Friday, February 21, 2014

Of Bread and Ham and Joy

I am too happy to be productive!  So here is a blog post!

There is some endorphin, I am sure of it, that is released into a teacher when she nails a lesson and the lights go on in her students’ eyes.  There is something about that moment of ‘ah-ha’!  And when they laugh and enjoy the moment along with you, oh it makes me giddy!  We are playing together.  Because the best learning happens when we play!

This semester I am teaching three classes: Rocks & Mineralogy, English Conversation, and English Writing for ET (a technical writing class).  At the end of our first English Writing class I gave my students a simple assignment.  “Write me directions for making a ham sandwich.”

Today, they handed in their assignments, some hand written at the last minute on a strip of paper, others neatly printed with steps, and one written in flowing handwriting with a photograph showing each step.  This last one I put at the bottom of the pile.  It would be a grand example of exactly what I would look for in their writing in the future.

They were not expecting what happened next.  Bread, ham, mayo, mustard, tomatoes, onions, pickles.  A knife and cutting board.  And paper towels for plates.  The students 'oh-ed- and giggled as the 'materials' for today's demonstration were placed on the desk.

I picked up the first student's directions, placed a paper towel in front of me, and got to work.  I read each student’s recipe aloud, and painstakingly followed every step that they had prepared for me.  Exactly the way that they wrote them.  I did not add any extra interpretation of my own.  I just followed their directions.

The results were hilarious!

Some sandwiches ended up with pieces of bread covered in mayo.  Yes, both sides of each piece.  That is what they had specified in the instructions: “cover both pieces of bread in mayonnaise.” So I did it.  Some said to just put the ham on the bread.  They didn’t tell me to slice it.  But I didn’t think it would be fair for them to have all of the ham, so after I put the whole block of processed meat on the bread I took it off and gave them a slice.

Many told me to just put the parts of the sandwich there.   Where?  Hmm, I could see no specific instructions about where the parts were to go.  So the ‘plate’ had every ingredient of the sandwich nicely laid out side by side.

Laughter filled the room.  By the end of the class the point had sunk down deep into a happy place in our hearts.  Writing, especially technical writing, must be clear and complete.  If not, you end up with sandwich pieces all over the plate or mayonnaise-drenched bread.  Or something worse!

I love my job!  I cannot tell you how grand this is!

What is this source of joy?  Could it be the Spirit of God?  Could it be that He enjoys watching us learn?  He knows everything, but when the lights go on in our eyes regarding the truth He speaks over us, does His heart leap with joy like mine did today?

I think it must be so.  We are, after all, made in His image.

(I SO wish I had pictures of today - as you can imagine, the work was a bit too messy for me to handle a camera.  But if any students took photos, I'll pass those along!)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Handcrafted Answer to a Prayer

When did I first start praying for this young woman?  I do not remember.  Long before I was introduced to Uka, I knew I would need to meet her.  I would need her friendship and camaraderie.  I would cherish her insight into her culture.  I would learn from her as I passed along my own experiences.  And together we would birth a bilingual kids ministry.

Because that is not something you should try doing solo.

When did I start to ask God for a person to fill this role?  It must be about two years ago...

God is funny and mysterious.  He lives outside of time.  So He had been working on an answer to my new prayer for over two decades.

Meet Uka.


"I was praying, and think we need to communicate with our children's parents about what we are doing in class so they can talk about it at home," Uka mentioned to me as we got together to pray for our Antioch Mongolia's kids.  Seriously, I had the same idea two weeks ago, chica.  But got overwhelmed with the idea of how to do it in our bilingual setting.

This scenario is recurrent with the two of us.  God drops His ideas into both of our heads.  And where I hit the 'but how do we do that in Mongolia?!?' wall, Uka has an idea of how to get us there.

I'm not telling you much about the inside of this fascinating, faithful woman of God, yet.  I'm looking for words.  Genuine.  Sold out.  Child-hearted.  Wise.  Quirky.  Creative.  Humble.  Talented.  Multifaceted.  Beautiful.

