Weightlifting for Christians

Yesterday I heard a story about a young lady who is spending the summer teaching desperately poor kids in Uganda.

One of her tasks is to sharpen 100 or so pencils every day for the kids, but the school doesn’t have a pencil sharpener. So she does it by hand with a dull razor blade, a task that’s proving so arduous she has blisters from it.

A pencil sharpener.

IMG_0363-2I’m leaving in three weeks to work in a Zambian bush village, in a school with 150 children. They show up each day hungry and sit on the floor to do their schoolwork, presumably with loaner pencils. One pastor, his wife and three other women feed all these children, educate them and love them, but the need is always deeper than the resource pool.

So it is wonderful that our team is coming to help with plumbing and construction and infection and yes we will bring more soccer balls and pencils, but sometimes the best gift you can give someone is the freedom to decide what they need most, like electricity and rice.

Cash does that. So I’m raising more.

This money is not going to rescue them, they rely on Jesus for that. What it will do is lift some weight. Maybe for a time it will give these five people a breather, maybe give them courage to go back to what seems like endless, impossible work.

Because, for as difficult as it is, they love it. This job, these children, it is what they were made to do. How lucky are they to know that?

Will you help us fund food or electricity or projects in Chongwe Zambia? Will you help us bless this Pastor who has two kids of his own and 150 more counting on him.

You can mail a tax-deductible contribution with The Jasper Project in the subject line to SCRUBS Medical Mission PO Box 8772 Tyler, Texas 75711.

Thanks friends.

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Tips for Successful Fasting.

In the four years I’ve lived in Texas, I can count on one hand how often I’ve heard the word “vegan.” But since I started the 21-day Daniel Fast, everywhere I go people are talking about tofu and spelt and ordering salads without the standard shredded cheese on top.

Giving up all animal products, including dairy and eggs, and seafood, sugar, fake sugar, yeast, additives, tea, coffee and alcohol seems an impossible task, but I’ve done it for two and a half weeks. I feel good. I’ve lost weight and it hasn’t been that hard. Here’s why:

IMG_57161. We don’t eat out that much. If you do, hopefully you live in a city where vegan/vegetarian restaurants exist. I don’t, so any slippage I’ve had (wait, are tortilla chips legal) occurred because I’m hungry and I suspect the vegetable soup I’m eating was made with chicken stock.

2. I planned like a freak. This is an important component to successful fasting. Hungrily, staring at the fridge with no plan, is likely to devolve into a dinner of hot dogs, popcorn and Diet Coke. So, I took the meal planning grid out of The Daniel Fast book, filled each blank with recipes and page numbers and stuck it on my fridge. I made extra portions and froze them. I invented a tofu smoothie in my blender with strawberries, peaches and almond milk. It’s breakfast-protein revelation. I also started a Pinterest Board of vegan recipes.

3. I prayed. I regularly use the Bible like a self-help book, so when it says things like: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Phil 4:6, I do it. I know that sounds simple, but I like simple. I need simple. I prayed for help and I got it.

I wonder how often we zip up emergency prayers, then forget to notice their fulfillment. For two and a half weeks, my spirit has dominated my impetuous nature – even while sitting in Wendy’s with a bunch of kids eating french fries – OMG I love salty french fries. This change was abrupt and startlingly new, so it can’t have come from me.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. I Chronicles 16:29

IMG_5972The Daniel Fast wasn’t about weight loss for me. It was about getting a handle on undisciplined, emotional eating. But in case you’re wondering, I lost 9 lbs in two and a half weeks being a hard core vegan.

I will finish the fast on Monday. On Wednesday I am going to France for a week, a country where no rational person should diet or fast. But since I’ve only begun disciplining my spoiled inner child, who would love to wash down three chocolate croissants with Champagne at breakfast every day, I’m still praying.

What tools do you use for making big changes in your life? Do they last?

How Do I Defend an Orphan – Part II

Zambia…. Photo Credit:Wikipedia

Texas Cowboys...

Texas…(Photo credit: MyEyeSees)

This July, a passel of Texans are headed to Zambia on a medical mission trip, something I wrote about here. Though invited, I’d pretty well decided not to go.

But the truth is, I want to go.

I believe many of us, Christian and non, want our lives to matter more than they currently do. We want to help other people in meaningful and systemic ways, we just aren’t sure how. So, I’m experimenting with my life and reporting back to you.

And since I am a girl who worries about cultural imperialism, I’m reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. This month’s Conde Nast Traveler ran an article entitled Does Voluntourism Do More Harm Than Good? Its author asks:

Wouldn’t it be better, I wonder, if we had just sent money so Grace could hire an all-Haitian crew to build these houses? Aren’t we perpetuating the “white man coming to save us” dependency that has characterized Haiti’s relationship with America ever since the United States occupied the country in 1915?

In the story, aid workers deride the “Matching T-Shirt Brigades”- typically church volunteers who arrive with inadequate skills and little cultural knowledge, to shovel dirt and hand out bible tracts. Not surprisingly, their long-term impact is negligible or damaging. Even Christians like Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, who worked for years in Costa Rica, wrote a six-part blog about the perils of short-term missions.

But remember Christians are literally required by their faith to serve and that’s why they keep showing up in matching t-shirts. So give them some credit for being faithful. Plus, the article says, $15 billion has poured into Haiti and it’s still a mess. So what do you do? I want to obey Jesus’ command to defend the orphan, but I don’t want to just hammer a few 2×4’s, and blithely photograph kids so I can gush about them on Facebook. Nor do I want to use Africa as a key to unlock my own spiritual prisons.

After all, what is the trip about? The mission or the missionary?

“It’s both,” said Holly Garland of SCRUBS Medical Missions. She explains with a story about a deeply burnt out local dentist who went on a trip with them. He came back rejuvenated and excited about serving his people in his own practice. Other missionaries, she said, have never taken another trip because they got so busy serving their own communities. The mission shifted their whole paradigm.

“And we are not the great white hope,” Holly said, adding that humility and relationship-building are at the core of their work. That’s why SCRUBS has committed to work in the same village, with the same pastor. SCRUBS was invited there and it defers to his leadership on development projects.

And they pray for people, sharing what they know about Jesus.

Holly said, one elderly woman had been told God hears only the priest, not her, and his prayers are expensive. The woman cried when Holly told her it wasn’t true. When the village leader asked for a Bible, they gave him one in his language. He had heard of The Proverbs and wanted to try them out in his next conflict.

That doesn’t sound like cultural imperialism to me. It sounds like friendship.

Mother Teresa famously said, people in the west are dying of spiritual disease like people in the east are dying of physical ones. While the people in Chongwe are materially poor, Holly said, they have a strong sense of joy and contentment.

What is the number one struggle in my materially abundant American life? Ironically, it’s contentment. So maybe if I accept, I am just as broken as the villagers of Chongwe, only in different ways, that might keep me from acting like the great white hope. Maybe by humbly offering myself, broken parts and all, God can use the whole thing to help someone else. And that’s what I want.

So yes, it absolutely is about me, just not in the way I thought. I don’t have to have it all figured out, so I can fly to Zambia and get them figured out. Yuck. At best, this trip, if I go, is less a gift from me to them, as an exchange of gifts between us.