Monday, June 11, 2012

Hope Flight

We slipped the surly bonds and took flight last Thursday morning with a couple of kids from Hope House, the home for at risk and orphaned kids here in Libreville.  Henrica is a beautiful 15 year old girl who many years ago was hit by a car which knocked out one front tooth and seriously tattered the other front tooth.  Since then she has covered her smile.  Our good friend and dentist, Paul Kruth, from York Alliance Church came out in February and said it would be an easy fix but would need to be done at Bongolo.  Famou was with us as well.  A year or so ago Famou was in a serious bus accident killing 10 of his fellow passengers.  Famou broke his tibia and it was set wrong by medical personel here.  He needs surgery to re-break his tibia and have pins put in to allow the bone to heal correctly.  He is 18 and we had a guardian, Flavienne, come along with him as he needs to stay at the hospital for a couple of weeks before he can head back to Libreville.  His surgery has most likely already happened.

Henrica is a smart and hard working young woman who has a dream to someday become a pilot.  Just imagine her joy and wonder when we took off and flew over the city and out over the estuary, our plane's shadow dancing on the water below.  She looked out of her window and shook her head with wonder, repeatedly saying "wow" in whispered reverence.  Famou was in the back of the plane taking pictures and shaking his head in amazement as well.  This was their first time to fly in any plane much less a small Cessna single engine droning out a whimsical poem in the sky.  We punched through a cloud deck with blue skies above and billowing clouds below.  We could no longer see the ground as thick clouds floated and peaked and dimpled like a delicious fluffy meringue.  The blue skies we flew through were clear and clean with cool crisp air streaming into the plane through the adjustable vents.

Henrica sat next to Steve in the co-pilot seat with a headset on and wearing sunglasses with the American flag printed on the lenses.  She listened to everything Steve explained about the various dials and petals with rapt attention.  She even held the yoke "steering" for a few moments, slightly dipping and turning the plane with a shy smile lighting up her face.  Right now there aren't any flight training schools in Gabon.  The odds of this young girl learning to fly are seriously stacked against her.  But, nothing is impossible with God!  Perhaps someday Henrica will be flying a Cessna droning out her own poem in the Gabonese skies.

Within an hour and a half of landing Henrica already had her preliminary dental work done.  Some disappointed tears were shed when she realized that her new smile would have to wait until the end of summer allowing some healing to take place in preparation for the dental prosthetics.  However, we will fly her back to Bongolo to get that new smile before the next school year begins.  There are mean girls, even in Henrica's school, who make fun of her broken teeth and call her ugly.  I can't wait till Henrica beams with a brilliant unbroken smile.  It's often the small things that make all the difference.  What a blessing to get to play a part of Operation Henrica Smile! The Gabonese dentist, Dr. Neni, is married to one of the PAACS (Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons) residents, she is very pregnant and came into the clinic just to see Henrica.  She and her husband, Dr. Tchoba, met and fell in love at medical school in, of all places, Russia.  True story!

We spent a lovely weekend in the jungle and were able to attend the Thompson's farewell party with our team.  They have been fearlessly serving the poorest of the poor in Gabon at the Bongolo hospital for 35 years.  It has been amazing to get to know and love the Thompson's during our four years here.  They are flying away from Bongolo today on their journey to transition to moving to Egypt to start a PAACS program there.  While many of the Thompson's contemporaries think of retirement, Dr. Dave and Becki are starting over with a new adventure which will require a move to a new country and learning a new language.  Heroes!  The night sky was lit by the twinkling lights of a thousand stars as Steve and I walked back to the guest house after the party.

Tomorrow Steve and I fly to Cameroon to pick up our kids for the summer.  I can hardly wait to embrace my babies!  We will spend 4 days there to attend awards ceremonies and allow our kids to say goodbyes to their friends and teachers, some of whom will not be returning next year.  We are looking forward to a great summer, the best part will be setting 5 places at the dinner table, we will all be under one roof!!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Holy Sonnet

                  Holy Sonnet 14

Batter my heart, three-personed God;  for You
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit You, but O, to no end,
Reason Your viceroy in me, me should defend, 
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love You, and would be loved fain,
But I am betrothed unto Your enemy.
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again;
Take me to You, imprison me, for I,
Except You enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.

