Friday, March 21, 2014

Number One Thing?

Life in Spain would probably seem pretty normal to all of you in the United States.  We don’t have very many hardships when it comes to everyday living.  Our city is very safe, and we have a comfortable apartment.  Grocery stores here are similar to those at home, and roadway laws are also comparable.   We help with English classes, provide some language exchange opportunities for our friends, and go to church twice a week.   Seems pretty nice, right? 

Well, it is.  I am not going to deny that fact at all.  I have absolutely loved being here, taking in the culture and making new friendships.  I love this country and especially the community that we have been given the privilege of joining.  I feel so blessed to have the honor of living here with my girls.  In all seriousness, this whole REACH experience has been the best time of my life so far, but that does not mean it has been easy and peachy to walk.  We have had our struggles and hard times, but thankfully, I am surrounded by three amazing girls who push me to love Jesus more and fight for joy. 

During this time, though, we have come to realize that underneath the surface of this wonderful culture there is a heaviness….a darkness….that we didn’t notice at first.  In Catholicism, Jesus is known and loved, but Mary gets the same amount of honor as Jesus does in saving us.  She is considered a “co-redeemer” with Christ.  This takes away the significance of Jesus as our Savior and our true dependence on Him.  And not only this, but works has a lot importance in their religion as well.  They don’t have an assurance in their faith.  For us, Jesus is our Hope.  His coming, life and resurrection are essential in our lives, and through these things, He has given us eternal life with Him if we just accept it.  Without Him, we have nothing.  So many people in this city are so close to the Truth, but they lack this true Hope.  And since it is so close and they are under the umbrella of “Christianity”, they don’t see a need to change anything.  It is so hard to go deep in conversations with people here because generally they don’t really care.  Catholicism may change some things they do, but it rarely has anything to do with the heart.   It can be very discouraging and frustrating at times because we haven’t really seen any fruitful results from being here even though we are with people all the time. 

Amidst these discouragements and differences, though, I have been learning a very important lesson.  Actually, Antonio, one of the leaders of a Catholic community group that we attend called Fe Y Vida (Faith and Life) shared this in his message on Friday night and it really got my attention.  He asked, "What is the number one thing in your life?"  Most of us would probably say God, although I don’t know how honest I would be in claiming that at times.  Then Antonio said, "But, really, God doesn’t want to be the number one thing in your life.  Nope.  That means that the number two thing is right behind Him.  What He really wants is for Him to be your ONLY thing."  Powerful stuff. Sharing His Love and Truth should be what I do each second of my existence in how I act, talk, and even think.   Family, friends, jobs, hobbies……all of these things are a part of life, but Jesus should be oozing out of me as I partake in all of them.  If any of the previously mentioned things were stripped away from me, it would be very difficult, but Christ is enough for me.  He is what matters in my life, and I want that to be evident in everything I do.  So while life here in Spain may not be the most hard core living I ever do, it certainly has taught me a lot about sharing Jesus in everyday life.  Sure, most of the time it feels like nothing is really changing, but it’s ok.  It’s not up to me.  I can’t force anything to happen.  I am powerless to change anyone’s heart.  All I need to do is be faithful in the small stuff and make Jesus my only thing.  It may mean drinking tea and speaking English with people, helping a nun wash spools of thread for 2 two hours, sitting on the sidewalk and eating a meatball sub with a homeless friend, or just laughing together as a team over the amount of salsas one can use to flavor stir-fry.  The action is irrelevant; the Love behind it is what makes all the difference. 

I ask you to please stand with us in prayer over the country of Spain.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would be working in the lives of the locals here and filling them with a desire and love for the true Savior.  Pray for the long-time workers here, that they would be faithful in sowing seeds of Love and not be discouraged by the darkness.  And pray for Light and Joy to overtake this place, and that He might be glorified here.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It all started with some unwanted cookies.....

I want to tell you all about my friend Nigel. 

