Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Feeling (and filling) the Void

For the past few days my team and I have been helping prepare for a wake. The father of one of our students passed away in a car accident, so we have been moving wood for the fires, bringing other students up to hang out and help out, and most times, simply being there. For the Apache tribe a death means a 2 day wake, where people stay up with the body for 48 hours straight. The days before the wake are spent preparing for it. Preparing the food, clearing the land, putting up the metal structures, because for 2-3 days there will be people, fires, food, and mourning. Still after the wake comes the funeral. All in all it is a long drawn out process of saying good-bye after a very sudden loss. And these sudden losses happen all too often around here.

A few months ago, as I was preparing to come out to Arizona I had a crisis of faith that had to deal with a similar type of sudden loss, though it was not a person close to me. In a tragic and rare course of events, a young college student died. I had only met her once, but she was one of those people that impacts you the moment you meet her. She was so kind, energetic, made you feel valued, and loved the Lord with everything she was. And with one small decision, one small mistake, she was gone.

To me, it wasn't fair. We had all prayed so hard after the accident, and she was so amazing I felt like she deserved to live a long life, to be married, to have an impact. And in that moment (I remember it so clearly), as I cried and mourned her death, I gave in to the creeping doubt of God's existence. All of a sudden I began to think that I was the one who had been a fool. I had been foolish for believing and trusting so eagerly in a God that couldn't possibly exist.

That moment was clouded in a darkness I've never known before or since. As the thought passed through my head that God did not exist,the room became void, dark, and scary in a way I had never felt before.
Immediately the fear from my previous statement threatened to overwhelm,and I began praying desperately. I prayed and cried out, asking God to forgive me and not to leave me. I begged and begged Him not to leave me, and the room lost the scary feeling of being so incredibly alone and so very far from God.

That moment was restorative for me. To feel the void of being separated from God was transforming, for I knew that my doubt had been unfounded. Though the death seemed unfair I had to realize that God was still God and that He was still in control. I had to realize that life is precious and valuable, and that each day should be lived not in fear, but in purpose.

 And so as I spend these days preparing for the wake, mourning with those who mourn, I hold tight to the promise that this life is not all that there is. There is a promise that though this is our time of grief, one day Jesus will return, and as it says in John, no one will be able to take away our joy. In this time, though I don't have the words to fix the hurt, I do have the promise that Jesus has overcome the world, the sorrow, the disappointments. And I have the belief, that among the pain and sadness, God is real and alive and moving among us.

And I praise Him, because He is still with me, walking alongside me as I figure out this crazy messy world. And I praise Him because He has blessed me with the job of walking alongside some of the best, craziest, messiest kids in the world. And no matter what the days ahead bring, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Lie We Have Believed

We have all believed a lie. That this life is not about lives at all, but about satisfying our own desires. When we are at once consumed with buying more shoes or the newest technology, we quietly forget that people are dying. We forget that this world is not about making a better life for ourselves, but about saving others from an inevitable death if they are not told about Jesus Christ. We give into the lies and we forget our purpose. With just the smallest of desires, we lose our identity and walk like robots in exactly the wrong direction. Consumerism becomes the norm and it becomes radical to give up one's life and possessions to save the lives of others. It becomes radical to move to another country to build wells and schools, engaging with locals and learning their culture. It becomes annoying to be passionately vocal about Somalia or the Sudan or Syria. We write off those who harp on the needs of the world because we have become convinced that our biggest problem is the lack of a big enough home or a nice enough car. With such ease the devil gets us to switch the pertinent with the pretty and we ourselves, instead of simply being consumers, become consumed. Consumed with all the wrong things as the lives we were meant to live and the lives we were meant to save become a distant memory that we can't seem to place our minds upon. With such ease we forget our purpose. With such nonchalance we call ourselves Christians as we let our neighbors die because we were too busy being consumed to tell them about the life-saving power of Jesus Christ. 

We have forgotten that we have a choice. We fail to see that the priorities have been switched. And we weep as the world falls to pieces, lamenting the turn of events, forgetting that we were the ones that were meant to change them. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Feeling the Depth of their Worth

Today I sit at the Kennel (our Apache youth center) feeling confident about life. Its not that I have everything together or anything figured out, I just feel like God is in great control of it all. Its a good feeling to have, especially when each day brings new trials and new situations to overcome. As I sit here, watching all of these students hang out and my coworker John play carpetball (thanks to Zion Lutheran Church in Iowa! We love you guys!) I am spending some time thinking over who Jesus was and what his ministry looked like. (Because if there is any ministry you would want to emulate it should  obviously be Jesus's ministry. I went to seminary for that kind of knowledge :).

