Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The widest street in the world

What is the decisive moment of a life? The moment one comes to Christ? Marriage? The instant a baby is placed in your arms? Yes, yes, and yes. But for me there was also YWAM, a sharp right turn into missions that so changed my life no hair was left untouched.

I never wanted to be a 'missionary.' Let's be clear about that. I wasn't hungry for exotic sheep--I liked the idea of feeding those I could talk to, right around the corner. I remember asking God to not send me overseas unless He not only called me but gave me such a heart to match that I couldn't bear to stay home. It was a pretty safe bet, I thought; the idea of going to India or Africa was the farthest thing from my brain. And though I wanted to go to Europe, I was thinking Literature and Art, not mission. But God has a funny way of answering earnest prayer. He actually does it, you know? And through a variety of great steps, mis-steps, back-tracks, and falls, by the summer of 1983, I was hungry to go to a Discipleship Training School with Youth With a Mission, then to serve long-term with them somewhere in the far east. Missions had become my goal--my passion.

My childhood neighbor, the Beve (who wasn't the Beve then) also signed up to go to a DTS, and in that odd-not-so-odd way of God, we flew off to Heidebeck, Holland together in the fall of '83, where we studied for 5 months. Worshipped, learned to pray daily in new and powerful ways, were put in a small group together--which was astounding, considering there were 250 people on the base, and there we were, two kids from the same street across the world, in the same group of eight--you should have seen us the night we had to introduce ourselves: I told my story first, then Beve, sitting beside me, pretty much said, "Ditto." That room full of strangers couldn't quite believe that only God had orchestrated such a thing as two people from the same street all the way across the world winding up in that little room in Holland. But if you think they couldn't believe it, you should have looked into my heart, my 'racing with feelings and wondering what on earth God was doing' heart.

 We were in each other's faces every day during that time, which was just what the doctor ordered--if you want to call God the healer the doctor! It was both wonderful and difficult for me, because I'd been fighting those racing 'feelings' for this 'neighbor boy' for a year, but was downright certain--based on my phenomenal track-record--that if I had said feelings, they were wrong. I lived in surrender, daily surrender, as I daily prayed. I was so grateful that there was a person like the Beve in the world, just that he was in the world--that's what counted, not that it had to have anything to do with me. That was how I looked at it in those DTS days.

But the things we learned at the DTS. About being made in the image of God, for example--I've carried that around with me for 25 years. About the historical Christian world view--that every civilization only exists for a finite length of time then begins to fall apart--that, too, has stayed with me, has kept me from being simply a myopic American. And the praying, oh the praying--being quiet with God, then listening to what He was saying before we began to pray, then first praising Him for Who He is--Creator, Father, Lord, INCARNATE Savior!!!--before praying to Him, praying His words with Him. It was powerful, humbling and changed forever how I pray, both alone and corporately.

And then we went to India. India. By the time the postings for the outreaches came, I'd been long praying for where God might send me. And what I felt was that God wanted me to go somewhere I'd never been, where I would have to relinquish control even more. And India was the obvious choice. But the Beve wanted to go there as well. So I went to a DTS leader and confessed my feelings--surely the leadership would not let me go with him, knowing I felt what I did. But they came to me very quickly and said, "You're supposed to go to India--you both are." So off we went, only 3 of us (plus 3 to Nepal), to New Delhi, India for 6 weeks.

India--it was like plugging my nose and diving into the pages of a National Geographic that smelled. I got up that first morning (it was November, mind you), went out to the balcony, and there was an emaciated cow wandering through this back alley, its nose bent into the heap of garbage. The air was thick with Bedees (like cigarettes), the garbage, the rice and dal cooking in our kitchen, and sounds of street venders from every direction. My clothes suddenly felt heavy and tight and my Nikes too clean and silly. We stayed in a Dilaram House, which means 'House of Peace.' Our ministry was to non-Indians who were stuck in India for any kind of reason. I was stretched more in that two months than I'd been in my life to date. A woman who'd had a botched abortion bled all over the floor of a taxi, right on my clean, not-so-white Nikes, as I was taking her to a doctor. Once I had the charge of taking a woman to the French embassy who was surely full of demons (I'm not making this up!!), and when I finally convinced them to take her and I left the Embassy, I hadn't the faintest idea of where I was, or how to find transportation home. I started walking and praying at the same time, and as you can tell, God did rumble by in a taxi sooner or later.

At some point we realized we were living Matthew 25--we'd literally done every single thing Jesus speaks of on that list, we'd fed and watered the hungry and thirsty, we'd given shelter to strangers, we'd given clothes to the naked, we'd cared for the sick, and we'd visited and fed those in prison. And we hadn't seen that it was Jesus we were looking at when we did so.

In a small village in India, where we went for a few days outreach during that time, the Beve also got sick. And while he was lying on his pallet, God told him in no uncertain terms to marry me. Now some might have dismissed that as the hallucinations of grave illness, but Beve--our children and yet unknown future generations are glad to know--did not respond dismissively. He weighed God's words, then shared them with me in a Lebanese restaurant in downtown New Delhi just before Christmas. To say I was surprised understated the moment. To say it was the decisive moment of my life does not. God was there. God had been there all along--gently, but firmly moving us to that place, at that time. "I believe God's calling us together," He said. And you know what I thought, what I really thought? God does not tease. That's it. Because all that time, all the ways the Beve had been right before my eyes were driving me crazy, feeling how I did. And I kept telling God--"Don't tease me like this." But God does not tease. And that's a pretty good thing to know. He loves romance, and He doesn't tease.

I thought there'd be long-term mission in my life as a result of the DTS. Instead, God, the God of romance, moved the Beve and me around this globe like chess pieces, teaching us, growing us, creating in us what was needed for us to be better instruments for His Kingdom together than apart. Long-term ministry, yes. Right here, like this. From the Palouse, to Finland to Holland to India--there was the Beve. It really has been the widest street in the world. Thank God.

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