Month: January 2013

Aches and Joy

It’s normal to ache after a trip home from overseas. The long plane rides, confusing time changes, and complete change in environment, food, and everything else make the body go into a bit of shock. But those aches aren’t the ones that bother me as much. The ones that hurt me the most are the spiritual and emotional aches that sometimes physically hurt down deep in the bones.

I just watched the sun set out over the pond from my bedroom window. And the first thought in my delirious, jet-lagged mind was of my friends in Cambodia. The same sun will rise on them in just a few hours. The same sun. And the same grace. I already miss them, and I miss my team as well. I am so used to our patterns of interacting and being that I floundered a bit. The tears came and went, but the ache stayed in my throat. I’ve been told that this kind of ache is all part of ministry, that after a while you stop getting as attached and leaving people behind is easier. Maybe I believe it. But this ache in my throat says no.

When Paul listed all of his trials and all of the scars he bore in 2 Cor., the one he lists last, on top of everything, is his daily burden for the churches. Because of that, I am comforted. I know that I ache and cry like a leaky waterspout because I have a bit of my Father’s heart for his work among the nations. I believe that He weeps for them, as people groups, as cultures, and as individuals just as the Son wept over Jerusalem. He knows each of the people he created by name and he desires their worship and their relationship with Him. And I know that Paul, too, as calloused and seasoned as he was, still bore the burden of remembering the churches he’d left behind. Only a sorrow as deep as that could birth an anger as intense as what we see in some of his letters. He burned for the communities he’d left and was deeply angry at any who would lead them astray.

But Paul also had other emotions for the people he’d left behind. One look at Philippians shows that Paul was filled to overflowing with joy. He loved his work and the people he worked with. And because of his connection with them through Christ, he could be abundantly joyful. We share in the same grace, he said. We have the same savior, and we have the same love poured out on us like an ocean. Though we may worship in different ways or languages, and though we may be so far apart that we will never see the sun at the same time, we all look to the same Son, who died the same death to give us the same grace.

I’ve probably said this to all of you before, and it’s probably old news to you, but every time I think about it, the thought wells up in me with a fresh joy and appreciation for the Father’s faithfulness. He knew that his children would sometimes be apart from those they love, so He gave to the Body of believers one single Body, broken for all. That Holy, blessed Body unites us. We function as unit—as a body with many members working together. We aren’t perfect, but we have the grace of this provision. We all serve the same Father. And just as I can look at the sun and know the same sun will soon rise on my friends, I can look to the Father and know that He is leading us all to participate in his good and perfect will—in a beautiful and intricate Great Dance, weaving in and out between each other to accomplish his purposes and sing for his glory.

Bless the Lord, O my soul

O my soul.

Worship His holy Name;

Sing like never before,

O my soul,

I’ll worship Your holy Name.


The hardest part of overseas trips for me has never been the food, the language, or the culture; it has always been the departure. And it hit me today that I’ll be on a plane in 48 hours. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my friends and family from home. But as we drove through the city today in a tuk tuk I almost cried at the thought that these may be my last few moments of the familiar smells and cries from vendors. As the smoggy wind blew through my hair and I wiped the road grit out of my eyes I was not annoyed—I felt embraced by the culture, the people, and the familiar scenery. Do I feel called to this culture long-term? Not necessarily. Will I miss my time and my friends here? Absolutely.

Not too long ago in a place closer to me now than my own home, a Gypsy pastor consoled me as I wept for the people who will forever have a piece of my heart. He said to me, ‘Sister Caroline, no matter how hard it is, leaving is part of ministry. Even Paul talked about how he was burdened for the believing communities he left behind.’ I have never forgotten his words, and I am reminded how true they are in times like these. The longer I serve in this kind of overseas ministry, the more people I will have to leave behind, the more dear hearts I will add to my prayer list, and the more chrch bodies I will carry in my own heart. There will always be bittersweet goodbyes without a promise of meeting again. And because of who the Father has made me to be, my heart will always ache for His work and His people that I leave behind. We have not witnessed any salvations on this trip, but we have planted many seeds. I have told quite a few stories, and I know I am leaving behind friends who may or may not continue in their seeking for the Truth. My heart breaks for them, and every time it does I wonder why I find this ministry so appealing.

But then I read Philippians, and I am always encouraged by Paul’s words. He got it. He knew what it was to leave a place and to wonder what would happen in his absence. He was burdened for those he discipled and those they in turn would disciple to take their places. I am reminded of the Father’s gift of his global community. “We all share in the same grace,” he says in the first chapter, and that unites us. I will always be connected to the Body because we are one in the Son. I will always have someone, whether they speak English, or Khmer, or Romanian, or Spanish, to mutually encourage and lift up. And that is a blessing beyond anything I could ever ask. Our Father knew leaving a community would be difficult, so he connected us in a beautiful way that blows my mind. We all serve the same Lord, no matter what language we use to do it.

