Archive for November, 2012

November 27, 2012

Don’t Leave Without Saying Goodbye

Have you ever been in a situation where a houseguest has left early in the morning before you woke up?

Or you’ve parted ways with a friend in a mad dash to the airport without final words?

Or you haven’t been able to find that favorite teacher or buddy in the midst of the large crowds at a graduation ceremony to say “thanks?”

I think we all have.

And, I hate situations like this.

I like saying goodbye. Closure is a great comfort.  Words like, “Thank you” or “I love you” Or, “I look forward to our paths crossing again” are a part of what good endings are all about.

In the church, as many pastoral leaders can tell you, we suffer from a lot of cliff hanger types of relationships with our parishioners. Lots of folks leave without telling us that they are leaving and most certainly not saying goodbye.

Someone has a spiritual or family crisis and goes from present every Sunday serving in multiple ministries to the status of “Where in the world did they go? Anybody heard from them?” in a flash second.

And in response, when contacts of concerns are made by the pastor or other caring church family folks such as: “We miss you. . . .  We hope you are alright.  . . . We hope you’re still alive . . . ” and there’s no response.  It is a great grief is suffered when it feels like the cold shoulder is given. Leaving without saying goodbye can feel like a slap in a face to what the relationship has meant in the months and years prior.

I understand that relationships and the dramas of life are messy, though. I understand that the best possible scenario of closure just is not always possible. But, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do a better job of holding ourselves accountable to end as well as we began.

So, as you all know, I will be leaving my post as pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church on December 24th.   It’s a little less than a month away. And, in these next several weeks, I want to make good use of the time. I want to continue to engage in the life of the church as much as a possibly can so to make this time of transition a healthy and smooth one for everyone. And, I don’t want to leave without saying goodbye.

My pastorate at WPBC has been about more than just the members or regular worship attenders. Many of you online have been a part of our church and many of you have popped in and out of our ministry as your life situations have allowed. I want to include you too. Let me not leave without getting to see you too. Consider coming back to one of our Advent worship services that begin THIS Sunday at 11 am and continue throughout the month.

I have shared with the congregation this week that I am available to meet with folks for lunch or dinner or coffee over the next several weeks. Don’t hesitate to contact me to find a time to get together.

I want to say goodbye, celebrate the good work we’ve done together and anticipate the great future that is ahead for both of us!

I haven’t left yet.

November 26, 2012

Calling All Summer Service Seekers

It’s that time of year for college students– what am I going to do next summer? Will I have an internship? Will I do service work? Will I travel?

I say, do it all!

Consider this: I remember those days of discernment full well. It’s hard to know exactly what to do, especially when going home and doing nothing is also an option. But, I loved my summers in late high school and college when I could dream about doing something different than the norm (besides that one summer I spent in required summer classes, boo!). From age 16 on, some really great opportunities came my way to really get out there and see the world!

Summers working in missions in Charleston, SC, Lexington, KY, travels to Burma and Thailand, a church internship in Birmingham, AL in addition to a summer on staff with Son Servants and Passport have made me who I am today. Looking back now, I’m so glad I took some leaps during that season of my life and had the resources through scholarships for school to be able to afford it.

While each of these experiences had highs and lows of of their own, I want to highlight two as a way to encourage any of you college/ seminary aged readers to consider applying NOW for one of these life changing opportunities. Or if you are a youth or children’s minister, consider taking your kids to one of these camps!

First of all, let me tell you about Son Servants. My time with this organization was amazing. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I spent 10 weeks traveling both internationally and around the country in places like Jamaica, the Texas-Mexico border, Appalachia, South Dakota and inner city Philadelphia, PA.

It was a world wind adventure unlike any other.

I learned simplicity (yes you can live out of your suitcase with only a few possessions and be happy).

I learned community life (sleeping on floors, cooking meals, cleaning showers, etc together can really form bonds like none other). I learned about hard work (mixing concrete by hand is no easy thing, especially in the heat of Jamaica).

I learned flexibility (traveling as much as you do on staff with SS you have to learn to chillax remembering the world doesn’t revolve around you).

I was introduced to such great theological texts such as Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster that I would later study in seminary. My world view expanded with each state/ country we visited, as I saw the truth about poverty, hopelessness and inequality that my 20-year-old eyes had never imagined was real.

My life now in supporting the work of Feed The Children feels a lot like a lifestyle of Son Servant summer with the travel, site visits, flexibility of spirit required and focus on service first. I told Kevin recently how thankful I am for the great staff of Youth Conference Ministries and how my Son Servants summer prepared me for what was to come (though I had no idea about at the time). You don’t even have to be a Presbyterian to apply or work here, seriously, check it out, I’m a fan. You’ll be nurtured and mentored by some of the coolest folks I know.

