I've been delighting the past few days in a book of Puritan prayers given to me by my sweet friend Julia last year. What was it about these people; they were able to express with such beauty and grace the deepest cries of my heart! Sometimes I envy the eloquence. This book is called "the Valley of Vision," edited by Arthur Bennett.
I highly, highly recommend you purchase it.
Jesus is so precious to me; INCREASINGLY, LONGINGLY precious to me. I delight in His guidance. His character. In His fellowship with my heart and His teaching, His patience, His indescribable sweetness. These prayers sometimes seem to help me express what I cannot otherwise. They facilitate in me the words I need to worship, adore, and make requests of Him. I'm grateful for that.
The prayer I've been parked at for a couple days now:
MY DEAR LORD,
I depend wholly upon Thee, wean me from all other dependences. Thou art my all, thou dost overrule all and delight in me. Thou art the foundation of goodness, how can I distrust Thee? how be anxious about what happens to me?
In the light of Thy preciousness the world and all its enjoyments are infinitely poor: I value the favour of men no more than pebbles. Amid the blessings I receive from Thee may I never lose the heart of a stranger.
May I love Thee, my Benefactor, in all my benefits,
not forgetting that my greatest danger arises from my advantages.
Produce in me self-despair that will make Jesus precious to me, delightful in all His offices, pleasurable in all His ways, and may I love His commands as well as His promises.
Help me to discern between true and false love, the one consisting of supreme love to Thee, the other not, the former uniting Thy glory and man’s happiness that they may become one common interest, the latter disjointing and separating them both, seeking the latter with neglect of the former.
Teach me that genuine love is different in kind from that wrought by rational arguments or the motive of self-interest, that such love is a pleasing passion affording joy to the mind where it is.
Grant me grace to distinguish between the genuine and the false, and to rest in Thee who art all love.
I absolutely love reading missionary biographies. If it's true that what you read shapes who you are (and it is), then I'm a firm believer that a child's reading of the bios of great men and women will have a huge roll in shaping his or her desire to devote their life to spreading the glory of God. If I'm so blessed as to have children some day, and if they don't like to read, I'm not sure what I'll do. I think I'll be half tempted to send 'em all off to an orphanage and start of with a fresh batch of babies because REALLY, reading is SO crucial!
(Woah, unintentional rabbit trail. Nevertheless it's good stuff so I'll keep it in.) Where I was heading was to say that in reading biographies of missionaries, often Mark 10:29-30 is either implied or mentioned:
“Jesus said, Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life."
This verse is and has been a comfort to many people who have left much to follow Jesus, and it's a challenge to us who haven't (yet) been asked to leave much for Him. And it also applies to those who are LEFT behind. For every missionary who leaves his home, there are family or friends must send them. I guess that in being the sister of missionaries I've seen first hand the sorrow that can involve; particularly for the parents who are watching their children and grandchildren leave. Sometiems I think it's almost harder for those who are left behind than for those who GO! The grief is very tangible with grandparents can't watch their grandchildren grow up, when a mom can't be there to help with her daughter's newborn baby, or when parents just want to be there to offer prayers and support and daily life experience but can't. Christmas stockings sometimes aren't even hung on the mantle at our house because it's too sad to see them empty on Christmas Day. Birthdays are celebrated with a distant phone call to grandchildren overseas or a pixilated Skype session instead of the cake, gifts, and party that grandparents so love to give.
But years and years ago, parents sent their loved ones overseas with the full knowledge that they would NEVER see them again in this life. (I've just read the biography of Ann Judson, "My Heart In His Hands." It's incredible.) Early missionaries were known to have packed their worldly goods in their own coffins when going overseas. (Morose, yeah... Practical, but morose.) I think they were making a statement, though. "We're leaving it all. We're not turning back. This is dedication. No half-hearted 6 month term and then re-evaluate. God has called us to this and we are jumping in with both feet; with our very lives."
