Friday, July 15, 2011

Letting Go

These past few days I am becoming more aware of what is going on in my internals. Certain emotions are starting to surface as the time draws closer to my departure in a few weeks. When you are busy cleaning up, you just are in 'doing' mode, as things need to get done and given my tendency to be a 'task oriented' person, this is exactly what I am doing. Emotions tend to take a back seat. But this week, there is a shift going on in my spirit. I feel it, the mourning and grieving has started. The 'letting go' has begun and the Lord is summoning me to enter into this most challenging phase of the journey. I hate saying goodbyes and while I'll be back some time next year for a brief visit, the reality is, friendships change, relationships change, we all do because God is changing us through the experiences He gives us. It is the mourning of losses of shared experiences and being pilgrims in the same place that I am now asked to work through, to embrace as part of the cross of following Christ. 

Tears are coming at unexpected times and so I'm being reminded of a comment I read recently by Frederick Buechner. 'People often ask how do you listen to you life?' How do you get into the habit of doing it?  How do you keep ears cocked and your eyes peeled for the presence of God or the presence of anything else?' Pay attention to any of those moments in your life when unexpected tears come in your eyes. You never know when that may happen, what may trigger them. Very often I think if you pay attention to those moments, you realize that something deep beneath the surface of who you are, something deep beneath the surface of the world, is trying to speak to you about who are you. You never know what may cause them. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure: whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.' They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are. More often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and to summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.

So what do these tears signify? I am realizing it is the process of letting go of my life here. With each person I spend time with, with each meeting I have, it is a reminder to me, that a season is ending.  In a strange way, its as if I have a date with destiny and in the big scheme of things I do. I am stepping into the destiny that God has for me in Cambodia but to do that I am being called to step out of my life here. A life that has involved many circles of friends from different shared experiences. Last night I spent a wonderful evening meeting with many others from my church who are preparing to serve internationally and are on the same journey as I am. They are leaving in the next month or less. They too are wrestling with transition, with uncertainty but what keeps us all going is knowing that we are called by the One who is in control of all our situations. I was struck by the comments of one couple whose daughter had to write out the names of all the friends she was saying goodbye to and how sad she was feeling.  She was already began that journey of grief and she is just 8 years old. I found myself praying for this little girl and was surprised at the tears that followed. Perhaps it was a reminder of my own journey, that with each person or group I spend time with over these remaining weeks, I too am saying 'goodbye' and 'letting go' of the familiar to step into the unfamiliar. It is a dying to all that I know. It is the growing realization that our journeys are now taking different paths and it is coming to terms with the fact that we will most likely not be able to relate to each other to the same degree as we did while living here in the same place. A disconnect is happening and as a person who treasures her friendships, this is the most challenging part, to recognize that disconnect is starting and to entrust and release these friendships into God's hand. In many ways, it is a lonely journey that each of us is called to embark on. It is a necessary journey that we are called to embrace. No one can do it for us. We need to feel the pain, the loss and the grief.

Tim Keller in a sermon on 'Praying your Tears' noted the following:  becoming a person of faith may lead you to weep more. When the gospel changes your heart, your heart becomes more of a heart. (In Ezekiel, God says I will remove your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh) It is getting softer, more vulnerable, more touchable. You feel the evil and pain around you and you feel the pain of the people who are the victims of evil, you feel grief over the evil, you feel the things around you before, you just didn’t. As Christians grow in grace, they should expect to cry more. We should expect tears and when they do come, we should sow those tears, we should invest them. Psalm 126:5-6 says: 5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.  The poetic image here is that the farmer is going out sowing tears or perhaps watering their seed with tears. It is telling us do not avoid your tears, don’t just express your tears but you have to plant your tears, you have to sow your tears. Religious people tend to stuff their feelings and secular people tend to express them. But neither of those work, cause if you take your seed and sit on it you will never have a harvest, but if you take your big bag of seed into the middle of field and just dump it you will never have an harvest either. You can’t stuff your seed and you can’t dump your seed you have to plant it. We are being called to plant or sow our tears; to see your tears as an opportunity for fruitfulness and growth. Don’t waste your sorrows. That is not a masochistic idea where it says embrace your sorrows but it not a hedonistic spirit where it says avoid sorrows. It says when the sorrows come, invest them, plant them. We have to sow our tears and what is our reward…joy. The bible teachers that tears gives way to joy.  The kind of joy you really need is the product of tears. There is a kind of joy that comes from avoiding tears that does not really change you. There is a kind of joy that comes from the tears that really does change you. Such joy comes from when we plant tears.

