Thursday, July 31, 2014

Facing Trauma: Courage, Pain, and Life

                                              July 17
On July 17, I had a traumatic experience. Three armed intruders overpowered the security guard at the Guest House (where I live) and invaded our home. We were physically injured, threatened to be killed, and robbed of our money and technological devices and equipment.

World Gospel Mission (WGM), our sending agency, moved quickly to support us in every way, initiating a crisis protocol that includes ministering to our families, sending counselors to Nigeria to be with us here, and issuing a call for prayer among WGM missionaries and staff around the world. Westview Community Church, my sending church in Manhattan, Kansas, also responded with heartfelt support and issued an urgent message to my church family and physically reached out to my daughter, Lynn, who is there. My LIFE Group family (the small group I was privileged to be part of in Kansas) also responded with warmth, love, support, and prayer. New Beginnings International Church, my church in Nigeria, has literally embraced us with compassion and practical help including providing safe temporary places for us to stay (I am writing from one of those places now) and raising a large amount of funds to replace our stolen equipment. The leaders of West Africa Theological Seminary (WATS) entered into our journey of grief, pain, and loss by carefully acknowledging the seriousness of the matter and extending their heartfelt love and compassion, not to mention their prayers without ceasing. Our pain is clearly their pain. And, they are working hard to improve the security system.

My three adult children worked tirelessly to try to contact me to speak words of love and support. This was a challenge since we had no phone or computer in the first couple days after the attack. As a parent, I was keenly aware of the role reversal I was experiencing. How many times have I comforted them in their hours of difficulty? They were there for me.

Jennifer Bennett, my co-missionary also with WGM, is a Nurse Practitioner. Even though she was also a victim, she kindly attended to my physical needs and made sure I have been as comfortable as possible each day since.

I need to pause here and say thank you to everyone. I am truly blessed to have so many people in my life who care. May God richly bless each of you for your kindness extended to me.

At the core of human existence is a desire to make meaning of our experiences. When we have an experience that does not fit neatly into our existing schema, we struggle to create new ways of understanding what happened. This blog post describes how I choose to understand what has happened, as well as how I hope to go forward.

On New Year’s Day, my daughter, Lynn, and I choose one word that we feel captures our focus for the upcoming year. We give this selection much thought and prayer. Last year, I said I was “stepping out of the boat” (as Peter did to walk to Jesus), so my word was “faith.” I needed faith to believe I would have the funding and support I needed to leave the U.S. for service in Africa. This year, I selected “courage.” I needed courage to say goodbyes, to enter a new culture, to live in a new environment, and to embrace all that comes with becoming a missionary in a developing country. Several friends (without knowing) affirmed this word for me by giving me gifts or cards with references to courage or being courageous. I embraced each one as a gift from my Lord who has asked me to embark on a journey that requires…courage. What I did not know is how much my courage would be put to the test. It will take courage to go back to the setting where I was on July 17th. If anything, this event validates even more the impression I had from the Holy Spirit on January first.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6

The Word does not say that we will be free from danger, but that He will be with us. I must have courage to act on this belief.

As with any traumatic experience, there was and is pain. I suffered bruises to my arms, legs, and ribs. Psychologically, there is pain, too. Then there is the pain of loss. 

The men who burst through my bedroom door at 8:30 that night were thieves.

We could have been killed. Watching my possessions and money being taken away was painful. My room looked like destruction. My privacy and space were violated. My comfort and ease were destroyed.

Some well-intentioned Christians have sought to understand this pain in a different way than I understand it. “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will” they say. I respectfully disagree. I agree with Michele Phoenix's blog post on the “Safety Myth: Feel Good Ignorance.”

Jim Elliott and his friends were slaughtered while in the center of God’s will.  Corrie Ten Boom was brutalized in a concentration camp while in the center of God’s will.  Countless Christian men and women, doing exactly what God had asked of them and in no way deserving of their fate, have suffered and died in abominable ways while in the center of God’s will.

I would add to that list Keith Green, Stephen (the first martyr), and even Jesus Christ, Himself who was most certainly in the center of His Father’s will as he suffered a cruel and painful death on the cross.

When Jesus spoke of the thief referenced in John 10:10, he was referring to the enemy of our souls. Juxtaposed against Jesus as the Good Shepherd, there is an enemy who would try to steal, kill, and destroy our souls and our work. This enemy wants to destroy my work in Nigeria; wants me to quit and go home.

