October 12, 2018

Namaste from Ireland!

Namaste (hello) from Ireland! This was supposed to be my September update from somewhere in South Asia. But because of increased sensitivities in that region we decided it was better for me to wait and post this once I got home to Ireland. I’m also not going to mention the institution I visited.

But I was in my happy place, my annual trip to spend the month of September doing biblical hermeneutics with a new crop of emerging leaders. The first time I came here was in 2005, again in 2008, and I’ve been visiting every year since 2014. So this lovely community has become part of me over the years. I know nearly all the current students, I stay in the same apartment each time, walk alongside the same colleagues (several of them former students!), shop in the same places, eat the same foods, and attend the same church and home group. In Ireland my friends and teammates were saying, “So sorry that now you have to go to [that country] and make another big cultural transition.” Nope. It feels like an old shoe. It’s Ireland that still feels new and different! But what really feels wonderful and familiar is being able to pick up relationships with these young leaders and with colleagues and church friends. I get to see them grow personally and spiritually from year to year. And I’m the beneficiary of their sweet welcome each time I come back. (And food. Sometimes former students or their wives bring me special foods they’ve prepared and want to share with me. Yum!)

One exciting addition this year was a new partnership between this institution and an indigenous outreach organization. As a result, ten of the thirty students I got to know have spent years in primarily M*sl1m or H!nd* areas and are now having a break for study and further leadership development. Their presence made our group discussions all the more stimulating and immediately relevant to local contexts. And I felt the responsibility of helping prepare them to use God's word well as they move forward. Certainly daunting, but a great opportunity.

Being in one place for the month of September also gave me a chance to catch my breath after a wild spate of travel from the end of July through August. First I went to Greece for EPC World Outreach’s ‘family gathering', held once every few years. Both R&R and a chance to connect with other EPC people doing similar things. Then in mid-August I was in Kenya for Serge Africa’s regional retreat. It was my first time back to Kenya since I left in 2013, so that was sort of a big deal. I was a tiny bit apprehensive but there were some sweet reunions with friends and colleagues. And I gave a talk at the retreat on Serge’s value of ‘ministry from vulnerability.’ (Yes, learned of necessity through the events of the past few years, so I might as well share what God's taught me!) But my primary purpose for being there was to make plans for future partnerships where I can come help on the theological education side in places where Serge teams are doing a variety of other things, mostly medical work. I'm planning to do this in Burundi in February 2019. And we’re hoping to do something in the Democratic Republic of Congo “after we figure out what’s happening with Ebola in our area right now,” they said. (I figure the people who are in a position to make statements like that are the real missionaries!)

At the end of August I went to Prague, Czech Republic, for the biennial meeting of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians (FEET). Since I’ve worked widely in Africa and have spent time in South Asia and did my PhD in the UK, I have some sense of what’s happening in theological education in those regions. But what I don’t know much about is what’s happening in Central and Eastern Europe. This conference gave me a chance to listen and learn who’s doing what where so that I can be an informed resource for Serge as needed. And of course, Prague is a fabulous place to visit – so I won’t deny I managed to enjoy it!

Sure, this much travel is challenging. But I’m just so thankful to be back in this sort of role after a gap of several years – and so appreciative of those of you who pray and give to make it possible, thank you!! – that it doesn’t feel draining. (OK, it did feel a bit draining at 2:30 am in the Dubai airport during my layover. But there was Starbucks.)

And most importantly, I get to see these amazing South Asian leaders grow in our month together, and then from year to year, in their knowledge and character and their ability to read and interpret the Bible. “May the God of peace… that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Heb 13:20-21). Such a privilege to be there as it happens!

Since I travel in South Asia on a tourist visa it's good to do touristy things. Which is why those of you following my social media saw me having so much fun.
It's a sacrifice, but I'm always willing to serve ;)

July 13, 2018

Sizzling Irish summer!

Hello from Dublin! Where I’m surviving the heat wave and drought, thank you very much. We’ve had two straight weeks of sizzling temperatures in the high 70’s and even some low 80's. According to Met √Čireann, the Irish Meterological Service, “A heatwave occurs where there are 5 consecutive days or more with maximum temperature over 25 degrees Celsius [78°F].” Seriously. I am not making this up. Heat advisories are in effect, there are mandatory water restrictions, and the whole country has flocked to the seacoast to cool off. Fortunately I only need to walk about ten minutes from my apartment to the nearest little beach. The first time, I couldn’t make myself go more than hip-deep into the 57°F Irish Sea. There's a reason so few of those people in the photo above are in that water! But the second time I plunged in and discovered that it's not too horrible once you get used to it. I’m certainly enjoying the long sunny days, though. It gets dark about 10:30pm and brightens up again around 4:30am.

