A month…

•October 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

A month of insanity has gone by. We have harvested 2000 acres of corn and just gotten a start on soybeans. Finally, we have a rain day. After 3 full weeks of working every day, I’m ready for a break. I forget how much I love the sound of rain on my roof and the boisterous thunderclaps in the early morning hours before dawn. 

I have had more time to read in the last month as I wait for a load of grain to haul into the elevator. I finished 2 books and started a 3rd. Each of them has touched me in different ways, but I have appreciated each of the authors. The first that I finished is called If God is Love by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. I had started reading the book several years ago and lost interest for whatever reason, but in this current ungracious and often harsh political climate, I have tried to keep my thoughts and feelings gracious as I think God does with us at all times.  Being gracious and respectful is the theme of the book, but he explores it from many different angles and scenarios, which creates tons of challenges for me because I do not always want to be gracious. I hold grudges and get annoyed easily with the different people around me, but I try my best to not return a spiteful remark with another one or an angered reply with another equally harsh reply.  What I realize the most most though, is that I have been taught my entire life that proper justice is a hurt for a hurt and a pain for an equal pain. My challenge here is to move beyond these responses and walk in the way of Jesus, responding with doing good to repay evil or harm and to sacrifice my pride and selfishness for the good and well-being of another person.

Another book that I just finished was called If the Church were Christian by Philip Gulley. This book taught me again to look at my own life and church and ask if we are truly looking to Jesus to guide our actions individually and communally. Gulley created ten more than statements that highlight the shift in priorities that needs to happen in the church for it to follow more closely in the way of Jesus. I am listing them below as a way for you to consider what these shifts in thinking and habits might look like in your personal life and community life.

If the church were Christian, then…

1. Jesus would be a model for living rather than an object of worship.

2. Affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness.

3. Reconciliation would be valued over judgment.

4. Gracious behavior would be more important than right belief.

5. Inviting questions would be valued more than supplying answers.

6. Encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity.

7. Meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions.

8. Peace would be more important than power.

9. Then it would care more about love and less about sex.

10. This life would be more important than the afterlife.

Think about these ideas and how they might challenge our ways of doing church and meeting together. Could we begin a different shift in the church toward love, mercy, grace, peace, justice, and reconciliation? What would our communities look like if we did?

The power of the present moment

•August 24, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I was struck again last night as I hung out with two teenagers from youth group how difficult being present can be. Feelings of inadequacy on my part and a fear that they had little interest in discussing the upcoming school year in the first place swept over me as I tried to navigate awkward silences, in which I know that God was a part of the discussion, but I still couldn’t shake that feeling. I get caught up in planning and making sure that I am accomplishing all that I need to that when I finally get to the point that my plans are complete, the real challenge is merely being present to these students.

Being present may sound like a strange way to describe hanging out or having a conversation, but it is a powerful way of thinking about being with people, no matter who they are. Being present means that we let go of our agendas and plans for a moment or multiple moments to truly listen and learn from the other living, breathing being in the situation. Sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to get done that we ignore/don’t hear what people are truly communicating to us over and above what we came together to talk about. Sometimes our greatest witness or way of showing Jesus to everyone is by being present.

My greatest temptation is to walk away, escape the awkward moment of opening the conversation space for something organic to unfold in the midst of us being together. Yet, a part of me says to stay, embrace the uncomfortable, breathe in, and allow God to reveal to me more and more about myself as well as the people around me as I truly open my ears and eyes to see and hear God in the moment.

Back in the blogging mood…

•August 15, 2016 • 2 Comments

Since Lesotho, I have been hesitant to blog. Traumatic experiences in the mountain kingdom and attempting to acclimate to the empire-state of America has been a continuously evolving experience, even now, 4 years later (has it really been that long?). God has held onto me, though, working in the present moment as he always does, constantly drawing me into places and ways that he is moving his Kingdom forward in our world. Maybe the most attractive thing about the way that God moves in the world is the way that he guides us and nudges us deeper and deeper into his Kingdom practices and experiences. We cannot help but move forward in his calls to equality, justice, peace, and reconciliation because to love our neighbor and our God requires it.

