Sunday, December 27, 2009


December 15, 2009

Things at the office are always busy, always crazy. There is forever work to be done; justice to be sought. But today proved to have a refreshing break from the normal duties our days usually hold. At Christmastime, our office usually participates in all the Christmas parties at the aftercare homes we work with. Our aftercare department is bustling with excitement with gifts spread out everywhere for the rescued girls, as the social workers wrap and sort them.

Today I had the privilege to attend one of the parties at one of the homes in which several of our girls reside. I had read and seen the cases, reports and photos of some of these girls, and even written up stories about them; finally I got to see where they lived their lives.

We set out around 3pm, swiftly making our way to the home and having favor with the traffic. We eventually arrived at the gate of the home, which was on a hectic and busy street. The guard opened the gate, allowing our entrance. As we drove down the narrow road, I suddenly forgot that I was still in a city of millions of people. Trees and foliage were abounding, creating a sanctuary around the many buildings that housed hundreds of children and teenagers from all different situations and backgrounds. The sounds of honking and traffic quickly disappeared as an overwhelming sense of peace stole its place. After a few minutes, we came across the building in which our girls lived and unloaded the gifts, snacks and guitar. A few of the girls immediately came out to greet us with smiles on their faces, helping us carry in the parcels. Our arrival came at just the right time for afternoon tea, a daily occurrence here. A few aftercare staff members from our office were already there and we waited several minutes for one more to arrive.

Finally, the time came to assemble for the “party.” The bell was rung and the girls began to gather in the large room adjacent to their building. We stood by the door as they filed into the room decorated with tinsel and balloons. Names were exchanged, which was the extent of our knowledge of their language. We gathered everyone in a large circle, with about thirty girls sitting on the floor.

The first game that we played intrigued me. Little pieces of paper were passed out with words written on them such as “faith,” “hope,” “peace,” and “love.” The girls were to one by one explain what that word meant to them. They were shy at first, not wanting to share. But as we went around the circle, they started feeling more comfortable. Much of it was not in English, which made me focus on their faces, looking into their eyes. I couldn’t help but begin to wonder. How many of these girls had never experienced pure, unconditional love? How many of them have yet to have peace or joy in their lives? Some of them had glimmers in their eyes, with the most beautiful smiles. Others had eyes that lacked any sign of life at all. One girl stared off as the other spoke about what hope meant to her. What was she thinking about? What horrific memories were forever etched in her mind? The girls were on all different levels of healing from the brutal atrocities they lived through; a process that I cannot begin to fathom.

The next activity was to break out the guitar and sing some songs. Our aftercare director sang a beautiful song and then it was my turn, along with a fellow intern, Ashley. We were requested to sing the butterfly song. Every child who has grown up in church has heard the butterfly song, but these girls had never heard it. The lyrics were translated for them and we proceeded to sing. They fixed their attention on us as the words were sung, “For you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile. You gave me Jesus and you made me your child, but I just thank you Father for making me me.” These girls were no longer children, many of them approaching adulthood. But they were still children of God. Their innocence may have been stripped from them, but they were still beautiful in the sight of God.

The more serious time transitioned into a fun time of dancing. Ashley and I had learned some choreography to a popular musical in the US.  We were aware of the tremendous skill these girls had in dancing compared to our desperate attempts at hip hop. Despite this, many of the girls were too shy to come up and dance with us. We finally convinced a few to learn it and they followed our lead, many of them eventually warming up to us. Then came the time of testing when they broke out their own music. Their bodies moved with such grace and fluidity in ways I don’t think I’ll ever be able to imitate. But we tried, and they found it quite entertaining.

To top the night off, we had some amazing snacks, as the girls giggled and talked. The camera that Ashley brought was quite the attraction as the continuous flow of flashes helped light up the room. Even though we could not communicate extensively, the girls seemed to enjoy our presence as we did theirs. As I looked around the room, I almost could not believe I was there. What a privilege to be in a room so full of grace, redemption and hope.

