Saturday, January 30, 2016

{Beit Lechem}


The Church of the Nativity Square captured by Lindsey Ponder.

I thought about writing on my experience in Bethlehem, but I decided I should just post an excerpt from my hermeneutics journal assignment, so that's below. Shabbat Shalom!

21 January 2016: 
Although my cognitive encyclopedia is growing in width and area, it’s also expanding with depth as I am starting to feel more deeply emotions connected to each area. In the past several days, these emotions have mostly been positive – they have been senses of awe and wonder and feelings of reverence for the Lord as Scripture has come to life. But today was not. Today was feelings of contradictory – emotions battling within me as I felt the dark presence of evil at work within a place of supposed holiness. Today our group went to Bethlehem, and as we approached the West Bank entrance, we got to see the hills where the shepherds were watching their flocks by night (Luke 2:8). This was the highlight of the day because it was a simple sight – a couple of hills covered in green in a region where shepherds watched their sheep as many of their fathers before them and after them have. However, the simplicity turned chaotic once we crossed that Area A border and each store lining the street screamed a commercialization of the birth of my dear Savior. People lined the streets yelling the few phrases they knew in English, just as they do all over the world, trying to get us to buy their souvenirs that claim authenticity but were actually made in China. This wasn’t evil; it was the expected tourism of such a place. But as soon as we got out of our bus and entered the Church of the Nativity Square, juxtaposing the mosque it felt dark. It felt unholy. It felt wrong. We went through the Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic sections and each one was adorned with icons. The icons may have once pointed to the beauty of Christ and His Word, but not today. Today they were idolized and kissed and sought after for mystical purposes. We want Christ, not images of Him. We went to the place where Jesus was born in a little cave where a star with fourteen points was adorned on the floor (fourteen points of the star because of the fourteen generations from Abraham to Jesus Christ) and the little place across the room where the manger stood two thousand years ago. Then we went to the inn that was a cave carved from bedrock – an amazing feat. And although I was highly disturbed by the idolatry taking place and the plagues of Islam in this place, I was also amazed. The incarnation was real, it was powerful, it reconciled us to the Father, and ultimately, the crucifixion and the resurrection, which saved me, resulted from the incarnation (which was in the works from eternity to eternity). And because of that, I shall not become despondent over the empty feeling of this place. I get to rejoice because the Lord now dwells within us – we are His holy temple and the intimacy of having Him dwell in our hearts beats any idea of a physical place. I’m also amazed because the Lord chose Bethlehem, the least of places, to dwell. In the same way, the Lord chose me, the least of people, to dwell. Oh, praise the Lord, my soul!

Church of the Nativity captured by Lindsey Ponder.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

{free}dom

My feet are currently pale white with the fading pain of thawing bringing life and colour back to them. I just walked outside barefoot and stood on a wet bench in the 35 degrees fog because I wanted to feel something. I wanted to be reminded of the fact that I was alive. I felt stuck. I felt trapped. I had so much to process and the introvert in me just wants to run out of this little town through the West Bank into the wilderness. I want to be alone with the Lord. I want to scream and shout and rejoice and weep before my Saviour without any inhibitions.

But I can't. The closest thing I can do is go on a walk on the little streets of Jerusalem with at least two other people, a Nokia phone, and a piece of paper saying where I'll be and when I'll be home. 

I am a restless soul, struggling to survive in this submarine of a hostel. I want to run and explore and go out until the sun sets with absolutely no plan. I want to hear stories from strangers and follow Jesus to places I've never been before. But sometimes that looks different than how I think it should. And sometimes freedom isn't what I dream it to be.

Sometimes following Jesus means giving up my desires and living in tight quarters with people who discuss controversial theology until two in the morning outside my door. Sometimes it means having hard conversations and asking for forgiveness a lot. Sometimes it means following rules that the pride within me deems unnecessary and waking up early to get an hour of silence before the Lord that is inevitably interrupted.

And although I may be a slow-learner, I am indeed learning here. I'm learning it's a lot more tempting for me to be selfish when I can blame it on the way I process or on the situation the Lord has put me in. I'm learning I am incredibly in need of His grace and mercies that are new every morning - even the mornings I yearn to run away into the abyss of the wilderness where the Israelites wandered. And I'm learning true freedom.

