Dear Father. — By: Crista Van de Pol

Dear Father.

Where do I start? Lord, I have so many thoughts trailing through my mind. So many fears, doubts, worries…and then more fear, doubts and worries. Did I mention that I need you?

Lord, I’m reading “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller right now and I’m only on page fourteen.  You’ve already taught me a lot through this.

One of the quotes in the book has really hit me: “If you don’t love somebody, it gets annoying when they tell you what to do or what to feel. When you love them you get pleasure from their pleasure, and it makes it easy to serve. I didn’t love God because I didn’t know God” (14).

I’m starting to wonder if I truly love anyone

I’m not sure I know what it feels like to truly love someone.

Tonight my mother was giving me advice about driving. “Slooow down. You might want to get into the left lane, now. The turn’s coming up!!” Anyone who knows my mother can attest that she is a very sweet, and genuine, person.  She has a heart of gold.  But like me, she also struggles with worry.  Anyways, I get this anger built up inside of me like a poison seeping through me when she is critiquing my driving.

We made it safely to Target and we spent the night picking out Christmas gifts.  Anyone who really knows my mother knows she is a very generous person; she hardly buys anything for herself.  After she got done buying things for me and other people we returned home.  There was a Culvers bag that needed to get thrown away along with some other trash left in the van.

I handed her the trash and then grabbed the bags from the trunk.  I looked over and saw that she was wondering what to do with the trash bag, and was about to set it on the garage floor.  Now, if anyone knows my mom she is in a wheelchair.  I snatched the bag from her hand and said, “I’ll throw it away.”  While I was throwing it away I was thinking annoyed thoughts, and even thought that I should have had her throw it away.

Tears are coming to my eyes as I write this out…

I tell my mom I love her frequently but I’m wondering how often I actually live that out.

Lord, have mercy and teach me Your ways; teach me to love.

I don’t know how God puts up with me every day, and I know He doesn’t want me to be overcome with guilt either.

In times like these, when I realize how sinful I am, is when I’m so thankful for the Cross and what Jesus did for me. I know that I’ll mess up time and time again, but I can always set my sins at the foot of the cross and be wiped clean…again.

Until next time, I’ll be trying to pursue a deeper relationship with my Savior and hold onto His promise that He will carry out into completion the work He has started in me.  Sincerely, me.

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Beyond the text: Pursuing Change Where it is needed

How can one have so much hatred to cause them to raid a village with the purpose to tear apart families, to kill, and to steal?  Why are boys forced to fight in wars, woman raped, and pleasure found in making other’s lives unbearable?  Why do some children complain about the food that is placed on the table when other children have to settle for mud and grass?  These are difficult questions to answer, but one must wonder why some have to live in more severe conditions than others.  The Lost Boys of Sudan and boy soldiers could ask questions daily about why they experienced a life of heartache some could not even comprehend.  Their stories are worth telling, not for entertainment but for the purpose of change.  Empathy, with an action of change, towards them and their country is the change that needs to occur.  One can learn how to support this change by learning more about the Lost Boys of Sudan and boy soldier’s pasts and by supporting organizations that are already pursuing this change.

There are countless tragic stories that the Lost Boys and boy soldiers could share, from their pasts, with the public.  Specifically Valentino Achak Deng does in the novel What is What by David Eggers about his experience as a Lost Boy.  The Lost Boys of Sudan are the boys that traveled many miles, on foot, to reach safety and escape genocide (HELP).   He explains his detailed life story, as much as he can remember, of how he was separated from his family and had to learn how to survive on his own.  He had to watch boys next to him be eaten up by lions and had to walk hundreds of miles without food and water.  He wrote, “I became accustomed to the walking, to the aches in my legs and in the joints of my knees, to the pains in my abdomen and kidneys, to picking thorns out of my feet…” (Eggers 135).  These Lost Boys walked to find safety and every day were brought new challenges that were life threatening.