As we began to head out the door, one of the girls requested that we let her do some henna on our arms. I had never had it done before though it is quite a popular here. I certainly wanted my first experience to be with these girls. As she took my hand into hers, she began making lines and curves and swirls on my arm. I didn’t know what the end result would look like, but trusted her. After about ten minutes, I finally saw her design. I had beautiful flowers and leaves drawn on my arm extending down onto my hand and two of my fingers. It was beautiful, just like the artist who drew it.

We finally said our goodbyes, promising we would return to visit again soon. It was dark by now and we headed down the small hill, back to the reality of the city. The gate was again opened for us, this time for our departure and we headed home.

It was a good day. A day of just being. Being with girls who have had experiences I could never imagine. Nonetheless, they were still giggling, silly girls, just like me. I don’t know when I will have the opportunity to return, but I hope it is soon.  

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Good Intentions or Mindless Motions

"Only those who obey can believe, and only those who believe can obey." ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

You cannot have one without the other. But how many time do we separate them. How many times to I separate them. 

Jesus calls Peter out of the boat. Peter steps out. What if he obeyed but didn't believe? The waves would have engulfed him if he had no faith. In fact, we see that when he doubts and fears, he begins to sink. He must have faith if he thinks he is going to defy the natural laws of the universe and stand on water. He must believe that Jesus words are true. 

What if he believed but didn't obey? He would have sat in the boat, with good intentions that would never be fulfilled. In fact, he asked Jesus to call him. His good intentions without action would have been disobedience to Jesus' call to "Come." 

"If the first half of the proposition stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of cheap grace, which is another word for damnation. If the second half stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of salvation through works, which is also another word for damnation." ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Faith and Obedience: easier said than done. 

Faith. What are things in my life that I believe are true, but do nothing about? If there's anything I was told by my culture growing up, it's the potential my generation has. Oh how much we could do to change the world. Our lives can often be filled with good intentions. The church can be filled with good intentions. Good intentions are good until they remain only good intentions and go no further. I'm taking action. My intentions are not just intentions anymore, but reality. But I'm learning even in the midst of the adventure I'm living out here in South Asia, I can be complacent. Oh that I don't simply have faith that I can change the world, but I actually change it! 

Define changing the world: setting one life free from captivity, violence and abuse; telling the stories of those who cannot speak for themselves; feeding a hungry person. You get the idea.

Obedience. What are things in my life that I'm doing, but don't believe anything will come of it?What are things I pray everyday, but don't believe will actually come to fruition? Am I going through the motions? Oh that I would believe the things I am called to do everyday would make a difference. Oh that I would believe that God would use my brokenness to bring him glory.  Oh that I would believe that the stories I write would move people to action. Walk in confidence of who I am... we are... in Christ. My insecurities are something that can be poison. Is it a sin to dwell in something that God clearly took to the cross? Am I disregarding the price that was paid? 

Is this complicated, or do we just make it complicated? I'm pondering on it. You ponder on it.

South Asia has taught me much about God. Much about myself. And I'm afraid the process is only beginning. Every day that I'm here, I can't believe that I'm here. The one month mark has come and gone. Spouts of homesickness come and go. I love my family. I love my friends. I love my church. I knew it was only a matter of time before the "you don't appreciate what you have until you don't have it anymore" feeling set in. It has. But, I am perfectly content here. I love the city. Still working on finding a "family," friends and church here. It's coming along slowly, but it's coming. Relationships are often hard, time consuming, and sometimes messy. But that's the beauty of God's children... they are everywhere. The world is full of them, and everywhere I go I meet beautiful people... 

We exist to love God and love others. In simple obedience... in radical faith.   