I wonder how I'd do if I had seen Scott (my oldest brother) and his wife Oksana packing their family's belongings in coffins 8 years ago? I can't imagine the sorrow that parting would have given me! As it is, I've been blessed to Skype with them nearly every week, to have phone conversations and emails on occasion, and even--wow!--to visit them in Ukraine three times.
I thought a lot about sacrifice this past two weeks of visiting Scott and Oksana. Seriously, they are sacrificing very little in comparison with those early missionaries. But somehow the grittiness of life there compared to America really struck me this trip. Everything there (and I don't exaggerate when I say "everything!") is cruder that that which is in America. Scott and Oksana are building a little church in the small village of Balki that they live in. Balki is a nondescript village in a nondescript region of a nondescript country. He teaches English lessons to a few children every week. He builds relationships with his neighbors over welding jobs and house repairs. He talks with village friends as he shops in their stores and gets water at their wells and walks their streets. He, Oksana and the children are living quiet lives that SHOUT to those around them of a difference. What IS that difference? People are constantly curious. Constantly asking, "Why are you here? We all want to get to America and you're living HERE of all places?"
I remember, when I was young, watching my brother study for CLEP tests in law. I remember being proud of him. He wanted to be a lawyer and he could have been. He could have been anything he wanted to be. He could be teaching at a fine college or practicing law in the big city with his name at the front of the law firm, or for that matter he would have made a great politician. :) He's handsome, dynamic, a compelling speaker. He makes people relax and laugh. He speaks in such a way that makes people take notice and think. His mind is sharp and logical (I can NEVER win an argument with him... grrrr!). Okay this is starting to sound like hero worship, but honestly; ask anyone who's NOT his sister and they'll tell you the same things! :)
But he allowed himself to be enveloped in the heart of God, and that heart beats with love for a little tiny, dirty, lost town in southern Ukraine. On the last night of our stay there, Scott and I went on a prayer walk. (It was such an awesome experience in Nome that I wanted to do it in Balki, too!) It was a black night. Not many lights in that village late at night, and at times when Scott flipped off his flashlight it was too black to even see a few steps in front of me. As we passed the houses of people Scott knew he told me their stories and we prayed for them. We passed a store which was closed, but it had a light out front so about a dozen teens were gathered like moths to a lightbulb and were hanging out. We made our way a few miles to the ministry center, and across the street from it was a disco-tech. Music was thumping from within and lights were flashing. Dozens of young people were milling inside and around it, laughing raucously and flirting. The next morning's light would reveal regrets and hangovers from the night before, but they'd do it all again the next weekend and keep on trying to fill the emptiness with noise and friends and booze and laughter. As we walked and Scott shared his heart for the tiny village, I knew that it was God who had given him a love for this place. You don't love Balki for Balki's sake. God is doing a work across the world and He's using people who are willing to be expendable for Him. Willing to go or stay, to live their lives in fame or anonymity, in the city or on the bush, in their home countries or in a foreign land, but to live as Christ's servants with Christ's heart for a dying world. I am challenged by my brother and his wife. I was blessed to observe their lives the past two weeks. I want to live mine like they live theirs.
And now begins the agonizing process of sorting through hundreds of priceless photos to see which one makes it to the blog. Wow! A task of momentous proportions, indeed! :)
Dalina, David, Dasha, Diana, and little Damara.... they're growing up. *sigh!*
Mimi snuggling with two silly girls :)
My oldest nephew is 11!?!?!?!?
Excuse me while I go have a mid life crisis.
It was pretty funny when a box that we had sent a few months ago arrived while we were there! :) Everyone was excited to open it.
A huge highlight of our trip was being in Ukraine for Easter. This was the group which joined us for the Easter service! Scott and Oksana's church. "Lighthouse 516" is growing and it's exciting to hear the stories of men and women with VERY broken lives who are coming to find healing in Christ!