You see, it all started in December on the day we handed out Christmas cookies to homeless people in the area.  He was the second person we met, and it was neat because he speaks perfect English.  He is from England, is 52 years old and has been living on the street for quite some time now.  The funny thing is that he didn’t even want the cookies we tried to give him.  He may be homeless, but he cares a great deal for his teeth.  He even gave them a couple sturdy chomps to show us what great condition his pearly whites are in.  I gotta hand it to the guy…..he has nice teeth. 

So we talked to him a bit that day and quickly found out that he is a very strong atheist.  He is doing quite fine without any God that we have to talk about he said.  But even though he was very abrupt in telling us that he doesn’t believe, nor does he have any desire to believe, he was quite the jolly guy to talk to.  Granted, it probably didn’t hurt that he was drinking from a big old bottle of beer, but still.  Nice guy who was just enjoying life sitting on the sidewalk listening to his little radio with his friend Juan. 

As we have been living here, we’ve seen Nigel all lot.  He hangs out on the main stretch of street that we walk every time we go down into the center of town, and we always wave to him and call him out by name and ask how he is.  His initial response is always the same.  He smiles at us, puts his fist up by his mouth like a microphone, and then he sings, “I feel good!”  Makes me smile just picturing it. 

Conversations with Nigel are always entertaining and fun.  He makes me laugh all the time because he tells you how it is.  So, I did make it a point to always wave at him and talk about the weather or whatever for a minute or two each day.  But eventually, those minute chats led to longer conversations.  At first, this was very interesting.  He is a very free spirited guy…..and he is always drinking and smoking.  So, you talk to him and you get your ears full of opinionated and flavorful language.  I didn’t have a ton of sympathy for him since he’s just throwing his life down the tubes with booze and weed, and I ESPECIALLY didn’t feel any empathy when I found out that he is actually on the street by choice.  Yeah.  He ENJOYS life on the street.  My initial thoughts were, “Ok, Nigel.  Whatever.  Sure I’ll wave to you as we pass by, and I’ll stop by to talk some days even, but you are a very messed up man, and you are doing it to yourself.  Why would I ever help you out when you are choosing to beg money off of people?”

But, God is so cool.  He takes ignorant, judgmental people like me and starts working on our hearts when we don’t even know it.  I’ve had a handful of talks with Nigel that have lasted for quite a while.  I never plan to meet up with him and talk… just happens.  And in these talks, God has completely changed my heart for the guy.  He is slowly giving me His heart for Mr. Nigel from England. 

Yes, my friend Nigel drinks.  He smokes.  He chooses to live on the street.  He bums off of people. He uses “bad” words when describing things.  He calls Jimi Hendrix his god.  And he wears clothes that should have been washed months ago.  Nigel also thinks that love doesn’t exist.

Nigel didn’t grow up in a home like me.  From what it sounds like through different comments he has made, it sounds like Nigel’s parents didn’t really give a rip about him.  He said to me once, “You know, parents are all excited to hear their kids say their first word.  And then the kid starts talking and then all the parents do is yell at em to shut up.”  He tells me that there is a song that says “war is stupid, people are stupid, and love doesn’t exist” or something.  And he believes that.  He is a very peaceful guy.  I don’t think that Nigel would ever hurt anybody.  He just sits and thinks.  He says he thinks over his life and ponders things in this world.  Love isn’t here tho……not for Nigel.  He really believes that love doesn’t exist. 

As he was saying this, I corrected him.  I let him know that love definitely does exist in this world.  And as I looked him in his bright blue eyes, he said, “No it doesn’t.  What is love?  You know what…..I love beer.  I LOVE beer.  But beer don’t love me.  Is that love then?” 

I don’t know.  Right then and there my heart just started to crack for him.  This guy has never known real Love.  Everything he has ever pursued has let him down.  Nigel will tell you himself he has had the women, the house, the job, the life.  And he will also tell you that it’s all rubbish.  This is his retirement he says.  All those years of his life wasted for what?  Nothing.  In the end, all the stuff that he worked for left him with nothing but disappointment and loneliness. 