Furthermore, consider Passport. Passport is a youth camp organization that blazed new trails in the Baptist world many years ago and continues to do so now as an ecumenical organization empowering students to encounter Christ, embrace community and extend grace to the world. I served the summer after my first year of seminary, on staff as the first ever PassportKids! pastor. For close to 10 weeks, I was on another traveling team of college and also seminary students heading to places like TN, GA, VA, MO and AL to give kids who finished 3-6th grade a mission focused camping experience. I was also the recreation director as well as my pastoral hat (though such a job description doesn’t exist anymore, thank goodness!). I also learned the value of hard work from my time at Passport, as you might imagine. The days are long. The alarms come early. And the tasks of the day require much enthusiasm.

I loved my time on staff with Passport because it truly was an empowering experience. This summer I led the summer staff in a book study of Life Together, just as I had been taught four years prior. I was asked to PREACH 4-7 times a week in nightly worship (depending on the travel schedule) which was a huge responsiblity to learn from as young seminarian at age 24. However, the confidence and encouragement that the Passport staff placed in me, helped me to know that I could do it. I was called “Pastor Elizabeth” by young campers.  Each time I heard my name in this way my confidence grew that maybe just maybe God was calling me to pastor in a church. By the end of the summer there was no turning back. I was in.

I would highly recommend this experience to all those of you struggling with a call to ministry, those of you excited about exploring your talents in a safe environment, and looking for a family of service-minded peeps for the summer. The leadership staff, like that of the Son Servant family is amazing and will continue to abide in your life as cheerleaders for years to come. Consider applying now by clicking here.

Let not this summer ahead to be wasted– prepare to do something amazing!

November 26, 2012

Remember Jesus!

Christ the King Sunday 2012: Matthew 16: 13-20

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, one of my favorite things to do is watch those home design shows that seem to come on endlessly on cable. I remember once being mesmerized by an episode of the show: “Flip That House.”

If you haven’t seen it, the basic concept is this: an individual or group with an interest in house design buys a place going into foreclosure or that is priced well below its market potential. Then, as fast as possible, they assemble the necessary work crew to fix up the house with the goal of selling it to make a huge profit. The concept sounds easy enough, but things never go exactly as planned . . .

On this particular episode, two first time flippers buy a two bedroom house in a Dallas, TX neighborhood with big dreams of re-doing the kitchen, installing hardwood floors in the living room and even building an additional wing for a master bedroom suite in only 8 weeks.

With dollar signs in their eyes, the two men charge forward with their flipping project without taking much time to consider a lot of basic elements about their house. To make matters worse, against the advice of the experts guiding them, they remodel the kitchen and do the repairs to the living room in record speed. They make promises to lenders that their house will be complete soon as their cockiness grew by the day. Yet, they hadn’t begun anything yet!

When construction began, the water pipes below burst and the whole backyard looked like a pond. Their land sat on a virtual wasteland! The foundation of their house was built on low land in a flood zone.

When the city contractors came to assess the situation after their flip was set back 8 weeks due to the faulty piles, they made the statement: “If you’d only thought about where the house stood in relation to the water lines, this would have never happened. Next time you buy a house you need to know more about the foundation!” If these guys had only listened to the advice of the experts, they would have saved themselves valuable time and money (and of course the embarrassment of showing all their bad decisions on national t.v.!).

Foundations are important. If we start on the wrong kind of foundation or build on the wrong kind of foundation, our house is bound to crumble no matter how good our intentions are.

Here we stand together—on one of our last Sundays as pastor and people. And I couldn’t think of any better way to do that than to end where we started. I don’t know if you remember (and several of you weren’t around then) that my very first sermon series here at WPBC was on what it mean to be a Christian and what it meant to be a Christian church. I knew back then in January of 2009 that if we didn’t begin our relationship with Jesus then our partnership would ultimately fail.

And the same is how I feel about our ending. If we don’t stick with Jesus, the work that we’ve done together will also be in vain. Because when it all boils down and all of life melts away there is only this one confession on which our faith finds it foundation: Jesus is Lord. And today, the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 will guide us to ask ourselves the foundational question– what is our church built upon? Is it built on the Pastor? Is it build on the people who attend weekly? Or is it built on something altogether different?

When the earliest disciples began to follow Jesus, they did so having very little idea about what following Jesus would entail. The word “Christian” wasn’t even conceived yet. When Jesus invited them to come along, they weren’t asked to recite a creed, or detail a confession about their new leader—they were just asked to follow. For, they would learn what they needed as they went.

And, as their journeys of following Christ continued to unfold, points of revelation came for all of them. As they got to know Jesus better with every miracle he performed, with every meal he blessed, with every sermon he gave, they came to crucial moments of decision. Who really was this Jesus that they followed? And what did this mean for their lives?

Several months prior to our text, a big moment of truth came to all the disciples. Much to their surprise, Jesus met them from the other side of the lake by walking on water. It was a moment of great divine revelation. It was there that all of them confessed about him: “Surely you are the Son of God!” This began in Matthew’s gospel the huge moment of illumination where Jesus’ humanity and divinity came together.

