Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hearts and Minds

I'm not much of a crier. (This should not surprise anyone) I'm not cold or senseless (at least, I don't think I am), I just show my emotion less and less often than most people. Partly I think this is because I value my intellect and willful mind over and above my emotions. (The computers I work with may be rubbing off on me) In my weaker moments I even tend to see them as being in conflict with each other as if my head were good and my heart were evil. Then 1 Corinthians 7:37 (don't worry, I'm just bringing up the chapter briefly) jumped out at me in how it differed between my two Bibles. In the NIV it reads:
But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin--this man also does the right thing.
And in the ESV:
But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.
Where the NIV uses "mind" and "will", the ESV uses "heart" and "desire" in the same places. I would never consider these pairs of words to be interchangeable, but apparently Paul and the Greeks thought differently.

Looking up the Greek words, the original text uses the word καρδια ("kardia") to mean "mind" or "heart", and θελημα ("thelema") to mean "will" or "desire". Strong's definition of καρδια includes "the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavours";  θελημα means "will, choice, inclination, desire, or pleasure". Clearly the New Testament writers had a more holistic view of people; καρδια in particular is used over 150 times throughout the NT to mean "heart", "mind", or "thoughts". They didn't draw battle lines between thoughts and emotions--in Romans 7:22-23, Paul lays out the real conflict in each of us.
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
 The real struggle is between these two laws (powers or influences over us): our old, sinful nature, and our new, redeemed nature. Maybe you're like me and find yourself seeing your emotions as problems or obstacles. Maybe you're the opposite and struggle to willfully live out your passion for God (maybe it doesn't look exactly like that). Whatever your case, know that Jesus' prayer and intention is that one day we may "all be one" (John 17:21), I believe in ourselves as well as with each other. Every part of our selves that God has made will be perfected and find total joy and freedom in unity with Him. I just love looking forward to heaven!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Break Day 5-6: More Stuff

Yeah, I didn't think of a good title for these two days. But our last two days of full ministry have been just as good as the last if not better. Like on Monday, yesterday morning we came to Hope for another intensive teaching session. This one was about our perspective on "poverty". We compared the traditional indicators of poverty (lack of necessities, low income, lack of support) with things that people living in poverty had to say about it. Their perspective focused more on internal things--feeling inferior, ashamed, and helpless. For the poor, poverty is as much a part of their identity as it is a socioeconomic condition.

I forgot to mention that yesterday Seth's tour of the Bible focused on three big ideas: shalom (holistic peace, living in right relation to God and others), sin (the undoing and corruption of God's perfect creation), and hesed (God's faithful, unconditional love and restorative work in creation). Today we talked about poverty as the absence of one or more shalom relationships. It was a more holistic view of poverty; the poor have emotional and spiritual needs just as pressing as their physical ones, and even people considered well-off by the world's standards might be poor in other ways. (Consider the wealthy executive who has little time or concern for his family life) This truth should shape the way we approach ministry to the poor: not just giving them the things they need, but showing them love and really making them feel like they matter and are cared for.

After lunch we went to Hope Academy, a Christian school aimed at disadvantaged, inner-city kids that took such an approach with them. After being welcomed into their nice building (a converted hospital), we first watched a video about Hope's mission, with testimonies from kids whose lives had been impacted. It was clear that they invested in the kids in more ways than just teaching them--they taught them the gospel, helped them grow in relationship with Jesus, and even tried to help with troubles they might be having at home. It kind of reminded me of Minnehaha Academy for non-rich families. (Some Hope Community Church parents also sent their kids there)

We then went to a first-grade classroom to help for an hour or so. They were studying inventing and the creative process this week, and we were going to help with a project. The classroom was maybe 2/3 to 3/4 non-white kids, and they were clearly pretty well-disciplined; I didn't really see any "troublemakers". It got even better as i got to work with the "independent study" (i.e. brightest) kids. It looked like the kids were separated into a few different groups within the class according to their aptitude for more personalized learning.

