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. 

IMG_6605

“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. 

EP final graphic

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.”

IMG_6575

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

Advertisements

Life In the Restoration Business

Did I tell you guys I’m leaving for Africa in ten days? Well technically, I’m leaving for Madagascar – the island nation off the southeast side of the continent, near Mozambique. We’re leading a team of 10 to the Africa Mercy. They’ll stay for years, I’ll be back at the end of March.

Here’s what Madagascar looks like through the lens of our amazing ship photographer Ruben Plomp.

Reuben 2

I know. Torture. Right? Photo Credit: Ruben Plomp

As some of you know, I work for Mercy Ships an organization that runs the largest, non-governmental hospital ship in the world. Since last fall, the ship has been docked in Madagascar providing free surgeries – orthopedics, cleft palate, fistula repair and tumor removal – for people who lack access to such care. We’re in the restoration business and here’s just one of the amazing stories that came off the ship last week.

tumorCan you imagine the shame and rejection that comes with being a little boy with a huge cyst? Zakael can.

A few weeks ago, a guy named Mr. Sambany came to us with a 16 lb. tumor on his head and neck that he’d carried for almost 20 years. He walked three days to get to the ship. While our surgeons reviewed with him the dangers of removing such a large tumor, Mr. Sambany said he knew he might die, but he was already a “dead man” for the way he is treated.

Here he is post surgery.

Sambany We’re in the restoration business.

The surgeons, nurses, cooks, physical therapists, engineers, teachers who work on the ship are not just volunteers, they actually pay Mercy Ships to donate their time and skills. Most ask their communities for financial support to do it. What’s cool about that is, you can stay home and support someone working in Madagascar.  You can bring hope and healing to Mr. Sambany and Zakael from Kansas.

But when Christmas day looks like this in Madagascar, why would you stay in Kansas? If you want to help us in person. You can do that too.

reuben's Christmas

Crew in Santa hats! Photo Credit: Ruben Plomp

But if you decide to volunteer on the Africa Mercy long term, ten months or more, you get to come to Texas first for training.

And that’s where you will run into me.

They call me The Meddler.

They call me The Meddler.

Because it’s hardly just people with tumors and burns and birth defects that need hope and healing. There is so much broken in all of us, and where else in your life does anybody look you in the face and say:

“Do you realize your mouth is working against you?”

“Are you aware that what you heard as a child, contradicts what Jesus says about you?”

“Don’t you know who you are as a child of God? You are beloved, redeemed, precious, alive, whole, seated with Him, hidden in Him.

As a Jesus follower, I’m staking my life on this information, and the result has been radical and interesting. Stay tuned for the next month or so, and I’ll show you what I mean.

In Haiti last July, one of my team members asked what I get out of being away from Sam so much and traveling to hot, hard, sometimes dirty places with Christians who are in one moment really holy and in another totally freaking out.

“I get to watch God change your lives,” I said. I get to be in the restoration business too.

Have a Real New Year

Anybody looking forward to throwing out the candy canes, eating spinach and going back to work? Me too, and at the risk of sounding like Scrooge again, here’s the last thing I’m going to say about getting real at the holidays.

If I find myself depressed at the New Year it’s usually for the following reasons:

1. I’m overfed.
2. I’m bored.
3. I’m self-absorbed.

Photo Credit: skeeze

Photo Credit: skeeze

On Overfeeding: The impulse to share and bless is a holy one for sure, and science has proven giving feels good. But sometimes our networks are small and the people within them are already obese with blessing. So our lovingly crafted pies are buried under a feast large enough for three times the crowd. It’s so lavish, it’s convicting. Plus, we don’t have the Tupperware, everybody’s pants are tight and we’re all overwrought, but New Years is the finish line, so we choke down pie we don’t want, because it’s unthinkable to trash a homemade pie. I wonder, is the solution less pie or larger network?

On Boredom: God help you if you’re around me when I’m bored. According to the Myers Briggs personality test, I’m an ENFJ. What are you? That means I’m a big extravert who likes to take care of people and boss them around. When I’m not doing that I am easily convinced my life is a waste of time. That thought occurs to me nearly every morning and when my hands are idle. It used to bother me, but then I read the Bible and found a good explanation for it:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

I know I’m up against things I can’t see and when I’m moping around, navel gazing, they gain ground in my head. Friends, the answer is not to be busier, but to choose which thoughts can stay and which ones must report immediately to Jesus. That way if I’m sitting in my bathrobe at noon, like right now, I can rest and not feel like a loser. It does take a little practice though.

Photo Credit: Mark Weaver

Photo Credit: Mark Weaver

On Self-Absorption. Is there a holiday that encourages self-absorption more than New Years Eve? Certainly, self awareness and reflection are good things but there is no joy in selfishness. I know. I’m an expert. So if joy is what we want, we have to aim higher than just losing 10lbs, because, besides ourselves, who does that help? And where in the scriptures does Jesus advocate self-improvement? He doesn’t. He advocates dying to ourselves. The good news is, he said what you give will be given back in big, amazing measure, but you go first. Just like he did.

And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph 5:2

So here’s an idea:

What if over the next 11 months, we set out to make some new friends – needy ones – whatever that means, money, time, mentoring, food. That way next Christmas we can not be bored, and satisfy our impulse to give money, candles, infinity scarves and pie to people who actually need it. Who knows, maybe those friendships will morph into other opportunities at Memorial Day, Easter and Halloween too.

Not sure how to do that? Here’s my prayer, feel free to borrow it.

Lord, because I love you, I want to give. What does that look like, today, in my exact context? Please make it obvious, so even I can’t miss it. Inconvenience me. Show me who needs to see you today. Thank you. Amen.

Real New Year everybody!