29 September 2015

bumps, joys, and perfect timing

Much has happened since my last post 4 years. Unfortunately I haven’t followed up about bumps in my journey, kept up with sharing some life-changing joys, or stayed in contact well with the many people who took part in our life-changing year! After this quick update, I plan to reach out to people from our adventure to learn what is new in your faith journey and kingdom work while inquiring who are the leaders and what are the leadership styles which have influenced you most. I’ve designed this to be a part of my focus during my last semester of seminary. I will be graduating in December 2015 with a Masters in Theological Studies in Christian Leadership from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina!

Back in October of 2008, I had a health issue involving serious vision problems and headaches. Turns out that the Neuro-Ophthalmologist was wrong… the issue directly stemmed from my mountain bike accident in 2001. A physical therapist diagnosed the problem: my occipital muscle was inflamed due to my not fully recovering from the bike accident, therefore it was causing severe head pain and pinching my optical nerve causing drooping and double vision. With the help of physical therapy and the continued care of my chiropractor (especially craniopathy), I’ve improved! I still get headaches fairly regularly but my vision is back. Thank you for your prayers!

Richmond Smith and I are celebrating our 5 year anniversary this November!! It was an amazing community celebration consistent with my out-of-the-box, experiential style. We have been incredibly blessed with a home and our beautiful daughter, Iona Grace. She is named after a very special place in Scotland. She is fun, smart, and amazing… not that I’m bias at all.

God’s timing is perfect which we often don’t see until hindsight. I’ve been wonderfully blessed to spend the last 8+ months taking care of Iona while I finish seminary. This wasn’t our original plan. After my maternity leave from the YMCA of Western North Carolina in winter 2014, I worked and took classes for 9 months until my position was dissolved due to budget issues in January of this year. It’s made things a little tight, especially with tuition bills, but it’s been worth it! I won’t get this precious time with Iona back.

Another blessing for where God has me right now is that I’ve been able to spend more time with my parents who live in Black Mountain where I lived for many years (20 minute drive). They retired in 2009 which brought them back to North Carolina. Unfortunately, my mother has struggled with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) which returned this Spring. My father has also been struggling with the beginning stages of dementia and major digestion issues which landed him in the hospital twice this summer. Please pray for healing, restoration, hope, and joy is spite of these challenges.

Another change has been in my faith community. We’ve been active with the Haywood Street Congregation which is best described as ‘holy chaos.’ Haywood is a diverse community centered on Christ. I connect well with the unexpected, relational, Spirit-led, unconditional love they exude! If any of you ever comes to visit, I would love to share this community with you.

I’m not really sure who all still receives these blog posts. I’d love to hear from you if you do… hdeifell@gmail.com. Thank you for your love and prayers. I will be contacting many of you soon. I can’t wait to hear about your journey these last 7-8 years.

20 October 2011

sharing my little part of the world

It's been over 3 years since we returned to the States after an incredible, life-changing, perspective-shifting adventure around the world! We've had a few friends visit from around the world... 2 Aussies blokes: Ivan from Sydney and Terry from Brisbane and then 2 Indians: Amongna from NE India and Anand from Chennai, India. But it's been a while... until this weekend!!

Our friend Sonny will be here on Saturday. Unfortunately his family couldn't come with him. (Picture is Sonny with his son, Isaac.) But we're excited about sharing our little part of the world with him.

He will be sharing stories about his part of the world at the Howerton Cafeteria in Montreat at 10am on Sunday. Come join us if you can!

07 May 2011

Pillars of the Saints: Burning Man project

My sister Hope is involved with this project which will be constructed at an arts festival in Nevada. Please consider supporting her in this frontier of missions.

14 July 2010

changed & engaged

It's been a long time since I've shared anything on this site... almost a year & a half! I'm not sure who still reads this, but I thought I would put it out there. I haven't remained in contact with people from our trip like I desired and I really could give you all kinds of excuses, but I just haven't prioritized well. I apologize.

Change, I've been told, is the only constant. Some people fear change, some embrace it. I'd like to say the I embrace it, but that's not always true. I have gone through spells when I've been almost addicted to change (i.e. moving around for years after college), but I guess I've settled down into life in Western North Carolina -- the only consistent "home" for me throughout my life. This is a beautiful place to build community, in which I'm very involved!

Last October, I began working with YMCA of Western North Carolina and heading up a federal grant to establish two 21st Century Community Learning Centers at a couple middle schools in districts that have high poverty & drop-out rates. Basically, we facilitate a "community center" in collaboration with the schools which provide after-school tutoring & enrichment activities as well as services to the families including parenting classes and English as a Second Language classes.

The YMCA hired me to facilitate the whole grant: run the programs; hire, train & lead staff; work with partnering community organizations; and manage the budget. It's quite a challenging job, especially in the first year when we had to establish everything from nothing. I've learned so much!

This year, I have July and August off of work which allows me to participate in (and help lead) a mission to Ethiopia with our church's youth group. I'm joining a team that is going to serve with Jake & Sarah Wetzel -- long-term missionaries from my church, serving with Serving In Mission (SIM) in Ethiopia, who have been developing a camp which serves as a resource for youth workers & for youth from all over Ethiopia (much like how their camp in Bolivia is now being run by nationals).

The Wetzels partner with youth workers who are soccer coaches with a sports ministry, called Sports Friends, which is closely associated with the International Sports Coalition (ISC) that Hope & I connected with all around the world! God continues to keep us tied to the ISC body. What a blessing!