Monday, October 26, 2009


I’ve been in South Asia for almost two weeks now. In some ways it seems like it has been years, and in others, only a day. If you have ever been able to experience a culture other than your own, you know that it can be exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. I do not enjoy being the silly westerner who knows nothing, and want to learn as much as I can, as fast as I can. I live in a crazy, loud and filthy city, and somehow still love it. Grant it, I’ve yet to hit the cultural adjustment roadblock of extreme frustration, but I’ll let you know when I get there. For now, I am going to enjoy enjoying the city.

I think my favorite part of the day is morning and afternoon tea. I now find myself building expectation every morning to having tea served, a new custom I will gladly adopt into my life. It is a simple, yet soothing part of the day, in the midst of a barrage of thoughts and activities.

I’ve yet to see any large roaches or rats. Shocking I know, considering where I am. God must have mercy on me after a childhood in Florida. We’ve had other smaller insects, in which one of my roommate gets a thrill out of killing, and the other simply gets a cup and paper to release the creature to a less threatening environment. I prefer the former.

We’ve slowly but surely started making our flat look like our home. It is pretty much a haven. I’ve developed a particular fondness for beds and firm mattresses after sleeping on a cot for the past two weeks, that felt more like a hammock. I finally got a real bed today, and it has been one of the happiest days of my life. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I am particularly thankful for it. I also finally discovered why, despite spraying myself down with insect repellent before bed and plugging in a “bug-off,” I was still getting eaten up. The outlet that the “bug-off” was plugged into was not turned on, and the window screen left a crack open, which could have been sealed off, if I had only closed the window the right way. Yes, I truly felt like an idiot, but it made for some good humor, which I never shared with my roommates, who will most likely laugh when they read this;)

There’s so much about the culture that I am still sorting through, particularly in relation to my work. So many random things go through my head, a million miles a minute, and it’s only slowly starting to come together, to form full ideas, which are of course, mostly my own opinions. The difficult part is to take those ideas and thoughts, and try to juxtapose them with God’s Word. If only my ideas could be recorded as I have them, since I couldn’t possibly write them all out. When I think about the world around me, the city I am now living in, with the lens of God’s sovereign Truth, it is a whole new perspective, often difficult and sometimes ironic. It’s quite overwhelming, to say the least. Our flat overlooks tall buildings and clusters of shacks. To see wealth and poverty, heroes and perpetrators, the innocent and the abused, all in one picture, makes for an interesting internal dialogue of God’s mercy, love and justice. So much so, that I cannot even verbalize it yet. It’s a process, and I’m still working through it with God.

And amidst my scattered random thoughts, I am in the middle of reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, The Cost of Discipleship, and found a treasure. He is one of my heroes, who lived in a time of different circumstances, yet somewhat similar ideologies... and when referring to the Nazi regime in Germany at that time, he says:

“It is not only my task to look after the victims of madmen who drive a motorcar in a crowded street, but to do all in my power to stop their driving at all.”

And I will leave you with that.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Learned a Lesson

     As many of you know, I am headed to South Asia pretty soon, in fact, I was supposed to leave two weeks ago, but God had other plans. 

     For me, this journey to Asia to work with a human rights organization, is the ultimate... I have arrived. I have NEVER been so sure of and excited about anything else in my life. I was all set and ready to go, and God decided to pull the reigns a bit and gently say, in MY time Michelle, not yours. I ended up having some issues obtaining a visa, and therefore had to postpone my trip. 

     Now, you might be thinking, two weeks is no big deal, but to me, it was everything, it was an inconvenience. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I could say I was literally angry at God, but the past week or so, I came pretty close to it. I was depressed, angry, and you might even say, rebellious. I ignored God, and refused to spend time in His word that week. I admit it. Silly, I know, very silly. I trust God with my finances, material needs, career, family, future spouse, and NOW I decide to doubt Him. Of all the pain and trials I've been through in my short life, and I choose to get angry about something like this. 