So I’ve come a long way since the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho… and yet, not too far. I still have my struggles and issues, but God works in each of us, no matter the obstacles.

I graduated from university with a degree in Elementary Education; I had a wonderful student-teaching experience in a community that I have been involved in since junior high through youth ministry. Seeing this community through the lens of public school shed new and different lights on the community’s needs. After graduating though, I did not jump directly into teaching/youth ministry. Instead, I moved back home (my parents’ home) and began working on the farm (a notion I had never dreamed of doing up to that point).  Now working on the farm is never quite what people (or myself) always envision, but it was a welcome transition from sitting in a classroom. I love getting my hands dirty, smashing my fingers, and working up a good sweat. I welcomed the concrete nature of getting a project done, which was very unlike planting seeds of peace, love, contentment, and justice in students at school. At school, results were hard to evaluate and measure in the classroom, which is how working with people always is, no matter the setting. Oftentimes on the farm, the end result/goal is much easier to see, based on yield goals for a crop, broken equipment that needs to be fixed, or pest control in specific fields.

Since coming onto the farm in the beginning of 2013, I have learned so much more about myself, my community, and the ways that God is moving in all of them.  This year is my 3rd year on the farm, and every year continues to bring its challenges and breakthroughs. I am not only working on the farm, though. I have become a part of the local school board, started working with youth in my old high school through the same youth ministry that I worked with before Lesotho, rejoined the work crew in a local trucking company, and continued to serve musically and orally at my local church. Life seems crazy and very full a lot of the time, but I am attempting with each passing day to take a day of rest each week and allow myself to cease from creating (a very difficult challenge, indeed).  In the mix the last four years, I also got married to my childhood sweetheart and built a home in my home community, not too far from her or my parents (less that 3 miles; lol). 

And now, with each passing day, I wonder and ask myself where God is moving and how I can join him in his work. How can I bring more hope, more love, more peace, more justice, more patience to a community of broken and hurting people, one in which I am finding out more and more my own brokenness? 

A poem from Lesotho

•December 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So after some searching around and reading some emails, I found this poem from one of the current SALTers in Lesotho who is doing the agricultural side of things rather than the educational side of things like I did. This poem though gives some good insight to the celebration of Christmas in Lesotho as well as a little bit of the scandalous and abnormal nature of the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago.

I hear that it was small and pretty quiet

I hear that it’s small
much quieter
I’ve never been separate from North American hype
from the onslaught of red fuzzy hats
sawed pine trees & eclectic nativity scenes
I hear that it’s small
much quieter
in rural Lesotho, there’s only a day
it’s almost December and
I haven’t heard a thing
it’s hot & we’re waiting desperately for good rains
we’re waiting expectantly
for what will bring us security
for what will bring us peace
for what will bring us life
but that’s how it happened in history, yes?
the quiet entrance
that twinkling star
with all creation attentive
expectant to his coming
for who will bring us security
for who will bring us peace
for who will bring us life

in this way
liturgy mimics
we first wait for his coming
for days that bear centuries
preparing & alluding

and, he comes

at last in that quiet
that perfect beginning of fulfillment
in the realization
of whose voice is ringing now

we walk next
following his movements
swallowing the words that part things differently
the biting words, the gentle words
the hidden words, and
things clarify
water washes
wounds heal
his life & teachings confirm
throwing paradox into wholeness
flipping the finest knowledge over
calling nothings to join his stride

and, for all things true
violence awaited
carrying blood & guilt & war
hatred & jealousy & pride

and all that hangs
and falls
as he stands again
the curtain rips.

it’s Easter that is bigger here in rural Lesotho
it’s Easter that is bigger for our hearts
of course, it had a long beginning
and
I hear that it was small

and pretty quiet
when he first arrived.

