Monday, March 25, 2013

What's So Good About Good Friday?

What’s so good about Good Friday? This is a question that I consider just about every year as we enter into Easter week. Why would they name the day we commemorate Christ’s brutal crucifixion “good”? It was horrible. Our Lord and Savior was beaten, abused, mocked and nailed to a tree while onlookers watched him die, not just from the pain and suffocation, but also from a broken heart.  How can we call that “good”?

I’ve asked this question of pastors over the years but I’ve either not been satisfied with their answer or else I’ve forgotten it so I found myself thinking about it yesterday once again, “What’s so good about Good Friday?”  

This morning I did a little Internet research on the subject, which turned up some pretty interesting answers. In general, it would appear that no one is totally sure of why the Friday before Easter is called Good Friday. Everyone seems to agree that this title showed up sometime in the 4th century but after that, there are numerous explanations given for its name. Some say it was possibly once called “God’s Friday” and the word “Good” was used to replace “God” because at some points in history God’s name was considered too holy even to speak. One author even quipped that the change from God’s Friday to Good Friday was due, perchance, to a hard-of-hearing monk who added an “o” and dropped the “s” and moved on. Another explanation is that the name, Germanic in origin, was "Gute Freitag" and literally means "good" or "holy" Friday.

Yesterday, when I was thinking about the whole “Good in Good Friday” question here’s what I came up with:

Because of Jesus’ horrible death, I get to live.
Because of Jesus’ willingness to be the ultimate blood sacrifice, my sins can be forgiven.
Because of Jesus’ time on the cross, I can go boldly to the throne of grace in prayer.
Because of Jesus, I get to fulfill God’s purpose for me in this amazing adventure called life.

So yes, on Good Friday, when we remember Christ’s death on the cross, I will grieve over what had to happen but know that without the crucifixion nothing would be “good.”  Instead, because of Christ willingly giving his life to buy mine, everything has been made “good.”

And the best news? It’s what happened on the third day that takes the good to great! Christ’s resurrection from the dead brings with it the promise of eternal life for everyone who calls Jesus their Lord. And that, my friend, is reason to celebrate!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Our Swazi "Daughter"


I have just one more story to tell you about our trip to Swaziland. In theory, this should be an easy story to tell but in reality I’ve struggled more with writing it than with any other. The short story here is that we were able to meet the little girl that we sponsor through the organization One Child Matters. In Swaziland One Child Matters partners with Children’s Cup to provide care, education, food and Christian teaching to children living in impoverished regions.

There were several people on our team who are sponsoring children in Swaziland and we’d been told in advance that we’d have the chance meet with our child. I was so excited, but to be honest, a little bit nervous. What would I say? Would she like us? What would we do during the time we had together? All of the children who had sponsors on the trip were bussed in to meet us at the Children’s Cup Global Leadership Academy. (I haven’t told you much about the amazing Global Leadership Academy – and their directors – but check out my friend Gretchen’s blog to find out all about it.) The bus arrived right around lunchtime, along with Kentucky Fried Chicken for the kids. Let me just tell you that KFC in Swaziland beats any KFC you’ll find in the United States and I was just a wee bit jealous when I found out that the chicken was only for the them.

When the kids arrived I was hoping that I’d recognize our “daughter,” Nathando, but there were a couple of girls about the same age who shared a similar haircut so I was out of luck. Soon enough, though, we were matched up, given our meals and sent off to find a place to enjoy our lunch. We were also assigned a translator and even though Nothando speaks some English it was very helpful to have the translator. At one point I asked her if she had any animals and I thought she said she had a cat and a duck. So then I asked her if her family got eggs from the duck. I could tell that she thought that was a strange question but I couldn’t figure out why until her translator explained that she’d said DOG not DUCK. Well yes, that would make getting eggs a bit more challenging.