Uka moments after her baptism - summer 2013

I wish you could see her for a Sunday with our children.  There is a genuine smile of joy blazing from her eyes as much as between her cheeks.  When anyone talks to her, from the littlest to the oldest, they have her full attention - she is down at their level, listening with her ears and her eyes, actively loving.  When she translates she matches my energy, like a harmony being sung by my side, and fills in the gaps that my cultural bent creates.  When she prays, she is in her Daddy's lap and demonstrates invitingly how close anyone can be to Abba.

Dance party at kids' church!  Uka is the tall 'kid' in back.

This is the one God prepared as an answer to my prayer of two years ago.  This is Uka.

pause - insight into my life

You might say I'm a bit of a control freak.  A perfectionist.  Hmm.  Many have said the latter.  I know I am also the former.

Giving over a project, a plan, a class, a lesson.  Knowingly or subconsciously, I grip my little kingdom. I do not like to let go.  I do not share well.  

I need to grow here.

A lot.

But I trust Uka.  Entirely.  With kids, with teaching, with translation.  Easily.  Freely.  Joyfully!

And in January I had the joy of sitting in the nest and watching this young woman take her first flight.  She ran our children's department for two weeks while I was away for a conference in Thailand.  The photos and stories she sent while I was away made my heart sing.

You should know something else about Uka.  She doesn't have my control-freak hang-ups.  As soon as she was released to lead she immediately set others among our volunteers, and even our kids, free to fly in their own ways.

I'm glad I am only planting this sapling.  If I were to hold onto it, I'd limit its root space out of fear of it not growing 'just right'.  Uka will free this ministry to grow into much more than I could.

Uka on right - faithfully translating for me.
Reminds me of a song I listened to again today.

"What you have done, others will do,
bigger and better and faster than you,"

(Rick Pino's "Pioneer")

I do not mind that.  At all.  Uka and others will grow this children’s ministry and release it to flourish.  I am just happy to fulfill another line of the same song.

"But the Father in heaven, He is glad you can go,
For those who come after you will need the road."

Uka teaching our kids
It turns out that I was not the only one praying about this ministry to children long ahead of its birth.  Uka let me know months after she joined me that she had asked God to give her an opportunity to learn how to minister to children.  When she discovered what we were planning for the children of this then church-to-be, she knew that she wanted to be a part.  But she wasn't sure if I would want her help.

Oh, girl.  If she hadn't jumped in.  Oh.  I'm glad I do not have to think about what that would have looked like.

I am thankful, instead, that this will be beautiful.  And that Uka’s prayers were answered along with mine.

The beauty of answered prayers.

Monday, February 10, 2014

One Year in Mongolia

I have now lived in Mongolia for one adventure-filled year.  A church has been birthed.  Along with a children's ministry.  I've learned a lot about mutton and yogurt.  And teaching English and geology.  I've made some beautiful friends.  And I've seen many of them discover the love of God.

It has been a good year.  And I am looking forward to the next!

Just in case it was hard to see the photos from my email update, I am posting them here.  Along with some fresh prayer requests below!

Piping Fresh Prayer Requests
Here are some up-to-date (as of this post, ya know) prayer points for fuel.  Thank you for lifting us up!

- a young man to disciple our 10 to 15 year old boys - we want them to know that following Jesus is totally worth everything!

- comfort for a family in our body who lost their 12-month old daughter two weeks ago, and for another family who teaches at my university who lost their 18-month old son one week ago.

- grace in this next semester to teach well, and let go of extraneous details that could swamp me (I am a bit of a perfectionist!)

- excellent connections during discipleship times with girls from school and church

- wisdom for us as a church to know how to reach the young men of Ulaanbaatar

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Antioch - Finding Myself at Home

The dorms emptied out as students traveled home for the weekend.  Silence strung from the halls like pendants forgotten by the wind.  It was an average Saturday morning in Kokernot Hall.

