Sunday, August 28, 2011

To China with Love - Part II: It all Started when I met Beth Moore...

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” ~Matthew 7:11

One of the most important things that God revealed to me about His character this summer is that He is eternally faithful, faithful in every little detail and major need in our lives.  More than that though, He is affectionate – not just loving, but truly affectionate – in His faithfulness.  Now, I saw this time and time again while in China.  I saw God’s gracious provision, His loving kindness, and His (sometimes less than) gentle conviction.  I saw that He truly is a good Father full of affection for His children, but this realization started a bit before I left for China; it all started when I met Beth Moore.

 Okay.  I’ll level with you.  I know this could come across as silly.  Acting like Beth Moore is some kind of Super Christian Celebrity.  I know she’s not.  I know she’s human just like the rest of us.  I also know that the same Holy Spirit who is living and active in her is living and active in me and you and every other woman who has committed her life to Christ.   I know “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them” (1 Corinthians 12:4).  And I pray that that’s an encouragement to you, my sisters.  Still, Beth Moore is pretty cool, and God has used her writing to impact my life in tremendous ways.  Now, on to the story.

My flight to Beijing departed from Houston, so my family and I spent the weekend there.  We decided that on Sunday morning we would worship at the church that Beth Moore attends.  I made some comment to my mom about how funny it would be to meet her.  I knew the odds were next to nothing, since it’s such a large church and she probably travels a lot.  Nevertheless, I did pray something like this before I went to bed, “God, I want to go to church tomorrow and worship you, but I will confess that it would be totally cool to run into Beth Moore.  I won’t seek her out, but if you wanted to arrange that, it would really provide some great reassurance before I take off for China.”  And that was that.  We went to church the next morning, and enjoyed a great worship service.  As we got up to leave, a very familiar head of blonde hair caught my eye.  Sure enough, one aisle over and a row behind me, there was Beth.  We were headed in the same direction too.  Then someone stopped her right in front of me, giving me the opportunity to stop and introduce myself.  It was a blessing, and I was shaking.  Not because I was meeting Beth, but because I could see how God had orchestrated that moment just for me out of His love.

 And here’s what I learned that day and what I hope you will hear today, beloved.  God moves.  God is always good and faithful in the lives of His children.  He hears and answers even our silliest prayers.  That day God reassured me that I was indeed following His will and that He would go with me.  I didn’t need that.  It wasn’t a life or death request.  I would have still gotten on a plane for China the next day and had the adventure of a lifetime.  That little moment was simply God giving a gift to His daughter to remind her of His faithful love and affection, to remind her that even though He is the God of the universe He cares and He knows how to give good gifts to His children and that that is His desire.  God is present, and He is good in every moment.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bethel Week 8 - What would be the song we sing to them when they're in need? (Final China Post)

