesus led a holy life, a righteous life, a life without sin. We are called to that life.

But, our letter says that He also ate with tax collectors, sat and talked with women, spent time with friends, cooked fish. I dare to voice that the Rabi of Nazareth would have been at ease here in unplugged Razgrad. And, I dare to ask, ‘Are we?’ Are we at ease with a missiology that leads us to be here too?

What if our Sunday havens and our Christian radio, and our weekly Bible studies and our Christian fellowship – none of them bad and all of them good, in balance – are out of balance? What if they create a threshold that we rarely dare to cross? What if?

This Jesus of ours was not the tame, weak, pale shadow of a man that our version of Christianity sometimes makes him out to be.

His hands were calloused, his arms were strong, and he was likable, personable. I imagine that he was quick to laugh. I believe I would have wanted to sit with him on the edge of the sea with a coffee and a conversation. His muscles would have rippled from manual labor, his eyes squinting into the sun. The Jesus-moments we see are part campfires and unplugged guitars and starry nights of impromptu conversations with not-yet kingdom dwellers.

I look around at this generation sauntering with us on this journey through Central Europe and believe that they understand, actually, they long for, an unplugged Jesus experience. They desperately want to be a church that is IN the world; available, interactive, fish-frying, approachable, mobile, passionately Rabi-like.

Do you ever wonder what would happen if we let Lazarus dance?

If the electricity that powers our programs and our Sunday morning schedules was suddenly Razgrad-dark, would we be more open, more available, to stand by Jesus and call our friend back across the doorstep of that ugly, cold grave?

As our travels move us through the week, we spend an evening in a Turkish Roma (Gypsy) village and I am again overwhelmed by the belief that Jesus would have felt right at home in the midst of this music, and color, and raw living. There is room for honest questions and conversations here.

Then our Bulgaria wanderings lead us beyond our comfort zones into a room in an ancient mosque, where an Imam leader takes time to talk to us about Islam and to serve us Turkish tea. We have this amazing opportunity because Pastor Nikolay has intentionally developed a relationship of mutual respect with this man. And, just for a moment, I think that I can feel the cold stones of a Samaritan well as I sip my Turkish tea.

We move on to The Open Door, where we see the kingdom literally breaking in, and my soul does a Lazarus dance because the jagged threshold between the US and the THEM has miraculously been breached. Here, in the most unexpected of places, the Rabi-presence is profoundly visible. Humbly, Josh takes a guitar and he begins to play while Mary Magdalene sings her new song. We cry. All of us cry when Lazarus dances.

And, I can’t help it but imagine that Lazarus danced because he glimpsed what we cannot. He saw the new kingdom has no doors, has no walls, it just has people. People that are unplugged from our national identities, unplugged from ethnic prejudices and dehumanizing cycles, unplugged from religious wars and slavery, exhaling, and breathing a new kind of air. A kingdom air.

Sometimes, in Roma villages, and Muslim mosques, and squeezed in-between Mary Magdalene, and squinting across the Black Sea, and by candlelight in Razgrad, my feet start to twitch and a giggle bubbles through. Like The Rabi just whispered a funny one-liner. And just for a precious moment, I understand, really understand why Lazarus danced.

Sunday unplugged.
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turkish tea

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in the mosque

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watching the dance

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eating tza-tza fish by the sea side

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boarding a train for sighisoara