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Saturday, September 17, 2016

You Don't Stay

. . .seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you. . .Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. ~Jeremiah 29:7 NIV
It was late evening but when I stepped over the broken slate gray cement brick that propped open the heavy metal door onto the pebbled roof, I saw with relief that it was empty. I would be able to hop up on to one of the heating/cooling units and sit comfortably there as I overlooked Beirut by night. I was excited. It had been too long.

When I lived here before, we had a water tower at the end of the driveway and they built a special water treatment room over it. The addition included a large square cement block roof that I could hop up on and sit, cross-legged, as I overlooked the Mediterranean Sea by night, little boats lit up and dotting its surface. I was rather protective of my special place where I would journal my teenage angst, talk to God, think and process my day. Leaving that was one of the hardest things to do because my new homes never had a private place in nature where God could fill my heart.

Then I returned and though I was no longer living in my old house, I found a new retreat. Each time I stepped over the brick onto the roof, I held my breath at the beauty of the city before me. During the day, the clear line between sea and sky or the planes coming in for a landing brought me joy while at night the lights and cityscape lit up the sky.

Yesterday, as I looked out over the city, a quiet resolve began to build in my heart. I had been hearing dear friends sharing from their heart during the past week and each time I heard them speak, my heart ached. They simply said, ""You come, you go, and you don't stay. But we stay." It was so true. Though not all missionaries do this, there are some who go on mission trips so they can add another stamp in their passport or take a photo with a local child and post it on Facebook with hashtags #blessed and #missionary#war-torn#country. This hurt the local mission work as they arrived with their iPads and iPhones, muddling the purpose of bringing hope in Jesus with hope in a better earthly life.

For many years, I struggled with the calling to missions. When I was 19, I went to a missions conference where I carefully signed a pledge promising that I would dedicate my life to long-term missions. Over the years, I kept remembering my promise and feeling guilty that I wasn't fulfilling it. My mother tried to help me see that working at a self-supporting institution, making sacrificial wages, living thousands of miles from family and all that was familiar, was mission service. But it didn't seem legitimate because I spoke the language and fit in so well that my friends were surprised to find out that I wasn't American. I'd adopted the accent, the casual California wear, the food and the culture. I knew who Andy Griffith was and could sing the theme song to Friends.

My sister and our friends started to get excited about Asia. They studied Chinese, they went on short-term mission trips, and two of the guys even moved to China and married Chinese women. I went on a two-week choir trip to Taiwan and cried my way through half of it. The food was unfamiliar, even the bananas were funny!, and I couldn't imagine myself living there long-term. I was terrified that God would send me to China or Taiwan.

Over the years, my heart still longed to return home--to Lebanon. I knew part of it was saudade, a Portuguese word that means a deep longing for something very precious to you, something you may never see again. Being raised across cultures, my heart was placed in multiple countries and Lebanon was not the only one that held ties to it. But when the opportunity came to return, even for just a year, I reached out for it with both hands.

All those years I listened to mission stories about Asia and Africa and South America and wished hard that I would have a calling but I never did. Now I know that God used that desire to bring me here for a purpose. I still don't know if my calling here is short-term or long-term but I want to be open to wherever God calls me. There is a huge mission field that will take many years to reach. There need to be relationships built and joyful Christianity modeled. And it takes time. Time to show that we're not people who just come, change everything, and then leave.

I cried through the sermon today. One of the new teachers, a good family friend, shared his story about recent open-heart surgery along with the fears and pain and struggle to recuperate after the surgery. My mother, brother and I had gone and sat in the waiting room with his family while he was in surgery. We didn't say much, we just brought things to do and snacks to eat, Michael had a prayer, and we waited. It was a small room, just barely big enough for the 6 of us along with another family also waiting for their loved one to come out of open-heart surgery.

I remembered going to see him afterwards. He was fast asleep, sedated, and pale. Tubes were everywhere with machines monitoring everything. We didn't stay long but we each said a fervent prayer in our hearts and then we quietly left for the hour-long drive back home. I kept in touch with his wife during that time, asking how we could help, and in the days following he had a difficult week because of the chest tubes that gave him great discomfort. I sent out an email asking for prayers and soon he was feeling better.

Even though I knew the end of the story, I still held my breath as he told it, waiting to be sure that he was okay. Tears ran down my cheeks as I imagined him not being here, standing in front of us, a living breathing heart-beating testimony to God's grace and mercy. It was a story that began more than 20 years ago. If we hadn't come to Lebanon as missionaries, my brother would not have had the idea to come back on a mission trip. Then the family friend and my brother wouldn't have come 3 consecutive years to do health outreach in the community. Then he wouldn't have felt a calling and pursued it to start a pre-med program at the university here. Then he wouldn't have had his physical and found out that he was in the beginning of heart failure.

Sometimes I get frustrated with God because I don't see an answer to my question materializing right away. Hearing the story today has encouraged me to recognize that some questions are still being answered. Some answers may have begun 20 years ago or they may be starting now. In the same way, when it comes to sharing the gospel and the freedom of salvation with others, if we don't see results right away, we don't need to be frustrated or to think it doesn't make any difference if we speak or don't speak. God is working everything out for good according to His purpose, not ours (Romans 8:28).

This is my dream for the future. To see clearly that I am in God's will and to be content there regardless of life's situations. To know that the small every day things have meaning because God has a purpose for my life. Whether it is here or elsewhere, I want to be the one who came. . .and stayed.

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