Anyway, these kids were just amazing. One of the four was the daughter of a Hope CC couple, and the boy in the group was basically my six-year-old self. (I could tell when he explained in detail why he preferred to be called Elijah because there were so many Elis around). We were supposed to read through some quick stories about child inventors with them, but my kids pretty much went to town and I just had to watch to make sure everyone was following. They came up with some questions about the stories, then they were tasked with "inventing" something out of some basic craft supplies and dictating to me how to build it. I feel like they pretty much could have made anything they wanted out of tape, paper, and popsicle sticks, but they were held back by some creative differences (too many cooks) and we ended up making a pretty solid house. It was just a joy to work with such motivated kids and see what they could do. I'm pretty sure at least one of them is going to be in UMTYP in six or seven years.

The kids got really excited when they heard we would be having lunch with them. We had actually forgotten to pack lunches, so we just got to watch them eat. Lunch was still pretty fun when I was finding stuff to talk with them about. Elijah talked about his love for LEGOs, further confirming my belief that he's a younger version of me. We were really sad to have to leave them after lunch. We then spent an hour or two helping in the library organizing a bunch of books, a task we attacked with gusto. Hope Academy was really fun and it looks like they're doing an amazing ministry in the inner city. I'm seriously considering volunteering there after hearing the high school needs calculus and physics tutors. And depending on how that goes, I could even live nearby to Hope Academy and all the other places we saw in that neighborhood.

That afternoon, we went to the Source Annex, a partner ministry of Hope offering beds and rehabilitation to women who had been victims of sex trafficking. We actually didn't do much there except hear from Carol, the director of the ministry and one of the original Hopesters, and watch a video about sex trafficking. Young women are tricked into going or just taken to other countries where they don't speak the language and have no resources, then exploited and forced to work as prostitutes. It's slavery, plain and simple. It had testimonies from a man who had been working as a grunt for a crime syndicate and escaped when he learned more about it. He is still on the run from them and has helped the South African police fight it. Anyway, ministries like Breaking Free help women escape and they then come to places like the Source, where they are offered beds, help with their education and search for a job, and community in the form of "role models", young Christian women who live with them and help them transition to normal life. Like Hope Academy, it was an example of holistic ministry--helping people with their inner, as well as exterior crises.

After that we were done early for the day and went for an adventure. We walked the grounds of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, but it was closed so we just went to Sebastian Joe's for some delicious "dinner". As I've been enjoying getting to know the people on Spring Break with me, I'm really glad we don't have to say goodbye for possibly ever tomorrow, but might see each other next Sunday! I think we went back to le Hotel Legault next. There we learned to play 500, which is apparently really popular at Spring Retreat. All I will say on the subject is that Wizard is better and I will be bringing it to compete. (With 500 and with the other players)

This morning, we did teaching on more practical ways to practice relational, gospel-centered ministry wherever we go in life. The church, as the body of Christ, is the vehicle by which God restores shalom to the world. We are meant to live out an example of what God intended life to be. We've been talking through two books on this kind of ministry, one of them pretty academic. (It's on my list of things to read) It went through the idea of "faithful presence": being fully present and bringing the gospel to every area of our lives, using the power (which everyone has in some capacity) we have humbly as Jesus did, and doing our work (which everyone does) to God as a form of worship. We went through a matrix of culture and the areas the church has and has not focused on influencing; in general, we've mostly focused on the more mass-marketed forms of culture (journalism, education, television) than the higher-level ones that help determine culture (academia and the arts).

For the afternoon, we visited two more ministries in more familiar places. The first was the First Care Pregnancy Center on Oak Street, which I've walked by dozens of times on my way to and from class. They offer pregnancy testing and counseling for young women and, sometimes, their boyfriends. Being privately funded by donations, they also share the gospel with clients in the belief that Jesus is the only one who can truly change people. But this message is strictly for those who want to hear; they clearly try to not be coercive or sneaky in anything they do, and they also really try to provide real, accurate information to women to help them make decisions. It was a slow week with Spring Break, but we got to help them clean up; I helped them organize the closet and we took a bunch of no-longer needed things off their hands. (I kept a picture frame they were throwing out, as did several other people)

In the evening we went down to Burnsville (we went right by my apartment and parents' house in the same day) to South Metro Vineyard Church, which runs the largest food shelf in Minnesota. We were pretty surprised to hear it was in Burnsville, which I had considered to be a pretty wealthy suburb. Would people come? As we approached the church we say signs in English, Spanish, and Russian; apparently there is a large immigrant population in the city. Inside we saw they had a pretty impressive system. One side of the entry hall was completely full of grocery bags holding all kinds of food. We would fill them up assembly-line style and walk with our "neighbors" to their cars. They had a computer system that tracked people by their names (instead of a number) and could notify them when their "order" was ready.