First, our team will be leading a sports camp for Sports Friends away from their village home of Camp Langano. Sports Friends works with 50,000 kids in Ethiopia, but they do not have the capacity for every kid to come to a sports camp. So we are taking the sports camp to them! We will work with our church-sponsored Ethiopian coach, who lives in the city of Arba Minch (meaning “40 Springs”), and help him lead a sports camp with about 80 kids. Apparently, we are the first church group to do this, and Sports Friends is excited about possibly opening up this idea for other churches.

Secondly, we also will do an outdoor Bible school for many of the children who live near Camp Langano—a predominately Muslim community. Our team is planning 3 days of games, crafts, Bible stories, and dramas for the two camps as well as learning how to “be” Jesus with them when we can’t speak the language. Please pray that this will all come together.

We leave Western North Carolina tomorrow to drive up to DC, and then we fly out for Ethiopia on the next day... not to return home until August 2nd.

Oh, by the way, another BIG piece of news I need to share is that I am engaged to be married!! My long-time boyfriend, Richmond Smith, proposed to me almost 3 months ago, and we plan to "become one" just after our Thanksgiving holiday this year (the third week of November).

Please pray for us as we move forward in planning for our marriage celebration (slow process right now), and please pray for me to find "balance" & rest in God’s provision... trusting Him with all my heart.

One last thing — soon, you will be able to check our website for Summer Mission Project (SMP) updates, which will tell more about our church's mission teams that have gone out & are going out all over the world. Just go to www.montreatyouth.com and click on SMP.

Thanks so much for being a part of our team, and thank you for your continual support through prayer!!

05 January 2009

The Adventures of Childlike Faith

A trialogue sermon given at First Church of Christ Congregational in Wethersfield, CT, on August 17, 2008 between Rev. Dr. Jey Deifell and his two daughters, Heather & Hope. It's inspired by Michael Yaconelli's book Dangerous Wonder, Ginny Owens' music, and the lessons & adventures of our "Global Mission Project" (a year-long journey around the world)... Risky Curiosity, Wide-eyed Listening, Daring Playfulness, and Dangerous Wonder.

03 November 2008

prayer for healing

We're supposed to expect trials and suffering as part of this life, but considering them as pure joy?!? (James 1:2-3)

About a month ago, I suddenly began having problems with my left eye. So far the doctors are only saying that it's a “partial 3rd-nerve palsy,” causing my eyelid to droop and my vision to double when I look up, to the right and down. I've also battled waves of headaches and severe neck, shoulder and back pain... mostly on the left side.

I've seen a neuro-ophthalmologist who put me through several tests, including MRI/MRA, blood work and a lumbar puncture, the last of which kept me at home for a week or so to recover. During that time, I tried to take it easy, remain inactive, take medicine for the intense soreness in my back, be still, and feel His presence... I have "Come to [Him]" with my burdens & weariness... He is giving me rest.

So far (and thank God) all the medical tests have NOT revealed anything serious (meningitis, Multiple Sclerosis, aneurism, tumors, inflammation of the brain, etc.), but the answers are still not definitive. The only hypothesis my doctor could give me was that it might be Tolosa Hunt Syndrome, so he prescribed an intense dose of a type of steroid, called Prednisone (30mg, twice a day for about a week or so). He said that IF what I have is actually Tolosa Hunt Syndrome, then the Prednisone should have a dramatic effect within a few days... However, it didn’t… So we’re basically back to square one -- not knowing what’s wrong with me exactly.

In the meantime, I took a friend’s recommendation to try something a bit different... craniopathy, otherwise known as cranial therapy. After just 2 adjustment sessions, I felt pretty positive about the results. I plan to try a few more sessions… if not for my current eye issues, then for the chronic neck issues I’ve had ever since my severe bike accident & head trauma in 2001 (which, surprisingly, my neuro-ophthalmalogist doesn’t believe is related to my eye condition.) I pray that this alternative therapy is effective.

So I'm not sure if or when we’ll know my diagnosis, but I'm hoping the doctors will have some answers instead of continuing to go through a long and EXPENSIVE process of elimination. The bottom line is that I need to minimize the quickly accumulating debt of medical bills.

I have put my studies at Gordan-Conwell Theological Seminary “on hold” as much as I can. I have a group project due very soon that I can't get around. I'm praying about my scholastic future, though I’m confident that Father will provide if it's His will.

Please keep me in your prayers and share my story with others.

Please pray for healing, an end to this physical problem (whatever it is), protection from long-term or permanent damage, relief from the intense headaches, God’s providence for the financial burden caused by this medical condition, discernment for what this means for my future, and wisdom in general.

Prayer is powerful, and "the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well."

09 September 2008

rustling of my heart

The challenge of coming home outweighs the challenge of traveling. Now I can sympathize with missionaries & volunteers who live overseas for years, become comfortable in their "home away from home", and then have to return to a changed community in a distantly familiar culture that cannot grasp their own shifted perspectives. I'm thankful that my "adjustment muscle" has been well-conditioned over our world journey but I didn't expect that coming home would rustle my heart so much.

I said good-bye to Hope a few weeks ago, not knowing when I'd see her again (maybe late October). It makes me sad but I feel I'm truly blessed to have a sibling who is also a best friend & encourager of my faith.

The last 2 months were filled with blessed reunions of family & friends (both old & new), some domestic travel, and times of sharing in North Carolina, Maryland, Connecticut, & Massachusetts.

Our home in western North Carolina is called "Rest & Be Thankful" and this summer we often reflected & were thankful for family, God's creation, & community... however I wouldn't necessarily describe the summer as being restful. One of the many highlights was spending quality time with our family, particularly our niece, Madilyn. It was obvious that we'd missed a very formative year in her life.