So, when we get to the sixteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we might wonder what the big deal about asking the disciples was: “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” Hadn’t the disciples already passed this test? Hadn’t they already confessed Jesus to be God’s Son? What needed to be said again?

Well, unique to Matthew’s gospel, these statements of confession are all about something all together different from a declaration of Jesus’ identity. The teaching moment for Jesus got at the larger plan of what following him would look like in the future.

After several of the disciples replied to: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” by comparing Jesus to a line of prophets, Simon Peter jumps out on his own to answer for the group the main question: “Who do you say I am?” He replies: “You are the Messiah, Son of the living God.”

And after this exchange the rest of the dialogue begins to feel like a private conversation between Jesus and Simeon Peter.

The kind of talks you have with you parents when your siblings are not around, when they ask you to be the executor of their will. The kind of conversations you have with your favorite teacher who wanted to let you know that you had a gift in a particular subject matter and that you should definitely pursue it in college. The kind of conversations you have with your boss right before you get assigned to a new development at work. A sacred moment that you tend not to forget . . .

You see, Jesus knew something particular about Simeon Peter that no one had ever really cared about before.

Simeon was a leader. At his best, for good and for bad, he was willing to speak his thoughts aloud, courageously. And this moment, willingly, he spoke the truth about Jesus when others weren’t willing to go it alone. Simeon had the truth in his heart about Jesus that would carry the test of time—even when persecution came later on.

And because of this, Jesus spoke to him directly saying: “You are blessed, Simeon, son of Jonah.” Simeon, everything has changed for you now. I recognize that you get as much of me as you are able to understand at this point. I recognize that you love me and want to help me bring the goodness of God to those who are dying to hear a good word sometime soon.  

And while since the time of Matthew’s gospel being written there have been centuries and centuries of debate about what this passages means exactly—with many Catholics seeing this text as reasons for the succession of popes beginning with the disciple Peter and with many Protestants on the other hand saying, “No, no”, this is about a confession of Jesus as the Messiah as the central message of the church, we need not be divided. Because what this passage boils down to is the foundation that was being laid for a community that would sustain the test of time.

The foundation would begin with Jesus and seeing him as Lord of all.

The point of Peter’s confession being this: without understanding Jesus, the formation of the church would have no foundation. Peter would be one of the first leaders to help the early church get this truth. Jesus, Messiah, Son of the Living God, would be the crucial, irreplaceable beginning to this movement called God’s new covenant with man. So much so, that when some of the early church coverts were first called the name: “Christian” in the city of Antioch, which literally meant: “follower of Christ.”

Thus, to be a Christian is completely dependent on the identity of Christ—we cannot talk about what it means to call ourselves a Christian or a Christian Church if we do not begin with Jesus. Jesus is the Solid Rock on which everything we do as a community must stand. Our foundation must be as a community must be as Jesus intended for us when he began encouraging its first leader, Simeon Peter.

We all bring to this community our hang ups with what it means to be a Christian. I bring mine from the conservative evangelical home I grew up in and the overkill of Jesus-ness I received as a child. You might bring your hang-up about Jesus from another religious tradition or from no tradition at all.

And because of these things, there are times when all of us are afraid to be too Christian or even too “Jesus-y.” We don’t want to appear to be too radical on Jesus and thus non-accepting of our neighbor like the negative examples of Christianity we see on the news. We don’t want to scare people off through our words. Doesn’t everybody know about Jesus? What might be the point of continuing to talk about him, we wonder?

This whole confessing Jesus thing is something that I have really grown through and in and around during my tenure as your pastor. Being your pastor as taught me to love Jesus in new and deeper ways than I’ve ever grown. And likewise, you’ve grown. You’ve matured. You’ve confessed Jesus, especially some of you who said when I first came, “I’m not sure I believe in the resurrection. I’m not sure I believe in the divinity of Christ.” Today you are stronger believers. And I am so proud.

But we can’t stop now. Jesus was and is the foundation of our lives if we say we Christians and Jesus has and will be the foundation of our church if we call ourselves a Christian congregation.

If we do not heed such a truth, we will find ourselves like the Texas house flippers—weeks, months and even years off course of what God has for us in our community. Or, we might find ourselves investing in projects and causes that while they may be good, may not to be the best that God has for our community. We might find ourselves wasting precious years, months, or days of our lives.

We must keep singing hymns and songs of faith in this place. We must pray in acknowledgement of the importance of Christ here. We must remember that identity of Christ is what makes us different from a spirituality group or a social gathering going on in Reston on a Sunday morning. We must keep asking Jesus in all our prayers what is his will for our moving forward.

If we call ourselves Christians, we share in the identity of Christ, bottom line. And it is in sharing in this identity that we have something lasting to share with the world—hope of new promises of new beginnings, of forgiveness as we keep trusting in him.