And so as I reflect on all of this sadness, grief and tears, I am reminded a fresh to not avoid the tears but gracefully accept them, knowing that as I invest them, as I sow them, they will lead ultimately to a journey of fruitfulness and growth that will produce joy as the end product. Jesus was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. So too, He calls us to enter into this aspect of the cross as part of our pilgrimage.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Living The Dream - July Newsletter

Eleven years ago I began a journey to Cambodia. Little did I know that initial visit in the 2000, would be the beginning of a quest that would lead to God’s call on my life. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York said ‘an adventure is a “ there and back again”. It is an exciting thing that you choose --- you go and you have your adventures, you have all your thrills and it spices up your life and you come home again and pick your life up where you left off. But a quest is not something you choose, it comes to you, you sense a requirement, you are called to it because of what is involved. You never really come back from a quest. In a quest, you either die for the quest or if you do come back, you are so changed, that you never in a sense come back. You are never the way you were. You change so radically. Christianity is not an adventure, it is not a ‘there and back again’. Christianity is a quest. God says ‘get out, you are going to be radically changed, don’t ask Me whether or not what I am about to do will fit into your agenda. Christianity is a whole new agenda. Don’t say ‘how is this going to enrich my life, Christianity is a whole new life.’ Indeed these words seem so fitting as I reflect on the past trips to Cambodia, the Lord was leading me on a quest, shaping His call upon my life by revealing His agenda, His purposes and His destiny for me.

Last summer near the end of my 2 month stint in Cambodia, I was lamenting to the Lord that all those years of taking short term teams to Cambodia were like milk, but the 2 months He had given me were a glimpse of the solid food and I didn’t want to go back to the milk. I wanted to eat more solid food. I then heard him say ‘you will not be going back to the milk. I am going to give you more solid food’. At that point, something had shifted in my spirit as the Holy Spirit revealed that while Toronto was my home, my heart was in Cambodia. When I came back to Canada, I knew that I could no longer deny the call to Cambodia. The time had come. God was calling me to move forward, to step into the fullness of His call and destiny for my life.  This truth was affirmed when I read the scripture from Isaiah 42:9 in September 2010. It said: ‘behold the former things have passed. I am doing a new thing and before it springs up, I will declare them to you.’ The Lord began to show me what this new thing would be even before it had come to pass. In October 2010,  Brian McConaghy the founder of Ratanak International asked when I was thinking of moving to Cambodia and my response was ‘well I’m hoping and praying it will be in 2011 but I’m waiting on the Lord.’  He then asked, if I would pray and consider becoming the Country Director of Ratanak Cambodia. Without missing a beat, I said ‘yes  as I felt it was an answer to the prayer from Isaiah 42:9.  The dream was beginning to become a reality.  Shortly thereafter, my mum, a widow gave her blessing for me to go to Cambodia as did all my siblings. It was evident that the Lord was orchestrating events and consolidating all the pieces of His ‘call’ upon my life. This continued into the new year as in  April 2011, a dear friend Marie Ens, a Canadian missionary who has been ministering in Cambodia since 1961 was visiting Toronto and graciously said ‘when you move to Cambodia, wherever you are, I will come and let’s spend time together so that we can pray and encourage each other in our ministries.’ To sit at the feet of one who has so much wisdom and experience serving in Cambodia is such a precious gift from our Heavenly Father. God was not only shaping His agenda in me, He was going ahead of me and preparing the way.

