Category Archives: Compassion

“Her Name is Praise”

 

  

  

 “and a garment of  praise instead of a spirit of despair” Isaiah 61:3 


“A little ragged around the edges” – has been my response to friends and family when asked how I’m doing after my trip to India. Of course I tell them how amazing India is and how warm and kind the people are. I always mention the colors and usually tell them how one of the sponsors described it as “a rainbow exploded and poured color on everyone”.  

     

  

I always mention the food. Oh the food. It really is a love/hate relationship with the food. For every person that I meet that hates the taste of curry, there is one that can’t get enough of it. I fall on the side of a little curry goes a long way. I grew up eating curry. My mom cooked with it often. She made a very tasty curry sauce mixed with slices of pork, potatoes and other vegetables. This would be poured over steamed white rice. I say it was tasty only because my mom was an excellent cook. On the other hand, I never acquired a taste for it. Those were the evenings I would groan and murmur under my breath. “Curry again!?”

I could never say it very loud or I would risk not getting anything to eat that night. So I would take lots of white rice and a very small helping of curried vegetables. And after dinner was over and the dishes were done I would sneak back to the kitchen and make a PBJ. That or a few Little Debbie oatmeal pies.

It wasn’t just the curry that I didn’t care for. Indian food is especially spicy. I’m talking the hot spicy. I know, I know, I’m going to hear it from all my cuisine-loving, spice is the slice of life friends out there. And believe me  when I tell you that I love spicy food. I try new things all the time and I can put away some good Mexican food. I’ve even eaten guinea pig in Ecuador for Pete’s sake! But when the food is actually setting your mouth on fire and your eyes are watering so hard that you have to fear getting dehydrated; then my friends I think we have crossed the line. Several of them. Suffice it to say that I am not a big fan of Indian food. I survived on steamed white rice and bread for ten days. And I couldn’t even sneak off to the kitchen to make myself a PBJ!

The other thing that I will always mention when talking about India is the traffic. There were never really any traffic jams. The traffic was always continually moving. Moving at the pace of every man for himself. Pedestrian traffic was the same way. Every man for himself. I never sensed that anyone was being rude, they just didn’t stop if you stopped. If you hesitated in a crowd for just a second, several people would just blow right past you. The street traffic was the same way. Hesitate, and a sea of motorcyles and auto rickshaws would go flying by. Traffic just kept moving all the time. 

An “auto” short for auto rickshaw. Rickshaws used to be pulled by people on bicycles or horses.

And the sounds. You cannot describe what any city in India is like without mentioning the noise. It was a constant barrage of horns and engines. The sounds of India were like the colors. Brilliant and loud. Bright and beautiful. Like an orchestra that was forever warming up and you could anticipate the music that was about to come. And at times, it was like music to me. 

Once I stepped into the rhythm of India.

Part of that rhythm was a wonderful gesture that people of all ages used. The only way I can describe it, is a bobble of the head. A movement very similar to those bobble head dolls  that people keep on their dashboards or the bobble heads of athletes that you can find at any sporting event in North America. If you said thank you, you would likely get a bobble of the head in response. If you asked a question or asked for directions you may simply get a wobble of the head. It means many things in their language, it could mean yes, it could mean no. It could mean I’m thinking about it or I’m not sure. It could mean maybe or it could mean “as you wish.”  In a country of over 1,650 dialects it appeared to be a universal response that everyone understands.  I find myself doing it on occassion now. I do it when I don’t really want to answer a question.

So my response after being home for nearly two weeks is still “a little ragged around the edges” or a simple bobble of the head.  I’m not ragged from the noise and the smells and the spice. I’m a little ragged from the drain on my emotions. There are  stories that don’t often get told when people ask me about India. I give them the quick rundown of traffic and people . So much traffic, so many people – over 1.27 billion of them! I tell them that I managed to not get sick, which they always seem to ask about. How I’m not a fan of curried anything. But I never seem to be able to get around to telling them the stories that really matter.

So I thank you for staying with me this far. I need to tell you why I’m a little ragged around the edges. And I’m not even certain that I know completely how undone I am. This may require more than one story.