Scott and members of his church had a work day at the ministry center, planting a new flower bed, scraping and painting, installing gutters and more.
Scott and David doing some brick laying at the ministry center. David is such a help to his papa!
Some of the precious children that Scott teaches English lessons to each Saturday at the ministry center.
Scott teaching the English class
Oksana interpreting while Dad shares his testimony at the ministry center
Oksana serves lunch to the children who come to Sunday school
Me teaching the children at Scott's Sunday school the hand motions to a song.
(How did I get my finger to do that?)
It was awesome to become acquainted with Sasha and Dema and their family. They are dear friends of Scott and Oksy's and we grew to love them too!
Dema and Sasha's children, Yacov, Sasha, and David were my little friends! We grew close in the two weeks I was there and sweet little Sasha had tears streaming down her cheeks when she said goodbye! :(
Scott was invited to preach at an evangelistic meeting one Sunday evening. It somehow still amazes me that he can preach in Russian. :)
AWwwwww! There is not much I love more than being mobbed by nieces and nephews! We had way to much fun together.
Mimi and the children walking to the village store to buy ice cream
HAPPY BIRTHDAY OKSANA!
I snapped this picture on the morning of the day we left; Oksy's birthday! I am amazed by my beautiful sister in law! It would take a whole new blog post to describe the incredible way in which she makes Scott's ministry a success. She leads a women's discipleship group; she home schools the children; she's constantly entertaining and baking and opening up her home to crowds! Every Sunday she helps with the children's class they hold in the morning, then provides tea and sandwiches for the children to eat afterwards! I was constantly impressed by the way her quiet service compliments Scott's calling. She is always in the backgrounding helping, serving, cooking, working, and blessing others with her beaming, beautiful smile. God SO knew what He was doing when He gave my brother his precious bride. I am so proud to call Oksana my sister. I hope some day I will be the kind of wife she is.
Grandma and Grandpa Oriti sent some Easter eggs for the kids. They were pretty excited about the American candy inside! Here's Diana holding up two of her treasures. :)
I can't believe how big Dalina is getting!
Teachers at the school where Sasha and Dema's children attend invited me to teach an english class one day. It was a lot of fun and I wish I could go back regularly! However it looks like that's opened up a door for Scott to be able to go once a week so that's exciting. :)
The teachers were so appreciative that I came and so kind to me! They presented me with a little project that their children had worked on and asked me to return. Maybe next year...? :)
By far, the highlight of the trip for me was being with family. Second to that, though, was being with old friends from past visits or making precious new friendships! Ukrainians are SO HOSPITABLE! This couple, Anatoly and Lubeh, are dear friends from past visits. I can't even begin to describe how much I love these sweet people!!! Anatoly was trying to convince me that God might want me to be a missionary in Siberia. :) Not sure about that one, but wow we sure did enjoy the evening with these dear folks.
Anatoly lived through many hard years of communism, persecution, and poverty, and still suffers some of the effects of it today. Yet he's the most joyful, exuberant man I have ever met. It's as if he's overflowing with life and you want to be around him so some of it will rub off on you! He loves to pull out his guitar and boisterously sing some of the old hymns of the Ukrainian church. It was delightful to hear him!
Slavic and Larissa are friends from our last visit. His whole back property is filled with animals from tame crows and the biggest dog I've ever seen to bunnies, chickens, and he used to have squirrells. Always so delightful to visit with them. They are incredibly hospitable and even though we popped in unannounced Larissa threw together a delicious tea!
Slavic with his peacock. A peacock!!
Oksana's mom is an incredible cook and one day Diana, Dasha and I went over to her apartment to make Pelmeni and Vereniki. SOOOOO delicious but a LOT of hard work!
Oksana's cooking is also second to none! :) Her Russian olivier salad is way too delicious and we love it so much we got a picture with it!
Mmmm.... Pork fat!
