In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Footsteps

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 4.31.08 PM“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs….”  These words along with the rest of the Laura Ingalls series filled my childhood.  I read all her original books, the books about her daughter Rose and her mother Caroline as well as others based on the lives of people who had been special to Laura.  I also had the Little House Cookbook, the scrapbook I Remember Laura as well as read many more of the wonderful books that chronicled the non-fiction and fantasy of her life in early America.Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 4.21.33 PM.pngAs I read through the series as a child, I never once thought that I would be visiting some of the places where she lived.  So when Ryan suggested a trip to Pepin while in Wisconsin, I jumped at the chance.  I even re-read Little House in the Big Woods in preparation so that everything would be fresh in my mind.  And after a wonderful few days visiting friends and family in the Twin Cities, Ryan and I took a longer way back to Pardeeville along the Mississippi.  This enabled us to stop by the place where a replica cabin stands on the land where Laura was born and had her earliest memories.  Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 4.21.07 PM.pngBut the highlight for me was walking along the shores of Lake Pepin, picking up pebbles just like Laura would have when her family visited the town together.  I only kept two, pictured above with my copy of the book.  However, Laura shares that she filled her entire pocket with pebbles each prettier than the last so much so that her pocket ripped out of her dress when her Pa put her in the wagon to head back home.

I loved my time on Lake Pepin and am so thankful for these beautiful days to pause and enjoy the places we find ourselves near.

The Flogging Parson

Facebook reminded me today that I posted a newsletter 3 years ago with some of the history of Christianity in Australia.  3 years ago today, Ryan and I were dating but waiting to see what God would do.  So I just kept moving towards Australia, trusting that this was part of God’s road for us.  Now I want those of you who didn’t get the opportunity then or maybe forgot this information to hear a little about who the flogging parson is and what he has to do with the history of Christianity in Australian.  The original newsletter can still be found here under the About tab on our website but here is a slightly updated version that you hopefully find insightful and interesting:

Let’s compare and contrast Christianity in the US and in Australia. America is often referred to as a Christian nation. We were founded on Christian principles and you can find statistics stating that 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. But identifying yourself as a Christian and being a follower of Christ are two very different things.

Australia on the other hand was founded as a penal colony. A good amount of its people brought over as convicts were protestant and catholic. This remnant of history is still a part of the fabric of Australia today. There were missionaries and clergy on the transportation ships as well. And just to be clear, as far as I can tell, the missionaries and clergy were not convicts themselves.Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 9.27.09 PM.pngIn this collection of clergy one name stands out, Samuel Marsden. He was an English Anglican well known for his pioneering literacy and community development work among the Maori who had come as sailors and visitors to New South Wales. Sounds like a great guy, right? Except, he is more famously hailed as “The Flogging Parson”. His hatred of the Irish Catholics led to his most severe punishments in which those receiving the lashes were flogged so brutally that their “haunches turned to jelly”. He was of course not the only one who ordered beatings as a form of punishment for the early colony, so to have his savageness so clearly recorded in history shows you just how harsh he was. If you were a Maori, you might have loved this man but there was no grace if you happened to be Irish Catholic.

Today, there are statistics that would lead us to believe that Australia became a Christian nation on the heels of the early protestant and catholic convicts. However, the reality is quite different. Christianity is received with skepticism and often outright hostility. More recent statistics for Australia say that only about 7% of its people would claim to be churchgoing Christians.Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 9.27.21 PMNevertheless, God’s fingerprints are evident and certain places in the city have visible reminders of Christianity. For example, this sculpture of Jesus with the scripture Luke 23:44-46. Even so, there is still a compelling need for the light of the gospel to be proclaimed.

 

To Those “Holding the Rope”

Ryan and I spoke again tonight and we found ourselves in a room filled with many people who have been “holding the rope” for me for many years.  And now they’re holding the rope for us.  We look forward to continued relationships with many people who are on the other end, holding us up as we move towards Australia.  Thank you to everyone who is in this category!  We appreciate you.IMG_20160406_194323What do I mean by holding the rope?  Read the account below about William Carey, a missionary to India in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

After hearing an account of the spiritual needs of India, the secretary of the meeting remarked: “There is a gold mine in India, but it seems almost as deep as the center of the earth. Who will venture to explore it?” “I will venture to go down,” said William Carey, “but remember that you must hold the ropes.”