Our group of thirty Americans and four India staff had just moved from spending four full days in Chennai. The city is on the coast in the very southern part of India. I would describe Chennai as a very modern and progressive area. We had very little to be concerned about regarding our faith and our nationalities. But now we had moved on to Nagpur, in the very center of India. There isn’t much to see in Nagpur. This was evident when I was asked by a traveler on the plane to Nagpur what we were doing there. I responded that we were doing some sightseeing, that we were tourists. This is what I have been trained to say when visiting other countries. His response threw me off a little – “What is there to see in Nagpur?” Good question. No good answer.

So while in Nagpur we were told to keep a low profile. To not broadcast why we were there. Members of a political faction that are in power were staying at our hotel. This group wants to eradicate Christianity from India. I only mention this to help you understand the climate that we were in now.

So we went to visit a little church in the city. A beautiful place run by beautiful people. We spent the morning with them, learning about their programs, watching children perform cultural dances and playing with the kids. 

After lunch we were to split into six groups of five and visit some of the homes in the area. I knew from speaking with the Pastor that everyone was a little nervous about thirty  Americans walking around the area and visiting people’s homes. I cancelled the home visits much to the relief of the Pastor and his staff. We decided to have the families come to the church instead.

This is when I met her, the girl named Mahime (Ma-hee-may). I had noticed her earlier in the day as she performed a cultural dance. We had spent a little time getting to know her parents and learning about some of their struggles. But when Mahime showed up she captivated all of us immediately. There was something about her eyes. She had the eyes of an old soul. I’m not even sure what that means but that’s the only way I can describe it.

We asked her what her hopes and dreams were. Her response was immediate and full of certainty, “I want to serve the Lord all of my days.” This is a ten year old girl speaking not someone in seminary.  Someone else asked what we could pray for her.  What did she need?  Again, without hesitation, she replied “I would like to have a house that I can talk to God freely in. A place that I can worship Him openly.”

She explained that the house she was living in was owned by a Hindu family and they were not allowed to pray or worship out loud. She explained how she did pray and worship and praise. How she could not stop praying and praising. She did it quietly. She did it in secret. Her and her parents had learned how to commune with God in a quiet way, in a secret place.

 Our hearts were captured by this little girl named Mahime, wearing a red saree and possessing a heart that wants to please the Lord. A girl who was a miracle  to her mom and dad. A child that was never supposed to be conceived. A child that the doctors had told the parents would never be. A child that was an answer to a mother’s prayers.

A child that touched us with her simple wants, to simply praise Jesus.

And as I mentioned earlier that India is a country of so many dialects, it is important to know that in the particular  dialect of Mahime and her family, which is Tamil – Mahime means Praise. And I am sure she is praising Him now, with every breath she breathes, and with every move of every dance. And when her eyes look into the heavens, I am sure that God looks back and is pleased  with her soul.

I pray that this beautiful little ten year old girl will soon have a place that she can worship and praise from the top of her lungs. That she could shout His name from the rooftops! And if you knew the little girl in the red saree  named Mahime, the way I know her; then you know that she is a miracle and that she is made to praise  Him. And she will shout to the Lord in a voice of triumph!!

 

Mahime – the latest “girl in a red dress”
  

 

I end this post with a Scripture that I believe could be the very heart of the very prayer from Mahime – the girl named Praise. And it shall be my heart cry for her as well.

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and  to seek him in his temple.” Psalm  27:4

“Lillian’s Story – Beauty from Ashes”

                                          “Lillian’s Story – Beauty from Ashes”

“and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:3                                        
 
It is 3 AM and I’m laying in my bed tossing and turning. Trying so hard to sleep and get myself back to a normal schedule. I keep telling myself that it’s just the jet lag, my body is still on African time, that I just need to force myself to sleep. But I know deep down inside that it is more than that.
Something is haunting me, something is calling me to tell her story. My mind has not been able to escape the powerful words that I heard just a few days ago. Her words haunted me as she was telling them.
I keep hearing the word undone in messages and conversations. A friend I made on the trip to Uganda used them in her writing. My wife used the word yesterday to describe how she is feeling. And it keeps reverberating in my mind, over and over… I feel as if I don’t write this down I may never sleep again.
 