­­­­That said, I am not ignorant of the fact that I am “rich” by the standards of the community in which I serve. I am white and privileged. To that I respond in this way:

To whom much is given, much is required. Luke 12:48

By God’s grace and strength, I will remain here to work. As Phoenix says in her blog post, the center of God’s will may not be the safest place to be, but it is the best place to be.

The enemy destroys, but Jesus gives abundant life.

I have come that they might have life and have it to the full. John 10:10b

The supernatural experience of knowing God in an intimate and personal way gives life, and that life is full and complete. Nothing else is needed to bring satisfaction in life. It feels like a great big breath of fresh air after being cooped up for a long time with stale air. When He speaks, whether through the still small voice of God or through the written Word, the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit and I feel infused with life.

This “full” life or “abundant” life is the kind of life that overcomes stealing, killing, and destroying. It overcomes fear and intimidation. It overcomes race and class struggle and evil in the world. The ultimate victory will be in the last day. But for now, I am here. We are in the world, but not of it. My calling is to teach what Jesus taught his disciples. He gives me life (and I have a new found gratitude for my physical life!) to fulfill that calling. I choose to stay because of that life that God has breathed into me and because of the calling God has given to me.

I know the road ahead may be challenging in many ways. He is with me. 

This is how I choose understand my traumatic experience of July 17. I am still alive, and I still have the opportunity to work here. I must be courageous in the face of pain. I know I will benefit greatly from meeting with my expert counselors when they arrive here soon--they will help me to process the experience and prepare to return. I need to draw from Christ the healing, spiritual life, and vitality that I need to work in and for the Kingdom of God. 

I welcome your prayers for healing, safety, and peace, as well as for effectiveness in service.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Little Trip Down (Food) Memory Lane

Well, I have been in Nigeria almost two months now. Every now and then I have a strange hankering for some different kind of food, something from my past. For instance, a couple weeks ago I craved celery, of all things! Most of the things I write about here I would not eat today even if I could because I have been mostly gluten, sugar, and dairy free for almost 6 years now. But, here are some of the crazy food thoughts that have popped in my head lately. Let me know if you remember any of these...

1. Baltimore: "Jack's corned beef sandwich" from Lombard Street downtown  (now Lenny's Deli). Note the large Kosher pickle on the right of the sandwich in the picture--a must. My parents loved to go down to Jack's to get this as a special treat. It was a real "Balmore treat, hon"!! :)

2. South Carolina: Skin Thrasher's famous hot dogs with chili. Started in Anderson (in the beautiful upstate), I would frequent the restaurant in Clemson. I have fond memories of running out to get some "skins" with my friend Betty. These reminded me of Pete's hot dogs with everything on them. Who remembers Pete's in Catonsville, Maryland? I can still taste those hot dogs from my childhood.

3. Kansas: Bison Burger from the Wahoo Fire and Ice Grill in Manhattan. I would get this with no bun or cheese, and wow was it good. Yay for buffalo meat! Delicious and nutritious.

4. Catonsville: My good friend and co-missionary here in Nigeria, Jennifer, just cannot understand what I mean when I talk about steamed crabs. I guess she will just have to experience them (she's from Georgia and thinks "snow crabs" are crabs!!). I had terrific crabs back in March at Ship's Cafe in Catonsville, thanks to my good friend, Faye.

5. Grand Cayman: Corita's Copper Kettle's conch burger. I also miss conch stew, plaintain tarts, turtle steak, and Chef John's beach barbecue chicken dinner. I had delicious turtle steak there once. Have any of you eaten at Chef John's on the 7-Mile Beach? It does not get any better than that!

Here in Nigeria, I have had wonderful chicken kabob with rice at Chicken Republic in Lekki (Thanks, Gary Maxey!). I also have the opportunity here to eat these fresh foods which I can get in abundance and rather inexpensively: Avocados, Nigerian sweet pineapples (much better than what we get in the U.S.), mangoes, papaya, plantain, and all sorts of vegetables and other fruits. Going to the market can be exciting!

I have tried the rice jollof, foo foo, and gari, and it is all very spicey! (See photo at right). But, of course, I love rice and fried plantain!