I was a bit skeptical; none of what we were doing seemed strictly necessary. Couldn't they take their own groceries? But as we went on I realized this was all part of the church's holistic ministry. We weren't just trying to fill peoples' stomachs; we were really trying to welcome them and serve them in a way that empowered and loved them. We wanted to make them feel dignified, not ashamed to be visiting a food shelf. And we weren't just giving them canned stuff; it was a cartfull of really nice groceries I wouldn't mind having. As we pushed the carts around people would just put stuff into it. The refrigerated foods were customized to each person's family size and needs, and the bread lady was really zealous and would pile on too much bread for us to fit into our bags. People with birthdays in their families also got cakes. It felt really good to greet our neighbors with a smile and talked with them as we took their food out with them. After we'd finished serving everyone, many of the volunteers we'd been working with took carts and filled them; they were also beneficiaries of the food shelf.

After we cleaned up, we even got to take some extra food ourselves; apparently this food shelf struggles to give out enough food. Back at Hope, we also discovered more people had left us more food, even through tomorrow is the last day! People can be amazingly generous sometimes. We ate some of this for a late second dinner before turning in for the day. I've been writing this while watching Castle in the Sky with the Legaults. Tomorrow is the last day of the stay-at-home mission trip. We'll mostly just be reflecting on everything we've seen and learned this week. It's getting late and I'm going to cut this post off now. Good night!

ADDENDUM: The last day (half-day) wasn't quite eventful enough to get its own post. A lot of what we did was attempt to eat up a bunch of the food people had been giving us. We also did some final wrap-up to the morning teaching sessions including some reflection time on how to continue applying what we'd learned to ministry. We also got a list of books to read on which the teaching was largely based, which I'll share here.

  • When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright
  • To Change the World, by James Davison Hunter
  • Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
  • The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller
  • The Ragamffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning

Monday, March 12, 2012

Days 3 and 4: Diversity!

Sorry I didn't post last night. we got back kind of late, we had kind of a late night and I couldn't resist some programming on Milton afterwards. But yesterday and today kind of fit together thematically, so that's fine.

Yesterday was (amazingly) Sunday. We had a bit of a slow morning; we were attending church in the evening and didn't do much in the morning even though we could have gone to Hope. We just hung out for the morning and played some games; I was on Milton for a while. At 1 we went to Hope, where the second service was just finishing up; we snagged some Panera bread. We were going on another tour of the city led by John Mayer (not the John Mayer, but we joked about it plenty). He was the leader of a group called City Vision dedicated to serving the poor and sharing the gospel in Minneapolis. He was a big fan of what he called "stomach evangelism", which apparently involved trying lots of multicultural food. We climbed on the Hope bus (this tour had apparently been publicized at the service today, so there were lots of people there besides our group) and headed for Midtown.

At Midtown we went to an amazing ethnic market with shops and restaurants representing many of the cultures in Minneapolis. I had biked by the Midtown building tons of times on the Greenway, but I had no idea how amazing it was inside! John Mayer recommended the camel burger (that he apparently invented), which many people tried. We walked around and visited the shops as we waited for them to be prepared. It was all amazingly colorful and full of cool stuff hanging in stalls, though we didn't buy anything. I wasn't adventurous enough to try the camel burger (I wish I had) and had some Thai food instead. After we were all sufficiently stuffed, we went on a tour of the rest of the city.

