A Story of India: Finding Jesus at the Home of Hope

We spent our first week in India with a team from an amazing organization called The Hope Venture. After praying for and supporting The Hope Venture’s humanitarian work for years, it was amazing to be able to see several projects up close and personal.

We got to meet kids who are able to go to school because of the supplies they receive through the Back Pack Program: It is AMAZING to see what a difference this program makes, especially knowing it is entirely funded by $10 dollar donations!

We visited a vocational training center, where precious women come daily for courses teaching them to sew. This allows them to sew for their children (fabric is much more affordable than finished clothing), as well as eventually sewing for others and helping to provide for and support their families.

Rock Quarry outside of Bangalore, India. People live and work here for next to nothing.

A highlight of our time was visiting a feeding center at a rock quarry. This was one of the bleakest places I have ever been, I can not imagine having a quarry be my workplace and home.

When the Hope Venture partners who run the feeding center arrived, we saw children, faces lit with joy, streaming in from every direction. We participated in the program for the evening (character-based stories and singing), helped to feed the children, and every one of us left a large chunk of our hearts.

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But the memory I’ll carry with me from my time in India until I die was at the Home of Hope. Here’s how The Hope Venture describes this beautiful, heart wrenching place:

Imagine walking or driving through the streets of your neighborhood and seeing hundreds of destitute people abandoned on the streets left to die. Raja, a rickshaw driver, decided that he could no longer sit by and watch these people suffer. He had to do something to help them. He began bringing them into his home. He started to mend their wounds, clean their forsaken bodies, and give them their dignity and hope back.

But he needed a place for those he was rescuing and so he began the Home of Hope in Bangaluru, India. The Hope Venture is proud to partner with this trusted man in any way we can. We want to help those that are suffering reclaim dignity and honor. (www.thehopeventure.org/project/home-of-hope)

Of all the things we expected to do and see in India, the Home of Hope made me the most nervous. I am not afraid of much, I can talk to anyone, and I have seen darkness and poverty, but y’all? There is a reason I am not a doctor or nurse. Just being a mom comes with more physical wounds and body fluids than I can handle sometimes. And I have a front row seat to lots of mental health issues, but I have no experience at all with the kind of mental illness that lands people vulnerable and alone on the streets. I’d been asking God to really let me see people, to not turn away, to break my heart for what breaks His. But I was SCARED. Continue reading

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6 Things I Learned from India

Last month I had the privilege and blessing to spend 3 weeks in India with Matt and 8 college students. We visited 3 cities, met hundreds of beautiful people, ate some of the best (and spiciest) food I have ever tasted, and experienced more life in 3 weeks than I could have dreamed. I loved the portions of India I got to see and experience (there is SO MUCH MORE.)

I love India’s beautiful people, especially their smiles, eyes full of joy.

I love the unity in diversity: everything is recognizably Indian, yet each person you meet has vastly different beliefs, thoughts, and stories.

I love that everything in India is turned up a notch: You like people? 1000s of people! You like bright colors? Everyone you meet is swathed in colorful array! You like spicy food? Here it is so hot you will breath fire!

I loved the hospitality we experienced: Welcomed and warmly greeted everywhere we went. We had tea in the home of the director of a company we toured, and when we were finished we tried to take our cups into the kitchen. This CEO literally RAN at us to gather up all the cups he could carry, insisting we sit down and make ourselves comfortable.

I loved meeting people of many different faiths. And I loved seeing my own faith beautifully lived out so far from where I have experienced it, in such a different context but the SAME Jesus.

Often when people travel, they say they were changed, and India for sure changed each of us. But what does that really mean? HOW did India change me? Continue reading

Faith, Public Opinion, and the Cool Kids Table {Thoughts on James 2}

 

When I was in the 6th grade I got made fun of for my clothes. I was smart and shy and I had Wal-Mart brand shoes. Stacy Edwards came back from the bathroom one day and told everyone I was a loud pee-er. To this day, when I use public restrooms, I try to “pee quietly.” Whatever that means.

My 9th grade best friend was a bass violinist named Lori whose family took me to church, and who was a good and faithful friend. Sophomore year, I had 4th period with kids from the popular crowd, who invited me to eat lunch with them. I stopped spending time with Lori and our studious, steady friends, now seeing them as a social liability. I had a shot at acceptance with a group I’d always felt outside of, and I took it.

What if I’d never been made fun of for having the wrong clothes and peeing wrong? What if I’d chosen to stick with friends who were loyal and kind rather than chasing acceptance and popularity (which always stayed just out of reach anyway.) Continue reading

Small Church {Finding Meaning & Connection on Sundays}

I go to a big church.

And I love it. I love what a large church provides for me: Great teaching. Large and well organized children’s programs, vibrant worship with great production values, a wide variety of people making it easy to find kindred spirits and friends in my life stage.

Church is more than a building or a service, church is people. Community. Connection. And church should be a place where we learn to love those who are different from us, and find connection across life stage and natural affinity. That can be a lot harder to provide than good teaching, organized programs and exciting worship.

My church works hard to create welcoming community and connection (and I’m part of that work and welcoming), but in a bigger church, it is easy to go wide rather than deep.

I have the great privilege to be part of a team that puts on a college worship service a few blocks from our university campus. My involvement in college ministry and this service allows me to have the best of both worlds: I am part of a larger church with amazing resources and strong teaching. And my Sunday experience is close and connected, one I’ve had a voice in creating. I get to go to a big church and also have a small church experience.

College students are headed into finals next week, so this Sunday will be our last College Worship Hour until September. I am very much looking forward to a different schedule, and more family time while the kids are out of school and I work fewer hours. And during the summer, Sundays are truly “weekend”, as opposed to work days.

But I am going to greatly miss our little college worship service.

I will miss having a Sunday experience where I know nearly everyone’s name, can spot newcomers on sight and welcome them, where I can hug and be hugged.

I will miss having a more participatory, discussion oriented teaching time. A smaller group (we have between 100-150 each Sunday) allows us the freedom to include discussion times with those around, as well as large group. Most of us learn less by hearing and more by participating. I am grateful for a small space where there is more than one expert voice teaching about God, where we can learn from the Body of Christ, where a variety of voices discuss truth (with a pastor/teacher to guide us and keep us on track, of course. The discussion happens in the context of a traditional sermon.)

But most of all, I will miss communion. I don’t know at what point protestant churches dropped the Lord’s Supper as a weekly and regular part of their worship. But I wish we could pick it back up again. I wish we could pick it up as a weekly practice, and I wish we could make it communal and connected. Every Evangelical Church I’ve gone to practices communion every 6 weeks or so, and it is very individual. Small cups of juice, tiny cracker, passed around. You take your small portion of Jesus and you serve yourself.

Though it would be next to impossible in a big church, I LOVE the way we practice the Eucharist at College Worship Hour.

It is the centerpiece of our time together, and it is an invitation to come and receive Jesus. We use real bread. We have communion stations and servers. There is an extended time of silence or quiet music to think and pray, and when I am ready, I go to one of several places in the room. I step forward and cup my hands, telling the servers my name. And rather than taking, I receive. Someone (someone I know by name as well) hands me a chunk of bread and says, “Renee, the body of Christ was broken for you.” And then I dip my bread in the cup of juice and hear, “Renee, the blood of Christ was shed for you.”

Every Sunday I receive Christ.

And it is always meaningful, my eyes often pricking with tears. It is meaningful, and it helps me feel connected with Jesus. Some weeks I sit and pray and think for a while before moving toward the nearest communion servers. And some weeks I practically run to receive Jesus as soon as possible.

Maybe anything we do regularly, week after week, looses meaning and becomes routine. Maybe if enough years go by, I won’t feel such a deep hunger to receive Christ in the bread and cup. Maybe I won’t feel a weekly need to “remember Him.” (Luke 22:19)

But I don’t think so.

And though I love you, still we’re strangers
Prisoners in these lonely hearts
And though our blindness separates us
Still His light shines in the dark
And His outstretched arms are still strong enough to reach
Behind these prison bars to set us free
So may peace rain down from Heaven
Like little pieces of the sky
Little keepers of the promise
Falling on these souls the drought has dried
In His Blood and in His Body
In this Bread and in this Wine
Peace to you
Peace of Christ to you

“Peace”, Rich Mullins

What helps you find meaning and connection at church?

SmallChurch (1)

6 Spiritual Practices Giving Me Life Right Now

In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. (James 1:21-25, The Message)

In my early years as a Jesus follower, I tended to focus mostly on what I thought or believed about God. After all, “ What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” (A. W. Tozer)

I had so many false beliefs about God, lies that infected my God view, there was plenty to keep me busy just learning about God.

But before too long, I found myself in great danger of being merely a hearer of God’s Word, rather than actually living differently because of Him. It is a danger I face to this day. In American Christian culture it is so easy, if not encouraged, to let the whole of our lives with God be defined by where we are on Sunday mornings and what we say we believe about God, rather than actually living out of truth.

I want to run far away from “letting the Word go in one ear and out the other.” I want to live this call in James 1 to let God landscape me with truth like a good gardener. I want to act on what I hear, stick with the truth until it bears the fruit of delight and affirmation. Continue reading