                     -- John Donne

Dear friends it has nearly been a month since last I wrote.  I am continuing to surrender and accept God each new day.  God is speaking to me and it is wondrously amazing.  Every Wednesday night we host a Bible study for English speakers.  Most of the time it is made up of Steve and I and Hannah and Leanne of EnVision and whatever visitors we have staying at the guest house.  Recently we have added two to our numbers, a young woman I met in Ghana named Ando, she is from Madagascar and her new Gabonese husband, Nesmi.  They work with university students not far from our house.  We have extended the invitation to our Embassy friends and others but for the most part they politely decline.  So it is a small gathering yet significant.  It is significant in that it is the one time each week where we put aside our busy-ness and have unified focus on God.  We take turns leading various parts of the evening.  We follow 4 W's: Welcome, Worship, Word and Works, modeling our meetings after York Alliance Church Life groups.  This past Wednesday I led the Word part.  I've been reading through various books of the Bible every morning after prayer journaling.  Last Wednesday morning I came upon Acts 5 specifically verses 41-42.

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ."

You see, before this verse the apostles were busy healing and teaching the crowds that were drawn far and wide to hear and receive this good news.  Those crowds were being healed of sickness and those tormented by evil spirits were being set free.  This made the high priests and their associates, members of the Sadducees, very nervous.  They were jealous of the apostles and out of their jealous fear they arrested the apostles and threw them in jail, but during the night an angel of the Lord appeared and freed them telling them to go stand in the temple courts and proclaim to the people the full message of new life in Christ.

Of course someone reported back to the high priest and their cronies that the apostles were out at it again in the temple courts.  The apostles were rounded up again and put before the Sanhedrin (the leadership of Sadducees) and questioned by the high priest.  The Sanhedrin wanted nothing more than to get rid of these apostles by any means necessary.  One of them spoke out and said if God is truly behind them then nothing they could do would get in the way of God and His plans for the apostles.  So they decided to let them go demanding that the apostles stay away and keep quiet.  And before they let them go they flogged them.

I stumbled over those words about flogging.  I felt immediately defensive, they were blameless and yet still suffered the harshness of flogging.  Pirates get flogged not apostles!!  Yet the apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing!  Wow, that is not the response I would have had.  Not by a long shot!  I wanted to close my Bible at that point and not think about it, not allow it to soak in.  But God reminded me of the prayer I had just penned asking Him to speak to me through His Word.  I reluctantly turned back to the fragile onion skin page and reread the passage.  I thought about my own knee-jerk response and confessed that I am nothing like these apostles.  I want comfort and praise for my hard work.  I prayed that God would infuse me with the kind of passionate focus the apostles had in following after God and all things eternal.  That I might someday rejoice in suffering and count myself worthy of the disgrace for His Name.  It was a bitter prayer to pray and one out of obedience not heartfelt desire.

I shared this with our small group gathered Wednesday evening.  Then we read the above poem by John Donne.  It is one of my very favorite poems.  I love the honesty and the desperation.  I can relate to his need for God to continue to fight for his weak and wavering heart.  Donne confesses his marriage to the enemy of our souls.  He asks the Lord to divorce and break that knot again.  He pleads that God would enthral him and even to ravish him.  Those are strong words!  I love the beginning, "Batter my heart, three-personed God"  I need battering after battering.  I then played a song by the Waiting.  It's an old song but one I have turned to many times as I've wrestled with God.  It's called, "Hands in the air"

If I raise my hands just to lift the shade
Will I reveal a sky heavy and gray?
Will last night be a memory sweetly fading?
How I hate a morning starting out this way
On these lonely raging mornings I would whip You if I could
But You're on the mighty side of strong and the perfect side of good