It’s Saturday afternoon at Bethel.  Sam walked by at lunch today and reminded me that tomorrow is my last day.  I love how good he is at rubbing things in.  I love that kid. :) I’m trying so hard to process right now.  The last two months (and especially the last week) have been hard and exhausting, but they have also been my greatest joy and some of the most fulfilling times of my entire life.  I’ve taken this song as my theme for the summer:
What would be the song we sing to them when they’re in need?
Would it be an empty Hallelujah to the King?
Turn down the music
Turn down the noise
Turn up your voice oh, God
And let us hear the sound
Of people broken
Willing to love
Give us your heart oh, God
A new song rising up
And I think that’s the best way I can explain it.  This summer I have been surrounded by music.  It has been my gift to these children and their gift to me.  I can see how the songs I have taught them have brought them such joy, helped them to open up, and given me an opportunity to show them that they are loved and that someone (and Someone) cares for them deeply.  I have always known and believed in the power of music.  I have always known that I love music, but this summer I have seen it in a different light.  Music is my life.  There is no doubt about that, and I have often made these words the cry of my heart in the times when life has grown chaotic and busy, unfulfilling and stressful, the times I have wondered what it is I’m doing and why.  This summer has shown me that God heard those cries.  He has turned down the music and the noise and taken me straight to the heart of it all.  He has given me a little bit more of His heart.  He has made me more and more willing to love truly and deeply, even though that love so often brings me to tears.  I’ve sung a lot of songs to those in need this summer, and by God’s grace, it was not an empty hallelujah.  A new song is rising up in me.  I am going home broken as a jar of clay, and yet God has filled my words and my songs.  The things that seemed so important to me are suddenly not.  The reason I sing is now so different.  Everything that I do is an opportunity for God to move.  Everything in my life is about God equipping me to better serve Him.  Every moment prepares me so that God can use me to give gifts to others.  Everything is deeper than it appears, and I am making a choice to see that.  At least, I am right now.
I pray that I will remember that throughout the next school year and for the rest of my life.  I pray that I will remember the faces of these kids.  I pray I’ll remember Qing Lian and Le Dong and Pan Pan and Vincent and Ming Ming and Michael and Fukai and Li Long and Miao Miao and Rongyuan and Rhi Zhiu and Lily and Tracy.   When I have to deal with busy work and write reflections on teacher observations and practice my music and deal with rough voice lessons and face my imperfections, I pray I’ll remember that God uses it all for something more.  I’m a mess.  I’m not perfect, but He works through me in ways I can’t even fully grasp.  God has taught me that this summer.  He orchestrates everything for His glory.  He is forever faithful, forever true, forever good, and forever gracious.
God has broken me and softened my heart this summer.  He has taught me on a deeper level how to love.  He has given everything in my life new meaning, all because of these kids and all those who serve them.  I know what I want my life to be about.  It’s funny because I thought this summer would solidify my calling.  I thought I would go home knowing exactly what God wanted me to do, but in reality, I have no idea.  I know He’s called me to Love and to serve.  I know He’s called me to music and to share that gift with others so that He can work through it. But I don’t know exactly what He’s calling me to do.  I’m okay with that though.  Because it’s not about what I do or what my actual job is; it’s about my heart and Who I’m following and opening myself before Him to be poured out as a drink offering.  It’s about living given over.  It’s about being broken and willing to love, really love, no matter the cost.  It’s about giving the orphan a home and feeding the hungry and being faithful in the mundane tasks and loving little kids and loving adults who are a total mess.  It’s about singing songs to those in need and letting God fill them up with His Spirit of Love and Caring.  And we are all in need.  We all need to see God, every child and every grown man and woman.  We all need to feel God’s love.  We all need to sense and learn His joy.  We all need an embrace and an outlet.  We all need songs to sing.  And as I enjoy my final days with these kids and try and process all that God has done these last two months, before I get on a plane and go back to my “real” life, these words ring in my heart and bring me comfort.  And I hear the voices of the Bethel children singing them, and I know that they are true, and though my eyes are full of tears, my heart is peaceful and full of joy, for God is faithful, and His grace is sufficient for me.  These kids will be okay.  Even as I face the struggles of trying to leave these kids (like Michael who told me he wanted me to stay for a thousand million years and never go back to the States) and readjusting to life back home and trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life, I know I’ll be okay.
Through many dangers toils and snares
I have already come
‘Twas grace which brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

Bethel Weeks 5, 6, & 7 - In God's Hands (China Post 5)

