5/21/12

Contentment: A Glimpse of Christian Maturity


My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content - Psalm 131

Our first month of ministry in Uganda entailed a heavy dose of "door to door" evangelism. We would split into groups with a pastor or a translator (the local language is swahili), and start conversations with the intent of spreading the gospel to people in specific areas of the community. And while there were reservations within the team regarding the effectiveness of this approach - not being able to spend quality time building relationships with the people we were preaching to, questioning whether they really understood what was being told to them, etc - that's not what I wish to focus on with this post.

An advantage that arose from such a diverse range of interactions was getting a glimpse into the everyday challenges facing people born into third world countries. The extreme poverty in areas like Uganda have been well documented by others and I'm not sure my words do it any justice - necessities like clean drinking water or a mattress to sleep on are considered luxuries, with the majority of the population struggling to find a means to pay for basic schooling and healthcare. It was not altogether uncommon for us to find families that could not afford eating more than one meal a day.

In the face of everything just described, I was deeply struck by the joyful disposition that accompanied the faith of most Christians we encountered. There seemed to be a genuine sense of gratitude for what little they already had, but even more so, there was an inner poise that provided a level of contentment I have rarely seen matched, even in supposed "utopian" countries like Singapore or the United States.

Why does a poverty stricken Christian family in Africa experience deeper happiness than the rest of us who live with far greater resources and advantages? The answer, I believe, lies in a deeply ingrained instinct for consumerism in our postmodern society. Most of us have been brought up to approach life, and subsequently the Christian faith, strictly based on a cost - benefit analysis. The pervasive attitude toward God is one of "what have you done for me lately?" We reject Jesus when circumstances are less than ideal, in spite of the fact that the bible repeatedly emphasizes the experience of suffering as a hallmark of what it means to be a Christian (Philippians 1:29.)

Through the people I met in Uganda, it became clear to me what the prophet Habakkuk was taught through his trials in the face of God's seeming injustice. We are to love God for Himself alone, not just for what he gives us. This is what the great preacher Jonathan Edwards expounded on when attempting to distinguish "true grace" from "the experience of devils," who tremble before and have a theological grasp of God (James 2:19.) If grace has truly transformed us, we don't ultimately care if life goes according to plan, as long as we have Jesus. The externals that we place so much emphasis on like money, power, and reputation, are nothing compared to what lies before us in eternity.

The challenge then is being like the "weaned child" in Psalm 131 - someone who has worked gospel truths into his or her heart as a paradigm of viewing reality. Internally, the soul is stilled into profound contentment and joy. Externally, the result is humility and a willingness to trust God. Spiritual maturity occurs when we realize the reason God's actions are sometimes unexplainable is not because we are wise and He is foolish; rather, it is because He is too "wonderful" for us to comprehend (Job 42:3.)

5/18/12

Reflections on Africa - A Series of Mini-Posts Coming Soon!

I was recently looking over some photos of my trip and it brought to mind a myriad of thoughts and emotions that have yet to be processed since returning home to Singapore exactly a week ago. While I apologize for failing to keep followers of this blog updated on a regular basis,  I hope to make up for that in the coming weeks with a series of small, "digestible" posts that not only outline what was experienced in Africa, but also to discuss valuable lessons that were learned and how to apply them to everyday life in a first world country. I will do my best to stay brutally honest and biblically grounded while tackling a number of topics ranging from the importance of hell (controversial!) to the challenges of living in community.


It is equally humbling and amazing the way the past few months have panned out. When I made the decision to sign up for the trip way back in November of last year, I had dreams of how things would transpire. Some were admittedly more optimistic and grandiose than others but the reality has reminded me a hundred-fold that we worship a sovereign God who works in mysterious ways, and ultimately for the good of those who love Him. Entering into a new season of life, I would like to thank all those brothers and sisters who shared the same desire to spread the gospel in countries that desperately need it, and now those who are carrying out the same vision in your respective communities back home.


As a christian community, have we been blessed beyond belief by being brought up and residing with the resources available in "comfortable" countries like the United States and Singapore? Have we been protected from the problems that plague others in less developed areas? Absolutely. In that sense, we should be remarkably grateful and unusually holy! Are we? The greater the scope of God's blessings, the more imperative it is for us to receive it with trembling and self-examination.

2/2/12

Transitions

Our ministry has taken us to the town of Torroro since my last update. The first couple of days in our new location were spent starting conversations with random people in the marketplace with the hope of eventually sharing the gospel and praying for them. It has been beyond amazing to see God at work - a blind man was healed through one of the girls on my team - and more than anything, I'm fired up to apply what I have been learning from these experiences to situations back home in the US.

Since then, we have been spending the majority of our time visiting and encouraging sick people at a nearby hospital. One patient in particular, a 25 year old single mother named Cathy, stood out to me. Cathy has been paralyzed from the waist down since 2008 and consequently has struggled to support her five year old child, Charles. Still, it has been incredibly inspirational to see Cathy remain so positive in the face of these (and many other) hardships. There was such a tangible joy about her and it was obvious that she got her strength from relying solely on Jesus. Her attitude is truly a testament to her faith and is something that I hope to eventually emulate.

In other news, I have been struggling with homesickness and missing certain people as of late. There definitely have been days when it becomes a battle just to stay positive and focused on why God has placed me here. I try to remind myself that transformation into the man the Lord intends me to be will require a great deal of patience and discomfort. Please be praying that God would grant me that patience and obedience to carry out His will here in Uganda.