The only way I know to tell her story is to start from the beginning, but that isn’t really where the story starts for me. You have to understand who Lillian is today, who she has become in spite of all that had come against her. 
The woman standing before me telling us her story is a beautiful, vibrant African woman. So full of life and an effervescent energy. A smile and a laugh that I can only describe as a burst of sunshine. She laughed hard and loud and often. She spoke with the confidence of a queen, like royalty, like a diplomat.
And she is all of those things to me and more.
 
I met Lillian only ten days before, coming in from a red eye flight from Amsterdam. A flight that had already been delayed by four hours. We arrived so tired from our flight that all any of us wanted to do was to get to our hotel and sleep. We were running on empty but Lillian’s smile and her warm greeting seemed to energize us all a little. Even this early in the morning after flying all night, Lillian managed to make us laugh. Our burden seemed just a little bit lighter.
I knew in an instant that I would enjoy Lillian. When I arrived at the bus, everyone had already boarded. I asked if she was Lillian and she said with the straightest face, “no I’m not”. And then the warmest laugh followed.
She set me at ease so quickly and I knew from that moment that we would work together wonderfully the next ten days.
Lillian loved to tease us. She took every opportunity to see how far she could make us believe a thing. Her statements were usually followed by a lightly accented “Is it not so?” Or “is it not true?” She would tell us with a straight face to do the oddest things and then immediately her infectious laugh would fill the air.
We spent the next ten days falling in love with this Ugandan princess, each and every one of us.
 
It was our last morning of the trip and most of us knew that we had been walking on holy ground throughout our time in Uganda. So many times God had shared a sacred moment with us. Our emotions were raw by this point. We had cried many tears by now. We had laughed ourselves to tears too. We were coming to the end of a lifetime experience and most of us weren’t sure that we could let it go. I was at that place in a trip where I had come to love the people I was with and had served alongside. At that place where my heart had been wrecked once again. And also at that place that I was ready to be home, to be near family, to hold my wife in my arms. To share these experiences with her.
What I wasn’t prepared for, was to have my heart ravished that morning by Lillian and by God.
 
We have to go back now to a place that is very hard for Lillian to go to. A place that is so unlike where she is today. A place that no child, no person should ever have to go to or ever have to come from. We have to go back a few decades now to a time when Lillian was just a little girl.
 We have to go to a place where the struggles of life make love disappear.
 
She was born into a family that already had too many mouths to feed. An unwanted baby girl and a burden for her mom and dad. A precious little child that was treated more like an unwanted piece of furniture than a creation of God. Maybe even worse, because she was told that she was worthless from a very early age.
Her mother died when she was three months old and her father was killed just a few months later. Less than a year old and already made an orphan.
 She was shuffled amongst the many wives of her father. No one wanted her, no one could afford to care for her. After all, they had nothing to give their own children, let alone a child that did not belong to them.
Lillian scratched and clawed her way through her early years. She became a servant to the women of her father’s family, a slave really; to her own half-sisters. She picked through the garbage to find anything she could eat. Some of the women that were supposed to be raising her took better care of their pigs than they did of her. Lillian would spend her days rummaging through trash and rubbish to find food for the pigs. When she found something that someone else had deemed unfit for consumption she would gather it for the pigs. The pieces that she could clean off and eat she kept for herself. And this is how she survived for many years. Granted less dignity than a common farm animal.
 