If you want to hear more about what is happening on Abby’s journey in Lesotho, you can check it out at abbyinlesotho.wordpress.com

Another look at Lesotho

•December 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So the following is the outline of notes that I made for another sermon that I gave at a local Lutheran Church in my area. I had figured out beforehand what the lectionary texts for the week were so that I could try and connect them to what I had experienced in Lesotho. The scripture texts in this outline are those lectionary texts, not just random texts that I chose from the Bible. It was kind of crazy actually that the things I wanted to say about Lesotho fit so well with the text. All of the following are notes from the sermon:

Numbers 11:4-6; 10-16; 24-16 – we need to realize that in the calling that God has for all people, we will not be comfortable just as the Israelites, in their calling, were not comfortable and began to complain in their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. In many ways and times, I was not comfortable in Lesotho. Uncomfortable things I experienced included:

–  Basin baths and an outhouse for a bathroom

–  Being mocked by students who didn’t understand me in the school where I worked

– Feeling helpless to do anything for the people there because their lives seemed so different

– Living in a five room house with no electricity or running water; no central heating or air conditioning; few of the things I took for granted here at home

– Washing all of my clothes by hand

– Eating boiled cornmeal, heavily cooked green leafy vegetables, and canned meat for most meals

– Going to church for over 3 hours sometimes or just walking an hour to get to a nearby village.

Just because I say these things does not mean that you have to travel across the world to feel uncomfortable though. Daily living following the way of Jesus can involve many uncomfortable experiences no matter where you are living.

James 5:13-20 – God is calling everyone to follow His ways, so often, a community of people will develop around you as you seek to live out God’s kingdom; in Lesotho, I saw this community in:

–  Church every Sunday morning from 11 to 1ish pm

–  Prayer every evening with my host family before we went to bed

–  The hospitality that was shown to all guests no matter when or how they arrived

–  That all children are everyone’s children because there isn’t much of a government social structure to support the weakest of society.

–  Visitors coming to your home to pray and sing a few songs in the event of the death of a family member or loved one

–  The help in burying the dead at a funeral as well as people speaking about the loved one at the funeral

–  The slow pace of life contained by walking, fetching water, washing dishes, cooking from scratch, staying at home, farming with a hoe, and possessing few amenities.

Mark 9:38-50– while I may have thought that some of the Basotho beliefs were not congruent with my own faith, that incongruence does not mean that God is not working in mighty ways or has already worked in mighty ways there. How often do we in our small towns and small lives get caught up in our differences rather than our similarities? Are we all trying to follow Jesus?

Jesus says that we should gouge our eyes out and cut our hands off if they cause us to sin. God calls us to a radical lifestyle that sometimes calls for radical responses to sin, suffering, and injustice. Going to Lesotho was radical for me in more ways than I can count.

Questions from Lesotho

•December 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The following thoughts and ideas were the outline of my sermon that I gave at Metamora Mennonite Church when I got back from Lesotho.

Even though I did not choose the scripture reading today, it seems to go quite well with the fact that I’m here, talking about an experience in a place very, very far away in the small country of Lesotho. People there are just like us, loved and accepted by God and trying to follow Jesus in the best way that they know how. Though their way of life may be different than ours, Jesus is the peace between them and us that brings us together to be the church. I’m sure you who went to Colombia while I was gone saw this also as well as you who were at home, trying to be at peace with those simply in your hometown. Violence is easy; peace is difficult.

Scriptures: Luke 15:11-32

During my time in Lesotho, this passage in Jesus’ teaching was very important to me. It spoke to me most about the grace and love that God extends to us and that we often do not want to extend to other people. I began to see God more like a father than a judge who’s waiting for us to do something wrong or at least to report on it and send us to hell. I hope you see this idea run through as some of the backbone to my response to the difficult spiritual questions I encountered.

Questions to ponder from a year in Lesotho:

Are we willing to rethink and reject the violence that we commit in our own lives? Are we willing to commit to creative ways of dealing with conflict?

– During my time at the school, I became so concerned about the teachers’ use of corporal punishment that I became less concerned about the relationships that I needed to be forming with them. I needed to remember in those moments of frustration that they had been raised in this system and been taught to use this form of punishment throughout their entire lives. It would take much more than a 21-year old white guy to walk in and change it. I also began to think about what we do here at home that is violent toward other people and began asking myself if I am willing to work against those things with the same fervor that I felt for the children and the teachers.

Is economic well-being a sign of God’s blessing?