And this trip is different from the last, because I will be able to take back a little of the country with me. Father has given us a wonderful team of five students and a professor who’ve shared experiences and trials and triumphs. We’ll always be able to recall fighting over the last scrap of toilet paper, tasting the smelliest fruit in the world, having late-night hair stylings, and laughing with our jmen so much that we cried. We’ll be able to remember together laughing and haggling at the markets and sweating with our knees laced together in a tuk tuk. We will be able to grieve for this culture together and its people’s hardships, and we’ll be able to lift of the students we have come to know and love.

So much has happened with them in the short two weeks we’ve known them. We’ve done everything from karaoke night, arcade games, and sharing more than questionable food, to visiting market, going to the zoo, playing endless games of mafia, and storying until we’re blue in the face. As hard as it is to believe, we’ve built relationships with people whose language is foreign to us, whose culture sometimes astounds us, and who live halfway around the world from our homes. Sunday we had another worship time and 7 of our students came. The entire things was orchestrated by Father, but they heard a short message on the wide and narrow paths and houses built on sand and rock, they sang their favorite songs Waves of Mercy and 10,000 Reasons, and then they heard the story of the crucifixion and resurrection. I was brought to tears as I storied about the beautiful love of our savior, and I was amazed at the whole-hearted response from the students. They followed along with emotion on their usually reserved faces, and a few times there were even exclamations at parts of the story. I was amazed to see Father at work through our team and I was blown away by his grace when I saw the students’ reaction to the greatest story in the Word.

And after all of that, we have to leave. We have to go back to school and hectic schedules and health problems and stressors. But we have the same Father to go back to as well. If he is Lord in Southeast Asia, he is Lord in our hometowns. He promises that His Words will not return to him empty, so we know that our teachings here have not fallen on deaf ears. We know that someday He will bring a harvest, even if we are not here to see it. He has taught us much, and we will take much home with us. Please continue to lift up our team as we prepare to leave and return to our ‘normal lives.’ Pray that we would not be overcome with sorrow as we experience our last meal of Lok Lat, our last time with the students, and our last time in the crowded market. And as I read Philippians, I am reminded of Paul’s overwhelming joy that answered to his sorrow and burden for the community. He was completely and utterly filled to the brim with joy because the Lord is faithful, and he will finish the work he has begun. For that we will praise him, and our tears will be tears of joy.

Feeding the Hungry

We spent the last week teaching English with our university students. We teach them English and make connections to our favorite Stories and they teach us about their culture and beliefs. We’ve been on outings with them to Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, the Phnom Tamau Zoo, and a riverboat on the Mekong to celebrate the new year. We teach three classes every weekday, and we want to make friends with the students so we can tell them about things that are important to us. And they are wonderful. Our two guys (affectionately dubbed ‘the brothers’ by our M) have really bonded with a group of guys, and we continually lift up the students so that Father would prepare their hearts for his Message. Our guys and the guy students have done a lot together—icecream, karaoke, arcade games, and shared meals.

We have gone shopping with our girls, had icecream and ‘American fast food,’ and just had them over to our house to talk. Father has really blessed us, because we have all connected with students whose hearts have been undergoing preparation for the Message for a long time. The two girls I am closest to (we’ll call them Padma and Rita) have been over to our house many times already. I’ve started a story set with them, and they are both so hungry for the stories I’ve shared. Between the two of them, they have heard C2C, Jn. 13:1-14:14, creation of the spirit world (that story was in Khmenglish), Elijah and Ahab at Mt. Carmel, and Noah’s flood. With all of that, they’ve learned about sin and our need for the Son. They’ve learned that our Father is more powerful than anything they encounter, and that he does not desire them to live in fear. They have learned that the Father is holy and that we are not, and they have learned that all paths do not lead to heaven. They are so hungry for what they are learning. It blows my mind. We take for granted that we can pick up the Word and read any story any time. These girls know nothing about the stories I love, and if they had time, they would sit with me all day to learn. I love them with all of my heart, and I lift them up daily. I love the assurance that none of this is my doing. So many requests to the Father have been answered, and He has been hard at work preparing minds and hearts. He has called us here to feed the hungry; to bring good news to the broken, and to provide for the poor. Is. 55 is one of my favorite chapters in the Word, and I love seeing it work out in my daily life here.