Lillian fought to survive. She offered to work, to clean, to care for other unwanted children in the homes. And so they tolerated her existence. 
At the age of eight she found the slightest glimmer of hope. She found her way into a program at a local church. A safe place for her to go where she was given a hot meal and basic attention. A place where she learned that she had worth. A place that began to restore a little piece of dignity one tiny bite at a time. The only place she felt safe and loved. A place that took her away from the abuse and the threats and the deep hurt.
Lillian began to love this magical place and the people that nurtured her. People that told her that she was valuable. It was here that she learned that God did love her after all. Love was a foreign language to her but she began to learn how to hear it and to speak it.
Life was still very difficult for this little girl. She woke up early every day to chores that were handed out to her by stepsisters and half-sisters. The women that cursed her very existence. 
She managed to fall in love with learning and made school a priority in spite of the curses. She tried to never miss a class. Her mind was sharp and she was tenacious in her studies. She would dash off to school with a tired body but an excited spirit. Her heart was coming alive.
She would have to hurry home to clean the house and prepare meals for the family. She gathered firewood and she gathered water but most of all she began to gather confidence.
Lillian survived this way for a few more years, being kicked out of house after house. Never did anyone in the family see the slightest value in this hard-working, industrious girl. She suffered more disappointment when she would hurry to get to school only to be called out in front of the other children and told that her school fees were not paid and she would have to leave.
Still the only bright spot continued to be the little Student Center at the little church in her village. No one ever told her that her fees were not paid here. Here she was loved and told that there was a purpose to her life. Here is where she received a sponsor that wrote her letters of encouragement. It was at this little project at a little church where she first knew that someone else in the world, whom she had never met, loved her.
And so it would go like this for Lillian for a few more years.
 She was watching the pages of poverty open in her life, day after day. This was the story of her life. No family to love her, no one to care. Only hard work and disappointment every day. Her only morsel of hope coming from a stranger in a strange land.
Lillian’s life became even more difficult when her uncle, the brother of her father passed away. Now the women had even less reason to care for her.
She was thrown out of house after house at the tender age of 16. No one had any use for her, she was a burden. No one even knew who she belonged to anymore. 
 
She was living in a community without a soul.
image
 
So now Lillian was a young woman of sixteen and now she was being told that she had to leave the only family she had ever known. People that abused her and mistreated her. People that despised her because she didn’t belong to anyone. She was told it was time to go, to find a man that would marry her, to go and find her parents because they had no use for her anymore. These were the children of her father that were now telling her to leave and to never come back. She admits that she wasn’t even sure if they were her father’s children because she had never seen her father. But these were the people that were supposed to care for her, to provide for her basic needs.
So she picked up her meager belongings and left the home, wandering through the village. She had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn to. She slept on the street like a stray dog. What little clothes she owned she kept in a bag and hid it in the bushes. 
She wandered the streets at night looking for a place to lay her head. This was the point in her life that she began to hate. Hate for everyone. Hate for the people that were supposed to love her. There was no one that she could not hate at this moment in her life. She even hated God for allowing this to happen to her. All God was to her was someone that took from her. Someone that took her parents. Every year another member of her family was taken away from her, a brother or sister, an auntie or an uncle. 
She couldn’t even go to the Compassion Project to share her problems. She was determined that no one cared. For her, life had come to a standstill and no one cared what would become of her. Any remnant of security that she possessed had been violently torn from her.
Shame now kept her from sharing her burdens with the only people that had ever shown love to her.
When hunger would overcome her she would sneak to the project to get a bite of food. Now her life was not only void of hope but was now full of shame. 
She only wanted to die now. She found poison to take her life. She could only think of one way out of the misery that enveloped her. All she could hear is that she should drink the poison and die. There was no longer any use for her to be alive.
So if she was to die now, her only remaining desire was that she would die happy. But as she looked around there was nothing that could ever make her happy. All she could see is despair.
And then she realized that amongst her meager belongings were her sponsor’s letters. They had become a prized possession to her. And she began to read the letters one by one. This was the only time she had ever experienced joy, these letters were the one thing in her life that brought light into her darkness. They brought her joy. Lillian realized that as she read each letter the love of her sponsor was shining through. She also realized at this moment that her sponsor would not be happy if she found out Lillian had died.
She could not bear the thought of making her sponsor sad. Her sponsor had taught her to pray, to persist, that God had prepared a crown for her.
This dirty, scared little girl picked up her belongings and walked to the only place that had ever shown her any dignity.
Lillian was welcomed into a new family that day. She was taught that day and for the rest of her life that every child has tremendous value and that no child would be lost at the project. She began to believe from that moment that she would not lose her life, she would not lose her future. She finally had someone to share her burdens.
 
