On Midair and Miracles

The hardest thing about needing a miracle, I think, is the position required to receive one. It looks something like this:

I promised I would write about the signs and wonders I’ve seen during the birth of The Esther Project, but it’s important to note, I never would have seen them had I not skied off the cliff in the first place.

You could say, any plan that requires divine intervention to prevent a spectacular failure, is foolish.  That’s true, unless you believe in a God who sends a murderer into Pharaoh’s court to demand the release of half a million Jewish slaves.

Moses argued with God about that. “Who me?”

I did the same when my partner at Mercy Ships kept suggesting the best way to impact a bunch of abused and abandoned girls in the worlds’ 6th poorest nation, was to bring them to the Africa Mercy. 

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“No way,” I said. “I’ve got no back up. It’s too wild. Too hard. Too much work. And how do I even ask for such a thing?”

Then my friend Joy reminded me of God talking back to Moses.

So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

“All right Lord, I’ll go,” I said. “Just so we’re clear though, I can’t make this happen, you have to.”

Roger that.

Anatomy of a Miracle – Seven Easy Steps.

Step One: Somebody, somewhere mentions the Africa Mercy recently got new mattresses, and the old ones are still stacked up in the warehouse.

And that warehouse, someone else adds, will be unused the weekend you might bring the girls down, because that happens to be Easter weekend – a fact you overlooked.

Step Two: The next day you discover, the bus you normally take to the port doesn’t run on Good Friday, so you have to come two days early, giving you enough time to say, dress up a warehouse with 50 mattresses on the floor.

Step Three: That same day, someone else mentions, in passing, the Chaplaincy department at Mercy Ships has chosen to focus this Easter season on the Old Testament Book of Esther.

And you remember, 18 months before, when you nicknamed your work with these girls,  “The Esther Project,” and the hair stands up on your neck. 

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Step Four: Soon after, you take a deep breath and hit send on a proposal to the management team of the Africa Mercy, explaining how you plan to, from the United States, organize a beach trip and two-night slumber party on the dock, next to the ship, for 50 Malagasy teenagers, who live ten hours away, don’t speak English and have never seen the ocean.

And you apologize for how crazy that sounds.

But before you hear back, the Captain lets it fly that he’d like to invite the girls up to the Bridge. You laugh because in your three years with Mercy Ships, you’ve never been invited to visit the Bridge.

Step Five: The management team mulls it over. There is yes. There is no. You cry in the parking lot. There is yes again. A small no. Then a green light. Your friends on board pull weight for you, and you cry about that too.

Step Six: You build a Go Fund Me page to beg $2500 for transport, pizza, ice cream and other teenage girl essentials. Typically, you’d rather take a beating then ask people for money, but you do it because the Lord is setting bushes on fire everywhere, and you dare not ignore a burning bush. Right Moses?

The first donation arrives 30 minutes later from a woman you don’t know named Ruth. It is for $500. You cry again.

Less than 22 hours later, the campaign is overfunded by 10% and you’re still scheduled to take an offering at Mercy Ships. So, two days later, you do and now you’re overfunded by 90% because your colleagues want to bring heaven to earth too.

Step Seven: With some of that extra money, Tom, your partner on the Africa Mercy, suggests you buy fresh coconuts with the tops lopped off and a straw stuck in them, so the girls can sip fresh coconut water with their toes in the sand.

And you remember the first donation you received when the Esther Project weekend was still a dream – a crisp twenty, sneakily left on your bathroom counter, with a note attached that read:

“Everyone needs the beach.”

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Friends listen….Jesus said follow me but he rarely led his followers to safe and manageable places. He led them into storms, fights, mobs, trials and demonic neighborhoods. He did it to make them at once fearless and hopelessly dependent on him.

I understand something now that I didn’t before about people who are humble after doing cool and selfless things to benefit other people.

It’s not them doing it.

It’s Jesus at work in them, making impossible things happen so nobody could reasonably claim credit. And Jesus does this most often when we are off the cliff and fully midair.

The Esther Project happens March 25th – March 27th, but we leave for midair Wednesday morning.
over your skiis

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What Are You Doing With Your Life?

In 1977, a seminary student named Don Stephens was invited to a meeting in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. Given the gravity of the event, Stephens carefully wrote out his questions for her on a note card and placed it in his pocket.

When it came his time to speak, Mother Teresa kindly but directly told him to put the note card down because she had some questions. According to Stephens, what she asked him changed his life.

1. What’s your purpose?

2. What is your greatest pain?

3. What are you going to do about it?

Out of the pain Stephens described to Mother, Mercy Ships* was born. Thirty five years later, it operates the largest, non-governmental hospital ship in the world, and is busy building a second. Working with a $54 million budget, the non-profit organization has visited 578 different ports, providing surgical, ophthalmic, medical and dental care to the world’s poorest people.

One guy. Three questions. Millions of lives.

So, what are you doing with your life?

And I say that carefully, because stories like this used to frustrate me. I too wanted to build something with my life, something significant, but I couldn’t figure out how. My problem, as it turns out, was a simple one:

I had fired my architect.

Because I was mad at the Christians who carry signs and smear gay people on Facebook, I refused to even consider the gospel of Jesus Christ as infrastructure for my life. So, I erected a bunch of buildings on my own. With a few breathtaking exceptions, those structures were up to code and functional; however they were kind of lame and uninspired. I wanted Frank Lloyd Wright and I got mini-storage.

Mercy Ships

What I think Mother Teresa, Don Stephens and thousands of Mercy Shippers understand is this:

It is a tremendous privilege to collaborate on your life with the creator of the universe; to coax something magnificent from the ether and watch it consume thousands of people like fire, conscripting them into the army Jesus had planned all along,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:1-3

Whether you know it or not, God’s hovering over you too, right now, brimming with thoughts and plans for your life, with an imagination too wild for you to grasp. However, your humble assent and obedience are required, and nobody can tell you just how it will go.

If you struggle to believe that, I understand but what do you have to lose by trying? Why not let God define who you are and what you’re doing here? (Right, First City Church?)

So go ahead and bring him the tatters of your faith. Bring him your doubts about creation, religion, gay marriage and abortion. Bring your sad heart and your dirty face and lay all of it at his feet. Then pick up the gospel of John.

I promise he will lay you waste and love you whole at the exact same time.

And that’s when the building begins.

*As I’m sure you know, the views expressed herein are my own and not that of Mercy Ships.

I Really Am Going to the Sea.

We’ve got some big news around here.

I have just accepted a position with Mercy Ships, a Christian, non-profit organization that runs the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world. Since 1978, Mercy Ships has provided more than $1 billion in medical services for more than 2.35 million people, through approximately 575 port visits in 54 developing and 18 developed nations.

English: The Africa Mercy, operated by Mercy S...

While the MV Africa Mercy is currently docked in West Africa, the organization is headquartered in Garden Valley, Texas, 30 minutes from my house.

I will be working with the doctors, nurses and laypeople who travel from all over the world to volunteer on the ship. My job is to help prepare them. The team arrives in Texas next Saturday, and while there are shorter terms of service, this group has committed a minimum of ten months. All this may send me to West Africa for a few weeks, a couple of times a year.

Yah, I’m still absorbing all that too.

Mercy Ships was featured on 60 Minutes last month and if you’ve got 12 minutes, this segment is pretty inspiring. Former U.S. Press Secretary Dana Perino spent all last week on the Africa Mercy as well. You can read her thoughts here.