Connecting with old friends & community has been both wonderful & challenging, especially to be gone for a year - everyone goes on with life & has gotten used to my absence. After more than a month of family time & then a short, road trip to the northeast, I'm back home trying to unpack, involve myself in community, yet not "settling down" too much. Instead I'm hoping to keep my feet light on the ground, ready to shift as God leads me.

Less than 2 weeks upon our return home we hosted our first visitor from our international journey - Ivan Kelly from Logosdor in Sydney. The timing of his visit included wonderful conversations with our family, a restful retreat on our porch (with a gorgeous mountain view), connecting with other Salvos at my former place of work (The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club), and even an authentic, American baseball game (although minor league). Just after dropping Ivan off at the Charlotte airport, we squeezed in a short visit with Terry Williams of Scripture Union who helped to host us in Brisbane, Australia & who happened to be in town visiting with the Billy Graham Association. We hope & expect to have many more visitors from our global journey in the future. We miss all of you!

Our trip to the northeast satisfied some of my desires for continued travel & connection to the family of Faith on a domestic level. Hope & I continued to feed our interest in ministries by connecting with the Body of Ashland Presbyterian Church (north of Baltimore, Maryland) and by visiting the Hartford City Mission (who work & live incarnationally in the urban community in north Hartford, Connecticut). I also helped to facilitate a "group" ministry visit (5 of us from Hartford area) to the Kids Games in Boston. I pray that the experience of observing a Kids Games event in action along with the discussion led by Dan Williams (Kids Games regional facilitator for the Int'l Sports Coalition) planted some seeds for future events in the Hartford area.

Finally, we're extremely thankful for all the opportunities to share our experiences & lesson from our faith journey... especially by way of preaching a "trialog" sermon with our father at 3 different churches (with multiple services), a dialog sermon (just Hope & I) at Ashland Presbyterian Church, and an evening of storytelling with slideshow at my father's church in CT. You can check out an audio file of our "trialog" sermon given at my father's church (First Church of Christ): "The Adventure of a Childlike Faith" (08/17/08). Soon I'll be sharing through another evening of storytelling at my church in Montreat, NC on 6:30pm, in Gaither Chapel's Fellowship Hall. All these opportunities are very important in "processing" & keeping us in touch with the journey that is slowly slipping into our past.

I'm continuing to practice what I preached by learning to trust God with childlike faith. I began classes again at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) but I'm not sure how quickly the degree will come... I'm taking one semester at a time both financially & vocationally. GCTS is supporting my design of a creative "internship" this term which involves organizing & consolidating my research from this journey while converting the experience into "talks" to share with young people & potentially some articles. I'm also hoping to add some research/resources to the Center for Youth Studies website's "encyclopedia"... so please let me know if you have any ideas or input to expand their world-wide database of information around youth issues, culture, studies, & work . Actually, I encourage people from all backgrounds & cultures to look over the topics ("information", "resources", & "action") to see if & how you may be able to contribute to this free online resource!

Please continue to pray for Hope & I as we work through our "re-entry" of being "home". This process will take more time than our actual year-long journey 'round-the-world! We both seek to understand how God desires to use our unique experience and we're trying to keep our hearts in tune with His...continuing to stay open & flexible.

05 July 2008


After 29 airline flights, about 15 cross-country bus trips, about 8 cross-country train rides, numerous minibuses (of all qualities), taxis, tuk-tuks, auto & manual rickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles, rented & borrowed cars (on the left side of the road), river boats, kayaks, motor boats, charter boats, subways, inner-city buses (some a bit scary), a camper van, the back of pick-ups, and even an elephant... we finally made it home.

One definition of "reentry" is "the return from outer space into the earth's atmosphere of an earth-orbiting satellite, spacecraft, rocket, or the like."* From this perspective, we are "the like" that has been orbiting the earth, and now we're trying to return to the atmosphere of our home. (Seems extreme, doesn't it.) Well, a new friend in Vancouver pointed out that our "adjustment muscle" has been working all year long, so it should be well-conditioned and ready for just about anything, including reentry. We've been preparing ourselves for reentry for several months, but we find that it's harder coming home than it was adjusting to the shock of new places, people, cultures, traditions, foods, and styles of communication.

Just before our return to North America, a new Fijian friend told us about her challenges with reentry after returning home from extended service overseas. Although she wasn't in the Peace Corps, she shared how the Peace Corps prepares their volunteers for this reentry before they even go into their 2-year assignment. Their "Working Overseas Guide" addresses "Life After the Peace Corps" (section 6), touching on ways to prepare self & family, to deal with "reverse culture shock" & the change of a "new job culture," and to keep linked to your Peace Corps experience.* We're in the midst of figuring this all out on our own... with God's help, of course, and with the support of our blessed parents & eternal Family.

For example, my mom read The Reentry Team by Neal Pirolo before she gave it to us to read in New Zealand. Pirolo describes how the Church tends to avoid the reentry issues that missionaries go through upon their return home. He points out how we like to edit out difficult, faith experiences & instead use "warm, fuzzy" terms(19). There are only a few selective "reentry" programs in place for missionaries, but, generally speaking, very few mission organizations and churches seem to be pro-active about facilitating a smooth reentry process. I have heard of an effective reentry program, including a missionary's kids track, that some friends are participating in as they return to the States after 13 years in Cambodia. Fortunately, as they approach their retirement, our parents feel called to host missionaries on furlough, and their North Carolina home (a.k.a. "Rest & Be Thankful") is a perfect place to listen, nurture, rehearse and promote respite... as they've done with us upon our return home.