– This idea was one of the core issues of my time in Lesotho. The organization that oversaw my position was teaching farmers about switching over from conventional agriculture techniques to conservation agriculture techniques. In so doing, they would often phrase the transition as one of repentance from an older, sinful way of doing something to a new way of life that honored God’s creation. This isn’t so bad, except that the thoughts were framed within a certain reading of the Old Testament, in which God did not bless because the Israelites were doing something wrong and were not repenting of it. Often, it sounded like people who were teaching these new farming methods were saying that if you switched over, God would have to bless you for your obedience and that is not always the case in farming because of other extraneous circumstances nor is it necessarily the case that people who are well-off are right in the center of God’s will and blessing.

What saves us? Ourselves? God? His grace? Hard work? A certain set of beliefs that are exactly right?

– In the first couple of months that I was in Lesotho, my host mom and a young man from the community who was probably in his mid- to upper- twenties met together every Sunday for Bible Study. After the first Sunday, I wondered if my host mom really wanted him to come back. I sat and listened that first evening as he told her that because she was baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic Church, she was not really following what God wanted. He claimed that she really needed to be baptized in the river or at least baptized by immersion somewhere. I became very upset in these moments because my host mom began questioning her raising and in some sense, whether her baptism as an infant was enough for God. I encouraged her then to not give in to the young man’s demands, but instead, to stand firm in the faith that she had been raised in. I was convinced that God’s grace was not hingent on her perfect form of baptism.  When you think about the salvation of a person, what is God saving them hingent on? Is it hingent on some set of beliefs, some acknowledgement of truth in the world, an acceptance of Jesus into my heart (whatever that means), a commitment to following Jesus, or maybe even a set of rules that people need to be following? What is God’s grace hingent on in your conception of who God is? My final question is that if God’s grace is truly unearned, free, and unmerited, how can it be hingent on anything that we say, think, or do? How can it have anything to do with us at all?

Is God’s grace transformative? If it is, then why do we continue to use violence, manipulation, coercion to get what we want or to get someone to do what we want? Are we willing to love unconditionally?

–  During my first three months in the school, I really began thinking about why corporal punishment bothered me so much. In some senses, I was fine with hitting a child because I had learned in my psychology classes in university that if administered with proper restraint and explanation, corporal punishment can be effective. But I was concerned because it seemed only to show who had all the power in the relationship in Lesotho.  Sometimes I wanted so bad to use the stick on some students and show them who was the master or leader of the classroom. I saw this also in the disciplinary actions of the teachers.  I found that their methods were very inconsistent and seemed to hinge more on how angry the teacher was at the time or if the action seemed to remove power from the teacher.  I wondered about how I had disregarded the idea that God is reactionary and waiting to punish us when we messed up. I wondered how I could be someone like that when I didn’t believe God was like that. I believe that God’s grace is transformative, that him giving of himself to empower us is what brings about change in our lives, not the strict and unmerciful laws of the Old Testament. Swift retribution does not seem to be the way of Jesus, yet it is the easiest method for getting across our point in the moment. I soon realized that I needed to start thinking creatively about how grace works in a practical sense in the classroom. How does it look to extend God’s transformative grace to other people? Is it possible to bring about a change of behavior using grace rather than punishment?

Is power a scarce resource that we cannot be willing to give away all the time? Is there a source of power, and if so, will it run out (not talking about electricity)? Power is an abstract idea that we have created in our world. How can we show that it is actually not possible for power to ever run out? Do we try to empower the people around us as Jesus did?

– This idea challenged me as I continued to cope with what felt like powerlessness in the classroom. The students would not listen to me because I did not use the stick. Also I did not know a lot of Sesotho, which made it more difficult for them to ask for help from me when they had a conflict among themselves. Someone on the team of MCC workers in South Africa challenged me to really think about whether or not power is a scarce resource that requires hoarding. How do we hoard power from other people hoping that if we hold onto it, we will never have this scary feeling of powerlessness? Maybe We’ll be able then to control our world if we hoard all of our power.