Because freedom isn't really a physical condition at all. It's a statement of liberty from the chains of the shame, bondage, and punishment of sin because of Christ. And I can choose to rest in that freedom today - here. 

Please be praying that my restless soul learns to rest in the Lord and in His goodness. My restlessness is a pretty petty concern here, but I desire to be a missionary in a high-risk country where my physical freedom will inevitably be lessened. And I need a huge heart change in this area towards humility and rest. 

Bless the Lord, oh my soul. Let all that is within me rejoice in His holy Name.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

He's {always} been faithful

I can't remember a trial or a pain He did not recycle to bring me gain. I can't remember one single regret in serving God only and trusting His hand. All I have needed His hand will provide. He's always been faithful to me. 
- Sara Groves

As I sit in this little cafe in Talpyot, Jerusalem, I am reflecting on His faithfulness. Maybe I should be doing one of the hermeneutics papers whose deadlines are approaching, or maybe I should be reading the piles of books left to read for this semester, but I think right now, I need to just sit. And be. And reflect. And recount His faithfulness before I start to assume that I'm simply made to work and study instead of marvel like the little child of His that I am. That's what I'm made for - to adore Him, to let every thought be taken captive for His glory because He is good and He is worthy and He deserves all of me.

I have lots of things I could share about being in Israel and seeing all the places of the Scriptures being brought to life but instead I'm just going to write about His faithfulness because that's a discipline He's been teaching me, and one that I need to work on.

Last January, I had no idea I would be in Israel the following year. I even thought about leaving Moody last year at this time. I thought about packing up and moving to Ethiopia right then because I thought I knew enough to do ministry, community scared me, I was still adjusting to reverse culture-shock, and I was processing through the areas of the Lord's heart and of mine that I didn't know or understand.

I started writing down everything. I wrote every story of my life, every sin I had ever committed, and every time I had ever been hurt or disappointed, and every point in my life where the Lord had showed up. And it was amazing. I never finished because the stories took up too much time but I prayed and in this long process of journeying through my life, I found that my story wasn't my own. The stories started off being about me, but by the end, the Lord transformed me. He showed me that it wasn't about me at all, it was all about Him - it was His grace, His hand dragging me along when I was too weak to keep up, and He was faithful. And in this past year, I've learned a lot, I've failed a lot, I've been shown a lot of Him.

Friends, He is good. And He's always been faithful.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

we have {arrived}



Literally, we have arrived.  We hopped off the plane about seven hours ago in Tel Aviv after a three hour flight from Moscow.  Before our final leg of the trip, we had a nine hour flight from DC and a quick, quick layover in Russia... where we waited to get off of our first plane for thirty minutes as our second plane began boarding.  However, Russia counted.  Russia counted because they made us get off the plane, walk on the snow-covered, 0 degrees Fahrenheit flight line and get on a bus to our next terminal (which, mind you, had been boarding for a long while before we got there).  And even though we were only there for about an hour, and the whole time we were rushing (or Russian),  and I cried because I thought I was going to pass out from the pressure on my ears, and we had to go through security a second time, we have arrived.

And this had nothing to do with me.  Or Pippa.  Or anyone "in charge".

Figuratively, we have arrived. My roommate coined that phrase and her friend even made her a little canvas that says with crafty penmanship "YOU HAVE ARRIVED".  It's not a "you can do anything", "you are amazing just the way you are", cheesy sort of phrase used as a pick-me-up for people who find relying on themselves extremely rewarding.  It's the opposite.  It's a humble reminder of who she is in Christ - that salvation and the idea of arriving to freedom from the strains of self-sufficiency are because of what Christ has done.

And so I proclaim that today as I sit back and think of all the Lord has done in the past twenty-four hours (and all I have not done, like trust Him even though I know He is faithful).  He is the One who physically cared for all the little details of making flight connections, and taking a bus to our little guest house in Jerusalem, and meeting new friends down the street who make good food and have questions about this Jesus who not only cares for us but also for them (even though right now, they don't believe Him).