Valentino and hundreds of other Lost Boys were on their way to Ethiopia to find safety away from the rebels who would shoot anyone in their path.  The Khartoum, which is the capital city in Sudan, sent rebels to clear out the Dinka population (Eggers 134).  The reason the rebels chose the Dinka is because they were a threat and were known for being a support of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).  The SPLA was an army that fought against the rebels (Eggers 79).  The government paid all of the rebels by giving them permission to take anything from the Dinka people; food, clothing, and people (Eggers 133).  Their goal was to wipe out as much as they could of the Dinka’s independence and make them fully reliable of the Khartoum (Eggers 134).

Valentino, as a part of the Dinka population, witnessed suffering first-hand.  He explains his hunger while being on his travels: “My own hunger would ebb and flow and when it came to me I felt it everywhere.  I felt it in my stomach and chest and arms and thighs” (Eggers149).  The Lost Boys would trade their own clothes, leaving them practically naked, in order to eat, and most walked barefoot (Eggers 157).

When one is suffering of hunger they cannot even think straight, let alone walk all day in the hot sun with the fear of death creeping on them at all angles.  Even though Valentino was starving, he still kept honor of his culture, he wrote “We walked and as we walked I expected to be offered food and water.  I needed both, had had neither since the morning, but had been taught never to beg” (Eggers 98).  How could one not beg, or even ask, for food even though they could die shortly without it?

Hunger may have seemed minor compared to what Valentino witnessed of the rebels attacking villages.  He wrote, “…women screaming, the babies tossed into wells.  Watch your brothers explode” (Eggers73).  Also, he wrote of the suffering he witnessed while traveling with the Lost Boys: “Boys died of malaria, they starved, they died of infections” (Eggers 156).  Their bodies were weak; with no nutrition or enough sleep.  He explained the water conditions that led to their lack of nutrition, “The well had been contaminated.  Dead goats and one half-charred man had been thrown into it” (Eggers 83).  Not only would food and water be scarce, but there was little sleep as well.  He explains, “I stuffed my ears with small stones to block out the sound” (Eggers 107).  The Lost Boys would try to sleep on the hard ground, but would hear continual noises that kept them in fear.

Sadly, Valentino’s tragic story is only one of the many.  Ishmael Beah is another man who wrote of his experiences, but as a boy soldier.  Boy soldier is a broad term that can also be known as “child soldiers”, that represents boys and girls.  Child soldiers are children that are forced to carry a gun, kill, or be used in other ways such as sexual favors (Child).

Ishmael Beah was split from his family and spent many days trying to escape the rebels.  He eventually was taken and forced to fight.  His memoir A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier explains the suffering he witnessed, his journey of being brainwashed to kill, and the emotional scars that have been left from his experiences.  He wrote this about what he saw in the rebels before he was forced to become one: “A group of more than ten rebels walked into the village.  They were laughing and giving each other high fives.  Two looked slightly older than me.  They had blood on their clothes, and one of them carried the head of a man, which he held by the hair” (Beah 96).  These men killed for fun, and did not show a sign of regret or grief.

The stories of these boys, now men, are so that people can learn about what is going on still today in our world.  Boys are forced to kill and see their own people being tortured.  Some of them have no hope of a better life than to rely on finding a “family” in an army of soldiers who kill for pleasure.  Ishmael Beah and Valentino Achak Deng survived this and feel it is their responsibility to tell so changes can be made.

The many children that have been forced into situations similar to Ishmael and Valentino cannot be forgotten, and these men can attest that actions need to be made.  Now that one has heard these stories, how can they take action to help prevent more children being forced into situations like Ishmael and Valentino?  Thankfully, there are organizations that help support the Lost Boys and boy soldiers, and can be accessed and supported online.  Some of the organizations are: Invisible Children, HELPSudan, John Dau Foundation, and Valentino’s very own Valentino Achak Foundation.

Invisible Children is focused on building up the Ugandan community with many different approaches (Invisible).  Invisible Children explains, “Our programs are carefully researched and developed initiatives that address the need for quality education, mentorships, the redevelopment of schools, resettlement from the camps, and financial stability” (Invisible).  HELPSudan focuses on education for the children of Sudan (HELP).  The John Dau Foundation is focused on providing healthcare in South Sudan and also on supporting medical clinics for areas affected by war (John).  Also, Valentino Achak Foundation uses its support money to send scholarships to the Sudanese, and also to help build a center in Sudan that gives learning opportunities (Larson).