Gathering my laundry, a small pan, bread and an egg, I expertly balanced the load on my way to the basement.  Laundry sorted and deposited in quarter-fed machines, I popped the bread in the toaster and went about making myself an egg sandwich.

About the time I had placed egg between toast, a familiar face appeared around the corner.  Heather, the RA from the third floor, was also on a breakfast mission.  When she had prepared her meal she invited me up to her room to hang out.

Being an introvert and a bookworm, I didn’t get out of my dorm much freshman year.  The RA on my hall didn’t seem to stick around many weekends, so Heather took me in as one of her hall kids.  I often found myself drinking tea and chatting away a Saturday morning with this outgoing junior in her beautiful loft room.

Conversations with Heather ranged from processing the oddities of southern culture (we were both Yankees) to my search for a good church.  

"What do you want to be when you 'grow up'?" she asked.  To answer her question I shared about my experience two years prior in Russia, and my hopes of serving there in the future.

“You need to meet my friend, Michele Perry,” Heather encouraged me.  “She is serving as a missionary in Bangladesh right now, but will be back this spring.”

Heather shared stories of this passionate young woman who loved God and would go anywhere to make Him known, regardless of being born without her left leg.  The more I heard about this awe-inspiring woman, the more I wanted to meet her.

Christmas vacation eventually came and passed.  A week into my second semester I went upstairs to Heather’s room to catch up.  Oh, how disappointed I was to discover that Heather had not returned for the spring semester!  I would dearly miss this precious young woman and our Saturday talks.  And now how was I to find her friend?  The young missionary’s name had slipped from my memory over Christmas vacation.

God is good at working out those kinds of details.

My spring semester schedule included an environmental studies class that met twice a week on the opposite end of campus, a good 20-minute walk from Kokernot Hall.  The first day my class gathered at the environmental studies building, I noticed a girl come into the room walking with the aid of crutches, missing her left leg.  Could this be the missionary Heather had told me about?

Winters in Waco are not what I would have called ‘cold’, at least not my first year out of the north.  They are, however, often wet, with a mist-like rain that cuts through every layer you are wearing.  A few weeks into the semester the weather was especially foul. 

I had just recently introduced myself to Michele, and she was, in fact, Heather’s friend.  Michele drove to class and that day watching my futile attempts to dodge the miniscule raindrops she offered me a ride home.  I readily took her up on the offer, both thankful for a warm ride back to campus and for an opportunity to get to hear Michele’s stories from southeast Asia.

“You see, Carrie, God knew He was going to planning to take me to places like India and Bangladesh.” Michele explained as she blasted the heater in an attempt to dry the icy moisture out of our clothing.  “That is why He chose for me to be born in Florida.”

Michele’s personality certainly was sunny enough to be from Florida!  Her joy warmed both the car and her passenger, defying the gray mist falling outside.

“I’m from Minnesota,” I replied, “so I don’t really mind the cold too much.”

“Well, God must have made you for Siberia!” she declared.

I burst into astonished giggles.  This girl didn’t know me from Adam, but she jokingly had declared that God must be planning to send me to the one place on earth I most hoped He would.

Michele offered to take me to another part of campus to get coffee and to share stories.  Not having another class until much later that day I eagerly accepted her offer.

Sipping on something warm, Michele shared stories about her time in Bangladesh.  In the middle of her tales, she asked if I was doing anything the next weekend, and would I like to join her for a missions conference.  Absolutely!

A week later, Michele drove me half an hour north to Latham Springs Campground for World Mandate 1998.  I had never been surrounded by so many people my own age who wanted nothing less than to make Jesus famous around the world.  There had to be nearly 200 of us!  The weekend flew by as missionary after missionary shared stories from around the globe, and as Highland Baptist’s young college minister, Jimmy Seibert, filled us with vision to join these sold-out laborers in unreached corners of our planet.