     The biggest thing though was not knowing what the exact plan was. I like to have MY plan and sometimes forget its not MY plan, but GOD'S plan. I may never know why God chose to delay my trip; it could simply be to teach me a lesson. I learned that even though this burning passion I have is for something close to the heart of God, I still need to surrender THAT to God. Just because it's a noble and godly thing, doesn't mean I can make my own plans. God sometimes needs to remind us that HE is in control and can change our "noble" plans in a heartbeat. I cannot become so consumed with "godly things" that I forget about God himself. I cannot become so busy with fighting for justice that I forget He IS justice. HE is the reason I have dreams to pursue... gosh, He put them there! 

     So, Tuesday night I decided to get rid of my self pity and read the word a bit. And I read this:

  "Now listen, you who say, 'Today, or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'" 
~James 4:13-15

     I thought, okay God, I cannot control this situation, and that kills me, but you have complete control over it, and I think I am finally deciding to fully trust you with this. I admit, I still wasn't overly thrilled, but I did give it up at least.

     The next day, I got an email saying my visa was in the mail, and the day after that, it came. 

     So now I leave for Asia in a few days, completely humbled. I WAS able to get some things done this week, that I otherwise would not have been able to do. I spent some time with people I otherwise would not have. I am rested, and SO ready to GO.

     And finally, I read this scripture last night...

     "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." ~Philippians 4:4-7

Lesson learned. 


Thursday, September 10, 2009

loaves and fish

I was reading a book recently in which the author made a good point about the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with simply 5 loaves and 2 fish. You know, I wonder sometimes if we truly grasp HOW big and sovereign our God is. He literally speaks and things come to be, from nothing. That day when he was teaching those 5000 people, he could have done anything to feed them. Food could have fallen from the sky... it had happened before, so why not? Water could have poured from a rock. Anything.

But he CHOSE to use the simple food a young boy in the crowd had. Maybe he had caught the fish himself, or maybe his mother gave him the food as he was rushing out the door to hear this Jesus teach. 

Needless to say, Jesus used this boys food. Rather than call down food from heaven, he multiplied what this boy already had, and fed 5000 people, with leftovers. 

What's the point in all this? You know, God could do anything... breath, snap his fingers... anything, and poverty, hunger, disease, could be cured, or gone. When it comes to seeking justice, he could strike down those brothel owners, or slave holders, or perpetrators, at any moment, freeing the victims. Sometimes he does, but why not always? It's so hard for my mind to try to grasp and comprehend these kinds of things, and I don't even claim to begin to know answers. I can't even comprehend the kinds of injustices that go on around the world. But this I do know...  God is searching the earth for His children who will, speak up, stand up, show up. When "justice is driven back" and "truth is nowhere to be found" he is looking for His people who will intervene (Isaiah 59:14-16). He not only exercises "kindness, JUSTICE, and righteousness on earth," but he DELIGHTS in them (Jeremiah 9:24). 

I don't have very much to offer. Like that young boy, my fish and loaves won't feed very many. BUT, what I do have is a willing heart to submit my fish and loaves to Jesus, for HIM to use. The beauty of Him using something so meager, is that He is more glorified. It sounds so simple, so elementary. But do we really live by this?

When I think that there are 27 million people still living in slavery I could have two possible responses: 

1. How could I even make a dent in that? It's impossible. God find someone else.
2. I don't have much to offer, but what I do have, I submit to you God, to use, even if it's for one life changed. One life set free.

Moses had a similar response to number 1 at first, when God asked him to free hundreds of people from slavery. I always wondered why God didn't just ask Aaron to do the job, since he was the mouth for Moses anyway. Why? Because God chose to use someone with a weakness, so that He would be glorified. It was Moses' calling, not Aaron's. 

And you know what? Sometimes God also raises up people to do things because someone else dropped their calling and refused to do it. 

So what IS my response?

I will not drop my calling.
I will be one to intervene,
to speak for those who cannot.
I will seek... fight for... pursue... reveal... justice.
I will demonstrate, by the grace of God, love, compassion, mercy and humility.
My response is number 2: every part of who I was created to be, is God's, for him to use, for His glory. 

How about you?