If I raise my hands will You grab me by the wrists
And will You try to pull me from the fray?
And even if my fingers join together into fists
Will You hold me firmly anyway?
'Cause I would try to escape you but for everyday I'm sure
That You're on the huge side of big and the holy side of pure

OK, hear what I say
As I raise my hands in surrender today
OK, here I will stay
Hands in the air singing, "Have Thine own way"

If I raise my hands so weak and thin and frail
Will You reveal the light of mercy in Your eyes?
If I cry to you faintly will my feeble whispers fail
Or will it find its way to a reply?
'Cause now that I'm exhausted I think I'm ready to admit
That I've spent all my resistance on Someone I can't resist

OK, hear what I say
As I raise my hands in surrender today
OK, here I will stay
Hands in the air singing, "Have Thine own way"

Light from my window sill make my way to the door
I hang my head and still I know You're wanting more
Over the threshold now I move across the yard
Although my will allows, my every step is hard
Now in the garden I carve out six feet of space
There make my will comply, lie down upon my face
Been toe to toe too long, I'm tired of fighting You
I see You were too strong, 'cause I am black and blue
But now I understand what losers do to win
How every dying man is sure to rise again
So I raise my left hand one I raise my right hand two
Under the morning sun, my spirit cries to You

OK, hear what I say
As I raise my hands in surrender today
Right here under the sun
Hands in the air singing, "Thy will be done"
I'm here under the sun
Hands in the air singing, "Thy will be done"
OK, here I will stay
Hands in the air singing, "Have Thine own way
Have thine own way."

Thy will be done, in my life Lord God.  I struggle so much to make my will comply just as this song says, "Now in the garden I carve out six feet of space, there make my will comply, lie down upon my face, been toe to toe to long,  I'm tired of fighting You, I see You were too strong, cause I am black and blue"  I can relate to this need to bury physically my will.  To then raise my hands in surrender and to know the profound truth that every dying man is sure to rise again as God gives us life, true life, dripping with joy and heartache and everything in between.

Then I turned back in my prayer journal to weeks before when I was reading Jeremiah 18:4, At the Potter's House:
"But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands..."

Eugene Peterson in the book, "Run with Horses" says of this, "Jeremiah rubbed shoulders daily with people who were not useful: imperfections made their lives leak, holding neither wine nor water, a failure of proportion made their lives wobble or tip unstable and undependable. Jeremiah had other words for it: sin, rebellion, self-will, wandering."

Jeremiah 18:4
"... so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him."

Peterson continued with, "God kneads and presses, pushes and pulls.  The creative work starts over again, patiently, skillfully.  God doesn't give up.  God doesn't throw away what is spoiled...  The life of faith is very physical.  Being a Christian is very much a matter of the flesh -- of space and time and things.  It means being thrown on the potter's wheel and shaped our entire selves, into something useful and beautiful.  And when we are not useful or beautiful we are reshaped.  Painful, but worth it."

While reading Peterson's book about the prophet Jeremiah he stressed the idea of being both useful and beautiful.  He pointed out in our day and age we have the ordinary utilitarian things of everyday and we have the beautiful and ornate that is reserved for special occasions.  Back in Biblical times the useful things like pottery were made to be beautiful as well as useful.  They didn't have plastic or disposable things.  They had handmade things, unique and beautiful.  I was struck by this notion of God being the potter and not just making something useful out of me but also creatively and artistically molding me into a unique beautiful.  Isn't that just like our God to surprise us with his whimsy and creativity? Because I can get caught up in trying to be useful and agonizing and second guessing and trying to be a "grown-up" with serious weighty concerns lifted to Him in prayer when out of no where God reminds me of His beauty and whimsy!  So I want to be surrendered and battered by my loving God who refuses to leave me useless and ugly, wobbling and leaking, discarded by the world.  He gathers me unto Him and holds me close, peering into my soul and shaking me free from every stronghold of the enemy!  Oh Holy God, you slay me yet again!  "Except You enthral me, never shall I be free, Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me." - Donne