I felt at home and wished the weekend could stretch into weeks.  Soon, I discovered that the college ministry that put on World Mandate also ran a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico every spring.  I had not yet made plans for spring break and already knew I liked mission trips so I didn’t need any convincing.  I showed up at the first training for the trip a couple weeks later, and soon found myself a part of this beautiful college ministry with a strong heart for the nations.  A couple years later Highland Baptist Church birthed Antioch Community Church.  This church home has become for me a precious family of like-minded lovers of God who are making Jesus famous as He is worthy of all over the planet.

{I don't seem to have pics of Michele or any of the early Mandates, but here are some Juarez photos for any who want to reminisce. Enjoy!}
Juarez, Mexico

Can you see me? Juarez Team - 1999

Dance team - Juarez, Mexico - 2004

Worship at the Cathedral - Juarez, Mexico - 2004

Grad school Lifegroup - Juarez, Mexico - 2004

Juarez, Mexico - 2005

Tsagaan Sar and the Beginning of the Adventure

Monday afternoon, February 11, 2013.  Mountain peaks waved at us through an undercast sky as I strained to look past the shy, Korean teen seated next to me.  As we broke through the clouds I hoped to catch a glimpse of my new home.  Occasionally she would pull away and allow me a glance as rectangular buildings and white dots of gers filled the edges of the valley.

Ten minutes later I pulled backpack over thick, Russian coat, and dragged an overly-stuffed carry-on behind me as stewardesses wished me a good day in Korean.  Cold leaked around the edge of the jetway.  After my passport had been stamped and two bags and a box were loaded onto a cart, I found my way to the lobby of the tiny international airport.

My teammates, Josh and Sagana, and their 4-year old daughter appeared through the doorway just as I was extracting my winter boots from one of my suitcases.  They helped me grab my luggage and we cut through the near zero (F) winter air and loaded into their car. 

“Happy Tsagaan Sar!” I was reminded again by my teammates that I had arrived on the first day of the Mongolian New Year.  “Are you up for an adventure?”


Rather than driving east into town, we headed northwest to a ‘suburb’ of Ulaanbaatar.  And less than an hour after arriving in Mongolia I found myself stepping through the colorful doorway of a precious elderly woman’s ger – the traditional Mongolian felt home, complete with wood-burning stove.

Visiting a ger - Mongolian home.
“Be sure not to step on the lentil.  Try not to point your feet at the fire,” Josh instructed. “And do not walk between the two support beams in the center of the ger.”

I was then taught the traditional greeting for Tsaagan Sar: Ahmar ban oh? (Амар байна уу?) - meaning 'Are you peaceful?'  Placing my arms under the arms of the head of the home, the precious wrinkled face bent in to sniff me, first on my left and then on my right.

After the formal greetings we were instructed to sit down around a table.  The feast laying before us consisted of an entire steamed sheep’s back, a tower of cookies, and various bowls and plates of side dishes and candy.  I was handed a bowl of some type of yogurt or buttery milk and drank a sip before passing it along to the others. 

My first Tsagaan Sar feast.
Soon we were joined by another couple who also greeted the owner of the home, and then each of us.  These two sat at the head of the table as honored guests, because of their advanced years. Thankfully, these visitors had lived in the States for a number of years and both spoke English fluently.

The homeowner, all this while, was busy adding wood to the fire, placing a giant pot on the stove, and then loading a sieve of some kind with frozen buuz, the traditional meat-filled dumpling of Mongolia.  As I watched her work, Sagana informed me that many families will prepare and freeze around 1,000 buuz in preparation for Tsagaan Sar.  After loading the steaming basket into the giant pot and placing the cover on top, our hostess set a large rock and a solid iron axe on top of the whole assembly.  The weight of these two objects would press the lid down, trapping steam to cook the buuz

Cooking buuz - delicious Mongolian dumplings.

Yes, that is an axe on the lid of the pot.