John's tour focused on the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity in the city. Apparently Minneapolis is the top ___ city in America for just about any minority religion or ethnic group you can think of. He made plenty of jokes to help teach us about them (if you see green buildings, it more likely means they're Somali than Irish). We got out in a few places and explored a few neighborhoods, including the Super Mercado, a Hispanic mall on Lake Street. I'm already having a bit of trouble remembering all the specifics, but it was similarly illustrative to yesterday's tour. I will admit, I was a bit reluctant to keep hearing about all the diversity. Maybe it reminded me a bit of all the silly diversity exercises we did at my (not very diverse) high school. Sometimes it seemed like he was focusing on diversity for diversity's sake.

After the tour we debriefed a bit at Hope and then had some down time before the evening church service. We went to the neighborhood around the church (which the tour had passed through) and visited Mercado Central (across the street from Super Mercado), a Hispanic grocery store, where we got some soda (with cane sugar!) for dinner. We just walked around and visited a few markets in the neighborhood, then went into the church.

We were pretty much the only white folks there. It was a totally Hispanic church, and we weren't really sure what to expect. Luckily they apparently had a translation service for the sermon. They started off with six or seven worship songs; because they were in pretty basic Spanish ("Mi Dios es grande y fuerte") and I remembered surprisingly much of my high school Spanish, I actually followed the songs pretty well and even sang along. Some were translations of familiar English worship songs, and had sections where they broke intro English (I wondered if that was for our sake). The worship was surprisingly great; having to mentally translate really got me to think about the lyrics more.

The sermon was also all in Spanish; they gave us receivers and headsets to listen to an English translation, but mine didn't work very well and I eventually ditched it and just tried to understand as much as I could, which was actually about a quarter to a third of it. (About as much as I was getting off the headset, plus I could hear his tone) The sermon was about the importance of coming to church and participating in the body of Christ, which seemed pretty solid from what I could tell. (Apparently there was some theology we didn't really agree with, but I missed it) So that service went better than expected; just like with the African-American churches we went to in Milwaukee, everyone was really welcoming and you could tell the Spirit was there at the service with us.

After that was over we returned to le Hotel Legault to finally make spaghetti dinner; I did the meat for the sauce as I was good at it from making chili. the service had gotten out around 8:30, so it was a late dinner; David and Michelle joined us and a good time and meal was had by all. After Danielle and Rebecca (the female spring break-goers) left for the night it was pretty late and I just did some coding before bed, hence the lack of a blog.

The next day was mostly spent at Hope. Seth was taking us on another epic whirlwind tour through the entire Bible as we often did on Sundays, only this one took all day. I kind of had to force myself to pay attention and not feel like I knew the story by now: God's perfect creation of man, the tragedy of the fall, and the rest of the Bible as the working out of His redemptive plan. It was pretty dense and we spent a while on each part of the timeline; luckily there was plenty of food. As a break we went to a cool used book store (The Book House) in Dinkytown that I had known about but never went into. any students who are reading this, it's at 14th and 5th, I think; check it out. Books everywhere. I got a couple of good books like a Java book from 1996 that had been marked down from $50 to $1.

After lunch we got through the rest of scripture, covering how necessary and yet unexpected Jesus was in first-century Israel, then just hung out at a coffee shop until our evening activity. One other nice thing about this trip compared to Summer Project is that it's much less packed with lots of free time scheduled and unscheduled. We sat at a bar (drinking tea) but I kind of sat on the outside next to a speaker, so I couldn't really hear much. While lost in thought I designed most of an algorithm for my latest coding project.

In the evening we went to International Village, a nonprofit in St. Paul that offers lots of services to immigrants and refugees. Apparently they started out aimed at Somalis, but lots of Bhutanese refugees have been coming lately and they've mostly switched to helping them. The couple running the ministry showed us a video on the Bhutanese plight (ethnic Nepalis were getting kicked out of the country by the government and had spent over 15 years in refugee camps in Nepal before the United States invited them here) and did a simulation on how stressful the refugee experience could be.

After dinner we actually went out and visited some refugees in their apartment. These visits were apparently pretty common for the couple and served no purpose other than to be friendly and social. I wasn't too excited at first; I was worried about the language barrier and that I'd have no idea what to discuss with them. But nonetheless we went into an unassuming apartment, knocked on a door in the bottom floor, and were accepted into an apartment. My first impressions were that it was pretty bare, and it smelled. I eased into a chair in a corner and Charity, the woman we'd come with (who knew some Nepali) started talking with them.

Living in the apartment were the guy International Village knew best, Mohan, his younger brother, and their parents, who were students of IV's ESL classes. One of Mohan's friends and an older guy in a cool elf-like cap (we weren't sure of his relation to the family) were also there. Mohan and his brother spoke pretty good English; his friend was somewhat less intelligible, and the parents spoke minimal English. At first they left and let us English speakers talk, but Charity invited them back and tried to engage them in the conversation. They were generous and served us some chia (pronounced in one syllable), a traditional blend of tea and coffee, and then Mountain Dew, which was a nice illustration of the merging of two very different cultures.

Like I said, I at first had no idea what to say and we kind of let Charity do most of the talking, but pretty soon they opened up to us. Bhutanese people are really open; I asked questions that would have gotten one or two sentences out of an American, and they told us these cool stories. I ended up conversing with Mohan a lot and heard his own story as a refugee. He was about six when his family got kicked out of Bhutan and has only fleeting memories of his life there; his family apparently lived on a big farm in the mountains. He then lived as a refugee in Nepal for 18 years, which I could barely even imagine. Their accommodations in the camp there were really cramped, but they did get ten free years of schooling including English lessons, which turned out to be really valuable when they got to come to America. His parents had similar stories, remembering more of their life in Bhutan, but compared to life in Nepal their only problem in America was not knowing English, which IV was helping them with.

The other older guy (with the cool hat) also randomly mentioned he'd been bitten by a snake in Bhutan, which I asked more about. He was carrying some firewood home at night when his leg suddenly started stinging and going numb. By the time he got him it was swollen and he could barely move it, then he lost consciousness. When he woke up lots of his friends and family were there and his mother was tying up his left to keep the poison out of the rest of his body and applying an herbal treatment. Obviously he was fine now, but it was just amazing hearing first (or secondhand) something I would normally have read out of a book. It was so cool to be talking to these representatives from another world.

We drove that guy and Mohan's friend back; me and the friend had a nice conversation about how flat Minnesota was compared to Nepal. (It's hard to compete with Mt. Everest) We briefly stopped by the apartment the other group had gone to before heading home for the night. Apparently their conversation hadn't gone so well with the IV guy with them doing most of the talking. Anyway, today really brought home the point John Mayer made about the importance of bridging ethnic and cultural gaps. When you do, you meet some really cool people with amazing stories!

God has really surprised me the last two days and broken down lots of the resistance I had to cross-cultural ministry. Tomorrow we are doing more Biblical teaching in the morning and going to Hope Academy. I can't wait!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spring Break, Day Two: Urban Homeworks

Today was pretty exhausting. We did a workday with Urban Homeworks, a Minneapolis nonprofit that seeks to provide "dignified, affordable housing" for low-income families and improve neighborhoods by developing property, aiding homeownership, and renting space to Christians who serve as neighbors for the families. They focus more on rehabilitating homes than on building new ones like Habitat for Humanity.

Anyway, we got to the worksite--actually worksites--today at 8 AM. They were two houses across the street from each other in north Minneapolis and we were doing demolition work. With plenty of people, we split between the houses. I went upstairs in our house and spent several hours removing spare nails, staples, and screws from every square inch of the gutted rooms. The original builders (it was a fairly new house that had had mold problems) has been a bit overzealous with the staples--they had secured the carpet at roughly half-inch intervals and each bathroom (there were two master bathrooms) had about thirty or forty full-sized staples at random locations.

Midmorning we had John, one of the Urban Homeworks staff and a former pastor, come and give us the "doodle"--a twenty-minute talk about Urban Homeworks' ideals with visual aids scrawled on the side of a box. The houses had been damaged by the tornado a few years ago; they'd had their hands full ever since. I hadn't realized how significant the difference between renting and owning homes was to north Minneapolis--many homes are in disrepair because their owners live elsewhere. Urban Homeworks is trying to help low-income families "own' their communities and feel at home there.

