As is not uncommon for me, I have the lines of a song wending their way through my head. Today's song is, thankfully, NOT Rebecca Black's whatever it's called about weekends. Thanks to the guys on my team, I have been having flashbacks to middle school for the past several days, and they aren't the enjoyable kind.
One of the most startling things about the past few days has just been the realization that life is not what it used to be. I am doing things that I have never done before, and while I don't want to act like street evangelism is the easiest thing in the world... It's not like it used to be.
Derrik and I were at The Harvard Co-Op asking God for words for people, and we happened to be sitting in front of the Religion section. As I waited for our one small notebook, I glanced at some of the titles, my eye settling briefly on Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller. That book just so happens to be the one that I picked up at Borders two days before dts began while I was waiting for Hayden to show up at the Olive Garden for our last meeting before I was whirled away to Harrisburg. And even as I thought back to that day, as monumental and insane as my life seemed then, I am struck by how dramatically it seems to have changed. We joke about "paradigm shifts," as if they were an everyday occurrence, not realizing at times how dramatically such a shift has actually taken place over these past several months.
There is something about spending crazy amounts of time in the presence of God and in an amazing community that challenges and supports me in ways that I could never have expected. Somewhere along the line, you start realizing that some sacrifices are not too great to make, that some personal freedoms that we have come to expect are really just our selfishness getting in the way of an amazing relationship, and that our God is worth every second of life regardless of the circumstances.
Sorry, I don't really have time to wrap up my ramblings, but I also have to take care of college stuff! Insanity... :S
It's the second day of spring, but thanks to Boston's present weather conditions, you would be hard put to know it. Mondays are our days off: that is, if you can ever really take a break from the process of learning a lifestyle of evangelism. From where I sit at The Thinking Cup just off Boston Common, I can see mostly snow and not many people braving the wet and chilly weather. Thankfully, it's warmer inside with a mug of chai and a cozy atmosphere, although by some strange quirk of coffee shop world, they do not have free WiFi. Obviously I have been exposed to Starbucks for too long because my system has no cushion for such a shocking circumstance. Nonetheless, The Thinking Cup boasts more than enough ambience and amiability (not to mention its tempting menu which is almost entirely off limits to me at present) to make up for its deplorable lack of internet access. Oh, and the barista gave me a little tutorial on new coffee gadgets like a press that is a cross between a full immersion (french press-style) coffee, a pour through, and espresso. I like this place.
We have been here for two weeks, and in some ways they seem almost like a dream. The ride here was not terribly chaotic or anything, just eight, blessedly uneventful hours packed into a 13 passenger van with the Washington, D.C. team and one other member of my own. Being the smallest group with six people, we have the prized fate of being divided whenever we need transportation anywhere. In a sort of free-spirited protest, all six of us have gained a fierce affection for public transportation that no glance at Boston's T system of buses and subways could explain. There is something to being together and independent that makes up for any inconvenience.
But I digress. Since that first day, we have gone through the tumult of moving into YWAM Boston housing, moving out, staying two nights at a church, staying one night at another church, being somewhat rudely awoken and hastened out only to move back into YWAM housing where we have at last had the opportunity to heave a sigh of relief and settle into our surroundings until March 31st, when three fourths of our school will be traveling to New Haven, Connecticut, for part two of outreach at Yale.
Our days are a somewhat helter skelter mix of team worship and devotions, meals (which have had ample opportunity to assert themselves as a most obnoxious concession to physical necessity), afternoons of evangelism, Bible studies, Christian fellowships, amazing intercession sets at Justice House of Prayer, and the occasional side trip to chase down someone on crutches. One of the things we were well informed of in advance is that plans are always subject to change. Often at the last moment. Often due to unforeseeable circumstances, as when one of our team leaders, Elizabeth, had to go to the emergency room last Thursday.
In the midst of all of this, God has been teaching me so much. It is hard to explain how difficult the first week here was, but I didn't even quite realize it then because I think I was in a merciful state of shock. We talked about how three months of outreach means a fairly significant amount of crucifying one's flesh, but I didn't expect the reality of that to be learning how to live with twelve other girls in close quarters with one bathroom or reeling at the odd hours of night clashing with my early, early morning person self or re-learning what it means to walk in the presence of God when you're not regularly in the prayer room on your face before Him.
Still, He is so faithful through all of that. I am reminded of one of Mandela's lines in the movie “Invictus,” when he speaks to Francois Pienaar about the difficulty of stirring men to be greater than they think they are. I like to think that God is in that business. Late this past Saturday evening, I was talking with my teammate Joy about the various personalities that make up our team. She was wrestling a little bit with some difficulty she was having with one or two other people, and I mentioned that one of the things that helps me (having come head to head with the same quirks) is simply to recognize that our capacity for grace arises out of our ability to recognize that the weaknesses we wrestle with or are offended by in others are actually their greatest strengths undergoing the grueling process of refinement. For instance, Joy had the realization that each of us fits into a five-fold ministry slot. One of our teammates is inarguably the evangelist, and he's great at it. But as he also mentioned recently, he is a verbal processor who is determined to share every revelation he gets and to make sure that his audience understands fully. This has very practical benefits while evangelizing, but sometimes it means that he cannot stop himself from talking overlong, and he has had to ask for both forgiveness and grace. We are happy to give it, not because we want him to stay where he's at, but because we are willing to fight for his destiny and to see him become a better person as God takes him through that refining fire.