The new thing continues to take shape and form not just in my life but in the corporate life of Ratanak International. While Ratanak has partnered with many organizations in Cambodia over the past 21 years, this year marks the beginning of a new era where we feel called to develop independent ministries directly in Cambodia. We will have the privilege of establishing a Ratanak Transitional Home that allows former victims of sex trafficking the opportunity to live independently. God has called us to be a part of His plan to rebuild and restore the years the locusts have eaten from these precious young lives, by providing them with the necessary tools to strengthen their personal resilience to pursue their new life.   For these young women, successful integration back into society is a very complex process that requires a "Next Step" of a more open handed mentoring phase after being in highly structured and institutionalized settings. We are grateful for the opportunity to walk along side them and invest in their potential so that they can fulfill their God given destiny as He empowers them with His dreams and hopes for a new future! Joining me in this journey in November 2011, is Beth and Stephen Lauer who have worked extensively in project management and strategic planning in various postings locally and globally. We are so thankful for the skills God has blessed them with and the gift they are to our organization as we seek to serve the least of these in Cambodia.

As I am leaving for Cambodia on August 2nd, I covet your prayers as I begin this new chapter of my life. I know it will not be easy as Cambodia while being, a beautiful nation, is not an easy place to live and work. The years of civil war and the Khmer Rouge era left a moral vacuum that continues to wreak havoc on its people and also fosters an environment that can weary and drain one’s spirit because of the endless needs. Yet it is into these dark and difficult places the Lord wants to shine His light, to pour out His love to the unloved, to bring hope to the hopeless and peace to the restless.  It is in these places that Jesus longs to release His compassion, justice, mercy and grace upon lives that have experienced much pain and suffering. It is in these places, that I look forward to witnessing the power of the gospel and the outrageous promises of Isaiah 61 being fulfilled as the broken hearted are comforted, the oppressed are liberated and the downtrodden are lifted up as Jesus transforms and heal their hearts and sets them free from all that so entangles them.

Twenty years ago the Lord planted in my heart a dream to be involved in investing in the lives of former child sex slaves. This year, I am humbled and in awe of seeing Him make that dream a reality as I follow Him into the promised land He has for me. For those of you who are living in the Toronto area, I will be sharing my testimony and will be commissioned at Rexdale Alliance Church on the weekend of July 30 (6:30pm church service) and July 31 (9am and 11am services). Hopefully I’ll be able to see some of you there, but if not, I am hoping to be back in Canada annually for a 3 month period each year.

Please pray for:

  • My closure on this side of the pond that all the outstanding logistical and administrative details will be completed in a timely fashion
  • My adjustment in Cambodia, that I will be able to pace myself and settle in well. For wisdom and discernment in setting up the Ratanak operations in Cambodia, that the Lord will help me to prioritize all that needs to be done.
  • My 6 months of language learning and ongoing diligence in studying and practising the language. Praise God for the Cambodian brothers and sisters in Christ who are eagerly waiting to teach me their language and culture and for the expat missionary community and friends in Cambodia that the Lord has provided me with over the past 10 years.
  • Unity of spirit and oneness of heart, mind and purpose for Beth & Stephen Lauer and myself as we work together to establish a greater work of Ratanak Cambodia
  • Protection and good health for both myself and my family who remain in Canada, that God will surround us with His holy angels and watch over our comings and goings.

As time permits, I hope to be providing weekly or daily updates of our work in Cambodia through our mission blog: so feel free to sign up at our blog site. Thank you for your commitment and your partnership in prayer and support of our ministries as we seek to bring life to the Killing fields of Cambodia.  For those who feel led to partner in these new Ratanak endeavours, you can designate funds to Cambodia Operations or Child Exploitation.  We look forward to sharing with you many stories of how the Lord is building His kingdom in Cambodia!