Hope & I have actively "processed" things throughout our trip (observing, discussing, praying & seeking understanding), and we realize that we need to continue to be intentional about this "processing" as we reenter life here at home. It's especially challenging because finding quiet space is not easy in our family-filled abode... but we are SO thankful for them all at the same time. We especially treasure the quality time with our beautiful 3 1/2-year-old niece, Madilyn.

To recap, the last two weeks of our year-long global mission trip adventure were spent in North America, namely in the cities of Vancouver and San Francisco. Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), is an incredibly beautiful part of God's creation, flavored by an incredible diversity, strewn with people who are passionate about social justice... and not a bad place to reenter the continent. Our hosts, Rachel & Ed, were gracious enough to host us in their one-bedroom apartment for the week, and they even allowed my dear friend Ashley to come visit us from Seattle. Thanks to these old friends, our wonderful reception party lovingly embraced us, and we were able to spend some time processing with each of them.

While in Vancouver, we connected with both old & new friends. I originally met Joyce Ress (formerly Heron) nearly 5 years ago when I visited Vancouver to check out Regent College... Have you ever had an immediate, deep connection with someone, finding yourself revealing intimate challenges & significant growth within the first hour of conversation? Joyce is that kind of friend, and we reconnected quickly once again. Our time with her was filled with anointed conversations, full of blessing after blessing. Our timing to reconnect was good as she was on a sabbatical from her role as Executive Director at Jacob's Well, one of the ministries we visited during our time in Vancouver.

We spent an afternoon with a CRM ministry called Nieu Communities -- the same ministry we connected with in Pretoria, South Africa. My friend of 8 years, Amy Wilson-Roberts, directs this intentional, missional & discipleship-driven, community-minded ministry in the Commercial Drive district. She invited us to share our experience with the apprentices & staff, especially in relation to the gift of hospitality. During this divine appointment, everyone asked us very relative and thought-provoking questions.

Next, we squeezed in a visit with 2 of my favorite people who were in town for only a couple days between a trip to Cambodia & a trip to the southeast of the States -- Sue & Johnnie Wilson. Sue recently graduated with an Applied Theology degree from Regent, and Johnnie works with CRM as part of the Staff Development & Care Team. They filled the evening with Spiritually-directed questions, and they facilitated some good reflection & processing for us.

While in Vancouver, we also spent a couple of evenings with some intentional communities on the east side of downtown. Each neighbor group focuses on relational ministry with the marginalized, and they fight for local & international social justice. We joined the Saint Chiara Community one evening, checked out their music-centered after-school program at St. James Anglo-Catholic Church, shared a community meal with them, and let the Spirit lead us through a stimulating discussion with Lane, Jeff & Kathy. One other evening, we shared a meal with Servants to Asia's Urban Poor, and participated in their weekly "Creative World Justice Meeting." With them, we learned about & prayed for the plight of so many of Asia's poor who are caught in the snare of injustice (namely, the wake of the Cyclone amid the evil regime in Myanmar and also the slave-like conditions of Singapore's maid trade). Now serving as the International Coordinator for Servants, Craig Greenfield once led an innovative, community project with orphans in Cambodia. Interestingly, after reading my blog, he discovered that we have multiple mutual friends (again part of this 3 degrees of separation with the Faith) and commented, "... as if you have been traveling around the world visiting all our friends!" (in Cambodia, Australia & New Zealand)... I love being a part of making the world a little bit smaller!

As I mentioned, we visited Jacob's Well, but I have to share the divinely-ordained timing of our visit. Every Thursday morning they come together for a time of worship, and when we came in to join them, we were excitedly greeted by 3 staff who were busily cleaning the kitchen. Apparently, the municipal health inspector called in a surprise visit for that afternoon, so with minimal staff & a lack of volunteers, they sang praises for our "incidental" visit & helping hands. We dove right in, cleaning out cupboards & drawers. We took a break from the cleaning for some anointed worship time and a healthy, spontaneous lunch, seasoned by candid discussion & personal stories.

Before the end of the week, we fit in a short yet full visit with Rob & Iona Snair, who have over 20 years experience doing youth work. They lead an amazing & innovative program under Youth for Christ called Lifeteams -- a school of youth outreach filled with "experienced-based, college-credited learning in a soul-shaping environment." They share a vision of discipleship & leadership training that speaks relevantly to post-modern young people.

On Sunday, we attended both the 10th Ave. Church & the Grandview Calvary Baptist. Our new friend from Servants, Kevin, shared his powerful testimony before being baptized through immersion at 10th Ave. It was wonderful to witness his celebration. That evening, we joined the Grandview community of faith in celebrating Refugee Sunday, and we shared stories with some in the community at their fellowship potluck dinner. In between the two services, we squeezed in a short visit with Johannah Wetzel from my home church in North Carolina.

Other highlights of our time in Vancouver include reuniting with our new Fijian friend Adriana (up to Squamish & back), hiking with our NC friends Rachel & Ashley in Deep Cove, and checking out Rachel & Ed's amazing community garden plots. Vancouver is a beautiful city, so it's no surprise it rates in the top 3 of the world's most livable cities. I can see why.

Now, our official reentry to the States was with our brother Tony & his wife Mardie in the Mission District of San Francisco (not to mention being picked up at the airport from a random old friend, Clancy). "The Mission" was Hope's home for nearly the 3 years just before this year-long trip began, so this visit was the beginning of her true home-coming. Along with spending quality time with Tony & Mardie and catching up with old friends, we visited several communities in the SF area. The first ministry we actually heard about through a new friend in Paarl, South Africa, who used to live in the Bay area. She pointed us to ReImagine: "A Center for Life Integration," so we joined them for their Tuesday night "Seven at Seven" gathering. Each of these fellowship gatherings are a unique experience, and this particular night we participated in a gift-giving experiment which involved connecting with the surrounding Mission community by passing out cookies to neighbors. Later, we reflected on this experience of sharing Christ's love through cookies. That evening, we made some new friends, especially Sarah Montoya and Amy Ross.