This is what I most hope for the future of WPBC. This is what my prayer is that you will continue to find your foundation in Jesus. That you will remember Jesus. That you won’t forget Jesus. That when you feel lost, afraid, or unsure of what is next that you’ll go back to Jesus.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know. Feels my every longing. Keeps me singing as I go. Why don’t you sing with me?


November 20, 2012

Being Thankful

The countdown is on . . . I have to say that thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday of them all. Some of my most favorite childhood memories were made during thanksgiving extravaganzas planned with my cousin, Ellis, four years my elder (which of course made him extra cool). Those of you who’ve spent Thanksgiving with me know that I’m serious about my traditions.  Even the year that my friend, Kristina and I spent the day in Italy and even the year that Kevin and I went to Argentina for a wedding, we still did (or tried to do) these things.

In our house, nonnegotiable for the holiday include:

1. Singing “We Eat Turkey” (a song I learned in 2nd grade music class).  “We eat turkey. We eat turkey. Oh, so good. Oh, so good. Only on Thanksgiving. Only on Thanksgiving. Yum. Yum. Yum.” Repeat- and add in your favorite food. (to the tune of Frere Jacques). It can go on forever which is one of my favorite parts of it.

2. Saying around the thanksgiving table what you are thankful for– more than just “friends or family” I love when people really say what they feel gratitude about. Has life blessed you with something you didn’t expect? Has an unexpected relationship surprised you? Where have you found joy?

3. Reading the “Dear Abby” prayer before dinner.

4. Going to a movie on Thanksgiving eve– just completely chilling out.

5. Thinking about the memories of thanksgiving past– the times when Ellis and I organized charity basketball games, made up our own fantasy football league, took and gave others Pilgrim tests, organized a family church service and of course choreographed dance videos.

Also, some of my favorite sermons preached have been on the topic of thanksgiving. Such as this one I preached last year called “The One Who Said Thank You.”  It has always been fun to integrate one of my favorite holidays into my work life, encouraging others that it is good to stop and thank the Lord for all our blessings.

It is the most wonderful time of the year! Happy thanksgiving to you and yours.

November 18, 2012

Grief and Transition

November 18, 2012

Dear Washington Plaza Church family:

I come before you this morning with a heavy heart. It’s heavy because I have news to share with you that has caused me a great deal of sadness as I have thought and prayed and discerned.  I need to tell you that I am sharing this resignation letter today, ending this chapter as your pastor effective on December 24, 2012.

This is sad news for all of us because we have loved each other well over these four years of life together as pastor and congregation. And, when you love someone, you don’t ever want to part ways.  When you love someone, you don’t want to do anything to hurt them, to discourage them, or to cause them pain. The deep love I have for you has made this decision a particularly hard one.

But in spiritual community, which is what we’ve formed together as a church, there is something in addition to love for one another that binds us together, and that is calling. We believe that God ordains and guides all of our steps, even when what we are being asked to do is difficult.  My change in status with you is a response to my changing sense of call.

It is not that I have been called to be a pastor of another church.

It is not that I haven’t enjoyed being your pastor or that there is some conflict going on in the church that you don’t know about.

It is not that I have lost my faith in anyway or am leaving the ministry. Rather, it is that I feel called into a different season of ministry beginning in 2013.

As you all know, Kevin’s new position as President of Feed The Children has caused a huge shift in our life rhythms in 2012. This new assignment came about as a result of God’s calling on Kevin’s life to lead and as he has settled into his responsibilities a shift has happened within me as well. I, too, now feel a call to use the voice God has given me to be a global advocate for children and families, for those most often ignored or in distress. I will begin to volunteer more of my time to FTC. And I look forward to spending more time with my husband in the coming months.

In addition, I believe God is leading me to grow into my writing vocation—completing a book for publication by the end of next year and pursuing new writing projects.

So, while my time as your pastor will come to an end this year know of my ongoing love and support for you as a church. I believe as strongly in the vision of who you are as a congregation as I did when I began in January 2009. You are unique in the best of ways. You are a needed witness in this community of God’s acceptance for all people. You are a collection of some of the kindest and most loving people that any pastor could hope to lead.

You have certainly moved mountains in my own life—you have made me into the woman, the pastor that I am today and will be in the future. You took a chance on hiring a 28 year old, who could have been your granddaughter, making her YOUR pastor.

By doing this for me four years ago, you gave me the biggest gifts and honors of my life—to be called your pastor. And our relationship, you have given me room to grow and explore and find my voice and for that I am and will forever be grateful.

It’s a time in our history with one another to be sad. It’s a time to walk through grief. But it is also a time to trust. You are so much bigger than who your pastor is. You are so much more than your leader. You are strong and capable of being all that God calls you to in the future.

I know this time of transition will have its own unique challenges, but believe you will face them with same grace and perseverance you have shown in facing challenges before. I will be cheering you on, treasuring the memories made in our four years together, and wishing you all of God’s most abundant blessings in your future.