The kids are taking exams right now, so I have quite a bit of time to simply think.  The last couple of days I’ve just wanted to sit and weep.  I’m looking at the faces of all these children.  I’m going through all these pictures.  I’m processing all these memories.  I’m preparing to go home.  And I’m struck by how messed up the world is.  I love these kids so much.  They are all so beautiful and so full of joy and so valuable… so special.  They are smart and funny and each has their own precious personality.    They are children of God.  They are God’s little boys and girls, and they have become my babies too.  They have stolen my heart.  And my heart breaks because I can’t save them.  I don’t know what’s going to happen to them.  Some will be adopted and will find great homes and be loved.  But what about the rest of them?  What about Michael who is one of the smartest, most talented children I’ve met, but only has two more years before he can no longer be adopted?  What about Guo Guo and Hannah and Sam and Christina?  What will happen to them?  What opportunities will they have?  Yes, they are in a great place here.  They have people who care for them.  They are learning and growing.  Bethel is not a perfect place – it is run by humans – but it is better than so many here in China or around the world.  What happens when Bethel can no longer care for these kids?  What happens when they grow up?  And what of the thousands of orphans around the rest of China?  What will happen to them?  How broken and messed up is our world that these precious little ones who deserve everything have so few opportunities?  Everything in me wants to sweep all of them up and take them home with me and love them, but that’s impossible.  There’s only so much I can do, and that makes me feel so helpless.  I feel so small.  I wonder what difference my coming and my going really makes.  I want to be able to rescue them, and I can’t.  And so I pray, and I try to place these precious children in God’s hands, remembering that He loves them more perfectly and deeply than I ever could.  I trust that, even though this world seems a mess, though so much feels broken and hopeless and unfair, that does not mean that God is not still sovereign and in control.  I will live to be available for however He might use me, and I will pray that He will cause others to rise up as His instruments to bring these children a hope and a future.  I can’t save them all, but my God is sovereign over all.  And so, as my time here nears its end, I learn a different facet of faith.  I came here in the faith that God would use me and take care of me, that He would give me strength and keep me safe and help me to serve well and to find contentment and joy and peace in Him.  I came exercising faith that He is my Supreme Provider, and I would stand in awe and live for Him.  I will leave exercising faith that He is the Supreme Provider for all, and I will stand in awe and live for Him and trust Him to provide for all those I so deeply love.  Yes, I am coming face to face with the Supremacy of God and my need to place everything in His hands.
I have no doubts that I was supposed to be here.  I believe that God used me to accomplish something.  I believe that God accomplished things in my heart I can’t even put words to yet.  I believe He has sealed in my heart (as if He hadn’t done so before) a passion to serve Him, to live for Him, to give everything over,  to one day adopt and to do my part to make a difference in this situation, even if for only one child.  And I know that these children will be okay.  I know that God is good and capable of all things.  I know He has brought and will continue to bring the right people to make a difference here.  I think of the new Beijing Project and the fact that the kids will be moving on and attending the Blind School in Beijing.  I rejoice in the continuing work of Bethel, imperfect as it is.  I rejoice for the chance to have been even a small part of this mission.  More than anything, I rejoice in the glory and majesty of God, our Savior.  It is so easy to get discouraged over the fact that all of this is just one drop in the bucket.  It is easy to feel defeated, to feel like the enemy has won, but these are lies!  They are lies from the pit of Hell.  Jesus conquered the grave.  He conquered sin, and He conquered death.  Our God reigns victorious.  We are not defeated.  The brokenness will not be forever.  And so we continue to move forward in faith, allowing ourselves to be used of God, because He can make a difference and bring cleansing and healing to this broken and messed up world one drop at a time.

Bethel Weeks 3 & 4 - This is the Life! (China Post 4)