Nigel is lost and broken like countless others in this world.  He’s the guy that it seems we should have a right to look down on.  He doesn’t try to better himself or the world around him.  He is living for nothing more than his next booze, which doesn’t even do the trick anymore for him.  He drinks from 6 in the morning all the way into the night, and he can no longer get drunk.  Is that not crazy?!  He deserves to be smelly and lonely and gross, right?  Why would I waste my time in talking with him when he is so against God anyway.  He’s not gonna hear me.  So why bother?

Lemme ask you this.  If he were back on this earth, who would Jesus spend His time with…….Kirsten or Nigel? 

Yeah.  Read the question again, but this time, insert your name in place of mine. 

Jesus loves me.  He loves me endlessly.  But Jesus also loves Nigel.  And He loves him endlessly.  And if Jesus were on this earth right now, he would be on the streets with the drunks, prostitutes, beggars, outcasts, and societal screw-ups.  Don’t believe me?  Open up the Bible and read the Gospels.  It’s all in there.  Sure, I think Jesus would invite me to come with Him.  But He would hit the streets and love on the unlovables, of this I am certain.  And He calls me to do the same. 

There was a span of about 3 weeks that we didn’t see Nigel, and my heart was just restless inside of me.  I asked Jesus over and over why He is putting Nigel on my heart so hard if he was just going to disappear from our lives so soon.  But He is so faithful and Nigel is back until at least April.  Then he is going north to see more of Spain he says.  That is so soon!  How am I supposed to say everything I want to say to Nigel with so little time left??  But God is showing me that His plan is perfect and He knows best. 

It’s not my job to save Nigel.  I can’t do that.  I can’t make him understand.  I can’t make him desire more.  When it comes to Nigel, I am powerless to invoke change.  But God has been so cool in leading us to Nigel, and we want to be faithful in lifting him up in prayer.  So pray we do…….a lot. 

I find myself walking the street and eagerly looking to see if Nigel is around.  It’s kinda funny……he calls me the “boss” because I can be very direct with him.  There are times that I just get so frustrated as we chat because it seems so hopeless.  But I honestly LOVE talking to the guy, and I know that this is solely because I have a God Who is in the business of blowing minds.  And whether or not I get to see Nigel come to know my Best Friend, all of these discussions with him are worth it.  Sharing Love is ALWAYS worth it.  And if nothing else, I have learned a little more what it means to really, truly love someone.

So now that I have shared (rather scatteredly) about my friend, I ask that you stand with me and my team in prayer for Nigel.  We know that he is in our lives for a purpose, and we want to see him come to know our Savior and the Love that is waiting for him.  Pray that we would not try to do anything on our own strength.  Pray for patience.  Pray for wisdom and discernment.  And pray that we would take the Love that has been given to us and share it with him in a way that touches his calloused heart. 

Thanks for reading this.  Remember that your life may be the only one that ever shows another Love and go share Him with the people in your life as well!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Morocco and its Adventures

3 months.  3 months! That is crazy.  February FLEW (literally :]) and now the March madness is already here (both in basketball and normal life form).  So right off the bat, I am going to ask you all for prayers.  Time is going by very fast, and it is very easy to get distracted and out of focus on the things that really matter.  We want to soak up the remainder of our time here and live one day at a time, but this is a lot easier said than done.  Please pray that we continue to go to the Jman each morning before we begin our day and ask Him what He would have us do together.  We want to be intentional, but we can’t do it on our own strength. 

This past week was one that I will never have the opportunity to live again, and therefore is a very special memory for me.   To start off, on Sunday we were invited over to the house of some worker friends of ours.  We will call them C and N, and they and their family are very cool people.  So around 130 we arrived at their house to eat lunch that consisted of CHEESEBURGERS.  Yes, folks, I did say CHEESEBURGERS.  They were delightful.  Then we had a time of worship together and our friend Sarah shared some about her life and what Jesus has been speaking to her.  It was a great time of fellowship, and I really enjoyed getting to know them a lot better.  Also, my heart fell more in love with the chill sound of the ukulele.  If you are reading this and can play the uke, do you want to be my friend?  :]

