The Cursive Letter ‘d’

 

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Cursive has always given me a mild form of cognitive dissonance. The gentle flow of the pen and the beauty of seamlessly connected letters massage my right brain; while the inefficiency of tracing and retracing the same lines pierces my left brain. I mean honestly, let’s just discuss how you make the cursive letter “d”: glide up ~ arch slightly ~ slide back all the way around ~ glide up to the top line ~ slide all the way back down the SAME line ~ curve out. With all of that tracing and retracing I could have printed the letter 3 times…yet even explaining it sounds graceful and delicate…but seriously the wastefulness stirs up real anger inside me sometimes…. Back and forth the whole time I write like laser tag in my corpus callosum.

You see my problem…ok maybe the cursive letter d is not really a problem, but this concept of retracing resounds through my life. I will twist and wind through neighborhoods and city streets, just so I do not have to backtrack, I always walk on diagonals for most efficient travel and I completely reversed a month long trip in Europe after getting on the train bound for the wrong city. I often question why traveling the same road twice agitates me to the point of entering Switzerland rather then Germany. And maybe in pursuit of energy conservation, I am missing the beauty and elegance found only in the painstaking art of cursive.

Maybe God needs to take me up to the top line and then all the way back down the SAME line to create something truly beautiful? Perhaps in the trip back down I will catch all the sweet treasures and grace I missed on the way up? And possibly if I had switched trains rather then routes, I would not have spent a night homeless on the cold concrete outside the Mulhouse, France train station…

I am reaching a place where beauty outweighs effort and I think I want to live in cursive rather than in print.

Sticky Rice in a Bowl

While spending the night in a remote village in Southeast Asia, my teammate, James, slept underneath the family’s spirit house. In the dark of night, James heard the rustling of a rat. A few seconds later something struck him right on the forehead. With half open eyes, he saw a small bowl sitting upright with a tiny ball of sticky rice settled in the well. A very similar item to the one he had seen inside the spirit house earlier that evening. Heeding the warning to never touch the spirit house, he gingerly laid the bowl beside his bed and went back to sleep.

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Inside each bamboo hut hangs a wooden box where they appease the spirits with offerings and place their request

In the morning, we laughed about the image of a tiny bowl tumbling from the house and about what the family would think James had done to their spirits, but in the stillness of the long car ride out of the village my heart began to break for all the false hope that the tiny bowl held. To us it was a small bowl in a wooden box, but to them that bowl held their safety, their health and their hope. Everyday they feed the spirits seeking favor and having faith for their provision, when in reality they are feeding rats.

 The Lord asked the Israelites through the prophet Haggai…

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes! Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored says the Lord. You hoped for rich harvest, but they were poor and when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you are busy building your fine homes” Haggai 1:5-9

We may think small wooden houses on the wall are silly and tribal, but we are just as guilty of feeding rats. Like the Israelites and the mountain people of Southeast Asia we store up treasure, put our hope in earthly earnings and lay our good deeds on a balance of karma. With our 10-year plans and our voracious pursuit of safety and long life, we forget that with a word God can create and with a breath He can destroy. He is a gracious King, Jehovah Jireh, our provider, the King of kings and the Giver of life, but when we build our sturdy homes, our bank accounts, our retirement funds and our registry of good deeds instead of the Lord’s dwelling place, all of our diligence and hopes went into the belly of rats.

So I ask myself what am I sacrificing before rats…and how can I build up the Lord’s temple inside my heart instead?

 

Communal Bathing

In a mountain stream in SouthEast Asia, I came upon a lady collecting river moss to make sushi wrappers. Seeing that the task looked tedious I decided to “help her”. I staggered behind her on the slippery rocks spending more time regaining balance then collecting moss. She continued her work as precious laughter intermixed with words I could not understand. I am clueless as to what she said, but her face led me to believe she found me humorous and lovable.