With love,


November 12, 2012

A Life That Counts

Mark 12:38-44

There are weeks when I have scripture texts before me and I wonder as I prepare what the writer of the text was smoking (for I just can’t figure out the point) and there are times I think I have absolutely no experience with the implied message of the text and feel so inadequate to preach. How God can use me to speak a word to you in weeks like this? I just don’t know.

But then there are some special weeks like this one, where I feel God must have thought I was the one who really needed to learn something. For, I’ve seen and experienced a version of this text all week-long.

If there is ever any doubt that I learn as much from writing sermons as I do in giving them or you do in hearing them, then I have proof. Mark 12 was mine to learn from this week.

And this is our particular text that I want us to stick closely to this morning: Jesus is nearing the end of his life, on his way to Jerusalem. And on his way, he’s using every teachable moment possible to help his disciples see what the kingdom of God looks like. Not only did the disciples need to be prepared for what was to come in his death, but they needed guidance as to what kingdom living looked like on earth in real time.

Let’s look closely at what Jesus says to his disciples and those bystanders in ear-shy beginning in verse 38. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Obviously, Jesus and the religious scribes were obviously working from two different visions of what made their life count with lasting value.

The scribes wanted to do works to be seen and to be important among the who’s who of society. And, to achieve these goals, the scribes were known to take from those in the community who were without means to defend themselves, namely the widows. Specifically they were known to “devour them” a word used in scripture only in cases of extreme separation from what is good and what is evil.

Contrary, Jesus cared nothing for this kind of recognition or power. In fact he condemned it. He had already said in Mark chapter 10, “and the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Things in the kingdom of God were not like the ways of the scribes. In Jesus’ vision of the world, room was always made at the table for one more, no matter the rank, class or belief system. According to Jesus, a life that God honored always included love of neighbor.

As many of you know, Kevin and I spent the last week on a mission delegation to the Philippines as part of Kevin’s job with Feed The Children. It was an experience that challenged us on many fronts as to what love of neighbor looks like.

And over the past 8 days, we held babies. We fed school children who eagerly anticipated their portion of rice and sweet potatoes. We danced with women (yes, proving that white women can shake with the best of them). We talked to school children about staying in school and studying hard. We traveled long hours by plane, boat, van, and taxi to see with our eyes what we didn’t know before we left the comfort of our home in Northern Virginia.

We spent several days in the capital city of Manila, a city over 12 million people.

In Manila, everything you could possibly need or want as a Westerner is here. You could start your day off with Starbucks (which you know Kevin did, of course). You could go to the mall and buy a new outfit at Old Navy or body wash at The Body Shop. You could dine at Wendy’s or Burger King. Folks in the business district of downtown can be seen carrying Prada purses or wearing Jimmy Choo stilettos. Folks at the airport all talk on the latest IPhone 5.

But, as with most major urban centers, it is not the whole story.

The urban poor, living in shanties in the slums are in this city only a few km from the high rises of folks drinking the finest coffee and wine. For these slum dwellers, life is difficult and assistance is needed from NGOs for basic survival.

The necessity of organizations like Feed The Children comes into play because government social services (which we expect in the US as a given) are limited, if existent at all. Children are malnourished and drop out of school. Children go unsupervised and play in garbage dumbing grounds. Children grow up without dreams of ever leaving the community in which they were born.

In these experiences we learned much. But most of all this–

There are far more widows in the modern world than rich scribes and Pharisees.

As much as the religious zealots of our time make the headlines on a daily basis especially as they have over the last year of our election cycle . . .
We are a world of “widows.”

And by widows, I don’t necessarily mean just widows from the technical definition –women who are on their own because their husband has deceased.

But I mean “widows” in the broader sense. For example, mothers and fathers who have more children than they can afford to take care of. Or, these are babies who come from the womb malnourished because their mothers didn’t receive the proper prenatal care. These are families who make the choice to live in garbage dumps because they can make $2 a day in the recycling sorting business instead of no income at all in somewhere less smelly.

Throughout the Philippines, I met these “widows” this week … or otherwise known as the slum dwellers, the down and out or the working poor.

And in meeting them, I realized that such is not a situation in the Philippines, but one that is all over the world…

And so this is what I really want to say: the Mark lection is not some isolated occurrence without application to the characters we have among us today. We live in a global community among the rich and the religiously arrogant. And we live in a world of the incredibly poor and destitute.

(Though such is not something that we like to think about very much, if at all. It is of course much easier to go about our lives pretending all is well in who-vile or whatever it is that we call where we live.)

Yet most interpretations of this passage or sermons you’ve heard for that matter seek to guilt us into believing our calling as Christians is to be more like the widow. For we read in verse 42 and following that when it came to offering time in the nearby temple: “a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny . . . out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  And so, like her, we too must give more!

(So shall I take a special offering now? Will the ushers come forward . .. Ok, just kidding.)