Quotes from the year:

“The only thing you are entitled to in life is death” (in response to a conversation about the entitlement mentality of people at home as well as people we were experiencing in Lesotho; we all think that we deserve something from other people and from life itself; maybe all we’re rally guaranteed is death in this life)

“In Lesotho, things come to life and things come to death” – I saw certain things come to life in Lesotho like ideas about community, hospitality, family, and so much more. However, I also saw life choices, habits, and events that would lead to death also in Lesotho like violence, drunkenness, and other related things. In addition, this goes back to the death rate of Lesotho in comparison to America in that death is more a part of life there than here where we often push death to the side and try to ignore it.

Where/how/when have I seen God in the last year in Lesotho?

I saw God in the little things like…

–          Sitting down every evening almost with my host family to pray, eat, and drink tea.

–          The faces of my students who challenged me, mocked me, and inspired me throughout the experience. They challenged me to think about the transformative nature of grace.

–  The faces of teachers who are also mothers, cooks, cleaners, walkers, water-fetchers, bill-payers for the family, and so much more.

–  The slow pace of life and the tiring nature of life filled with fetching water, eating lots of carbohydrates, and cooking everything from scratch

I saw God in my language teacher who gave me so much grace in learning a language I had never heard before.

I saw God in challenging conversations about development and poverty with local people as well as missionaries who have been involved in development for years.

I saw God in all of the conversations, prayers, misery, and joy of being with my SALT co-worker. Living a year in Lesotho would have been much more difficult without her.

To conclude these remarks, I encourage you to take these questions and ideas home with you. Chew on them for a while, talk to someone about them, reflect on them, and figure out what some of these things could look like in your life. Following Jesus is not a one-time event or prayer; it is a journey with God toward relationships, a way of life, and a planet that are more whole, more real, more life-giving. Thank you.

Comment or challenge any thoughts as you read this. Let me know what you’re thinking.

An Unforgettable Journey the finale

•December 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

After school ended the first week of June, I was able to focus on a few other things for the school besides my usual duties of fixer-upper and class visitor. The school was interested in getting some new textbooks for reading and some new dictionaries for the classes to share. I had told them since Christmas that I was willing to assist them in buying some new tetbooks and things for the school. Me Malintle, fearing that there may not be another opportunity like this jumped at the chance and finally was able to get a consensus from the teachers on the books that they wanted. I ordered 10 copies of two different English textbooks from SA, 10 Advanced Learners Oxford English Dictionaries, and a single copy of the shorter oxford English dictionary, which was to serve as the authority in the school as to whether a certain word was actually English. I ordered a copy of the shorter oxford from America through Better World Books, a online used book store that is committed to literacy around the world and has free shipping to anywhere in the world. I was so excited when it came in. The other books I was able to buy locally through the different book printers in Lesotho. Besides these new books, I was able also to find around 50 to 60 used childrens books in South Africa that I brought back to the library to at least add a few to the small collection of 500 books. The teachers, though, were so excited when all of these different books came in and they were able to begin using them in their classrooms.

In addition, throughout the year we were able to interact with some different visiting groups, including students from Eastern Mennonite University and Bethel College. There were a couple of different farming conferences, one of which was done through the network that had grown around different farmers from around southern Africa who had started to adopt Farming God’s Way, the name given to the conservation agriculture principles that they used and taught. The other farming conference was through MCC, in which partners of MCC from southern Africa came to Lesotho to continue training and talking about the different problems that each one has encountered in his or her home country. We had some individual visitors also who came from the US, Canada, and Holland just to name a few. I was not always interacting with Basotho, just most of the time. It was always refreshing, though, to speak to a native English speaker who understood, at least partly, where you were coming from and understood things the first time you said them.

At the end of June, we left Lesotho, spent a couple of weeks in South Africa, and returned to America on the 18th of July. About a week later, I was driving home with my parents, wondering if the experience I had had in the past year was only a dream. It seemed so distant and foggy in comparison to the experience I was having here in America. Could two realities like Lesotho and America really exist in our world? If so, am I ok with them both existing in such ways? These questions, I will continue to wrestle with probably for the rest of my life. As you read all of these things feel free to email me and ask questions about the experience that you didn’t quite understand or didn’t line up right. The thoughts expressed in this journey are not necessarily normative for the entire country of Lesotho, but they are my experience.