Besides the weather, the other big news is that we have 21 university student interns in Encounter this summer, the short-term discipleship and outreach project that’s an annual partnership between Serge Ireland and Christian Unions Ireland (the Irish equivalent of InterVarsity). We’re delighted to have more Irish interns than Americans this year, by a slim margin of 11 to 10. A number of pastors and ministry leaders throughout Ireland are Encounter alumni, so it’s exciting to imagine how the Lord might use these Irish interns in the future.

The Encounter students arrived in Dublin on June 7 for a weekend of cross-cultural orientation. We’re actually dealing with three countries here – the United States, mostly Protestant Northern Ireland (part of the UK), and the ‘post-Catholic’ Republic of Ireland (where I live) – so there are plenty of cultural boundaries for everyone in this group to cross. I was asked to do five hours of intercultural training for them the first day, bringing back a flood of memories from my long-ago years with InterVarsity’s short-term mission programs in the US and Kenya.

Then we all moved to a YWCA center in Greystones, a small harbor town about a hour south of Dublin, for two weeks of intensive discipleship training and individual spiritual mentoring deeply rooting our identities in God’s gracious adoption of us as his ‘sons’ (Gal 4:4-7). Last year I was a mentor for two of the interns, but this year I was asked to lead the daily Bible study in Galatians and give one of the discipleship talks. Those of you who know me well know that teaching the Bible is my happy place! So I thoroughly enjoyed studying Galatians each day with these eager young people. I’m so grateful to God for that opportunity – and to all of you who partner with me so that I can be here doing it.

For the following two weeks the Encounter interns were out in teams of 4-6 serving churches and local ministries across Ireland. They helped with youth groups and ‘holiday Bible clubs’ (VBS) for kids, served meals to the homeless, helped stock food pantries, and painted and cleaned. Last Friday they all came trooping back to Greystones for a weekend of debriefing, telling their stories, and joyful togetherness and worship. Then lots of tears saying goodbye to our Irish interns Monday morning as they went home to summer jobs and other responsibilities. The Americans had a few days this week of rest and renewal, then today they headed out in new teams for another two weeks of service in various locales. They’ll end with a final debrief weekend on the north coast of Ireland July 27-31, but I won’t get to join them this year because of other travel I’m doing (see below…).

In addition to Encounter I’ve been busy with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Accredited Preachers Course I’m helping to teach. Look at the distribution of Presbyterian churches across Ireland and you’ll see why it’s so exciting that for the first time ever this course is being held in the Republic of Ireland rather than in Northern Ireland. I feel privileged to help train lay preachers for these far-flung churches in the Republic – considered the least evangelized English-speaking country in the world. And I’m mentoring another woman lay leader who wasn’t quite ready for the Accredited Preachers Course. I am simply in awe of what God is doing in Liz, and of her wide-open enthusiasm for his Word as we work through an overview of the Bible together.

I finished teaching my spring online course for Fuller Theological Seminary in June and am now part way through my summer course, on ‘Missiological Hermeneutics’. Which is just a fancy way of saying ‘reading through the whole Bible with a focus on the overarching storyline of God’s mission.’ Hopefully the students come away with a bigger and more comprehensive understanding of the mission of God to rescue and restore his fallen creation. It’s a lot to take in. But once you grasp that big story of who God is and what he’s up to, it changes everything.

And meanwhile this beautiful weather has been a gift from God for me, as I’m currently in the middle of the least pressurized four weeks I’ve had for the last two or three years. All the effort of getting connected with Serge and EPC World Outreach, developing this new Theological Education Specialist role, raising missionary support, getting ready to come to Ireland (including last year’s six-month stay), putting my house in Virginia on the market to sell, then moving to Dublin, finding and setting up a new apartment, prepping for Encounter and my Fuller courses and the PCI Accredited Preachers Course, has left me… well, tired! It’s absolutely lovely to have a few weeks where I can slow down, catch my breath, hang some pictures on the wall, go bike riding, and curl up on the sofa with a library book. It also gives me time to reflect on how grateful I am to the Lord for bringing me to this place and to this ministry, and for allowing me to be a small part of what he’s doing in Ireland and beyond. Thank you, thank you, thank you, partners and praying friends!

But about ten days from now my schedule picks up again and it will be go-go-go until the end of September. Here’s the itinerary:
  • 24-30 July - EPC World Outreach ‘Family Gathering’ (Greece)
  • 5-14 August - Serge All-Africa Retreat, to plan for future theological education projects (Kenya)
  • 24-28 August - Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians conference (Prague, Czech Rep)
  • 1-26 September – Teach biblical hermeneutics at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS, Bangalore, India
Please pray that I stayed attuned to the Lord throughout these events, that my heart is open to whatever he wants to do in and through me, and that God’s purposes are accomplished through it all. More news from India in September!