We also spent some time with The Outer Circle community in the Golden Gate Park area and the San Dimas Community in the Mission District. Both communities are part of Innerchange -- another CRM ministry and sisters to the Innerchange groups that we met in Pretoria, South Africa and Phenom Penh, Cambodia. These San Francisco InnerChange teams actively seek bridges between the Church and the Poor, claiming "in the spirit of St. Francis, for whom our city was named, we reach out in true solidarity and friendship with the marginalized, empowered by the love of Jesus. Gang members, drug dealers, 'gutter punks,' and the homeless are our friends, and have been God’s instruments in transforming our lives, even as we seek to be messengers of hope in theirs." It was powerful to hear their stories, witness the Spirit's work through them, and to connect with the apprentices, a couple of summerXchange participants, a staff member, and some of the wanderers/seekers that they journey along side (particularly at one of their weekly pancake breakfasts in the Golden Gate Park).

On Sunday, we worshiped at Dolores Park Church, joined them for coffee after the service, and met a few formative members of this friendly part of the Body. Later, we joined the Church of the Sojourners in the evening for a contemplative, house-church-style worship service centered around community, fellowship, food & praise. One of my favorite parts of their gathering was the intentional time to affirm children & later a time to affirm the adults. What if all churches were sought to dedicate time to affirming one another?

We are so thankful for our flavorful reentry & visit to San Francisco, including all the quality time with Tony, Mardie, Rhea, Amy, Clancy, Chris, Leng, Hung, Annie & Megan, not to mention our home-coming party with a special slide show & story-telling presentation. (Tony & Mardie hosted a small gathering for us to present only 20 pictures with specific stories, consolidated to share some of our experience.) Finally, for our very last evening of the trip, Mardie invited us to her cousin's very unique yet "incidentally" quite appropriate storytelling about her journey of faith back to her roots in Judaism. She intertwined her testimony with song & guitar in a creative way... Although I wouldn't share my testimony in the same manner, it gave me some ideas about how to share my own story.

People have shared prophetic words with us throughout our trip, including just the other day -- about how this blessed journey is way bigger than just us... I'm still praying about God's intentions for & expectations of us, specifically how, when & where He plans to use us & our experiences. I know that's His business and that He'll reveal everything in His own time... I'm just continuing to pursue my relationship with my Maker.

16 June 2008

sega na leqa

"No worries" ("senga na lenga") ... we learned this phrase very quickly at the beginning of our time in Fiji, and it set the tone for the whole visit.

Several times throughout our trip, I've described how we didn't intentionally plan the timing of our travel (with places, events, seasons, etc.), yet I continue to be amazed by how divinely-guided our journey has been. Once again, God surprised us as He prepared us to visit Fiji. We added this South Pacific island to our round-the-world itinerary at the last minute, but we knew then that we had no contacts & no plans there... However, now we have a family there through the Int'l Sports Coalition (one of the divine networks that we've been welcomed into throughout the trip).

While we researched Fiji a bit before our arrival, we had no idea that our year's experience would seem to culminate in just 12 days there... "Fijian time" is like "African time" (relaxed, perpetually late, unclear time-lines)... Fijians love music and blend harmonies like Africans... Fiji even reflects Madagascar's "island culture" a bit (independent, resourceful, and a blend of Polynesian, European, Asian & African ethnicities). There is also a very significant influence from India (culture, religion, food, people). Fiji's beautiful beaches reminded us of the beaches of Thailand (with amazing coral & marine life), except that they're generally more expensive. The in-pouring wealth & influence of "western" nations seem to set the prices of some resorts to well over a thousand dollars a night! Finally, as we discovered in other parts of the world, many Fijians Believers are faced with a significant amount of nominalism & mere "tradition" of a high percentage of "Christians" in this culture.

I'm extremely thankful that God designed our trip so that, before heading back to North America, we would be re-immersed in a non-"western" culture... where poverty is evident, family is highly-valued, faith is tangible, and our comfort zones were stretched once again. We had to smile when we first arrived in Nadi and a woman addressed our questions/concerns about logistics with "Just relax... you're in Fiji now... sega na leqa."

God's lessons "not to worry" continued throughout our visit in Fiji, and we found ourselves letting go (once again) of "western" concepts of time (restraints & schedules), especially as we began to stress about planning our "island get away" for a couple nights to an outer island somewhere... God broke us of that anxiety and opened a door through our "Fijian mother" and friend, Selina, who graciously helped us plan a low-budget visit to Mana Island. She also connected us with her 2 friends that work there: the manager of the backpackers that we'd looked into originally and the youth activities coordinator of a nearby exclusive resort. Through her, God provided an island experience within our budget AND connected us with an amazing yet small community/family of Fijian Believers while we were there... He never ceases to amaze me.

We spent our last morning in Fiji at Selina's church community which has a HUGE children's program. Again, God convicted me of my habit of worrying. The theme verse for the youth service was Matthew 6:25, ""Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear..." When they asked us to share, I had to admit my weakness to these young people, and I encouraged them to really trust the Lord... He will provide... just as He has for us throughout this entire trip... more than I could ever imagine!

So, to recap our time in Fiji, I'll start from the beginning... Arriving in Nadi the evening of July 3rd, we were welcomed with the smiling face & huge hug of Selina Sarasau. We were pretty sure that she'd be there, but we hadn't received confirmation before leaving Sydney. It was such a blessing to be greeted so warmly!