I cannot believe I am halfway through my time here at Bethel.  All I can say is that it has been the greatest blessing I could have asked for.  This is the life!  Not just because it’s a dream come true and I’m living at an orphanage in China constantly using the gifts God has given me to love His precious children and glorify His name, but because He is teaching me how to love.  The words of Paul are making more and more sense to me: I could have so many things and do so many things, but if I have not love, I have nothing.  And I do love these kids.  I love their teachers.  I love sharing my passion for music with them.  I even love those really rough days when I have to cry out to God to give me creative ways to teach them and for patience and joy and strength.  And those are things that I can take back with me when I have to return to “the real world.”  I can purposely try to live a life of love and worship.  I can continue allowing God to use me however He sees fit.  I’m already beginning to realize how hard it’s going to be to leave this place and go back to America and my crazy life at school, but I have faith that God will see me through it and teach me to continue living Love, no matter where I am.  But for now, I still have four weeks left at Bethel and I plan on enjoying every minute of it!  Life is good.  God is good.  His children are precious.  Anyway, let’s see if I can remember some of the best parts of the last two weeks, which have totally flown by!
We recently started having “Letter Class” with the preschoolers.  We cover a letter each day and do activities that focus on that letter.  Each letter class includes “Silly Songs with Stephanie,” the part of the class where Stephanie comes out and sings a silly letter song.  :)  It’s been so much fun.  I really enjoy the chance to learn from these amazing teachers, and the kids are, of course, precious.
B was for bubbles.  The the kids (and their ayis) all had so much fun with the bubbles.  I love seeing the joy in these little faces!
June 25th was my 21st birthday.  What a joy it was to get to celebrate it in China!  My friend Marie and I went to the Temple of Heaven to celebrate.  It was beautiful.  My favorite part was meeting this little girl.  We asked her mom to take a picture of us, and this sweet girl decided that she would join us.  I didn’t mind a bit.  When the little girl realized it was my birthday (I was wearing a tiara for the picture) she gave me one of her princess stickers as a gift. :)  Precious!
Favorite picture ever!  The highlight of my day is always going to the kids houses to sing with them.  I can tell they really enjoy it, hopefully as much as I do.  I think Fukai and I were singing “Here Comes the Sun” here.  Their new favorite song is “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline.  :)
These are some of our precious children, their teachers, and two other volunteers.  They were all invited to the Hilton to learn how to cook.  The kids had a great time.
Okay, last picture and best story.  The little girl next to me is Qing Lian.  She’s new to Bethel and just recently started going to classes with the rest of the kids, so she’s been pretty quiet and shy.  She’s only recently started becoming close to me, and she’s really coming out of her shell.  To her, my name is not Stephanie but “Doremi,” since her favorite song to sing is “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music.  On Friday, at the end of Letter Class, she was sitting near me and started singing “Do a deer, a female deer.”  I tried to quiet her down, but before I knew it, she was right next to me singing away and the whole class had joined.  We finished the song, but she started again, so Fang Laoshi, the headmaster, had her stand in the middle of the circle and sing for the whole class.  She was singing straight to me though.  She did such a great job, and it was so nice to see her building up confidence and courage.

Bethel Week 2 - All You Need is Love (China Post 3)

Things are definitely speeding up for me here at Bethel. Our volunteer coordinator returned from vacation, which meant more work for everyone, and I was thankful for that. Aside from my piano and music classes I now teach English every day (in which the kids teach me more Chinese than I teach them English!) and work with one of the kids, Sam, on his walking. It’s been a joy to get to minister to him in that way. I’m trying to teach him that he is a strong, confident man that’s capable of great things, in hopes that he’ll begin to believe that part of his identity, despite his horrible background. It’s truly the definition of enCOURAGEment. I’ve also gotten to spend a lot of time just running around and playing with the kids. It’s exciting to see them getting to know and trust me.  It’s also neat to begin to see all of their different personalities.
By far, my favorite part of this trip has been singing with the kids.  Every night we go to their houses and teach them new songs in English.  These are always very fun, inspiring songs.  One night we taught them “All You Need is Love.”  Oh, you haven’t heard music until you have heard a bunch of children singing “Love, love, love… all you need is love!”  It has blessed my heart tremendously, because of the deep truth of that statement.  The kids have officially started to associate me with music and singing.  Whenever I’m around, they yell, “Stephanie!” and then begin singing the first bars of “All You Need is Love,” or “Tomorrow” from Annie, or “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music.  On Friday, one of the girls asked me to sing “Amazing Grace” with her.  She knew every verse.  It was beautiful.
I wish I had the time and space to talk about everything that I’ve witnessed God doing here.  How He’s showing me true joy in the faces of these children.  How He’s teaching me that it’s not about me, but about His glory.  How He’s teaching me to pray and to feel compassion and love like He does.  How He’s proving that the most important thing I can do is open my heart each day so that He can pour into me and then I can pour out, trusting that as I do, HE (not I) will accomplish all He intends.  I wish I could tell about how Faith is taking on new meaning to be as I walk around this school praying for the plan and the future I believe God has for each of these children, but can’t see yet.  God is just so good!  There are challenges to be sure.  There are moments ( a lot of moments) when I wonder what on earth I’m doing here, how I could possibly have anything to offer.  Some of my lessons are struggles, and it’s humbling.  Still, God is love, and all you need is Love.