Those organizations, and many others, were started by people who realized that a change needed to occur.  By supporting these organizations one can make a change.  Although giving financially is not the only way to help.  The Valentino Achak Foundation explains that there are some other ways to help:  an option is to write a personalized letter to a representative or senator in one’s state about the misconduct in Sudan’s government in Khartoum (Larson).  Also, one can write a letter to Congress arguing against Khartoum’s help towards the United States in the War on Terror (Larson).  Regarding the War on Terror, Khartoum gives the United States information concerning suspected terrorist, and this seems to keep the United States government quiet in fighting against the genocide in Sudan, because of the information Khartoum provides (Larson).  Whether Khartoum gives the United States information, or not, it is not worth the genocide that still occurs today.

Even though some of the Lost Boys and the boy soldiers have escaped the horror of war, and are still alive today, they still need help.  Supporting organizations and writing letters to representatives are important but there is still more to keep in mind.  If the boy soldiers and Lost Boys make it to the United States they still face many challenges.  The United States is considered a place of prosperity and safety by many people from other countries, but that is not always the reality.  Valentino explained in his novel that he was called “Africa”, in Atlanta, and was faced with severe prejudice remarks and physical abuse in the United States (Eggers 22).  He said, “You would not add to my suffering if you knew what I have seen” (Eggers 29).  The United States needs to be empathetic and loving towards them instead of adding to their distress, and that is another way that one can help.

The Lost Boys and the boy soldiers who survive are left with not only physical scars to show their past, but also emotional scars.  This is a harsh reality that severe events are happening, still today, and even small steps that are taken to prevent them are going to make an impact.  Men like Valentino and Ishmael each have a story that is tough to read, but there are many other similar stories that could be told by other men who have faced, or are facing, the same challenges.  There is no answer to why some have to experience persecution in their lives, while others do not, but those who do not have a greater responsibility to do something to stop the injustices.  When one can better understand the type of suffering that is happening in the world, and specifically of the Lost Boys and boy soldiers, they can better understand how to help stop the suffering and hopefully will take immediate action.

Work Cited

Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Farrar,

Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

“Child Soldiers International.” Web. 23 Oct. 2011. <http://www.child-

soldiers.org/childsoldiers/questions-and-answers>

Eggers, Dave. What Is the What: the Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng : a  

             Novel. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2006. Print.

“HELPSudan | History.” HELPSudan | Home. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.

<http://www.helpsudaninternational.org/about/history.html&gt;.

“Invisible Children.”  23 Oct. 2011. <http://www.invisiblechildren.com/our-story&gt;.

John Dau Foundation. Web. 22 Oct. 2011. <http://johndaufoundation.org/&gt;.

Larson, Greg.  What is the What: Readers Guide. Web. 23 Oct.

            <http://www.valentinoachakdeng.org/images/WhatistheWhatreadersguide.pdf>

Personal Time vs Community

A big question I have been challenged with lately is, “What does it mean to have a good balance of personal time with Christ, but to also keep a solid community with other believers?” I’ve been through different phases in my walk with Christ–sometimes I would try so hard to get to every “Christian event” and wasn’t even paying attention to God while I was there, on the other hand I could get so caught up in getting in my “quiet time” for the day, that I wasn’t even looking around to see who needed help. Having a personal relationship with Christ is more important than keeping up with the latest Christian book club, but at the same time having that community is what helps Christians keep going and be encouraged.  The Bible brings up churches a lot, and things they were doing wrong and right, but having that community is valid as well. Here are some quotes that helped me gain a better perspective on what it means to live a life with Christ:

-“Many of us have a mental conception of what a Christian should be, and the lives of the saints become a hindrance to our concentration on God.” -Oswald Chambers

-Through difficulties and trials –and thinking about what we will do today, or tomorrow. While all the while God is says, “Look up and be saved.” –all worries should vanish when we look to God.