It’s inspirational isn’t it? Giving beyond our means. Giving till it hurts. Giving all we have even if it means our own personal suffering. But last time I checked the Bible was not an inspirational book, but one full of challenges to our societal norms.

And so this morning, I am not going to tell you to be more like the widow. For how much you give and how you give, comes out of your own life circumstances and spiritual journey. Your giving practices are a conversation you must have and keep having with your Maker.

But what I am going to ask you to do is to see the world as it really is– not to glorify poverty but to lament with me for a moment that we live in a world where those with few resources have to carry the responsibility of giving what they do not have so that the rest of us can learn what loving neighbor is all about.

Professor David Lose of Luther Seminary asks us all this pointed question: “Are we wrongfully accepting the gifts of those who are giving too much of their income while we praise, and give influence to, those who give greater sums but hardly feel the impact of their gifts?”


While Kevin and I were spending time on Wednesday of this week, dedicating the new wing of a school that Feed The Children gave to an impoverished community outside of Manila, our schedule included some time in the community from which the children came. Namely the slums.

I was prepared for anything I thought but little did I know what was in store.

Remember this was the slums… But when the community heard Feed The Children was coming, they made our group quick guests of honor. A tent was found to give us shade (not sure where it came from). Plastic chairs were brought from individual homes to make sure we had somewhere to sit. A banner of welcome made from bedroom sheets hung over our seats of welcome. The town council chair said to us “We don’t get visitors often. We wanted you to feel special.”

And special we felt as kids and mothers alike performed for us cultural Filipino dances and modern ones too, sang solos and prayed blessing prayers over us. Kids even without shoes put on their best outfits for the performance.

At one point during the program, Kevin leaned over to me and said, “I can’t imagine what amount of work this took to put our visit on like this.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Look up Elizabeth, and see those decorations across the tent. Those are colored plastic grocery bags filled with air have become such a colorful and resourceful expression of their welcome to us. . . . Folks with so little have given us everything, all they have.”

Like the widow with her mite, our team was given some of the most pure expressions of love and hospitality that can be experienced in our world. We who came from so much– people who could have parties every week and afford more than blown up plastic bags for decorations– were given all that these people had.

We, oh citizens of this great nation , of the United States of America. I am here to say that in this gospel reading we play the role of the scribes. There’s just no way to get around it.  We are the ones who have left the poor behind.

No matter if we find ourselves in the middle of the Filipino slums or right here on the Plaza in Reston, we are contributors to the systems in this world that pretend to give but indeed take and take some more.

We pretend to be people who care for social justice but we buy cheap clothes and jewelry from sweat shops in developing countries where workers earn pennies an hour.

We pretend to be great givers to church, civic groups and other non-profits, but our end of the year giving reflects more distaste for federal taxes and less about giving and receiving one another abundantly.

We pretend to give sacrificial gifts to loved ones during the holidays but what we really are doing is re-gifting stuff we didn’t like from last year.

Today’s sermon is not meant to make us feel guilty for what we have or what we don’t give away. But simply to tell us the truth of who we are. When it comes to giving as Jesus showed us how and gave to us, we are clueless.

But thanks be to God that there is always good news. We can live a life that counts for the good of all people.

Later on in the same day (that we visited the slums), Kevin and I made a trek up a very tall hill to visit another family. I was grumbling because I had flip-flops on and didn’t quite think I’d be able to make it the whole way. But somehow, we arrived at a stopping spot. There we were introduced to a mother of one child who struggles to have food to give to her daughter. Though her husband works in factory that sends goods to America—figurines, in fact that we will probably see on our shelves during the holidays, she hardly has enough rice or meat in any given day not to go hungry.

As Kevin and I listened to her story of pain, and we both struggled not to cry (unsuccessfully of course). Why did the rains of blessing fall on us but not her, we wondered, As we left, I stopped the camera crew. “Where’s the hope?” We have to give them hope. We didn’t give that family any hope in the interview. (We learned that later the Feed the Children staff would be bringing them food for the next week).

And so, we always must have hope. We interact with one another in hope. And here is yours:

If we are ready to see the world as God sees it . . . If we are ready to live more of our days with the kind of generosity that is not taking too much or too less . . . If we are ready to accept our Pharisee status and move on to what God has prepared for us, our Lord is ready to teach us. I’ll say it again, the Lord is ready to teach us.

All we have to do is ask.


November 9, 2012

Mission trips that aren’t just trips

Growing up in evangelical culture of the southern part of the United States, I learned a key component of strong Christian faith was the annual practice of going on mission trips.

Based on the Great Commission of Acts 1:8, we’d be challenged by youth pastors to make a service trip each summer, a priority in our schedules. While few would be excited about local mission projects in the inner city of our own city, for example, everyone would consider going somewhere, especially if it was a cool locale with a pool.

