"We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 1:3

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Monday, May 31, 2010

The village this weekend was amazing.  I will write more specifics later - but I was able to experience real "village" life.  We ate our chicken and rice (and noodles and an egg - don't know how I feel about those additions) out of newspaper:

And talked each night by the light of a real lantern:

It was awesome.  I will tell more tomorrow - but here are some of my thoughts while visiting:

I think I have discovered the biggest difference between Ghanaians and Americans:

Ghanaians are used to life being hard.  Ghanaians are used to things not working out.  Ghanaians are used to doing manual labor for hours a day, for only a few pesewas (cents) pay – just enough to buy their dinner and then wake up the next day and do it all again.  So – when something good happens – it is beyond appreciated.  Someone’s disease is cured, and the village is in celebration, everyone is praising God and grateful to have each other.  Their “hard” life makes the “good” seem so very much “gooder.”

Americans are used to life being easy and on schedule.  We make our lists and files and plans.  We plan and save for events in the distant future – sometimes so distant that we forget to spend or do or what we were “working” for in the first place.  Someone’s disease is cured – we check it off the list and think “I can’t believe this doctor’s visit took so long” – and become angry about the inefficiency of our day, and possible tardiness to a task later on the list.  Our "easy" and "convenient" life allows us to expect “good,” and become angry when even the smallest details seem difficult.

There is obvious “good” in both cultures – but oh so much that we can learn from one another.

Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry said, “ Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) And then He follows it up with a warning against false prophets – “we will recognize them by their fruit.”   There are plenty of churches here and in the states that preach about our freedom in Christ, or about the “blessings” we should receive from our relationship with Christ – but the truth is it’s hard.  

If your life seems “good” or “easy” today – soak it up – enjoy it – take pictures – journal about it – because if we are truly following Christ a lot of our journey is going to be difficult, and we are going to need those moments and memories to get us through the tough times.   Choose to soak up God’s promises while you have time, or motivation – He promises never to “never leave us or forsake us” (Heb 13:5), and He promises to “give (us) the desires of (our) hearts” (Psalm 37:4)…but in the same verses, he first commands us, “be content with what you have” and to “delight yourself in the Lord.”

I am not saying that we should make life any "harder" than it has to be - but to enjoy and praise God in the "good" and the "bad."  The "good" is good and the "bad" makes the "good" even better. 

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good." Romans 8:28

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cheering and Ursala

So - I have continued my "last art lesson" in all the rest of my classes.  Now, when I walk in to the school kids are yelling "War Eagle" at me - except for the kids from Atlanta, who insist on saying  "Go Jackets!"

And - isn't this kid AND the paper mache camel he made AMAZING?!?!

I also want to introduce you to Ursala.  She is pretty amazing as well.  She has a great story - and I am working on writing it - maybe sometime next week that will be ready?  She has been learning to work with beads - and so I am going to bring back with me some of the things she has made to sell.  Isn't her son Emmanuel was the cutest thing :)

Today, I am headed 5 or so hours (we'll see how long it takes!) outside of Accra to a village for another paper making workshop! Say some prayers for our travel and I can't wait to post pictures write how it goes.  Blessings!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Suffering for whom?

I don’t know if this is an “ok” thing to do or not – but while reading Ecclesiastes, I am overwhelmed with the similarities between King Solomon’s teaching and Siddhartha Gautama, the Budda’s teaching.   

Head of the Buddha
Pakistan, ancient province of Gandhara
2nd Century
Schist with traces of gold leaf
On display at the Freer and Sackler Gallery

I took a Buddhist art history class while I was in Graduate School at UAB.  Through all aspects we discussed, it was interesting to see all the parallels between Budhism and Christianity.  And they are crazy similar when comparing just the words and life of Solomon to the words and life of Siddhartha.  So, here goes my comparison, with my limited knowledge and understanding of both.

The most obvious comparison between the two is the life style or class both Siddhartha and Solomom were born into.  Both were from wealthy families, both royalty; Solomon was David’s heir in Israel, Siddhartha was the Shakyas tribal leader’s son – in India, near Nepal.  Both had STUFF, and both of them write about the meaninglessness of their STUFF.  

There is no evidence, that I know of that Siddhartha was raised under any code of morality or religion.  Solomon, we know was raised by King David, a man after God’s own heart.

The theme of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes (from the Introduction in my Bible) is “The tragic reality of the fall” or “the necessity of fearing God in a fallen, and therefore frequently confusing and frustrating, world…fearing God and keeping His commandments even when we cannot see what God is doing.”  Solomon writes over and over again about the our transience in this life, and the suffering during our existence. 

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the Earth remains forever.” 1:4

“…and behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” 2:11

Both agree that since we are part of a fallen world, we will experience suffering and create suffering for others.  Both agree that we are “sinners,” and all in need of some kind of salvation.  For Siddhartha, this was reaching an “enlightened” state through meditation – detaching oneself from the transient things of the Earth that create suffering.  For Solomon, this meant surrendering to the commandments that God has given us even though we will never understand, and will still have to endure suffering as part of this fallen world.