-“Our Lord said, in effect, to Paul–Your whole life is to be overmastered by Me; you are to have no end, no aim, and no purpose but Mine.” -Oswald Chambers

-“There is nothing there apart from the personal relationship. Paul was devoted to a Person not a cause. He was absolutely Jesus Christ’s, he saw nothing else, he lived for nothing else.” -Oswald Chambers

-“The great difficulty spiritually is to concentrate on God, and it is His blessings that make it difficult.” -Oswald Chambers

-Never ask the advice of another, about anything, before you ask God.

“When a man says he must develop a holy life alone with God, he is of no more use to his fellow men: he puts himslef on a pedestal, away from the common run of men.” -Oswald Chambers

-Christians are called to be broken bread and the door mat to other men; servants. If we serve to be liked by people we will be crushed, but if we serve out of love for Christ then nothing can hinder us from serving.

-“Tell God you are ready to be offered; then let the consequences be what they may, there is no strand of complaint now, no matter what God chooses. God puts you through the crisis in private, no one person can help another.”  -Oswald Chambers

-“…if we place our faith in human goodness, in the effect of Redemption, we shall go under when the test comes.” -Oswald Chambers

-“Paul had not a hypersensitive interest in his own character. As long as our eyes are are upon our own personal whiteness we shall never get near the reality of Redemption.” -Oswald Chambers

It’s not wrong to reject an invitation to a Christian conference if you’re feeling drained and need some alone time with God. At the same time don’t use that as an excuse to be lazy with your walk with God and not be challenged by other believers.  I should remind myself of this daily….

Surrendering All.

 

What does it mean to be in full surrender of my Lord? I have been challenged with this question this past year, and haven’t come to a full conclusion (and won’t until I see Him face-to-face), but each day I am getting a step closer through the little hints He passes by me.

God has showed me through scripture….Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” 9 times out of 10 when I help someone out I do it for selfish ambitition. I was proposed the question, “If you were paid $1000 everytime you witnessed to someone, would you do it more?” Personally, yes, I would witness to people more if that was the case. I am, in that mindset, serving money more than God.

hint#2 Jesus has shown me that I have a hard time loving people by myself. In fact I suck at it. When Jesus left this world He gave us a “simple” command. To love one another.  Love is a word that is so easily misinterpreted…through finding love I would look for what pleased me, gave me the most satisfaction, and made me the most comfortable. Totally looking out for myself. Love is not like that at all. Love is sacrifice.  Instead of looking out for myself, I’ve learned to think of another’s perspective.

hint#3. judging others. Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” I have caught myself lately thinking degrading thoughts about other people, and thought, “what if they thought this about me?” Again, I was thinking of myself- but it really made me make more of an effort to stop those thoughts. I want to care for people, not only in my actions, but in my thoughts as well.

hint#4. have dates with Jesus. As believers, Christ is your husband/soulmate/your forever. Just like spending time with a  boyfriend/girlfriend it’s important to set aside time to spend with the Lord. If that means a walk, listening to Christ-centered music, or going to a coffee shop while getting into the Word than so be it! It’s so rewarding, and any time spent for the Lord will never be in vain. He notices…He loves it…He loves you.

To send you off with a take-away: Serve Christ more than man and money, love others, don’t judge, and go on a date! I hope these hints are helpful for you as I need to be reminded of them daily.

Getting to know Jesus.

Love. At all times.

                -Jesus

Jesus.

Puts His trust in the Lord (Hebrews 2:13)

Our Father (Hebrew 4:13)

Can sympathize in our weakness (Heb 2:18)

Radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3)

Exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3)….and we were made
in His image!

Sustains all things by His powerful Word (Hebrew 1:3)

Provides purification of our sins (Hebrews 1:3)

Sitting at the right hand of God (Hebrews 1:3)

Loves righteousness and hates wickedness (Hebrews 1:9)

Anointed with the oil of joy (Hebrews 1:9)

Made like us for the suffering of death, the suffering we
deserved (Hebrews 2:9)

Bring many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10)

Calls us, who are saved, brothers (Hebrews 2:10)

Will destroy the devil (Heb 2:14)

Frees us from the fear of death (Hebrews 1:15)

The Apostle and High Priest (Hebrews 3:1)

1:10-12 The world will be rolled up like a robe and be
changed, but Jesus remains the same.

Why wouldn’t we want to know Him more??

What does your relationship with Jesus look like?