Bethel Week 1 Update (China Post 2)

I figure the easiest way to give the highlights of my first week here at Bethel is with some of my favorite pictures.  So here goes!
I received a very warm welcome from the other Bethel volunteers on my first day.  We rode into the nearest village on this motor bike to have dinner at one of the favorite local restaurants owned by a very sweet lady we affectionately call “Grandma.”  The food was delicious and I enjoyed getting to know the people I will be living, working, and playing with for the rest of my time here.  The other volunteers are from all over the world: France, Holland, Canada, and a few interns from Harvard.
After one day of work, we all took off for a weekend in Beijing.  It was quite the experience, like I talked about in my last post.  One thing I didn’t mention is that I learned to navigate the Beijing subway system.  The girl in this picture with me is Crystal.  She proved to be a lifesaver for me.  We had a very interesting conversation one day on the way home from Beijing.  She randomly asked me what I thought about God, and I answered her as honestly as I could.  She went on to tell me about how China is an atheist country and very few people ever hear that there is or even could be a God.  She told me her story of how she realized there must be a God because of how things seemed to work out in her life.   She said that it couldn’t just be coincidence.  There had to be a greater power and plan at play.  Still, she said she had not made a decision on what she thought about Jesus and Christianity.  That conversation offered so much insight into the culture here and really got me thinking about the value of the Hope and Purpose that we find in knowing God.  These are thoughts that will keep me busy for awhile.
These are called Black Eggs, also known as Hundred Year Old Eggs.  These fermented eggs were by far the most interesting food that I have tried so far.  They were actually really good!  The meal that I had these at was more significant than the food though.  At this meal, I witnessed a true act of generosity.  As the girls and I were heading into town for dinner, one of the maintenance men stopped us and asked if he could take us out.  It was Crystal’s last night, and he wanted to share a meal with her.  After a great meal, where I gained a lot of insight into how things work at Bethel (both the triumphs and challenges faced by this ministry) we got up to pay.  Shin-shifu insisted on paying for us, though!  This was really touching to me because it was a 100 RMB meal and he makes about 1200 RMB a month.  Such a gift!
Ah!  The reason I am here!  On Tuesday, I got to start playing with the kids.  This little girl would probably be my favorite… if I were allowed to pick favorites.  She is really shy and sits by herself most of the time.  She has major eye problems (which make her a little scary to look at sometimes) and some skin issues.  One day I went and sat with her and started singing (singing to the kids has really become my way of connecting with them… it’s a language we all understand!).  Before I knew it she was laughing and dancing with me.  Then she just let me hold her.  There are so many kids like her here.  It’s such a blessing to be able to love them!
And here is my favorite part of the week!  I thought I was coming here to do office work.  Oh, but God had other plans!  On Wednesday afternoon, the headmaster of the school gave me my music lesson schedule.  It was a pleasant surprise.  On Thursday I began my first piano lessons with the kids.  Each week I work with 9 first-time piano students from pre-k to 1st grade, 2 preschool music classes, and a chorus.  What a testament to God’s faithfulness!  I remember talking about changing my major to music education a year and a half ago.  I had this vision of teaching music on the mission field as a way to connect to orphans.  It was definitely a driving force in my feeling led to switch.  I didn’t expect it to happen so soon!  Oh, I also took this piano pedagogy class last semester, just on a whim.  It wasn’t part of my degree plan, but I told my friends I had a feeling I’d end up teaching piano at some point in my life.  Oh, I love seeing the way God plans ahead!
So there’s the highlights of my first week at Bethel.  I’m still adjusting more each day and learning to love living life here.  I’m excited to see what else God has in store!