Hiking and Visiting

This week we are on our way back to Sacramento but were taking advantage of the good weather.  It’s been fun to visit with friends, get outside, do some hiking and see parts of the country that are somewhat new for me and entirely new to Ryan.IMG_20160302_144301.jpgThis is taken near the top of Badger Mountain in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, which we hiked with a friend of mine who worked with me in Papua New Guinea.  We got to spend some time with her fun family, husband and new baby but we also really enjoyed getting out and hiking.  It’s amazing to think that the area this rock overlooks used to be filled with water before the water carved it’s way through the mountain range and made it’s own little canyon.  Ryan and I drove along the Columbia River through that little gorge on our way out of Washington into Oregon.  It was a beautiful hike and a beautiful drive.IMG_3088Then today we enjoyed Klamath Falls in southern Oregon.  It wasn’t sunny but it was warm enough for a hike and a picnic on Moore Mountain.  We had fun visiting with friends of mine from Santa Barbara and as I type everyone else is still visiting and playing Super Mario.  We had a great day outside and also visited the Klamath Falls museum which boasts an exhibit about the Japanese Balloon Bombs.  It’s worth reading about this interesting and sad part of our history.

Tomorrow we’re headed to our last stop in Grass Valley and then it’s back to Sacramento for us.  We’re super encouraged about the strides we’ve made on this trip, especially the relationships that we’ve built, strengthened and renewed.  Good food and a little hiking seem to go a long way.

Australia Day

It’s Australia Day in Australia, tomorrow in the US (the 26th).  Australia day marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Port Jackson in New South Wales.  It also commemorates the raising of the Flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip.  Evidently Australians celebrate by eating lamb and watching fireworks, so Ryan will be at a bbq today joining in the celebration, enjoying some delicious meat and beautiful fireworks.

Book Review: The Blood of Lambs

A couple months ago, I received an email addressing a subject that is a common topic today in conversation as well as on social media.  The email got me thinking and I started to read more on the subject as well as to pray more.  The email’s realistic yet compassionate message was inspiring.

In sharing this my goal is not to stir up anger, unhealthy debate, or inspire fear.  Instead my hope is to encourage people to become informed in a way that will lead to conversations and actions that will help to change our world one person at a time.  And especially to anyone who calls themselves a Christian, my hope is that you would pray more, live like Jesus Christ and show the love and light of the triune God to everyone no matter what their background, religion or race.

November 16, 2015

Syrian Refugees: Bring Them On

Recently President Obama proposed bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. This is only a tiny portion of the hundreds of thousands that have fled to Europe, which in turn is a small portion of the millions that have fled just over the borders to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, many American leaders do not want to bring in any. And a few days ago Donald Trump said he wanted to exclude any Muslim from entering the U.S. until we “figure out what is happening.”

The fear is understandable. Obama promised that the refugees would be “rigorously vetted.” But this is likely to be the same kind of vetting that let Tashfeen Malik (the woman terrorist in San Bernardino) enter the U.S. two years ago on a K-1 (fiancee) visa. Since she came from Pakistan, which is known to harbor extremists, she was even subject to more vetting than others. We now know that she was already “radicalized” by then, and this was not picked up by the supposedly rigorous vetting.

So is Donald Trump right? From the American national security point of view, maybe he is. But from the Christian point of view, he is wrong.

Trump and many other politicians talk about keeping us “safe.” But Jesus never promised that we would be physically safe. In fact, He said “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16-18). Being flogged is not “safe.” In the time of Jesus, being delivered over to courts, governors and kings often meant death. Of the eleven disciples who remained after Judas, ten were martyred. See 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 for all the unsafe things that the Apostle Paul endured. Only John died a natural death.

As an example of a “worst case scenario,” back in 1981, an Islamic terrorist came to America from Lebanon on a legal visa. His purpose was to develop jihad cells and attack us from within, but God had other plans. He was in a severe car accident, and a Christian doctor took care of him, not knowing who he was – only a foreign man who needed help. After some time in a hospital, the doctor took him into his own home for months of recuperation. This completely exploded the terrorist’s idea of Christianity. When he left the doctor’s home, he could only fall on his knees and pray to God, who revealed Himself to this now ex-terrorist. The doctor practiced radical Christian hospitality and was used by God to bring this very unsafe man into the Kingdom.

So yes, we should be “wise as serpents” and examine the refugees as well as possible, knowing that like in the case of Tashfeen Malik, we will miss some. But for the sake of “bear(ing) witness before…the Gentiles,” I say “Bring them on.” It is very difficult for them to hear the Gospel in Syria and Iraq, but here they can. Our bodies may not be perfectly safe, but our souls are perfectly safe in Christ.