And not only does He care for the little details of our lives, but He cares for our hearts too - for ours, and the Muslims and the Jews and the atheists and every single person that He has breathed life into.  And because of Him, I have salvation.  And I am praying that the Lord would open the hearts of our friends too, that they may find salvation in Him as well.  And so because of Him, we have arrived.  And this had nothing to do with me. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Israel FAQs

I have received many similar questions about my upcoming trip to the Holy Land, and so I decided it may be helpful if I made a little FAQ blog before I head out tomorrow.


1. Where will you be staying in Israel?

We will be staying in a guest house in southeast Jerusalem for most of the semester.  All the students and professors will be staying together in the guest house in rooms with 4-6 people.

2. Will you be staying in one place or traveling?
During the semester, Jerusalem will be our home base and we will be doing lots of day trips to different parts of the Old City and other places in Israel.  We will also be spending a couple of nights in Eilat, and we will be taking a two week tour all around the country.

3. Are you worried about the conflict/danger of living in Israel?
No. I am confident that the Lord is in control, regardless of whether or not I’m living in a little small town in Florida, the middle of Chicago, or the border of the West Bank.  I am also confident that this is where the Lord is leading me.  Also, Israel is the safest country in the Middle East and Jerusalem is one of the safest cities in the country.  Many who have asked this question assume that Israel’s present state is that of constant terrorist attacks on every side, and although there are some possible dangers, I think many are fearing exaggerated, biased news reports. But even if we were living on the Gaza Strip or in the middle of Syria, I’d rather die following the Lord than live following comfort. If you have asked this question, I want to say “thank you” for caring for my safety and that of those going on the trip with me – I really do appreciate it.

4.  Is the program through your school?
Yes, the program is through Moody and both the Spokane and Chicago campuses have students joining. Also, all the professors are through Moody and all of the courses we will be taking are in the regular Moody curriculum. 

5. What are the group dynamics?
There are about thirty students that are from both Moody's Chicago and Spokane campuses.  Then we will have a couple of Moody professors that live in Israel that will be leading the trip.  Additionally, we will have professors from Moody come to Israel for two weeks at a time to teach their courses.

6. What will you be studying?
There are two tracks that you can take for the program, a sophomore and junior track.  I will be taking the following courses: Hermeneutics, the Life of Christ, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Communicating Biblical Truths.  And I am SO excited!

7. How long will you be in Israel?
I will be in Israel for about three months.

8. How can I pray for you/your group?
There are so many things that I would appreciate prayer for, and I will hopefully update as more specific prayer requests come up; however, the following is a list of things that I can think of for right now:
-that we would be diligent in studying the Word but at the same time never treat or view it like a text book
-that our group would become a community and a team that grows in the Lord and in our love for one another
-that we would rest in the Lord's protection, especially as we travel
-that we would be humble and teachable, especially as we are immersed in a new culture
-that we would be faithful ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
-that the Lord would give us opportunities to speak truth to the two major unreached people groups that we'll be living amongst

9. What are you most excited about?

I am SO excited to walk where Jesus walked and gain new perspectives and context for reading and studying the Word.  I am also excited about the courses that I will be taking and the community of people that I’ll be doing life with for the next several months.  I love that I don’t yet know everyone on the trip, and I am really looking forward to building new relationships and investing in old friendships.  I am also super excited to gain a better understanding of Israeli and Arab cultures and the relationship between them.  I have never been to the Middle East and I definitely have a passion for Muslims, so I am excited to learn more about their culture and see the Lord working in the midst of it all.  I am also like a little kid, so I'm excited for things like swimming, caving, hiking, and trying new foods.  But perhaps the thing that I'm looking forward to most is being there, in the Holy Land, and remembering that the Lord reigns over this earthly-disputed territory - that even though there is physical conflict, the spiritual battle is already won, and I am eternally grateful that the Lord has chosen to reveal this truth to me.  I am blessed beyond compare, and I will rejoice in the joy of my salvation.  

Thank you so much for inquiring about my trip, praying over me and the group, and for joining me on this next adventure.  If you have any questions, feel free to comment or email me at gon2africa@yahoo.com.  I would love to answer any questions! 

In Christ's Rich Blessings, 
Mallory