From my past studies of Buddhism, the teaching of Siddhartha does not contradict with Christianity. In a sense, we become “enlightened” to God’s holy spirit through “meditation” we call prayer.  However, as the tradition of Buddhism spread and evolved, outside of India it became something that is certainly at odds with the Bible.  In my opinion, Siddhartha, the Buddha, was a good dude.  I just wish he could have met Jesus.

Buddhism evolved into having its own heaven, “The Buddha” becoming a god, and reincarnation a part of everyone’s experience on Earth.  (Side note: the image of the Buddha also evolved from a malnourished Indian, to the more familiar overweight East Asian man) To Buddhist today, the point of life is to accept and overcome the Buddhist “truths (suffering is in the world because we are attached to the impermanent things on Earth…),” at which point one can end the cycle of reincarnation.  One must become “enlightened” in their lifetime, so that they will not need to be reincarnated again.  One website says that this “path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.”

The point of to life Christians is to accept God's truth in the Bible, accept Jesus Christ as our savior, allow His Holy Spirit to lead and direct us through life, to "run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus," (Hebrews 12) knowing that He is perfecting our faith, and not to grow weary even when we don't understand.

The only point of writing all of this is that I think the similarities are interesting.  Comparing religions is an interesting way to discover world truths - that transcend culture, time and place.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Life Lessons on the last day of art.

First, I tell the kids the most important thing they need to know is that I love them. And I ask them - how can I love them, even when they make mistakes? Most of them already know the answer: JESUS!

And then, I say the second most important thing that they need to know is:


WAR EAGLE! from Lauren Johnston on Vimeo.

What would it take...

...for you to be "content?"

I have moved every year, maybe more often than that (?!) for the past ten years or so - from dorm to dorm, to Atlanta, Birmingham, Auburn, Africa, and now into the unknown. WHAT will it take for me to be "content?"

My Aunt Dixie said she has heard that contentment meant living independent of circumstances.  Do circumstances define your level of contentment?

The Bible says to "be content with what you have" (Hebrews 13:5) and that there is "great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world." (1 Timothy 6:6-8)  

But -- am I really "content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities???????"  Do I really believe that "when I am weak, then I am strong?????" (2 Corinthians 12:10)  Wouldn't it all be more fun if everything was easy and "good?"

But no, He is not finished with me yet ... I am learning to find joy and contentment in my struggles.  I have needed Jesus like I have never needed Jesus before.  In the middle of all sorts of circumstances this year, I have found myself rejoicing that Christ is guiding me and teaching me and pulling me into His word.  Circumstances are always changing, people are always changing, so CHOOSE to "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18)  

So, no matter whether your circumstances seem "good" or "bad" today - remember that God, and God alone is the author and perfector of our faith, we don't know what we need for our sancitification - God and God alone knows.  Rejoice, and Bless His name independent of your circumstance.

"...I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content."
Philippians 4:11

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Just another birthday party...

...for 50 orphaned or abandoned kids in Africa!
I visited my friend Dana at the Haven of Hope, just outside of Accra this weekend.  

They were throwing one BIG birthday party for all the children living there.

Just like American birthday parties, they had balloons,

and games,

and face paint,

and a pinata.

I was able to provide some craft time!

They made some really cool prints :)

Unlike an American birthday party, the food was the typical Ghanaian dish: chicken, fried rice, "salad" (what we call coleslaw) and shito.  I don't know if I have mentioned shito before now or not - but, it is pronounced just as it looks, and it comes on almost every dish here! It is some extra spice they like to put on the already very spicy food :)  So, I have to say it almost everyday!  Yea, not my favorite Twi word!

Anyways, it was a great day - thank Dana!

The next two days were filled with delicious dinners and brunches! Some of the Lebanese families that attend AIS made us a delicious dinner Sunday night, and then we had a school brunch at a really nice restaurant.  MMMmmmm.

I feel "warmed up" for some good American food in a few weeks!!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chasing after the Wind...

...if I somehow caught it, where would I keep it?

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" 
says the Teacher. 

 "Utterly meaningless! 

Everything is meaningless."
Ecclesiastes 1:2

So, I'm stuck.  I am stuck in Ecclesiastes in my Bible reading.  Oh, the wisdom of King Solomon. I don't know if I had ever put together the whole story of Ecclesiastes before now...

Jerusalem was at war, all the men away fighting, yet their King, David chose to stay behind. (2 Samuel 11) In his moment of weakness he called Bathsheba to his house.  Both of them loved God - David is even called "a man after God's heart."  Yet, both of them fell to temptation, and not just this once.  After Bathsheba conceived a child, David planned her husband's death, so that they could be together.  So David was clearly a sinner. (isn't it encouraging to know that God loves us even though we continue to sin?)

Bathsheeba's children were raised differently than David's children by his other wives - hers were raised in the temple, the priest Nathan being their mentor.  When it came time for David to appoint the next king, amidst much disapproval by his other sons, his God fearing son Solomon was his choice.  So, David established Soloman, Bathsheba's son as his successor.