Father has really brought our team together since we’ve been here too. That has been a blessing greater than my words can ever say. We have all become close friends, and we love spending time together. Often on short term trips friction within the team can be used by Satan to retard Father’s work, but we have not had to deal with that. Father has heard what we have lifted up and woven us together as a wonderful team. We learn from each other and balance each other’s weaknesses and strengths. We are functioning as the Body, and it is a beautiful thing. It almost brings me to tears when I think about it. And speaking of tears, a few were shed last night when we dropped Dr. Carlton off at the airport. He is leaving early and the team and I will be ‘on our own’ for the rest of our trip. I cried a tiny bit before I could rein it back in, but I cried for many reasons, and my heart still sings and hurts when I think about it. First, I cried because I’m a girl and I’m hormonal. Second, I cried because of the good friends who came to see him off, and because of those who didn’t. And I cried because of his legacy.

Dr. Carlton and his wife Mrs. Gloria have been an influential part of my life since they moved to OBU almost two years ago. I love them both so much, and I have learned so much from them. They are both hilarious, and one of the things they have taught me is how important it is to laugh as you work on the Field. Dr. Carlton has taught me to story, taught me to be an M, trained me and encouraged me in the classroom, and invested in my life just as he has with his other students. Mrs. Gloria and I have met (along with my roommates) to talk many times about life, love, and all things related to being an M or simply living a life full of the Son. I admire them so much, and they both have invested deeply in me, just as they have with countless others. On this trip I have gotten to see a little bit of their legacy, and I have been overwhelmed with their commitment and dedication to Father’s work and Father’s people.

During the whole trip I have worked alongside students developing a passion for overseas work that they wouldn’t have were it not for the Carltons. I have met Shepherd after Shepherd who was trained and taught by Dr. Carlton. I have seen people and the work of people who were trained to plant new communities of believers. And I have watched many tearful reunions and listened to many stories about the years of work the Carltons invested in this country and its people. I am so honored to be serving our Father alongside such heroes of our faith. And I don’t just say that to lift them up on a pedestal or praise them. They would be the first to deny that they had any hand in the exponential growth of believers—they would give all the credit to Father, where credit is due. Dr. Carlton shared an impromptu motto with us the day he left that I think is worth sharing with all of you: Life is fun. Have a blast. Tell people about Jsus.  As we have done on this short trip, the Carltons have done just that and fed the hungry for many years; I ask the Father to bless them for their work.

One of our goals for this trip is to establish a legacy of believing university students. We want to make connections and disciple so that when we leave, the students who are hungry for the Message can continue to meet with the Ms. I told you I have been storying with my girls, but this Sunday we got to model what a gathering of believers looks like. We asked Father earnestly to bring students to hear his Word and to see our joy in Him, and He did not disappoint. At the risk of sounding like an American, I’ll tell you that we were blown away by the numbers; but not just by the numbers. We had EIGHT students come to worship with us, and every one of them was engaged and hungry for the meat of the Word. It was INCREDIBLE! I was so amazed and blessed and overwhelmed by Father’s faithfulness!

We sang Every Move I Make (which we taught them in class on American Song day) and some other songs we love (and miss while we are here). I storied about Elijah, Ahab, and the showdown at Mt. Carmel to help correct the fault in their worldview that allows them to believe that they do not have to pick between deities. Father blessed my words, and everyone present had something to say about what they had learned from the story. After we sang some more, Kasey shared a short message on Paul’s conversion to teach that believing in Father is not just intellectual—that is brings about a change in people, and that no matter what our past holds, Father still wants us to turn to Him. I’m pretty sure I had a goofy grin on my face the entire time because I was so excited to see Father’s work in our student’s hearts! Please continue lifting them up with us. If you lift up Rita and Padma, Father will know who you’re talking about. 🙂

I have one more quick story about feeding the hungry and I’ll let you go on with your lives instead of melting your corneas in front of a computer screen. Today was not one of my favorite days. The girls and I had a wonderful brunch with the lady Ms, and then we met the boys in the market for some shopping and bartering before we went back home to rest. Today is an Independence Day for the Khmer people, so there were no classes. The first part of the day was great, but after that I wasn’t feeling very good, which compounded any emotions I had stored up. But as we rode back from supper in our tuktuk, my mood was radically changed because we were given another opportunity to feed the hungry. The streets are lined with beggars, many of whom are contracted and are forced to pay any money they receive to bosses, who dole out next-to-nothing to live on. We stopped at a stoplight and three precious little boys came up to our tuktuk with a hand out and a feather duster ready to clean anything for us. We had some leftover food from the restaurant and some fresh fruit we had just picked up, so we gave the boys something to eat. We also handed them each a little book in Khmer that told the Greatest Story Ever with comic book-like illustrations (taken from an incredible storying tool called The Action Bble, for any of you who’d care to know). They forgot about the food in their hands and immediately sat down and started flipping through the pages and following along the words with their fingers. It may not have been much, but at least they have the chance to hear the Good News from someone who cared enough to feed their bellies and souls.