After lunch we gave Nothando a backpack filled with small gifts. It had been hard for me to decide what to bring but I ended up taking an Uno game, some art supplies, a miniature stuffed sock monkey, candy, and a compact mirror. She giggled a bit when she saw the stuffed monkey and seemed to like the art supplies, but it was the mirror that she clearly liked the most. One dollar – that’s what the mirror cost – but the response from Nothando was worth thousands. She opened it up and very quietly gasped that excited kind of gasp a person reserves for when they’re really excited. Then, ever so softly she said “oohhhh, a mirror” like it was the most precious thing she had ever received. You see, mirrors aren’t a normal commodity in the impoverished homes of Swaziland. I wasn’t sure we’d get her to put it away for the rest of the afternoon she was so excited to look at herself. And who can blame her – she’s adorable.
During our time together we played Uno, talked, and took a walk to the nearby Children’s Cup Care Point. The care point Nothando attends is much like the one we visited but at her care point they don’t have swings yet and she loves to swing.   
Despite all the fun we had the best part of our time together happened when we were walking down the dusty road to and from the care point. It was then that Nothando slipped her hand into mine and held on like little girls do with their mommas. She captured my heart.

You might be wondering why it was so hard for me to write about this experience. Here’s why. I'm embarrassed to tell you it made a difference in the way I feel about her. It’s not that I didn’t love her before but now I know I love her! Now she’s not just a picture on a piece of paper. She’s not just a little girl in need of food, clothing, and education. She’s a child who doesn’t just need to be supported financially, but also emotionally. Why did I not understand that before?

Before we left we had the chance to pray with Nothando; that God would bless her, and care for her, and show her the great plans He has for her life. We hugged her, told her we loved her and swallowed our hearts when she asked, “When are you coming back?” It was a hard good-bye.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Camping - Swazi Style

Most people would be shocked to know that one of the things that attracted me to my husband, John, is that he liked to camp. It’s true though. When I was growing up in California I was a part of a very fun Girl Scout troop and we did a lot of camping. I loved it! Granted, I wasn’t so fond of the time we went backpacking but the camping that didn’t involve carrying things up a hill on my back was a blast. When I met John I was excited at the prospect of being able to go camping with him as we traveled through life together.

What I didn’t understand, however, is that John and I had totally different ideas on what it meant to camp. I also didn’t understand that camping in Minnesota is a totally different experience than camping in California. When I camped in California it was always at an established campground, with a team of people, and a bathroom in close proximity of our campsite. John’s idea of camping is to find a remote location, by ourselves, with nary a toilet in site. The other huge difference between camping with my Girl Scout troop in California and camping with John in Minnesota is the size and quantity of the bugs. While there are bugs in California there are considerably less mosquitoes and the ones we did have were about half the size of the ones in Minnesota.

In other words, after one night of camping in Minnesota I was longing for a hotel, preferably one with room service.  Roughing it just isn’t my style. I like lights, I like electricity, I like the fact that the place I sleep is generally free of biting insects and spiders.

As you might imagine, then, when an overnight trip to a game park in Swaziland featuring huts without electricity and with thatched roofs (where bugs and geckos hang out) was presented, I was less than excited. It sounded a lot like camping to me. Though I knew it would be fun to see the animals, the rest of the trip seemed more like torture than the “fun” that it was designed to be.
And what was my biggest concern? My hair. Pretty much all the other women on the team had long hair that could be pulled into a ponytail or naturally fell straight. My hair, on the other hand, has the potential to stick straight out in several directions when I get up in the morning. I totally understood that I was having first-world problems in a third-world country; it just didn’t help my mood at the time. Neither did the fact that I was extremely tired at this point in the trip. But, after a good cry (yes, it’s true, I cried) I put my big girl panties on and determined to make the best of it.

When we arrived at our hut I did a quick survey to see if there were any visible bugs in the room. The room and the thatched roof looked fairly clear, but there was a can of roach spray on the counter. I thought, “Well, this will be good to have on hand if there are any roaches but what am I to do with the non-roach types of critters?” Screens on the windows were an added bonus as that isn’t always the case. I started to breath a little easier.