The farther away the holier, of course, but usually we could not afford more than an 7-8 hours drive away in one of those rented Greyhound buses. And the more poverty or the greater the population of the “heathen” (like Buddhists, atheists, etc) the more worthwhile too.

Many of my peers at church loved these trips, like I did. They formed the the young adults we were becoming without us truly understanding it at the time. We began to get a glimpse of the world outside the one created for us by our parents and surroundings. We grew in the depth of our relationship with Jesus. All of this is good. So I don’t want sound overly judgmental as I continue . . .

But here is the thing: the results were typical and short lived.

We felt moved by whatever “have nots” we encountered, feeling sorry for our blessings waiting for us back at home. But secretly craving (or not so secretly) our own beds and a hot shower pronto.

We cried on the last day of the trip, sad to leave our new friends, vowing to keep in touch. But losing the contact info page before we got off the bus.

We promised to come home and give away our clothes or shoes that we really didn’t need, only to go shopping at the mall the next weekend.

And so mission trips became just that, a trip — something fun to do with our peers in the summer that left our parents feeling good about the children they’d raised. We weren’t as selfish as the rest. And we had the pictures to prove it.

So here I am in my early 30s having gone on two of these major “missions” trips as a part of my real life the past two months, not some summer jolly ride out of town. And the funny thing is, I find myself expressing some of the same emotions I might have uttered in the 9th or 10th grade when we lodged in inner city Philadelphia.

“The spirit of the Filipino people moved me to tears.”

“The poverty was overwhelming to my eyes.”

“I want to find a way to make my life simpler, to give more.”

But this time, as a grown up, with a long term commitment to an organization that deeply cares about making changes in communities of need, I want things to be different. I want my life to reflect the stories of great need that I have been blessed to see personally. I want this week to not merely be “another” mission trip but just a part of a lifestyle.

How this happens, I still am not sure. But at least for today, I acknowledge the great arrogance and temptation of just another mission trip kind of faith. And hope this season of life will be about learning a new path.


November 8, 2012

World of Contrasts

For the past two nights, our crew has been stationed in the Philippine capital of Manila. It’s a modern city reminding me a lot of New York or LA– a city that doesn’t seem to sleep that is resident of over 12 million people. Upon arrival, has been such a shock to our system after spending several days in some very rural areas (islands of less than 500 people for example), where folks are without running water and you take showers with buckets and bring your own toilet paper.

It’s a country of contrasts because in Manilla, everything you could possibly need or want as a Westerner is here. You could start your day off with Starbucks or a Krispy Kreme donut. You could go to the mall and buy a new outfit at The Gap or Forever 21. You could dine for dinner at Pizza Hut or TGI Fridays. Folks in the business district of downtown can be seen carrying Guess purses or in designer stilettos. Folks at the airport all talk on IPhones.

But, as with most major urban centers, it is not the whole story.

It is a city of contrasts. The urban poor, living in shanties in the slums are in this city only a few km from the high rises of folks wearing Chanel perfume. For these slum dwellers, life is difficult and assistance is needed from NGOs for basic survival. The necessity of organizations like Feed The Children comes into play because government social services (which we expect in the US as a given) are limited, if existent at all. Children are malnourished and drop out of school. Children go unsupervised and play in garbage dumbing grounds. Children grow up without dreams of ever leaving the community in which they were born.

Furthermore, it is easy to go on trips like this and think this world of contrasts is a problem of a far away place. But it is a problem of my home land too.

America is a world of contrasts. For every luxury apartment in Manhattan, there are hollers in West Virginia. For every millionaire on Wall Street, there are thousands of single mother on welfare. For every child growing up entering college with bright eyes, there are multitudes inner city kids struggling to get their GED.

We are a rich nation with the poor among us. Like our Filipino friends, it is easy to ignore.

Even in counties like Fairfax Virginia where my church is located we also have a homeless problem, a large one in fact. Makeshift shelters are made every night in the woods with tents, tarps and sleeping bags around the corner from some very large shopping malls and 4,000 square feet houses.

Tonight at dinner, a Feed The Children staffer and I were trying to make sense of our experiences in this world of contrasts. “Why don’t more people share?. . . Why doesn’t the government do more about these problems? . . . How can the rich have poor literally in their backyard and do nothing?”

It’s a frustrating place to be in thought– to try to make sense of the senseless. The only comfort is to think that at least you are supporting an organization that is trying to do something. But then that is not always enough to satisfy the injustice.

All guilt, frustration or apathy put aside, if we are ever going to make changes, human changes to these worlds of contrasts then we have one important task before us. We must wake up and simply see it. The Philippines has given me new glasses.



November 6, 2012

The Slums

At dusk last night, I walked through the slums of Cebu City, Philippines.