Another serious area of growth has been in the evangelistic process. Last Saturday, we teamed up in pairs and wandered around Harvard Yard, striking up conversations with people about Jesus. Derrik and I had quite a few mishaps, from the Wilderness Survival First Aid class (the guy with the makeshift splint on his leg was not injured or in need of healing prayer) to the guy who led Derrik on a merry chase across campus to say that he thought Jesus was “a cool guy with some good quotes” and that “he didn't really talk about his religion” (to which I wanted to reply, “What are you, 32nd level Freemason?!”) and then hurried off. After eleven brush offs and rejections of various types (the busy people, the “I-don't-talk-about-religion” people, the “pray for someone who needs it” people, or the guy who had a cross tattooed on his thigh and thought that would be his pass into heaven), Derrik and I finally saw an hour and a half of freezing persistence pay off in a twenty minute conversation with a girl named Erika. First, I want to say that she did not convert. BUT we believe that we are part of a process and we meet people at every stage of plowing, sowing, and reaping. Erika identifies herself most closely with Wicca, ascribing to a sort of Pocahantas-inspired pantheism. She thinks God doesn't exist but Jesus was an interesting historical figure with probable political ties, and she believes in reincarnation and the existence of pain and suffering as part of a necessary progression of lessons that our souls must learn before they reach a state of perfection and can enter into whatever afterlife there may be. Over the course of our conversation with her, we got to share some of our hearts with her and at least introduce the idea that there might be more to Jesus than she at first thought. We prayed for her, prophesied over her, and encouraged her to pick up a Bible again. Derrik suspected there might be some of what Sammy would call nar-nar spiritual stuff going on with her, mostly because she seemed to see-saw between genuine interest and engagement to a dramatic shut down when Derrik offered her a New Testament.
On Thursday afternoon, while Nick and Elizabeth were at the emergency room so that she could get blood tests and fluid, the four of us (Tyler, Derrik, Joy, and myself) went to Harvard Yard and spent an hour talking with people. It was a beautiful day, and although Harvard has been on Spring Break for the past week, we actually were able to find people who were students rather than tourists. The first guy, Gary, said he was a Christian, although I now wish we had stayed and talked with him a little more. The second guy was possibly staff or faculty and he told us to go away because “Jesus is not his friend and we should go talk to someone else. End of story.” The next guy, Cory, is an Indonesian student in his freshman year. He is a Buddhist, but not necessarily raised so. He said that through Buddhist meditation, he was healed from an ailment as a child, and he still prays to Buddha regularly, believing that he actually communicates with him. Derrik and I shared some of the shortcomings of Buddha, specifically that Jesus actually dealt with the issue of sin in the world and takes our judgment on himself, but Cory, for all his refreshing openness in talking about his religion, preferred to steer away from that discussion. I prayed for him (with his permission), and Derrik got his email address, so I don't think that's the end of the story.
What these stories illustrate to me more than anything is that there will always be rejection. But ultimately, I do not have to take the brunt of rejection into myself and revel in discouragement. The people who refuse Jesus are not rejecting me: they don't even know me. They are rejecting Jesus and the gift of grace that he embodied on the cross. I can't be offended on his behalf, and I'm finding that these days it does more to break my heart than my sense of self. And when we push through the rejections and the discomforts, God grants us incredible opportunities to meet and share with the ones who ARE hungry to know more of Him.
I apologize if I have been too wordy or tangential, and if you just want testimonies, we saw a guy with a torn rotator cuff doing push ups in a coffee shop, a Jewish girl converted, and a new Christian brought into a discipleship relationship. We've had opportunities to encourage and prophesy over future governmental leaders at Harvard Law, we've prayed for a homeless man who struggled with alcoholism but feels that God is calling him to pastoral ministry, and we even got into a conversation about the nature of healing with a guy on the T who let us pray for his knee with a certain amount of skepticism. We've spent some very cold hours evangelizing, had people approach us instead of the other way around (perfect opportunity for evangelism), and had wild, spontaneous intercession times with newfound friends in Harvard Yard.
The more time we spend here, the more I am coming to realize the reality of Ephesians 3:20 with its message of God's infinite power to work beyond our imaginings through us. The God who created and sustains the universe chooses to partner with weak, finite man in order to see His purposes brought about on the earth. What an honor it is, and what a joy to walk in fellowship with the only One who can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.
Thank you all for your support, both in getting me here financially and in praying for me and my team over the course of our outreach. I am so privileged to be here, and I can't even believe that I get to do this for eight more weeks. Prayer requests at this point are: affordable housing in Oxford, health for Elizabeth who has a mix of medical maladies, and lasting discipleship relationships formed out of our time here at Harvard and upcoming at Yale. We have already seen so much fruit, but we still have so far to go.