I don't know what details Solomon knew about his past - but it is evident in his writing that he did love and fear God.  It is also clear that he had every luxury one could have.  

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." - Matthew 6:28-29

Solomon had everything...

"I denied myself nothing my eyes desired
I refused my heart no pleasure
My heart took delight in all my work, 
and this was the reward for all my labor."

But, in all his things, and project, and titles, and wealth, he found that...

"...when I surveyed all that my hands had done 
and what I had toiled to achieve, 

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; 
nothing was gained under the sun."

He writes that his work was in vain, his things were in vain, even his wisdom and knowledge were in vain, that all things on the Earth were and are "chasing after the wind."

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men;" 

God has placed inside our hearts a knowledge and desire for Him - He has placed eternity in our hearts. But... 

"yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

So, what's the point?

"I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him." 3:11-14

"So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?" 3:22

"Sow your seed in the morning,
       and at evening let not your hands be idle, 

for you do not know which will succeed, 
whether this or that, 
or whether both will do equally well."

For me, this all means to ACCEPT the lot God has given me, to WORK hard, to choose JOY in all things, to PRAISE God for all things in His creation.  I have realized that things being "fair" or "good" is irrelevant - it's a waste of time to debate.  We should praise God for what He has given us - remembering that the perfection of our faith, our sanctification, and NOT our happiness is the goal.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Paper!!!! (and a potty story...)

So, I think I’ll start near the end of the story today – and then fill in the details later. Just a warning – if you don’t want to hear a “potty story” – just skip to the pictures!

I was an hour outside of Accra, in a village called Amrahia.  I fished my project at 5:20 PM and was ready to head home, when I realized that I might need to find a restroom…

I tried to discreetly ask my Ghanaian friend, Lydia, if there was a proper restroom in the area.  She, not so discreetly, asked the Ghanaian friends we were visiting.

To understand what happens next, you must first understand that obibini’s (Ghanian people) treat oburoni’s (white people) differently than they treat each other.  Sometimes this is a “good” thing – when Ghanaians insist on doing work or carry things for us – that can be nice.  Often it is a “bad” thing – when we get the “oburoni price” for something at the market or a taxi.  This situation somehow fell into both categories.  The Ghanaians knew that I was not used to the way they “free themselves” or “pass water” – as they say.  So, it was a “good” thing that they wanted to find me a decent restroom.  It was a “bad” situation because they over-reacted to the oburoni needing a restroom, and shortly everyone in the area was working together to help me find a place to “free myself.”

So, after a group discussion about my private situation, I was taken to a neighbor’s house and pointed to a dilapidated wooden structure attached to the outside of the house – and, no, there is no way that I even loosely use the term “restroom” for this place.  I walked in, worried about offending them if it wasn’t “good” enough for me, and terrified of what I was about to see and smell.   Much to my surprise, there was not much to see or smell.  It was just a sloped concrete floor, with a small gutter behind it.  Nope – no hole – no anything – just a place to “free yourself” on the floor, trusting that it will make its way correctly to the gutter. 

I couldn’t do it.  I just couldn’t.

There was, of course, more group discussion of how and where I could go.   I ended up just holding it for the next three hours that it took to get us back to Accra.  Yes, three hours.  The Ghanaian people are so “polite” that they wanted to drive us back to town – but several problems arose.  First, there was no car, then the taxi driver didn’t come, so the pastor came to get us in his car, but his car was out of fuel, so we waited with his family for an hour while he went to buy fuel, then we had to get a running start in the car, drive to the gas station to buy a few more Cedis worth of fuel, drive a few more minutes – only to run into the driver from school and PRAISE THE LORD – hop in the car with him and safely return to Accra only a few minutes past 8! Ah – Ghana!

Now – back to the beginning – we were in Amrahia for my first paper-making workshop!!! It went well – several people came out to learn and sign contracts – where I loan them the materials and they pay me back in the paper that they make.   The workshop was awesome  - I think the people are excited about the work!

Look at me beating the paper - with a fufu pounder!!! 

But, only until Lydia took it away me.

Then, everyone wanted to try!

While we were signing contracts, the kids tried - isn't she cute?!

They made fun of me - saying that I couldn't carry my big bowl around - I showed them :)

It was a great afternoon - then, we tried to go home...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yay, for the Rainy Season!

It totally down-poured yesterday!  Here is our chapel pavilion and PE field:

The rain was coming from up under doors, and leaking through the ceilings! It was literally raining inside a few classrooms!  I think the building was made for the 10 months of "dry season."

Today, Eighth grade presented their projects - here is one group presenting their talk show - we had Michael Jackson moonwalk onto the set :)

In Kindergarten, we started talking about pattern.  We did radial patterns which we will transfer with Sharpie marker to coffee filters and then watercolor to see the colors blend :)

After School, my friend that I gave my first loan to, repaid me -- already!!! And - look at the beautiful batik and tie and dye fabric she made!

Tomorrow, I am traveling to do my first paper-making workshop.  So - please say a little prayer for the people that I meet, and the time we have together.