The very next day, we got on a bus to Suva (Fiji's largest city with about 400,000 living in this west coast metrolpolis of the main island, Viti Levu). After a beautiful 4-hour bus ride around the south side of the island, we arrived and were greeted by our friend Tom Tiko & his mom, Ula. The Tiko family graciously hosted us for our 5 days in Suva -- housing us, feeding us, letting us hitch rides with them, helping us connect with ministries, and including us in their family celebrations. Tom also introduced us to Caleb Ludwig, the Director of Student Life at the Univ. of the South Pacific. (Like the Student Life that we connected with in Christchurch, New Zealand, this chapter of Student Life is an extension of Campus Crusade for Christ.) Caleb invited us to share at their end-of-term, student-led meeting, and we played a couple short "pairs" games before telling them a bit about our journey together, siting Mark 6. Shortly before this meeting, Caleb also introduced us to the Campus Crusade staff, including Jeff & Jennifer Lauer, who spontaneously invited us over for dinner & fellowship.

Also, while in Suva, we met up with Captain Kesoni & Merewalesi Qoriniasi from The Salvation Army, and we got to hear a bit of their story in serving for the past 3 years as Corps officers with the Suva Central Corps (church) that shares the campus of Fiji's TSA District Head Quarters. We got connected with them through their family friend (& our new friend) Darren Frazer from TSA-Winton, New Zealand.

That Friday night, we joined Tom & his fellow youth leader Lucy for a visit to Pacific Harbor (on the south coast of Viti Levu). After arriving a bit late ("Fiji time"), we joined a group of about 20 youth and were invited to share some of our experience... so I did it through my recreational/experiential-education style with an activity I call "Who are you listening to?" (one we've done a number of times throughout the trip). It'd been a little while since we'd been asked to lead activities for a youth group, so it was a lot of fun!

Saturday, we ventured into the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park -- a incredible, tropical rain forest with heavenly pools & waterfalls to swim in. Even there, God protected us... You see, both our hosts and the local park services guy warned us not to bring valuables due to the few muggings of the past there, but God provided an angel to go with us & keep us safe... Surprisingly, he came in the form of a new Western Australian friend named Mark. All along the way, we were amazed at God's creation and sang His praises all day long!

That first Sunday, we worshipped with two very different communities of faith. The first was with another friend from the ACE conference, Pastor Joe Mateiwai, who leads a Christian Outreach Center congregation called CenterPoint Church. This lively & spirit-filled service was held in their newly-acquired warehouse-type space, which now allows their congregation more room for growth & development. During the service, Pastor Joe spontaneously invited us to share in front of the entire congregation and later to meet with some of the young people from his church in the afternoon. After sharing with them, we attended our second worship service of the day... at the Tiko's church, Wesley City Mission Church, where we met several people including 2 women connected to YWAM-Fiji.

On Monday, we traveled back over to Nadi (on the west coast of Viti Levu), where we were embraced by Selina, her daughter (Tamarisi) and granddaughter/namesake (Selina). Immediately, we joined them in a fellowship/appreciation dinner for some leaders of their recent "Family Day" program. Tuesday, we set off for our relaxing, 2-day "get away" Mana Island (mentioned above). We spent the days exploring the island -- from the 360-view mountain top to the coral-rich waters off the coast. Each evening, we spent in fellowship with local Believers who worked in the exclusive resort next door to our backpackers. Our new friend, Tu Villi graciously introduced us to his colleagues, friends and Family. In fact, one night Tu Villi & other Brothers serenaded us with beautiful harmonies of praise songs... amazing!

Back in Nadi, we reconnected with Tom Tiko's older sister, Adrianna, who took us out to Port Denarau and who we hope to catch up with in Vancouver as well. (She's a pilot for Air Pacific.) Then we went up to Lautoka for a day trip to stop by The Salvation Army and then YWAM. First, we met up with Capt. Ulamila "Mila" Vakawalebua from TSA in Lautoka (another friend of Darren Frazer from New Zealand). Although our visit with them was brief, we met her commanding officer, helped to "send off" their youth leaving for a Youth Councils retreat, and got to hear some of Mila's story & call to TSA. Then, we visited the Personal Transformation Center associated with YWAM, and we met Tress, Tina and a few others there. They are about to begin their first Biblical Counseling training course in July, so say a prayer for them!

Friday night, we were invited to lead the youth group meeting at Selina's church (the International Full Gospel Tabernacle Church). The gathering included nearly 80 young people ages 14 to 30+, and I managaed to successfully facilate 2 games & the "Who are you listening to?" activity, incorporating scripture & a bit of our story. It was so wonderful to share in such an interactive way with young people again, just like I did a lot in Africa & India. The evening was annointed by the Spirit, and the young people really seemed to hear God's voice through me... which is something I continue to give thanks for.

Before leaving Fiji, we squeezed in a few more authentic local experiences, including getting some Fijian dresses or "chombras" tailored (thanks to Tamarisi's help), exploring the Garden of the Sleeping Giant (with the younger Selina & our new friend Joe), and eating lots of authentic Fijian food like "palusami" (coconut milk-curd mixture wrapped in taro leaves) & "kakoda" (a raw fish/coconut milk dish with a little spice).

Finally, Sunday, June 15th was the longest yet shortest day of our trip -- boarding a plane in Nadi at 3:15 pm and then landing in Vancouver at 2pm the same day. We began the day in worship at the English service (8:30am) at Selina's church, which was followed by Sunday school for all ages and then a youth service for school-age youth while the Fijian service was going on for the adults. It was a packed morning! Afterward, we ran home to freshen up & grab our bags, and then our new friend, Eroni, joined us at the airport to send us off. When we met Eroni at the youth night on Friday, he shared his passionate story & call to work in spreading the Gospel & discipling new Believers in remote villages in the interior of Fiji. We said our goodbyes to him & our "Fijian family" through a group prayer -- praying over Eroni, being prayed over by Selina, and thanking God for His work through the three of us.