So. What I am reminded of was how Jesus interacted with people. I think he was probably pretty intense, and it does seem like he had a slightly snarky side (which makes me like him even better). He wasn't afraid to shoot straight and he never minced words. I don't really think Jesus was the soft-spoken blue-eyed man that movies portray him as. I think he was more of a, "Hey! Who just touched me? Seriously, who touched my cloak?" kinda guy. At any rate, thinking of him as a rather intense fellow, I started thinking about what made him appealing. What made people become drawn to him (other than the whole Son of God thing which is obviously of utmost importance)? Why did people like the leper, the tax collector, and the prostitute love him so dearly?

I think the answer lies in this: Jesus made people feel like they were worth something, even those who thought they deserved to be hated. He made them feel the depth of their value. These people, those considered to be outsiders, probably figured that they deserved to be ostracized and disliked, but Jesus came around and told them that they were worthy. They were worth his time. They were worth his words and his efforts. They were worthy of being loved, of sitting down with for dinner. And that, I think, was more important than anything else. With Jesus, as intense and straightforward as he was, they felt like they had value because he showed them that they were worthy of his time.  

"Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you."

So I sit here hoping to follow in the footsteps of the man I call my Savior. I tie the softball cleats of my sophomores, I listen to their stories, their bad days, their joys, and I am reminded that my purpose at Apache Youth Ministries should follow in the same footsteps as my Lord Jesus Christ. I can't make these kids choose the right path or the right faith, but I can show them the great depth of their worth. I can dispel the lies that they are hated, disliked, or deserving of the life they are walking into. I can look them in the eyes and say that it is possible to turn their lives around, because I believe that they are worth the investment, the time, and the 4am phone calls. They are worth the sacrifices of my own life.

And it is in realizing that as I love them, so does Christ, that they will begin (I hope) to feel their incredible worth in the sight of God. It is following in the footsteps of Jesus that transformation can begin, with something as simple as time and attention.

So today is a good day. Because God is in control, no matter what, and I couldn't be more pleased to be a part of His mission among the White Mountain Apache. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A conversation with a student:

"Why did you write that you think it is time to die? That you don't care if someone kills you?"

"I don't know. Things just got really bad and I started thinking those thoughts."

"Listen to me. How many times have you tried to take your own life? 3? 4?"


"And who protected your life? Who saved you?"

"The doctors."

"No, who really saved you?"


"Yea, God. Your life has been protected. Do you realize that? Your life is so valuable because God has kept you alive for a purpose, because He has a plan for you. Its dangerous to even think for a moment that things would be better if you were dead. If anything happened to you, I don't know that I would recover. Do you believe that? You are the most important thing in the world to me."

"Me? Why me?"

"I don't know. I guess I just think that God brought us together on purpose, for a reason. You are family to me. You are a part of my family now."


"And you know how much I love my brother, right? I love him more than anyone else in the whole entire world."


"Yea, Ryan. And guess what. I love you just as much, exactly the same, as I love him. I would give up my own life for yours. That is how much I care about you and value your life. Do you understand that? You are not alone, and I am going to do everything I can to take care of you. When you come back to town we will figure all of this out together. Ok?"

Monday, March 3, 2014

Puppies and Trains

A lot of things have gone down lately.

Today I found a puppy. It was walking on the rez with its seriously malnourished mom, looking for food and I fell in love with it. When its mom walked away and it laid down and looked at me, I couldn't help myself. I decided I would embrace potential diseases to save it from imminent death (puppies have that effect on me). So I missed the meeting I had come down for for the sake of a puppy that I most likely can't keep. Welcome to my life. (She is soooo cute though!)

In other news, we had a seriously awesome weekend with our high school girls in Phoenix. I prayed for 10 girls to come and on the day of the retreat 10 girls climbed into our van. The weekend was filled with great talks, dance parties, train tours ("train museum" ended up as a seriously cooler outing than we had counted on. While we were just hoping we could find a way to spend the afternoon and hopefully spin it as awesome, it actually turned out to be the most memorable part of the weekend!), and a lot of girlie bonding time.

I think a lot of great seeds were planted as we explained what it means to guard your heart, mind and soul in Christ Jesus.

And one of the COOLEST parts of the weekend was that my friend Cassie came to lead worship for us. 5 years ago Cassie and I were strangers as we boarded a plane for a semester in Spain. There we spent five months doing ministry together, and as I walked away I thought to myself, "I'll probably never go visit her in Arizona. It is way too far away!" Well God had other plans and 5 years after we met we were doing ministry together again, this time with my Apache students in, you guessed it, Arizona. God has the coolest way of making things come around in a way we never would have imagined!

So here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure. I love you all (and I wish you would keep my cute puppy).

Cassie, on the left. My roommate in Spain. . .5 years ago!

What a fantastic weekend :) Thanks for all of your prayers!