Monday came and it started off pretty normal.  We cleaned the house, did some laundry, and had class in the morning.  Our normal routine had some flair added to it when we packed for our short trip to Morocco though.  There was a conference thingy there, and we were attending to help with childcare.  That night, we got home from our intercambio with Fe Y Vida around 1130 and then finished up a few things before heading off to the bus station at 115 am.  Luckily our land lady’s husband is a taxi driver and so we arranged for him to pick us up which was very convenient.  And then, by 2 o’clock, we were off to Madrid on our 5 hour bus ride.  I was fortunate enough to be able to doze off for a bit.  Everything after that went very smoothly, and by 1230 we were being greeted by D, one of our brothers living in North Africa. 

It was such a blessing to be able to meet up with them a day early and hang out.  The world is full of guys, but there is a shortage on men like them.  They showed us to the hotel that they found for us all to stay at and then we headed out to grab some lunch.  My first tagine experience was a good one.  I have decided that I would enjoy eating with my hands all the time.  Stupid forks.  Also, food in N Africa is CHEAP.  It was quite comical listening to the guys talk about the expensiveness of the food in that particular city compared to what they normally get at home, but for us, we were getting quite the deal on food. 

That evening we went to the square which completely transforms itself at that time.  Food vendors set up, and there is a sort of “cook off” that goes on.  Promoters from each restaurant yell at you in multiple languages to get you to eat at THEIR stand because it is the best.  This was a pretty entertaining process.  We ended up having delicious $0.65 fruit smoothies (TWICE), fresh squeezed cold orange juice, snails, and pastilla (a tasty Moroccan dish).  Also, in the square there is a lot of street performing that goes on.  We saw some really cool tumblers that did a bunch of flipping tricks and also some not so cool snake charmers that didn’t really do anything.  But it was all great fun.  Thanks to the bartering skills of Luca (another brother) I got a Ronaldo jersey for 7 euros!  YIPPEE.

The next morning we headed off to Essa, which was 3 hours away by bus.  It was a great time to just talk about life and how it has been for us living in our separate countries.  I love story times. Once we arrived, we headed to the beach. The day was perfect, and it had just begun. Camel rides on this beautiful beach came next. So cool! I named my camel Phil, and we had a great time together. One important thing to note tho.....DO NOT PUT YOUR PHONE IN YOUR BACK POCKET WHILE RIDING A CAMEL.  If you do this, it will fall out into the sand and your guide will have to go back a long way to try and find it while the entire camel train waits for his return. He wouldn't even let me get off to try and help locate it. Embarrassing experience, but all was found in the end.

After this,  we met up with C and T, workers in the area that were also going to be going to the conference thingy.  We dropped our baggage off at their house and went to find some lunch. And boy, did we find it. For $5 a person, we had an all you can eat amount of fresh seafood that was eaten beside the beach.  It was RIDICULOUS.

Soon after we made our way to the campsite that we would be staying at....about 40 minutes away. Well, some of us did. The other half of our group waited in town to find the missing Mr. P and Mrs. J that were supposed to arrive. Luckily they were located after awhile.  In the meantime,  I was lucky enough to be enjoying the absolutely GORGEOUS view of the Atlantic ocean.  It was incredible. And the campsite was great! Each group had a separate cabin and they were on the beach.   Talk about being blessed. From the terrace of each cabin you could enjoy the crash of the waves and see the sand sweeping across in the wind. Lovely. 

We had it very nice the rest of the week.  Worship in the mornings led by Luca and Nicky.  Meals were provided and we got to eat with our hands the whole time. We had HOT showers. Story time and singing with Mr. P and Mrs. J at night was always fun. And we basically got to play with kids the whole time.  And not just any kids.....really cool and cute kids :) The greatness of this was only heightened because  we had the beach as our front yard. We built sand castles, boats, mountains and dug some impressively deep holes. The water was freezing but it didn't stop us from splashing around in it and getting soaked. And we just laughed a lot. It was awesome. One of the ladies also provided snacks and crafts, so in the afternoon we entertained them in the guys' house with these things and the "Planet Earth" series. They mostly loved it, except for when baby animals died at the hands of the "bad animals". 