It's strange to be back in North America after 11 1/2 months. Fortunately, I'm currently reading a book my mom gave me about re-entry. It's written for missionaries' care/support teams (neither of which I have exactly, other than a few individual Believers) to learn & understand how to encourage & facilitate a healthy re-entry process for the missionaries they commissioned & sent out. I realize now that Hope & I will need to keep each other "in check," hold each other accountable, and support each other through the re-entry process... in hopes of avoiding shock, cynicism, detatchment, and/or avoidance. This incredible journey has effected us both in ways that many won't understand or take time to try to understand... But that's okay. Our Heavenly Father understands, and He will continue to shape our character to be more & more Christ-like through all types of experiences.

We're thankful & continue to be amazed by our extended eternal family all over the world, especially as we're connecting with such incredible Believers & friends here in Vancouver... But I'll save that for the next blog entry.

03 June 2008

what's your coping mechanism?

Just the other day in Brisbane, we met with our wonderful friend Clayton Fergie, who we met at the sports ministry conference in Thailand with the International Sports Coalition (ISC). We were eager to reconnect & “process” our trip with Clayton, because he is very progressive & well experienced as the International Youth Coordinator for Scripture Union. Meanwhile, he was eager to meet with us, too, because he wanted to discuss the issues that we’ve seen are common to youth from the places we’ve visited around the world. Upon reflection, we touched on some of the same issues I wrote about in my last post: the void of contentment, the lack of foresight, the “escapism” found within youth culture. Clayton perceptively used the term “coping mechanisms” in reference to the many ways young people try to deal with the quickly changing world around them. I appreciate his observation.

We are on the cusp of a major turning point in history. With the invention of the printing press came the Enlightenment period, which carried individualism, free speech & modernization to the masses, among other things. I often wonder what this Information age will bring to the world or how the invention of the Internet will define it (or us, for that matter).

Young people today are dealing with a world that is changing at an extraordinary rate. Generations are changing within years, not decades (e.g. from the information sharing “web1” to the cyber communities of the “web2” culture). Young people from all corners of the earth are being fed the same information, often through the “western eyes” of “globalization”. The family nucleus is breaking down, in part due to the individualism & consumerism from the “western” world.

Youth are thirsty for community, and they’ll find it however they can: gangs, cyber networks, sexual relationships, etc. They want to have a sense of belonging in something… even if it’s illegal.

That’s why mere “programs” don’t work anymore. This generation is all about relationships. I’ve heard so many progressive leaders in the Body throughout Australia talk about “meeting people where there at.” This means getting out of church buildings and be intentionally engaged with the community around, for example through sports, the arts, schools, etc. Why is this so hard for the Church? Why do Christians stay in an isolated bubble or island away from the world? Jesus & the disciples engaged with people in the market place, in homes, around dinner tables, in the fields, and in the temples. Jesus could have become an Essene, who are characterized by isolated communities, but He didn’t.

Also just the other day, we met with a pastor of young adults (imagine that, I wish all churches had someone specifically serving young adults that way), and he pointed out the lack of discipleship within the Church. In fact, as we’ve been back in the “western” world, I’ve noticed that many other leaders share this opinion. We’re so focused on the conversion experience while we should be concerned about coming along side people as support in their “journey” or walk with the Lord. It’s not a matter of being “in” or “out” of the circle of Believers. Life is a journey of faith that’s not a straight line… it’s often diverging from the assumed direct path, looping around, going backwards at times, or even in circles… We just need to continue encouraging people to move towards Jesus, through our words and actions. That’s what mentoring is all about. Everyone needs to mentor, be mentored, or even better… both! That’s the best thing you can do for this young generation: walk along side someone, respectfully redirect them, consistently support them, carefully encourage them, and unconditionally love them.

As we go into our last month of this incredible journey of faith, we are leaving the “developed” or “western” world one more time to go to Fiji -- a beautiful part of Creation that is really struggling with a dichotomy of wealth and a tension between ethnicities. We look forward to our time there -- visiting with ISC friends, getting an authentic taste of Fijian culture, and hopefully taking a couple days to relax before we re-enter North America.

In these last few weeks, we have met so many incredible people of faith around the Brisbane & Sydney area. Terry Williams, another Scripture Union/ISC family member, greeted us at the airport & surprised us with unknown hosts for our first week in Brisbane: Owen & Gay Riley. The Riley’s are incredibly kind, hospitable & creative, and they are passionate about children’s education, particularly with Religious Education (RE), Child Safety & Kids Games. During our first week, we met up several amazing people. Sarah Coleman is a young, vibrant woman gifted in working with young people in various ways, most recently with the “Red Frog” project, as well as writing books including Single, Christian Female. We also spent an afternoon with the crew at YACMU (Youth and Children’s Ministry Unit): Paul Yarrow, Michael Jeffery, Tom Kerr, & Colleen Castray, not to mention the numerous “drop-in” visitors who added to our conversations. The discussion was very engaged and filled with pointed questions, intentional reflection, encouraged processing of our experiences, & their keen observations of Australian youth issues. We squeezed in a lunch with Paul Catchlove to gain perspective of the youth work happening in the Catholic Diocese in Brisbane.