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We filled her bag and waved goodbye. Not long after as I was sitting in the natural hot spring tub at our guest house (missionary life is rough), there she was again. She had come to the river, like all the villagers, to take her bath. Now I had never really been exposed to communal bathing, but I learned most women manage to bathe while staying covered. The older ladies, however, find themselves beyond modesty and they bathe topless! My new friend happened to be old….

She spotted me in the hot tub and her and her friends moved there bathing spot close so that we could continue our bonding. Then she jumped up in the hot tub with me and took a big cup and poured the hot water over me. Even if I had known the language I would have still been speechless. I  laughed awkwardly as my new little topless Asian friend “helped me get warm!”

ImageMy coworker Andy says “Nudity builds community!” While I am not yet sold on this fact, I do know that I love that woman. I know that she comes to the forefront of my prayers and I know that I wish more than anything that she knew the Lord. My lack of language and the strict government watch held my tongue captive. Yet in the simplicity of picking river moss, cooking rice, defeathering chickens, modeling traditional clothing, fluffing cotton and yes even communal bathing, communication and relationships formed. I pray fervently for the day we can stand a top those mountains proclaiming truth, but I am thankful for the silent messages shared between two women and the privilege to pray for this woman everyday. 

 

*I feel as though this title might get almost as much attention at Surviving the Bush Commando did two years ago! The mission field puts you in some strange positions*

Botswana 2012 ….That the deaf may hear

We rolled into Boyei Primary School on a Monday morning with a lost look in our eyes and an uneasy anticipation in our guts. However, the headmaster and teachers welcomed us with eager excitement and gave us free reign in their classrooms. We spent the first day meeting the deaf students and sharing stories about who God is. We quickly realized that the students’ language age was about 5 years below their physical age. As we prepared for the next day we wondered how we could introduce them to Christ when they didn’t even comprehend the sign for “sit down”

We spent the next day drawing and acting and signing and singing (deaf singing is the loudest, most off key and beautiful thing I have ever heard!).. We wrapped up our day by showing the Jesus film. While the students watched the film I watched their faces. As the story unfolded, their eyes would light up as they saw the stories from earlier play out before them.

At the end of the movie, they decided to send the youngest students back and discuss the film with the older students. I couldn’t stay…the Lord brought me to this verse At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25

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I grabbed sweet Bethany, a team member competent in ASL, and followed the 5 and 6 year olds. I began to ask them what they saw, what they liked, what they remembered.They were quiet, perhaps lacked the words at first, but then one boy raised his hand and began signing the most beautiful Gospel presentation I have ever seen. He said “Jesus came to the earth, He loved people, then he died on the cross, he rose from the dead and he ascended to heaven on a cloud and now we can go to heaven too.”

I looked in disbelief for the child who did not understand left and right the day before had just shared the gospel. But the Lord was not done. Another little boy jumped up and pressed against the wall with his arms spread wide. A classmate came and pretended to hammer in three nails. The boy against the wall “died”, I went over picked him up and laid him on the ground. I asked the students if it was finished, they all said no. I tapped the little boy on the shoulder and he got up. I asked “why” and a little student simply signed “love”.

The child that had pretended to be on the cross ran to the back of the classroom. He grabbed a bible story book they had looked at for months, but never understood. He turned to the page of the cross and pointed with wide eyes as if suddenly all the little bits and pieces of broken communication had culminated into understanding. A little girl stood up and took a small cross we had given her earlier out of her pocket. She looked at the cross and then pressed it against the pages of the book as if seaming it all together for the first time and I realized that the Lord meant so much more than audible sound when he promised “that in that day the deaf will hear…” Isaiah 29:18

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -Jesus

To read more stories from the trip visit the School to the Nations Blog

On The Cusp

The cusp…where two tangents or ornamental arcs meet…a point that marks the beginning of change. I sit here on the cusp between preparation and execution. I felt as though the preparation resembled laying bricks to make a smooth path for the journey ahead, but now it feels a little more like we’ve been packing black powder and I am about to be shot out of a cannon like a circus performer. With my calendar wily spread before me, I realize that the next three months will look a little like this… family/best friend visit – Botswana – coordinate a wedding – Thanksgiving – train SE Asia team – promote a new trip – roadtrip with the roomies – Christmas – SouthEast Asia – home.