So in a nutshell that was our week. We ended with a campfire on the beach where we made popcorn and smores. It was there that I realized that I may never get to see these kiddos again, and it just made me really sad. But, I am so thankful for the moments I did get to share with them.

Saturday morning came very early. We woke at 415 am and cleaned up the house and set off at 5.  Thankfully we had gentlemen nice enough to escort us, even tho they wouldn't have had to leave that early. Can’t thank them enough for all the sacrifices they made on our behalf.  So we headed into town to catch the bus at 6.  Unfortunately there were only 6 spots on the bus and 8 of us, so Luca and Abe took 2 of the spots on the bus while the rest of us packed into a grand taxi.  It was a little over a 2 hour drive, a lot of which I spent sleeping on and off.  We did enjoy some funny English tunes along the way tho :]  We got to the airport about 4 hours before our flight left, so we had plenty of time to chill.  When it was time to board, I was pretty nervous about my bag not making it through again and having to pay to check it.  Luckily, the lady came around and told me I could check it for free due to there not being enough space up top for all the bags!  That was awesome.

 So we arrived in Madrid at 330 here time.  Great.  Everything was going to smoothly.  That is until we went to pick up our checked for free bags.  We ended up waiting for them for an hour, which then put us behind in making it to the bus station on time.  We got there at like 630, and I headed straight to the ticket counter.  The bus to Granada had left precisely at 630, leaving us and all our luggage behind by minutes.  Sad day.  I asked when the next bus to Granada would be leaving, and she informed me that 130 am was next.  That gave us a whopping 7 hours to kill.  We went out into the city for a little to find something to eat and explore, but quickly we realized that everything was pretty far from the bus station and no one besides me was really feeling up to par, and since it was raining we headed back after grabbing some lunch/dinner.  The rest of the time was spent trying to find internet to no avail and sleeping on the floor.  I feel like in the states its pretty normal to see people napping in airports and stations.  Apparently here it is just not something you do though because we got a LOT of stares.  The floor was freezing so we didn’t actually get very much sleep doing this.  It was at this point that a bad attitude really tried to creep in.  Nicky says that you should just never think while you are travelling because it can be quite destructive, and I concur.  Up until this point, I was really calm which surprised me.  When things started getting frustrating with the baggage, being hungry, my pants ripping and hair band popping, and wet shoes/socks due to the rain, we just started joking and mentioning all the happys we had enjoyed in the past couple of days.  Something that we have all started to do is write down our “happys” from each day.  The book 1000 gifts by Ann Voskamp is what gave us the idea, and it has been such a blessing in my life.  I am so proud of these girls.  They were real troopers and kept me positive the whole time.  I also know that there were people praying for peace for us because none of us were stressed at all.  It was quite refreshing.  So when it was about midnight and the floor was cold and we couldn’t sleep and were fighting bad attitudes, we played a fun game called “If you could have anything right now, what would it be”.  I informed Nicky that I would probably sell her foot right then for a down comforter.  We had a lot of laughs. 

Finally 130 came and we were on our way home.  Needless to say, when we arrived in Granada we were all pretty dead.  We grabbed a taxi and by 705, we were in our house, heading to bed until about 230 pm.  The shutters here pretty much cut out all light which was a huge blessing, especially for a time like this.  That night we went to ch-rch as normal.  We even enjoyed some smores over a candle from the supplies that were gifted to us for babysitting.  It is very good to be home. 

So that is the past week.  Thank you all for reading my extremely long posts filled with rambling and an excess of details.  I enjoy blogging to remind me of everything that we did, so thanks for bearing with me :]  We would appreciate continued prayers for our time here, that we would be intentional and finish out strong, as I mentioned before.  Also, if you could all pr-y specifically for our homeless friend Nigel, that would be awesome.  We are exploring creative ways of speaking of Jesus.  We don’t wanna talk about religion.  We wanna talk about the Jman and all He has done for us.  Thanks for all your support!  Remember to keep your eyes up this week!