Over the weekend, we joined Scripture Union for an all-day training for "Camp" Directors on Saturday. Camps in Australia are best described as conference/retreats like we have in the States. We were thankful to gain perspective to the holistic approach of Scripture Union in complementing camps with school chaplaincy & community outreach. Our first Sunday in Brisbane we worshiped with the Riley's at Logan Uniting Church, an engaging service with a strong community focus, and later that day with Colleen Castray & her family at the youth service held at The Redeemer Anglican School.

Early Tuesday morning we switched modes, saying goodbye to the Riley's then spending much of the day at the Scripture Union office north of the city. We squeezed in a bit of time with Wendy Strachan, SU's International Primary Coordinator, before she flew off to Europe & the U.S. to facilitate trainings. She generously lent us her car & apartment while she was gone! We also spent some valuable time with Brad Suosaari (Chaplaincy Manager) & Steve Forward (Chaplaincy Development Consultant) who have extensive experience with the chaplaincy program in Queensland and now lead this innovative program nation-wide. As an American involved in ministry with youth, I had to wipe my envious drool as I learned about this incredible opportunity: for the Church in Australia to minister to youth culture by placing Christians into public schools to facilitate RE and pastoral care for students of all ages! The next day at SU, we shared out testimonies at their weekly all-staff "Engage" meeting, and then Francis Kneebone & Malcolm Brown coaxed us into doing a podcast for their Youth Ministry Internship Scheme (YMIS) website... another empowering training program. On Friday, we had an informative lunch with Mick Cross, a YMIS graduate & gifted visionary, who had spearheaded some unique youth programs around the Brisbane area & now leads the Vetamorphus program which trains high-school-aged, Christian, youth leaders for vocational education credit in school.

We also connected with some incredibly innovative, incarnational, community-centered ministries/networks like Forge & Waiters Union. Through our New Zealand friend, Lloyd Martin, as well as our new friends at Scripture Union, we visited with an incredible family affiliated with Forge... Steve & Felicity Turner & "company". We are so thankful to have a couple days with these wonderfully receptive, hospitable, & encouraging folks up on the Sunshine Coast. Back in Brisbane, we joined members of the Waiters Union at Project Hope, Black Star Coffee, & then their unique "community fellowship". The founders of this amazing network, Dave & Angie Andrews, graciously met with us over a "cuppa" (hot tea), offering their humble perspectives on community development.

We took a quick trip down to the Gold Coast to visit the brother (Junior) & extended family of a new friend of ours from Auckland (originally Samoa), and to joyfully celebrate the beautiful baptism of their 8-month-old son. Our short time with their family was a very blessed preface to our Pacific Islander experience, because they shared their Samoan traditions, food & warm hospitality with us... Once back in Brisbane, we also connected with another Samoan (Josephine Aufai) and "shadowed" her as a SU school chaplain at Woodridge State High School -- an area known as "the Bronx" of Brisbane. Although this school was wonderfully diverse, it was much more equipped & immaculate than a school in the Bronx would be. After our time with Junior & Leah's family and then our engaging conversation with Josephine, we decided we definitely needed to visit Samoa on our next trip to the South Pacific.

Before leaving Brisbane, we managed to fit in a number of other fulfilling visits with folks. We joined Owen Riley to help him lead a Primary school class in (Christian) Religious Education. We spent a morning discussing international youth trends & issues with Clayton Fergie (mentioned above). We visited the community-focused YWAM-Go Centre where we gained incredible perspective from Director Dave Neibling & International YWAM staffer Jim Nightingale. Over this last week in Queensland, we were hosted by the wonderfully hospitable & extremely generous Terry & Marg Williams.

As you can notice, our time in Brisbane filled up so quickly, and we praise God for saturating us with His body of believers, who opened their supportive arms to embrace & encourage us. While there, we did schedule some time for seeing a few sights around Brisbane with Hope's exchange student friend, Cate, who took us to Mount Tamborine, the PowerHouse in New Farm, China Town & finally "the Valley" for a great funk show. We also joined our new friend Colleen & her wonderful kids for dessert up atop Mount Coottha to see the city by night.

We spent our last 5 days in Australia back in Sydney where we were graciously hosted by Sue & Aaron in Maroubra, Tara Toohill in Glebe, & by Pamela (Ivan's Rotary Colleague) in Black Town... all very different parts of Sydney! We also connected with the Baptist Youth Ministries' Pip Almond & Andrew Palmer, who facilitate an innovative "gap year" program called PLUNGE. We served at a fund-raising event for the Logosdor crew (including our ISC friends, Simon Hood & Ivan Kelly), which is producing some incredibly creative ministry tools available on-line for free! We attended the concert-like Hillsong evening youth service on Sunday. We met up with Peter Clarke, who has a wonderful perspective on youth culture within the Postmodern context (the young adults pastor mentioned above). We also managed to stroll along the coast at Coogee where we caught a glimpse of whales migrating north. We shared tapas with new & old friends in the city. We checked out the incredibly diverse Black Town festival & parade, and we spent a day on the Sydney Harbor with Ivan Kelly, his son & grandson. Finally, I reconnected with my former host sister, Shelly Dowling, who is part of our family of faith as well.

Our time around southeastern Australia was rich with so many relational experiences whether through reconnecting with old friends (from our Rotary exchange years, our affiliations through family, & our travels around the globe) or making new friends through ministry connections/families & friends of friends. It's funny how I began this blog entry focused on the need for relational ministries, and now I sum up our time in Australia as relational. I wonder how the Church would be perceived, if our focus shifted more toward relationships & community, rather than buildings & programs...

We are now in Fiji... it's wonderful to be back out of our comfort zones! Not long before we're home though... please keep our re-entry in your prayers.