Soon, it was time to head out on our game drive and it did not disappoint; lions, elephants, vultures and beautiful vistas were a part of our evening drive.

Before climbing into bed at the end of the day I double-checked it for bugs; using my flashlight and the gas lamp provided. In my world, if there aren’t bugs on the bed when I get in they most assuredly won’t show up in the middle of the night. Please, let me continue to live in this delusional state.

When the alarm went off at 4:30 AM for our early morning drive I realized I had slept better that night than any other night of the trip. As an added bonus, my hair looked somewhat respectable. And, as we headed out to see the giraffes, impalas, rhinos and storks I could almost hear God say, “You see, Nancy, I’ve got your back. There was no need for the drama."

And once again, I am reminded to trust the One who loves me so much that he knows the number of hairs on my head – and keeps them under control at just the right time.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Hardest Question

John and I returned last Thursday from a mission trip to Swaziland, Africa. When a person comes home from a trip such as this the obvious question from friends is “How was your trip?” Even after nine mission trips I find this an incredibly hard question to answer.

There are so many things that happen on a mission trip that it’s hard to quickly summarize it all into a few short sentences. I’ve seen poverty that most Americans can’t even fathom. I’ve met women who work harder to wash a few items of clothing than I work to do four loads. I’ve seen young girls who are at great risk of being victims of human trafficking and others who are already caught in the web. And, I’ve held crying women in my arms that are struggling with a depression they can’t seem to shake.

It’s overwhelming and hard to put into words when someone asks the seemingly reasonable question, “How was your trip?” It takes me a few weeks, sometimes even a few months, to process all that I’ve seen and experienced; which is what makes the ever-present question so challenging.
It’s not all hard though. One of the joys of going on a mission trip is having a front row seat to some pretty miraculous stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I know that miracles happen every where – every day; it’s just that I can get so wrapped up in my own little world that I miss them.  Even on a mission trip I can get pretty self-absorbed (I’ll save that story for another day) and miss the miracles, but on this trip to Swaziland I actually watched God multiply time. Let me explain.

My husband, John, is an optometrist. He had the opportunity to spend a day examining eyes and providing glasses for people who needed them. Knowing the hours available for seeing patients John figured he’d be able to see about 70 patients. When we arrived at church on Saturday morning (the day planned for eye exams) there were already at least 50 people in line to have their eyes checked. John, two team members, and I got the “exam room” set up and glasses ready to dispense. I walked back out to do my job of putting drops in everyone’s eyes (a job which requires no special training other than the ability to pry open eyes that refuse to cooperate) and saw that the line of patients had already doubled and it was only 9:00 in the morning! I would just barely get the drops in a few people’s eyes and it seemed like another 20 people would show up. By 10:00 AM there were nearly 150 people waiting. (Most of the people sitting in this picture were in line.) I knew there was no way that John could see them all and my heart was broken. The nurse with Children’s Cup (the organization we worked with) encouraged me while tears flowed from my eyes. She told me that God only asked us to do what we could. Still, I grieved as we made the announcement that there would not be time to see everyone.

Running through my mind, however, was the story from Matthew 14 about the feeding of 5000 people and I thought to myself, “If God can feed 5000 people (and really he fed even more than that) with five loaves and two fish then he can surely multiply time and allow John to see more than 75 people.” And I prayed for that exact thing – for God to multiply time. I had counted the people up to the 70th person and when I saw him move to the front of the line by 1:15 PM, I knew I was watching a miracle take place. At the end of the day nearly 150 people had been seen.  Though some had left when we made the announcement earlier no one who was still there was turned away. We’d also told them that John could see the first 20 people who showed up on Sunday morning; he saw 35 more. In those two days over 125 pairs of glasses were dispensed.

Seeing that all transpire was amazing but equally as awesome was watching one woman look through her new reading glasses for the first time. The smile that spread across her face as she realized that she could read again would melt even the hardest of hearts. On that day, in her world, she was experiencing a new kind of miracle, the miracle of sight.