Anyway, soon after that we started applying a water sealer to the basement. (Apparently concrete is pretty permeable to water) It was pretty much like painting, but the holes in the wall made it hard to cover everything. Rolling the walls until we ran out of sealer took pretty much the rest of the afternoon, afterwards we went on a tour of Minneapolis, similar to the one we took in our first week in Milwaukee. I thought I knew the city pretty well, but we went to places--entire neighborhoods--I didn't even know existed. It drove home the point John had made earlier about the problems in north Minneapolis and Urban Homeworks' goals.

For dinner we visited some of the "urban neighbors" John had mentioned, living above a low-income family in a renovated home, where we ate Mexican food with them, introduced ourselves, and heard about their experiences as neighbors in a community they would otherwise have avoided. One of the guys, Erik, had been an urban neighbor for several years after traveling the world and figuring out what to do with his life. He was one of the most interesting people I've met in a while and ate five and a half enchiladas. (I think he could be a competitive eating star, but he's in law school)

Tonight we watched The Breakfast Club (I can't believe I hadn't seen that before) back at the "Hotel Legault". I'm still processing all the stuff I learned today, but it was well-timed--I'm seriously thinking about where in Minneapolis I want to live after college.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring Break, Day One

Today was my first day on my church's spring break mission trip! Until next Thursday I'll be working with lots of Hope's partner ministries around Minneapolis. I'm really excited to do some inner-city ministry again after Milwaukee summer project, especially in my favorite city. I'll also get some great ideas for other ways to serve with Hope in the future since these ministries are all in the city--an opportunity I didn't have after leaving Milwaukee.

Anyway, I got picked up around 5 today and we made our way through rush hour traffic to Hope. From there we quickly got briefed on what we'd be doing--serving meals at a homeless shelter at First Covenant Church. There were maybe ten men and women there to help out, some for the whole week and others just for the weekend or day. We carried all the food out to the Hope van, piled in, and drove...about two minutes, a few blocks away, to the church. (It would almost have been faster to walk) It was kind of crazy how quick it was. This morning I was finishing up configuring my new laptop, Milton, now I'm at a Hope couple's house in north Minneapolis. In Milwaukee it was a 6-hour drive and a week of briefing before we got started--it was kind of jarring to jump in so quickly.

Anyway, we got to the church and carried the food down to the kitchen, a big industrial kitchen with tons of cool machines. We unpacked the delicious food, donated by Hopesters, and started assembling plates--at least fifty. We got the soup heating on the stove and then pretty much got to hang out until people started showing up.

Setting out the food for the people who came was honestly a really joyful experience. I remembered Christ's words, "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me." I wanted them to feel cared for and accepted. After the first round of people had gotten their food, we took some and ate with them. I sat with three guys--John, Bob, and one guy with a more unusual name I sadly forgot. It was hard to figure out how to talk to them at first--we were so different, I wasn't sure what to say that wouldn't sound insensitive. Luckily they were actually pretty interested in us, so we talked about the U, the city, sports, the food. The chili I had was really good--I need to find who made it. I turned in to watch the kitchen and held down the fort for about fifteen minutes as everyone else was eating--it was really nice having something important to do and knowing that everyone else was out there talking to them.

As people finished, we hung out in the kitchen and talked for a while, serving any latecomers, then eventually started cleaning up. This place had a ridiculous industrial garbage disposal that looked like it could shred tree branches. Cleaning went pretty fast with so many of us. As we were talking with about twenty minutes before closing, a woman showed up asking for a meal. I was a bit taken aback--everyone else was already finished and we were putting away the food--but we made sure she got her meal. Again, it was pretty cool--the more we helped and loved on the people who came in, the more joyful--not just happy--I felt. It was a powerful reminder of God's heart for the city.

After our final cleanup we headed back to Hope to put away the leftover food and pack lunches for our workday with Urban Homeworks tomorrow--super excited for that. Apparently we're doing destruction; I hope I get to use power tools. Anyway, a hope couple and the wife's younger brother (Rich) have taken me and the other full-timer guy (Nathan) in for the week, and Rich destroyed me and Nathan at Modern Warfare II. I should get to bed soon--early day tomorrow.

May you find joy living out God's love for all people.