It's called "Sala" and it's a hugely popular and traditional dish in Ukraine. I tried some and think it's overrated; even with mustard on it.
Ukrainian Easter bread
Blini! Oksana's sweet mom sent this whole plate of blini for us one morning. So much work went into that! (Okay I'm getting embarrassed at all these food pictures...)
When I visit the kiddos I try to bring a fun project we can work on together, and this year I brought aprons to decorate because they LOVE to cook! :) We had so much fun and--although we forgot to get a picture of the finished product--they were adorable!
The village adjoining Balki. These are typical village homes, all with a huge garden! The rural Ukrainian people are very, very hard working.
This is one of Scott and Oksana's neighbors.
Scott asked me why I was taking a picture out his window of his neighbor (a fair question, admittedly,) and I said "Because he's being quaint."
The cities are packed with tall, dilapidated apartment buildings just like this from the communist era. One after the other.
The kids (and adults, *cough!*) find it a HUGE treat to drive to the city and visit McDonalds because it's like a little piece of America!
Here we are being goofy in the party room. :)
A tearful goodbye and last photo from the Dneperpotrovsk airport.
One mid-afternoon when I was in Peru with the Grens and Bert and Colleen Elliot last year, I was laying on my bed during "siesta time" listening to Colleen's piano music wafting from the livingroom below. She played so beautifully! One of the songs she played was "My Tribute:"
How could I say thanks for the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove your love to me,
The voices of a thousand angels could not express my gratitude;
All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe it ALL to You!
To God be the Glory,
To God be the Glory,
To GOD be the Glory,
For the things He hath done!
With His blood He has saved me,
With His power He has raised me,
To GOD BE THE GLORY for the things He hath done!
Just let me live my life,
And let it be pleasing Lord to Thee...
And if I gain any praise,
Let it go to Calvary!
It's one of my favorite songs. Stretched languidly on my bed in the warm, golden Peruvian afternoon, listening to the music drifting from below and loving the sweet lady who was playing it...in my memory it was a perfect, peaceful moment. Later I told Colleen how beautiful her playing had been and how much I loved that song. She smiled with a tilt of her head and with that frank, open manner of hers exclaimed, "That's one of my favorites, and I want that song sung at my funeral! Oh, I know they're gonna say all sorts of things about Bert and Me--how we did this and did that and planted this many churches [it's estimated they planted around 150]... but I don't want any of that. I just want GOD to get the glory."
Last week, two days before Bert's memorial service in Portland, Oregon, Colleen slipped on some stairs and fell, fracturing her skull. The next afternoon she entered glory and was reunited with Bert after only six weeks TO THE DAY of separation. Oh, I know time isn't the same in Eternity, but don't you think Bert was a little surprised? "Sweetheart...YOU here!? ALREADY!?" :) Most amazingly, she saw Jesus for the first time. Touched him, worshipped Him, and faith became sight. I know even Bert stepped into the background for that glorious meeting!
Colleen and Bert's memorial service was held--together--the next day. They had spent over 60 years serving Jesus together in Peru, and I suppose He felt it only fitting that their lives be celebrated (and I do mean celebrated, not mourned!) together. Oh sure, there were tears. Lars wept openly when he called to tell me and mine mingled with his over the phone. It was just such a shock. I only knew them for a year and yet I can't imagine the world without them! And most of all, to think of their adoring Peruvian family and the missionaries there who love them so much; how incredibly hard to lose both your Abuelitos in 6 wks. time! I cried for them, too. But, you just couldn't grieve to that extent for TOO long because, well...Wow. What an incredible end. Together. With Him. Sheer joy!
The tears came again, though, as I watched their memorial service online and saw the congregation rise to sing "My Tribute; To GOD BE THE GLORY!"
My dear elder sister...hero in the faith...saint... You got your wish.
Now if I could get mine, it would be to serve Christ as faithfully, as quietly, as productively, as lovingly and as joyfully as you did.