Perhaps 20 or 30 minutes later, off came the axe, the stone, and the lid.  Dishes were heaped with steaming-hot dumplings and the plates passed around the table.  After her guests seemed sated on buuz, our hostess sat down on the edge of her bed and dug around for a few moments in a pile next to her.  Then she was up on her feet again to present a gift to each one of her guests.  With surprise and joy I received a brightly colored pair of socks and a bar of chocolate, while Hope showed off her new mittens – the kind that has a string that hold them together through the arms of your coat.


New mittens!
After saying goodbye in no particularly formal way, we piled back into the car in the now starry evening.  We would visit two more homes, both in town, to repeat the same traditional greetings, the tasting of yogurt, milk tea, mutton and buuz.  At the final home I was even treated to my first taste of airag – traditional Mongolian fermented mare’s milk.  I actually liked it!  Each visit ended the same way.  Eat buuz, receive a gift from the host (one should always show delight and surprise by the gift!), and then bundle up in scarf, hat, gloves, boots and winter coat, thank the host and out into the chill of -20 degrees Fahrenheit night.

By the third and final day of Tsagaan Sar I had visited seven homes, had my left and right ear sniffed by many friendly faces, eaten more buuz than I could have imagined, and received everything from a cute shopping bag to gloves to about the equivalent of 5 dollars in Turigs (the local currency).  What a welcome!

Ahmar ban oh?  Are you peaceful?  I pray you know the presence of the One who came to restore peace between the Father and His children.  And that the people of the steppe will soon know His peace as well.

Enjoy the long awaited photos!

Sweet little one who let me hold him for most of my visit.
Serving the fat-tailed sheep.
Trying on a deel - traditional Mongolian outfit.

With neighbor friends visiting Sagana's beautiful mother.
Another feast!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

When Dreams take Flight

Today feels like a dream to me.  One moment I am in awe that I am about to board a one-way flight to Asia.  The next I am convinced this may just be a short-term trip and that I’ll return to Dallas in a few weeks. Mostly, I am just tired. Four hours of sleep in the past forty-eight makes for a sleepy Carrie who is looking forward to boarding this jet and curling up for a long in-flight nap.

My take away from this past few weeks of final preparations is simple and beautiful.  We are never launched into God’s dreams alone.  Our Lord is far too relational to just make His dreams about Him and me.  He is excited about making His Son famous both in the nations and in our own hearts.  And He does that through His own body.

Hands & Feet – a number of times this past couple weeks, a handful of friends have come by my home to help me finish packing and going through all of my belongings. I could not have gotten out the door without each of their joyful, willing help.

Words – from teachings to encouragements to notes, I have been built up by my friends and family, near and far away.  The Love of God and His beautiful truth are flooding my soul via the conduit of His Bride!

Covering – I KNOW I am being prayed for.  I heard it in my Oaks’ children’s prayers for me last Sunday.  I can tell by the peace that surrounds me.  Encouragement has seeped into my soul and I am confident I am going to be remembered by my friends and family State-side.

Finances – From pennies and nickels collected by our Antioch children to generous gifts from those I know are living on a ‘creative’ budget, to the ones who are joyfully sharing from the place of abundance, every one of my financial supporters reflect God’s love and care for me and for the ones He is calling us to serve.

It feels to me that everyone who is giving and-or praying for me is going with me.  I do not feel alone!  We are all going out the door this afternoon – into an adventure of making Jesus famous across Asia.

Thank you, all, for being part of Abba’s beautiful dream!  You are my partners in the Gospel.  Students will know Him and make Him known.  Children will call Him Daddy.  Families will find hope in Him.  Villages will be transformed.  Nations will be changed.  And Jesus will be famous, just like He is worthy of!

In 48 hours I will be home in a new land.  You are my neighbor and friend, my brother and sister on this journey.  Who will we meet?  Who will we love together?  Who will we serve?  What will we learn?  I cannot wait to find out!

For His glory!  For their joy and ours!