Welcome to Beijing (China Post 1)

Well, I wish that I could say that everything has been amazing since I got here, but that’s not exactly the case. I have seen the hand of Providence as I traveled and as I have met and made pretty good friends with the other volunteers that I will be living, working, and playing with over the next couple of months. I will admit though that I was not at all prepared for the shock of this new culture, and have really struggled to take everything in, even more so because I’ve been sick for the last couple of days as I’m trying to get used to the food. The learning curve here is steep. I have been forced to learn to use chopsticks, ride a tandem bike (I never learned to ride a bike as a kid, and that’s must here, so my friends are helping me work my way up), and also use a squat toilet. Oh, and we won’t even get in to how it feels to not understand a word of the language! I’ve also had to learn much about living so far away from Community and fighting for joy and actively seeking as I wait on the Lord. I’m not sure why I thought that simply because I am following the Call, I would not have to battle fear and anxiety and cry out to see Promises come to pass. It wasn’t that way for the Israelites. Yes, God prepared the way for them, but He also left enemies in the Promised Land. We all have to learn to stand and fight and live day by day in full Dependence.
Truly, China is a whole other world. The parts of Beijing I have seen look nothing like the Olympic footage. It is so incredibly crowded and dirty in most places, and yet so clean and modern in others. I am struck by the poverty and yet astounded by the lights and the amazing architecture. I can tell this summer will teach me so much and really reshape my worldview. So far I’ve had one day (Friday) to see what Bethel and my work will be like. I’m excited that I will have more time beginning tomorrow (today is a Chinese holiday called the Dragon Boat Festival) to get into my work and get to know these wonderful kids. Each day brings more peace and hope as I adjust and wait to see what God is going to do through me. These last few days have been thoroughly humbling and I have reached a new point of dependence on God. I can’t believe how much more there is to do and to learn over the rest of this summer!

Monday, August 15, 2011

To China with Love - Part I: Where to begin?

It seems like just yesterday I was at BT Women’s Super Saturday: Dreams, Desires, and Destiny sharing with my sisters in Christ about the exciting opportunity God had placed before me to fulfill my dream of working with orphans in China.  Now, I have the exciting opportunity to share with everyone as much about that incredible journey as I can. 

I had originally wanted to begin this devotional with that quote from The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”  The beginning is certainly an excellent place to start, but here’s the problem I’m discovering:  with God, it’s awfully hard to find the beginning.  You see, one of the most life-changing things I realized in China is that God’s work begins long before we even realize it.  I’m thinking back on the story of Jesus healing the blind man in John chapter nine.  Jesus’ disciples asked Him whose sin had caused the man to be born blind, and His response was profound.  He said, basically, that the man had been born blind not because of anyone’s sin, but so that God could be glorified in his healing.  God was at work from this man’s birth, long before he could even dream of experiencing healing.  And I’ve learned that nothing has changed over the thousands of years between that story and mine.

When I first arrived in China, I thought I would be doing office work, writing newsletters and the like.  They had mentioned the possibility of a music class or two since I am a music education major, but nothing was certain because they already had a music teacher.  I was ready to do whatever God placed before me, though.  It’s a good thing God got my “yes” from the beginning because after my first challenging weekend where I faced culture shock and sickness from the food, I realized that things would be a little different than I had anticipated.  About halfway through my first week of work, the headmistress of the school approached me and asked if she could give me my schedule of piano lessons the next day.  Not exactly my plan, but sure enough, she returned later with my very full schedule: 9 first-time piano students, 2 preschool music classes, and a choir.  Needless to say, I ended up spending very little time in the office.  And that became me, the English music teacher.  Though I never expected it, music became my gift to those kids and their gift to me.  Those times together singing, laughing, playing, and teaching will forever be some of the greatest treasures. 

Here’s the really neat thing though.  I would never have been able to say “yes” to that unexpected opportunity if God hadn’t begun working long before I knew I would be traveling to China.  I wasn’t a music education major until God called me to switch in Fall 2009. My reason for switching? Well, I told my professor that I wanted to make an impact in the world and that I could definitely see myself visiting orphans in China teaching them music and leaving them with songs in their hearts.  Oh, and even though I had played piano for 14 years, I never knew how to teach it until last semester when I “randomly” took a piano pedagogy class that wasn’t even on my degree plan.  My reasoning?  “I just have a feeling I’m going to need to teach piano at some point.”  Funny, isn’t it?  So there you have it, beloved.  God was at work long before I even realized.  There are beginnings to my story I never even knew existed.  What beginnings is He creating in your life?