The invitation to walk through the slums at nightfall came after our delegation spent the afternoon at Pasil Elementary, where Feed The Children is highly revered. Last year the elementary got a new wing of state of the art classrooms with funding facilitated by FTC. Upon hearing of our visit as a delegation from the US, a program of celebration was planned. Songs, dances and opportunities to interact became a delightful stop for our group. The kids who got FTC scholarships to attend school sang to us in the program: “Thank you, thank you. We hope we make you proud. May you remember to pray for us and that the Spirit connects us all.” I sat on the stage and cried.

I thought the emotion of the day couldn’t be any more intense. But then there was . . . the slums . . . the place where the school kids live.

Though no slums virgin, the shock came over me quickly with the first step. It would be a sensory assault from the start.

Stepping through the maze of “houses” in order to get to the dock by the sea, several roosters running free nearly tackled me, pecking my feet. I saw a man going for the kill with a chicken– I guess for his families’ night’s dinner. Passing by public toilets where the entire community showers, uses the toilet and gets their running water (after paying a fee of two pesos), the potency of the odor marked the spot. Next door to the “sanitation” center was a dwelling that burnt down in 1988 (we learned) that still housed a family even among the ashes and lopsided walls. I saw a mother chopping potatoes by candlelight there.

Further in, child after child was running free without supervision with tattered shirts, dirty faces, and shoeless. They stared with wide eyes as to why I would be there. Makeshift market stands selling shrimp and crab caught by fishermen slum dwellers earlier in the day, filled the concrete pavement. And no, there was no refrigeration to keep the seafood up to health code relegations. I wondered who would eat the shrimp and whether or not it would make them sick. I wondered who would treat the ills of these folks if they got sick. Anyone?

Yet, afterwards, Kevin said, “Now that was a scene out of a nightmare, wasn’t it?” Funny thing was I was thinking the exact same thing.

Before all the mother worrying types out there get too concerned, let me tell you that Kevin and I weren’t alone. Thank goodness, we had a guide, the local town council member for we surely would have gotten lost or had something stolen off our bodies if this woman’s presence hadn’t said “They’re with me. I will take care of them.” Our group stayed close to her and felt as safe as one can feel in a slum.

This is the part of this blog post where you might expect me to make meaning of what I saw and experienced. But I can’t.

I am a wealthy white woman from the United States. But there are some members of my human family who live in the slums.





November 5, 2012

Poverty, travel and perspective

As I write this I find myself on a boat heading from Bohol back to Cebu (Philippines) and I stand in amazement of where life has taken me recently. Not only did I celebrate my 6th anniversary of ordination yesterday (wow what a ride as a reverend has been!), but in the past less than 60 days, Kevin and I have traveled to three countries in Asia and Africa in which Feed The Children serves. Our lives of late have felt a lot like a long mission trip. Tiring indeed but a lot of fun!

We’ve held babies. We’ve fed sick children. We’ve danced with women. We’ve talked to school children about nutrition and AIDS prevention. We’ve traveled long hours by plane, boat, van, and taxi to see with our eyes what we didn’t know before we left the comfort of our home in Northern Virginia.

Over these past 60 days, we’ve seen the world from the perspective of what it really is like: mothers who work hard to give their kids a better life but as hard as they try they can’t. Communities that take ownership for their prosperity, even though they have little resources. Houses that shouldn’t house even one but are a refuge for many. And, children building friendship with their neighbors with makeshift and homemade ball, cars and soccer fields.

Yes, we’ve seen poverty of the material kind but we’ve also seen the huge accomplishments of those whom so much of the world has written off as part of the “third” or “developing” world.

Yesterday, for example, we met a group of families on a remote island who pulled their resources together to begin a village savings and loan– where their was no bank to help give the financial resources to move the community forward. Feed The Children facilitated the beginning of this livelihood development project, but now takes a very hands off role in its day-to-day management. It is the community’s leadership project to see through.

During our visit, our delegation was allowed to observe, a shareholders meeting, a weekly occurrence, where loans were given and dividends were paid back to share holders. Most impressive, we learned that 10% of the money made in the project goes back to assist the children in the community. Parents said, “We want a better life for kids. We know that begins with us being good stewards of our own resources. We want to be able to do this ourselves.” Over the past year this community– one where it is not commonplace to have toilets in the house or more than one pair of shoes per person– has saved over $3,500 US to reinvest in their children’s school.

Wonderfully surprising isn’t it?

For now, this is what I know: most of the world is not as it seems to us from our lens of privilege in America. The “have-nots” people are not less than human. Change CAN happen as resources and strong leadership are given to make it possible.

I have always known that intellectually as all of you blog readers do too, I’m sure. But when you see it, when you see it with your own eyes in such frequent chunks as we have, you realize that life must change.

Life can no longer be about “that trip” or “out there” but somehow we must find a way to integrate life in such a way that all of life is about being a member of the human family that is full of challenges, yes, but hope. We must do what we can to serve wherever you find yourself. We must never think first of our privilege as an honor but an opportunity to be in a larger community.

It’s such a tall order ahead… I see now why it would be easier to stay at home.




%d bloggers like this: