Biculturalism in Aotearoa

“We got lots of internationals here, eh?”

We, over 100 college students devoting the weekend to volunteering in the Akaroa community, stood at the gate of the Ōnuku Marae – women in the front, men behind, awaiting the Pōwhiri welcoming ceremony.

onuku

“Hehe, you’s is in fer a real suhprise,” he cackled. The Kaiāwhina leaned slightly forward on his intricately carved staff. He seemed to emanate old wisdom in a modern generation.

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Awakening

I’m baaaa-aacckkk! I’m talking the exuberant, focused, joyful Jessica in full swing.
Well…I started my Monday morning decorating plates in ceramics and writing a blog – both fine forms of productive procrastination – so maybe I’m not TOTALLY back, but graduation is mere weeks away. It finally feels in my reach, and that keeps me trucking along.

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Living Righteously

I have noticed a pattern in the Scripture I have been reading lately in which God calls his people to live blamelessly. Of course, this is not a new tenant at all. It has been around since the foundation of Christianity before the Fall, and ever since then, we have been screwing that commandment up. In fact, most people who have just barely been exposed to Christianity think this is what it is all about: being “good people,” doing “good things.”

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Persevere to the Dawn

IJM’s Global Prayer Gathering began over a decade ago with a few dozen people meeting in a room together to pray for the work of justice. Today, it is a full weekend held at the swanky Gaylord Resort, with over 1,200 attendees and room to grow. As an intern, I had the true privilege to serve and participate in GPG this year. These are the reasons this past weekend was awesome.

5. Testimony

All 18 international Field Office Directors pause their work abroad to take part in GPG. There is nothing like hearing a story firsthand from the people actively engaging in the fight to protect poor people from violence.  Christa Sharpe, the FOD in Cambodia, is a force of positive energy and action, and her update was especially exciting. She shared that a decade ago, the Cambodia office faced rampant impunity – acts of violence went unpunished, so perpetrators disregarded the law Christa shared that police are actually protecting underage girls from sexual exploitation. Today, it is difficult to even find cases of underage sexual exploitation anymore, and rehabilitation centers there are some of the best in the world. The Cambodia office’s next long-term goal is to eventually pull out and allow the country to handle sex trafficking crimes independently.
Griselda, a former Guatemalan client who now works at IJM, even came to share her story personally. After such hardship, she still beams with joy and confidence, grateful for the work IJM has done on her behalf.

Both Griselda’s renewed life and the fact that the Cambodia office may be nearing its end after only ten years are incredible – evidence of a mighty God moving forcefully through the world.

4. Hard work

I recently learned that IJM doesn’t do GPG at a more convenient time when more people could come (like the summer) because they so heavily depend on interns to pull this huge event off. That’s alright with me, though; I thrive in long, laborious days in which I am freely serving and contributing to something far greater than myself. It’s great bonding time, and there are even pockets of fun to be found, like riding on hotel dollies at the age of 21. After a week of GPG prep, the interns packed up, played real-life tetris loading everything into one U-Haul, unloaded countless boxes, set up prayer rooms…and then did all of those tasks again in reverse order. Fortunately, the exhaustion didn’t hit until GPG was over, so I had Sunday to recuperate.

Go to all measures – including the floor – for GPG
Show us how you really feel (She’s actually a good sport…I just think this picture is funny)

GPG planning extraordinaire

Preparing journals!

Luggage dollies: Useful for moving: a) luggage b) GPG boxes c) people d) all of the above

Planning a big event takes a lot of organization

3) Community

If you step out of your group, you’re bound to meet some cool people at GPG, and all of them shared stories of great things God is doing in their lives. As I set up the Rwanda prayer room, I met the FOD and was later able to give him a small prophetic word of encouragement. My neighbor during the Thursday evening dinner happened to be the former mayor of Tennessee, who wants to use his retirement years to confront sex trafficking in America.  There is a couple from Texas who were integral in a race benefitting IJM, which, ironically, I had been using to create a toolkit at work. The list goes on. In each interaction, I got the sense that they were, if not ordained, at least affirming the way the Holy spirit moves in other people’s lives.
Post-dinner: Room for a dang lot of people

2) Worship

I love worship because I’m able to glorify God with lyrics far more artistic and full of truth that anything I could come up with in prayer. It’s a good time for processing and personal reflection, too (more to come on revelations and my future plans soon!). Plus, Sara Groveshas an angelic voice, and she was kind enough to take a picture with the interns. As another intern said, I’m “practically famous” since I’m standing right next to her. J

Yes, that is Sara Groves. Yes that is me on the left.

 1) Justice re-calibration

When I’m in the thick of IJM for eight hours a day, it’s easy to miss the bigger picture and lose sight of why I do the work that I do. Or why I care about justice and advocate for it at all. In Gary’s opening talk, he said that we must use God’s light to Shrink the Shadows, Dispel the Darkness, Melt he Mountains and Call Forth Healing. I’m not going to go into the metaphorical details of each of those steps, but GPG is a reminder that God invites us into a monumental challenge that we cannot accomplish by ourselves. Not only does He want us to be a part of it, but He wants us to ask Him for help. We have prayer as a real tool that bears results far greater than what we ask or imagine.
My prayer in the Rwanda room

Even after the work of justice is well underway, Gary discussed a final step: we must Persevere to the Dawn. This applies literally to casework in the field, to keep moving forward in tough cases and convict criminals, but ultimately to press on until all things are made new. Persevering to the dawn is for all of God’s people, too, though. We are to persevere in remaining close to the Father through His word, and persevere in talking to Him about His work. We will rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. I’m already looking forward to GPG next year!

Jesus? Oh, Jesus

I thought about the former days,
    the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Psalm 77:5-7
During our stay in Sihanoukville, Courtney and I went out to dinner, where an older Englishman sat at the table next to us enjoying a beer by himself. Had he been some wildly attractive young man, the guy most twenty year olds would try to talk to, he probably would’ve intimidated me, and I would have left him alone. Alan, however, was in his sixties, so, being me, I engaged him in conversation, and we ended up spending dinner together.
“Traveling will change you,” he said.
I wrote about a lot of my experiences in Cambodia, but I must confess that I haven’t been entirely forthright, either. I was already writing more than normal, and I’ve needed time to process since then. I spent 21 remember-forever days in a country in which 95% of the population is Buddhist. I spent 21 incredible days on a trip with eleven other Americans that I normally don’t spend time with at school. I spent 21 days without corporate worship, without regular prayer, without any spiritual guidance. My quiet time dissolved to writing time and adventuring. I felt like I was the only Christian left in the world, that there soon may be none. On the night of May 21, while everyone else went to eat dinner, I sat on my hotel bed for an hour in Siem Reap verging on a quiet, existential panic. It’s dangerous for me to sit and brood by myself without any outlet. I began wondering what topic I would write about next for the stem due the following morning. It quickly spiraled to much deeper thoughts, questioning Jesus, His power and grace, and the authenticity of my relationship with Him. It ended with this journal excerpt:
“Have I just eaten religious food they’ve been spoon-feeding me my whole life?”
Before the trip, people had said they were so excited to hear about what God did in Cambodia. Lying on that bed, I thought to myself, What about what He’s not doing? Where are you, Lord? Where is the power of the Holy Spirit? Where is my courage? Where is my belief?
Where was He? Well here’s the thing –
When I was in Cambodia, I might as well not have been a Christian. I was only some twenty year old gal lugging around a Christian identity and some good values. Everyone on the trip knows I am a Christian. One day when we were all packed up waiting in the lobby, I was holding my journal with gold-lined pages and Lauren asked if it was my Bible. While that was stowed in my backpack, I almost took pride in retorting, “Nope,” I’m not just a Southern Christian hanging onto some foolish beliefs in which I find comfort. But…maybe I was. I yearned to pray with someone, to have someone reaffirm my beliefs. I felt like every day they were stamped out a little bit more, being replaced with some kind of worldly humanism. I talked about it some, but in a more academic, this-is-just-what-I-think kind of way. I didn’t get wasted every night, I didn’t cuss every tenth word, I asked one girl about her religious upbringing and said if she ever had any questions about Christianity, I’d be happy to talk to her. After her mom died, I offered to pray with Liesl, who also goes to IV and lived on my hall this past year. Later she said she’d like that. It never happened. Why did it never happen?
I felt stuck in a state of lukewarm falsehood. I did not know how to truly demonstrate or defend my faith. I didn’t want to offend anyone or be the annoying Christian always bringing the conversation back to Jesus, but I also didn’t want to be living like the Bohemians I met or a lot of other people on the trip – sex with acquaintances, black out drunk parties, gossip, and self-centeredness. Their beliefs ranged from a Baptist PK who “just likes to keep it between me and the Big Man,” to no religious upbringing, to secular humanist, to church attendee with the family on breaks. I didn’t want to let go of my beliefs or lifestyle, but I was spending time only with these folks for 21 days, and I wanted to befriend and relate to them.
I was surrounded by Buddhist temples and monks, I didn’t think they were right, but I also found it beautiful. I loved the culture, I loved witnessing the gracious giving of alms every morning and seeing a society which has found structure and support in religion when the government (massively) fails. But what about the Great Commission? If I really believe this, if Jesus is my savior and the cornerstone of my life, shouldn’t I “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,<sup value="(D)”> and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded me?”  I felt like I should, yet I had no desire to do so. It seemed so wrong to try to change this religion. Yet you have Life to offer, Jessica!
Whatever I was in Cambodia, I didn’t have the freedom of fully embracing sin (which can, for a time I think, be a fun lifestyle), but I also was not being filled by the Father, operating out of His love and infinite might. So I was just empty and longing, raw and numb, gnawing for spiritual food that I know is real, but I couldn’t quite access. It was awful, and it scared me. Was Alan right? Had traveling really changed me? Had it stamped out my faith? Traveling is something I am passionate about, and I really am considering teaching English abroad for a few years after college. How would my faith in the future?
I was also worried about coming back home. What if I really have changed? What if I just like my Christian friends and my Christian life and don’t actually love Jesus? What if all of this gets pushed under the rug? Oh Gosh. I’m telling you, I was freaked out. I’m glad I had the internet and a small connection to home. Toward the end of the trip, one of my best friends, Lizzy, posted a blog about her weekend jaunt to Charlotte. She was filled with so much joy, talking about the amazing things the Holy Spirit had revealed that weekend and how they had prayed for her aunt’s back and the Lord healed it. That’s all it took for me to remember this good Lord I serve. It didn’t wipe out all of the questions and doubts, those Dark Nights of the Soul John Donne writes of, but it reminded me that when you call on Him (which, really, I had not been doing), He answers. He comes through.
I’ve been back from Cambodia for about two and a half weeks now. As I talk to friends, I’m reminded that it’s probably a good thing to be challenged. I should probably be highly skeptical of those whose faith is always fine and dandy. I’ve been as candid as I can be with those I’m close to, and many of them “get it” more than I anticipated. When I relayed my Cambodia faith experience to my friend Drew, whose wisdom and discernment I admire a great deal, he emphasized Lizzy’s story and the remembering. Just like Psalm 77, I can question, but I can remember the good things God has done in my life and community. The answered prayers, the prophetic words, the healings, the grace, the joy.  He has answered many times.

I’ve also realized my family and I can be growing together. We’ve been caught up in our own world of graduation festivities, camps, work, and overloaded schedules. Ever since last summer, I’ve wanted to come home and disciple my sisters. Rosa Marie and I have had a few quiet times together, but it is way harder to do than I anticipated. This Tuesday the Compton Clan is headed to Costa Rica for two weeks, though. Mama deserves a much needed break, and I look forward to being able to focus on the Lord with my family. It’s time for the Secret Place, where we can grow and really begin listening to Jesus’ still small voice. I still wonder how this is all going to work out in the end. The doubts are not over, but the faith is not crushed. I’m learning, and I am confident in this one true God.

Oh Magnolia

If you want to climb a tree, go find a Magnolia. They are squat and sturdy, and you never have to look for the next limb to step onto. They’re everywhere, branching almost horizontally in a 360 degree radius around the trunk. Climbing these trees is not just kids’ sport either.  Last spring, hidden from the goings-on below on Roanoke’s campus, I spent at least a half hour watching students and faculty pass by. Granted, I was wearing corduroy overall and pigtails, feeling rather whimsical. So maybe most normal adults don’t climb magnolias, but I challenge you to try it. Take my word of caution, though.  Limb by limb, it is easy to get way higher than you originally intended; the descent can be surprisingly treacherous.
Can you see me?? Upper left quadrant.
Apparently, the flower on this tree is ancient. Bees weren’t even around when it began popping up; it depended on beetles for pollination, so it has a tough, waxy outer coating to prevent the beetles from eating or damaging it. It is beautiful and surprisingly strong.
A great gal named Ellie Holcomb sings about this magnolia.
Oh Magnolia, won’t you please come home?
Oh Magnolia, you don’t have to walk alone.
Oh Magnolia, won’t you rest your head on my shoulder?
On the surface, it’s just a really sweet song. (Check it out here.) Listen again. She is not just singing about a flower. She sings as if God is talking directly to her. She has been working hard, trying to make things in her life “right.” She is alone, tangled in burdens, distractions, and failures. This magnolia, her heart, is exhausted and lost.
All along the way, Jesus keeps on talking to her, forever faithful.
I’m right here, waiting on you. I’ll take your burdens. Come back to me. Walk with me.
Last week, a lot of people, many of whom are de-churched, twice-a-year Christians, came together to celebrate a little something known as Easter.  Under the white tent at Boone Hall, I observed their discomfort. They stood stiffly, hands awkwardly shoved in their seer-sucker pockets during worship, passive during the sermon. They are tired of religion, of rules and not measuring up. The church failed them long ago. Their family has hurt them, their job hasn’t provided. They go and go and go, seeking fulfillment, eternally unfulfilled. And they’re tired.
If that broad “they” sounds like you, I’m right there with you. Easter felt like a pretty passive, unimportant day. For being a part of it my whole life, I don’t always get the church. I see the ways people mess up and hurt each other. They have for all eternity, and they will continue to. I see my natural inclination to walk away and find fulfillment in my school work and leadership positions.  So far, I still haven’t been fulfilled. The world is not faithful; in the end, it will always let you down.
So, I, too, am a magnolia. Like its coat of wax, I have built up layers of defense against the world. I burrow into school and schedules where I feel safe. Sometimes I don’t engage in relationships because of the messiness that comes with them. Better to be clean. Don’t share your life. Not totally, anyway. What about other people’s problems? What am I supposed to do with their junk? I am one weak branch, distantly connected to the roots.
But this Jesus, he engages the mess. He took the junk, and last week we gave thanks for the greatest gift ever. Grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. When he rose from the grave, Jesus became accessible. He is alive – a living person who keeps taking our crap, who keeps calling his magnolia back to him. Over and over and over.
I’m right here, waiting on you. I’ll take your burdens. Come back to me. Walk with me.
You are precious to me, and I love you.
This invitation he offers, that sounds life-giving. I want that companion. Because of the resurrection, I have Him. You can too.
Lord, I wish I didn’t leave your side, but I do. So once again, your magnolia is coming home.