Here are the phases of my grand performance…
Phase 1 – Ignition
The weight of my calendar began to cloud my heavenly vision. Somewhere between finding a place to sleep in Botswana and arranging ministry in SouthEast Asia, I lost sight of the goal, the mission, and the people. This past weekend was a whirlwind of training and ropes coursing, but the Lord used it to ignite my withering wick.
The SouthEast Asia team learned to share the gospel! Everyone on the team can clearly and effectively share the Lord’s heart with the people we meet! Praise the Lord. We then had a day of ropes where the students learned to work together on the course and on the mission field. That night we wrapped up with a ethnic meal and cultural training. My sweet friend, Rachel, came out and answered our millions of questions leaving us informed and eager to meet these beautiful people!
The next day was followed up with more ropes coursing with the deaf outreach team. The team came together to overcome language barriers between the deaf and hearing cultures. We were able to reevaluate how our team could effectively communicate and care for one another.
After three full days of training, mastering the dreaded ropes course wall and getting the team down from the zipline, I barely had a voice and could hardly lift my arms above my head, but my heart was refreshed. My students reminded me of the things logistics had shoved aside! They turned my head back towards the Lord’s glory and the incredible opportunities we have to share that Love with unreached people.

Phase 2 – Blast Off
This weekend will be full of so much love. My mom, my aunt and my best friend are all coming in to visit. I can hardly wait. I am so thankful to the Lord for my incredible friends, family and supporters.. On Sunday our Botswana deaf team will follow the biblical pattern for being sent out with a commissioning. This is a time to humble ourselves before the church and seek prayer for the journey. It is also a time to unify with the church to remind us all that this a unified mission not an independent team. I eagerly await soaking up every moment of love and fun this weekend will hold. Monday morning at 4:30 AM this cannonball sets sail with a gusto behind my wings. If you would like to receive our trip updates email theabicopeland@gmail.com

Phase 3 – Flight
This is the part I have been longing for since I returned home last January. (Not the physical flight…I generally try to sleep through most of that.) The flight, the journey into the hearts and lives of thousands of people who have never had the opportunity to call on Christ precious name, brings my soul overwhelming joy. As I look at the course before me, I eagerly anticipate all that the Lord will do. His heart is bursting for these Deaf and SE Asians to KNOW Him! I cannot wait to write you all again of the miraculous works of our Father!
For now I will leave you with some sweet encouragement shared with me…The other day as I whined to my brother about my busy schedule. He gently encouraged me saying ‪”stay sane, I think what you do is worth everything‬ and I can’t wait to see you, love you” Today as I checked out at Walmart the cash register man asked if I worked today and I thought for a moment. Yes, today I will send emails, write this update, finalize last minute details and have a staff meeting, but really today I will live life. I will live for the opportunity to encourage and love on people. And this “work” is worth all that I can give and so much more. I challenge you to work live in this same way!


I have been trusting and loving my great big brother since we were wee little tots.

Relearning to Breathe

Life as a servant, not a teacher or a helper or a volunteer, carries a different air and a different purpose.  You see, life as a servant is so very different because you are no longer the smarter, better prepared, and more educated person, you are simply a humble maid seeking to meet the needs of your employer. As a servant, I realize that my role is not to fix everything or design a perfect world with my middle class mindset, but rather to go back to Christ’s nature that brings healing. As I walk through Springfield and the ends of the Earth, I hear the battle cry of children fighting over love, attention, opportunity and food. Their cries pile upon you like shrills in a war zone and at times I feel like the need consumes me.

Yet, true beauty is not found in the accolades, material belongings or profound talents. True beauty emerges from the struggle. The incredible spirits that survive and even attempt to thrive among the daily challenges is truly beautiful. The President of World Vision defines poverty as the lack of opportunity and this battle ensues all around.

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These children do not need my pity or wise instruction; they need someone to listen and encourage them. They need someone who can recognize their brilliance and their challenges; they need someone with something positive to say; they need to know their Creator. I seek to invest in lives and attempt to understand my friends’ daily battles. On my bad days, I pretend everything is ok and on my better days I realize the ugliness of my sin of ignorance.

I feel like there are two parts to this chosen avoidance. First my daily life becomes a blinder. I live with friends all blessed beyond understanding and I go home to a family who has excelled through life. I fear that I will never understand poverty. The more I think about poverty, the more I recognize this reality. Even if I gave everything and lived a life of “poverty”, I would always know I could escape with a word to my family; and therefore I will never understand the binding power of the absence of opportunity. This lack of understanding becomes a getaway crutch.

The second part is that I am overwhelmed by the problems. It is hard to know the truth and still feel powerless. Ignorance can be so blissful. I am reminded of the movie Blindside. The picture of two worlds colliding and the realization that all the stereotypes, both parties held, are lies passed through generations. I just want to fix things…find solutions…care for all the hurting. I want to break the restrictions we put on ourselves and reveal the true beauty within each of us. Yet, I am overwhelmed by the task, so I avoid the problem.

The trouble is… I may be able to avoid the “problems”, but these are reality. I like to think that it is not my reality…but it is. My experiences have taught me that my ignorance, reluctance and weak words tighten the grip of poverty. Therefore, in reality, I am part of the “problem”. I see I really have little power, but like the air, each tiny particle is interconnected. We all breathe and share the same air, and while it may be small, our breath impacts the entire atmosphere. God’s ability to magnify our tiny breaths and His desire to draw all men to Himself and be their healer gives significance to my triviality. Every thing we release alters the makeup of the globe and therefore, everyday, I am relearning how to breathe.

Bobby Pins

It seems like all other things in life bobby pins come in seasons. I have noticed that at times my hair routine seems to consist of rummaging, raking and resorting to stealing my roommates bobby pins. And then other times, like today, I find bobby pins under my sink, on my desk, in the dresser drawer, on my floor board, in my makeup bag and generally in all the places I searched for them yesterday. Why is it that some days we search with such intent and drive and frustration, only to come up void and other times, when we are barely looking, our hair clip container brims?

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:10

Maybe it is time I get my hands off of the desperate search and let the Lord bring a bounty of bobby pins ministry to my attention!

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

Do you ever look to the next phase in life and think ….”when that time comes I’ll have it together…I’ll be more disciplined, diligent, free, tidy, savvy, stylish, friendlier…better?” Do you look to the future and see the end result forgetting the journey it takes to get there?
I have smacked into the fallacy of these thoughts once again. My thoughts went something like this…. I will be in ministry and be diligent in my studies and my work. I will not be tempted to surf facebook and pintrest and my every thought will be on the nations, my job and the kingdom. This makes a great prayer and aspiration but it does not resemble reality. Don’t misunderstand me my heart still beats for the nations and I still get some work done and spend some coveted time with our sweet Lord, but I also get distracted, mess up and at times prefer watching How I Met Your Mother to investing in the Word.

I have forgotten the journey and my pride wells up within me creating a conundrum between diligence, anxiety and failure. I want to be a jack of all trades, perfect in every aspect of my life and my ministry. I desire passion, movement and fruit not as a means of change or picture God’s glory, but as a tool to validate my life and my purpose. Selfish ambition and the approval of men begin to cloud the beauty and the mission and failure begins to diminish my perceived beauty.

1 Thessalonians 5:24-25 says “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole body, spirit and soul be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the One who calls you is faithful and HE WILL DO IT.” Oh the God of peace, He will do it when I put aside my selfish ambition and rest in His sanctification. Change must start in prayer and with His power.

I’m not perfect….working at a missions agency does not give me worth or validate my existence and role in the kingdom…but Christ does.

My Prayer

The Lord has been gracious and faithful. I just returned from two weeks among my family in West Africa. The Lord showed his vibrancy and presence in an unforgettable way that has left its permanent mark on the team and the villages.

To read more about the trip check out my latest newsletter here!

Just before I left the capital city for the villages the Lord gave me a  prayer that resounded through the trip and echoed upon my return. I think I’ll just share it with you. I pray that these words remain on my heart and my lips…

1-2-12 On the Rooftop overlooking the City

“He will stand and shepherd His flock in the STRENGTH and MAJESTY  of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his GREATNESS will reach the ends of the Earth and he will be their peace.”  Micah 5:4-5

Lord you supersede all that we could ever do or say. Your words bring me to my knees in awe of your royalty and beautiful reign.You took the wretched world upon your back and your heart and then seeped peace throughout the Earth. As I sit here on the edge of the “ends of the Earth” I rest in your promise that your greatness will reach and your peace will swell out of the dry and brittle land.

Lord I beg of your power and mercy. I pray that you would flood our temple and be a beacon in the darkness that pierces the very souls of the beautiful West Africans. In light of all that you have done and accomplished for us all you require is for us to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with you.” (Micah 6:8) Yet I find myself here prostrate and begging you to help me live justly, love mercy and walk with you.

I pray that your truth would sound as drums of truth…Lord, we beckon your power here now!

The Lord was faithful in all that I asked. The movement, power and peace that now live in the small African villages are a beacon. There are still struggles and thousands without access to the Gospel, but God still reaches out further and further. I am realizing more day by day that this prayer is relevant on and off the field. I ask that if you are serious about the movement of the Gospel that you will join me in this prayer for the people of West Africa, for your neighbor and for yourself.  In all things may Christ be glorified!

Kelunka Training Village

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:32-34 and 39-40

The pages of the Word unfold countless tales of faith that enabled mere men to conquer kingdoms and return the nations’ to the heart to God. The author of Hebrews recounts the mighty acts of the weak believers who became our benchmarks for spiritual giants. With each account the author credits the true beauty and mighty force…faith. This sweet mercy of God that allows us to forge ahead and render mountains for His glory has been the trait that ushered in His name through the ages. Throughout scripture God gives these weak workers bold words that build a calling. Yet, in order to hear the call they had to first be silent and listen.

Listen…we hear a multitude of sounds in each millisecond, but do we really listen? Are we able to silence the madness and the ruckus to understand the call? Our Father cries out for your heart, the nations moan in the reality of their captivity and the church whimpers with a deep need for community and movement…do you hear it?

During the last month two teams come to Kelunka Training Village and tune their ears to the heart cry of Earth and Heaven.

Since I joined staff here at School to the Nations my first order of business has been repackaging and designing our village training program. The Lord laid listening on my heart and through my travels I have seen the power of listening in action. The planning was fun but I was so blessed to be able to pass on the words the Lord had entrusted me with through the trainings this weekend

 I drug the teams through intense discipleship and extreme challenges to prepare for the battle they will face as they venture to the lost and hurting world. The teams have prayed, practiced, explored, laughed, rested and listened in faith so that the King’s call may move us in mighty ways among the nations.

The biblical examples of small and grand faith in Hebrews 11 give hope and direction to us today. At School to the Nations we get the privilege of training today’s Gideons, Davids and Isaiahs. Men and women who grasp the strands of faith and humbly say, “Here am I. Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) I hear the Lord echoing His joy over today’s servants willing to go. I hear Him whispering the promises of the immeasurable goodness He has prepared ahead for those who move in faith.

Please be in prayer for the Convoy of Hope team leaving for Haiti this week.


Please be in prayer for the School to the Nations team headed to Mali, West Africa this winter.