Lillian went on to finish high school and further her education. She attended university and received a degree in Communications. But her story does not end here.
You see, those letters that were so treasured by a little girl were like seeds scattered in the garden of Lillian’s life. And in her own words those seeds grew into trees that brought shelter for her.
She learned what it meant to humble yourself and serve others. She learned to understand the love that Christ has for her. She learned to love the God that at one time she had grown to hate. She could finally see that this God that she had accused of taking from her was actually giving to her. He was still taking from her, but He was taking away the things that He had never intended for her in the first place. He was taking away her pain and her despair. And now He was beginning to take away the bitterness that she had eaten all of her life.
 
God helped Lillian to embrace the grace that she would need to forgive. To forgive those that had taken everything from her. To forgive those that did not deserve it. To be freed from the locks of her suffering she had to forgive all of the people that had hurt her. 
The message was clear…forgive, forgive your family, forgive everyone that has ever hurt you.
And so Lillian did forgive. She wanted to show them what Christ had shown her. The family gathered at Lillian’s request, many of them afraid of what she might tell them. They carried the shame of putting her out, of using her and hating her. Lillian knew what it meant to be given another chance, what it meant to be transformed. She had to show this same grace to her family.
 
This change in her is what she realized was happening in the lives of so many other sponsored children. In her words, “if you can see me, then you can see the future of another child”.
Those little “seeds” of encouragement from the letters written by a woman in a faraway place to a dirty little girl living in a very dark place on another continent; have become a mighty oak of righteousness. That tree is now spreading it’s branches and providing cool shade from the harshest heat of the day. That tree is now providing rich fruit to give sustenance to those who need it. And we stood beneath that tree that day. A tree that we have found such beauty and refuge under. 
 
A tree named Lillian, whose faith is blinding, whose faith is radiant.
IMG_0750-2
 
We ended the morning in tears of course. And a beautiful soul shared from the Book of Psalms.
 
“Blessed is the woman who walks not in the counsel with the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, 
or sits in the seat of scoffers,
but her delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on His law she meditates day and night.
She is like a tree planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in it’s season and it’s leaf does not wither-
and in all she does she prospers”
Psalm 1: 1-3
Lillian telling everyone at our Child Visit Day that I was her sponsor and she was my child.
Lillian telling everyone at our Child Visit Day that I was her sponsor and she was my child.
 

Lillian and some of her newest friends. Lillian is the one in the middle in case you were wondering.
Lillian and some of her newest friends. Lillian is the one in the middle in case you were wondering.
Lillian with two girls from the Student Center also na,ed Lillian. An inspiration to them I'm sure.
Lillian with two girls from the Student Center also named Lillian. An inspiration to them I’m sure.

Missing Uganda

I recently spent ten days in some of the most hallowed ground that I have ever walked on. A land of sweeping beauty and deepest despair. A land of beautiful smiles, the kind of smiles that burst onto the scene like rays of sunshine peeking past the clouds. A land that has been devastated too. Much of it’s soul stolen by the clutching hands of poverty.

I could focus on the piles of rubbish and the stink of rotting trash mixed with the smell of smoke. That smell followed me everywhere. A mixture of a sweet scent that I could never quite put my finger on and the dirty scent of burning refuse.

But instead I want to focus on those smiles. The smiles of children that were so happy to see us. Welcoming hugs and playfulness greeted us at every turn. Warm laughter. This is how I want to remember the people that I came to know and love.

I have been home now for nearly two weeks. Fourteen days to process everything I experienced. I keep going back to people’s posts and to people’s writing. I keep looking at photos that remind me of the torn places in my heart. I think I want those torn places to just be healed, to have my heart go back to the way it was before I stood in those sacred places.

But I don’t really want my heart to go back to the old place. Yes, it’s been torn and it’s been wrecked. And it hurts to remember at times. But this is the heart that God wants me to have. One that is tender and full of purpose. A heart that is stretched. Stretched to the point of breaking.

A heart like that is one that can be used. I need my heart to be used. I need to feel broken.

I heard it said very recently, from a very young but very old soul; “it’s the broken vessels that allow light to shine through. If there were no cracks the light would remain hidden”. I love that sentiment.

And so I pray now to stay broken. I pray to be used. I pray that I would be used up until nothing remains of me. I pray that the only thing shining through this cracked and broken vessel is His light.