On a more positive note, the home that we have been staying at for the past 10 days actually has a functional toilet! As fun as peeing into a hole in the ground has been, I was pretty geeked up about being able to flush stuff down for the first time since leaving Atlanta a month ago (has it really been that long??). I'll definitely be missing the good life as we prepare to spend the next week living in some remote village out in the middle of nowhere - it's going to be an interesting experience to say the least. More updates to come as soon as I next get access to the internet!

P.S. This song has been stuck in my head over the past week. Thought I would share it with you all.

1/28/12

Hitting the ground running

The first 12 days in Uganda have been a whirlwind of experiences and emotions. Already I have had the opportunity to preach at church (twice!) while going around town talking to people about God with the rest of my team during the week. There is definitely a huge difference in preaching the Gospel in Africa - the people here are way more receptive - but I'm just looking at this an opportunity to develop my confidence and grow in boldness.

One of my goals going into Africa was to let go of my self reliance and learn to put my trust completely in the Lord. That was put to the test two days ago when I was diagnosed with Malaria (I'm feeling much better now though, don't worry!). When you're lying in bed with a 103 degree fever and throwing up anything you put in your body, all thoughts of pride and self-sufficiency tend to automatically go out the window.

In a weird way, as miserable as being sick was, I'm glad it happened. I honestly believe that God was using the experience to break me down before building me back up into a man of stronger faith. In many ways, I am encouraged by Romans 8:28 - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."

I'm missing home and everyone like crazy right now (I could use a 100 plus out here in the African heat) but I continue to remind myself that God has a purpose for me being here and that I have to do my best to stay receptive to His will for me.

Thank you guys for your continued support and prayers - It means the world to me and I will continue to keep all of you in the loop!

1/16/12

Feels like family

The past three days in Georgia have been spent growing closer to the Lord and getting ready to spread His word in Africa with the amazing group of people who will be my family over the next 4 months. Training camp has been an intense, albeit, incredible experience and AIM has done a fantastic job in cultivating a community of believers who encourage and lift each other up in Christ. I feel like I have already made tremendous strides in my walk with the Lord and we haven't even left the country yet. We'll be leaving for Uganda tomorrow and prayers for safety would be much appreciated. I'm so ready for the Lord to use me and to bring hope to areas that desperately need it! Pictures and more updates to come - Stay tuned.

1/9/12

Role models, and building for eternity

One of my role models: Brad, thank you for showing me what it means to love Christ and others. You lead by example.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." – Matthew 5:14

We have the ability to influence others through the way we live our lives. Something that I have come to understand over the last few years is that we all have different stories to share - life experiences that can make a positive difference and bless the lives of others.

In high school, I was fortunate enough to encounter a few remarkable individuals who would profoundly impact the way I view life and the Christian faith today. While they certainly had their unique differences, a common trait they all shared was their capacity to genuinely live out the gospel and to empathize with others. I remember thinking that I wanted to live like that, and it’s no coincidence that I started making strides in my own walk with Christ shortly after having been around them.

I believe that God is challenging you and I to change the world. And to accomplish this, He asks us to look daily into our own little spheres of influence and figure out how we can best “let our light shine before others.” It’s a process that takes tremendous patience but if we keep the faith and continue to do things the right way, God WILL use us to transform the lives of others.

As I sit here, a couple of hours away from getting on a plane to spread the Word, there is no doubt in my mind that none of this would even be happening if it were not for those few special people God chose to place along my path. It’s because of them that I find myself with a renewed passion to invest in the lives of those around me and in things that will last for eternity. I simply pray that God will afford me opportunities in the coming months to touch others and lift them up through His Word – for Christ and His Kingdom.

1/5/12

Staying was the right call

YoungLife Christmas Club: Celebrating the birth of our Savior with some of my favorite kids

Although I could not have envisioned such a strange ending to my time in Singapore, I firmly believe I made the right decision to take the year off and come back to SAS instead of going to Wheaton right away.


I'm a better person today than I was six months ago. The lessons that I take with me from the past six months – virtues like humility, patience, and the ability to tolerate disappointment – will undoubtedly be with me for the rest of my life.


In that sense, along with a host of other intangible qualities that were either acquired or reacquired on the journey (confidence comes to mind), the extra year gives me a head start into what I am assured will be a fantastic college experience.


Having the opportunity to be around and learn from an amazing group of teachers and kids on a daily basis has made the semester a memorable one. That’s not to say I enjoyed every moment, because I didn’t, but I would never regret the decision, nor would I trade it for any other experience.


Now is the right time to move on. While I definitely still have some growing up to do, I don’t think there is much more to learn from staying another half year at SAS. I’ve always believed that the two highest priorities one can have are serving God and loving other people. By spending the next 4 months in Africa as a missionary, I’ll be placing myself in a distraction free environment where I will get to focus on the things that truly matter. In the words of Paul the Apostle (and very much in the spirit of the new year), it is time to “forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.”


To my blog subscribers/prayer team: Thank you so much for agreeing to follow me on this incredible adventure. I promise to do my utmost in remaining as forthcoming and candid as I possibly can while providing all of you with frequent updates and any prayer requests that I may have!


God Bless,


Alex