Alexander PierceBloodofLambCoverThe “worst case scenario” described in the above email comes from a book called The Blood of Lambs: A Former Terrorist’s Memoir of Death and Redemption by Kamal Saleem.  This book, written by Kamal, does tell his amazing story of conversion.  However, the book primarily focuses on describing Kamal’s formative years, how Islam shaped his world view and his journey that eventually brought him to the US.  

I was shocked and disturbed by a lot of what was described in somewhat graphic detail.  But it is those details that give the reader the whole picture of the ideology and culture that shaped Kamal and that continues to shape others.

However, one of the most impactful parts of the book for me was the descriptions of how Kamal first felt meeting Christians who lived out their faith.  The light Kamal describes is something that I would hope could be found in any Christian home.  However, it’s also convicting because so often Christians do not live their faith in such a transparent, deliberate way.

This book is worth reading, whether you are a Christian or not, it will be an interesting and informative read.  And once you read The Blood of Lambs, you might be interested in digging a bit deeper, continuing to learn about Islam and how practically to engage Muslims while showing Christ’s love.  For that I would recommend another recent read called Facing Islam, Engaging Muslims written by Alexander Pierce.

Enjoy reading and learning.  May your conversations be inspired and informed.

 

Why Australia? The Stolen Generation

I don’t know yet how this will fully come together but as Ryan and I move closer to Australia, I would like to share with you some of the reasons why we’re moving there.  This will most likely be a hodgepodge of different things but hopefully it will give you a bigger picture of our hearts for this country and the people.

NeverForget

The Stolen Generation- It’s exactly what it says.  A whole generation of people who were taken forcefully from their families by government policy under the guise of protection and help.  Although this is no longer an Australian policy, the wounds and scars from this are still very present in Australian society.  Some of the people who we will be working with had family members taken from their homes or were taken themselves.

Back in 2012, I posted about a movie that shows one families heartbreaking story, Rabbit-Proof Fence.  This movie gives some reality and weight to what otherwise could be pushed away and forgotten as history.  Although the graphic above doesn’t constitute all white Australian sentiments, it does represent a painful reality.  This is by no means something that is going to be easily resolved but it’s a part of the Australian history (recent history) that continues to impact people’s lives, often in very direct ways.  Many children who were taken were never able to go back to their communities and lost their families as well as their cultural identity.  If this sounds familiar, there are many parallels to the experiences of the Aboriginal community and the Native American community in the US.

Last week Yahoo news even had a small segment on The Stolen Generation.  You can read the article and watch the video here: Yahoo News- The Stolen Generation.

Ryan and I will not be in Australia to make amends, remedy or even advocate for either side.  Instead this is just one of the cultural realities we will be stepping into.  We will seek to listen to and hear the stories.  We will seek to keep our eyes open and understand this as one of the many events that has woven itself into Australia’s fabric.  And among other things we will pray for continued communication and awareness, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Meanwhile in Australia…

Every once in awhile I take a look through the Australian news.  I’m sure this practice will become more common as we get closer to moving but for now I just scan the headlines every few weeks.  Today an article caught my attention and as I read through it, I couldn’t help but think back on the training we received last week coupled with other cross-cultural experiences.

Aboriginal Input

The headline Australian PM knocks back Indigenous constitution plan was interesting in and of itself.  But reading the article it became more apparent that there were certain cultural norms and expectations at work.  And these cultural differences could easily be what is holding the Australian government and the Aboriginal leaders back from coming to an agreeable decision for both sides.

The article is regarding changes to the Australian constitution that would recognize Indigenous Australians and remove some race-based provisions. It cites the following as the proposed changes:

  • Recognising that the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Acknowledging the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters
  • Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Repealing the two so-called “race provisions”:

  • section 25 that recognises that the states can disqualify people on the basis of their race from voting
  • section 51(26) that allows laws to be made based upon a person’s race.

Reading through this article multiple times, on the surface it seems like both sides have valid points but I think that somehow their cultural values and worldview are coloring their vision and making it more difficult to see the point the other side is trying to make.  The Aboriginal community wants to have their own talks and come to a consensus separately regarding the constitutional changes and amendments.  The amendments directly impact their lives.  However, the Prime Minister has “anxiety about a separate Indigenous process is that it jars with the notion of finally substituting ‘we’ for ‘them and us'”.  Not being Aboriginal, I actually relate to the PMs point more but I really wonder what cultural norms are behind the Aboriginal wishes and if they could just be allowed their own process, if that wouldn’t make the final decision easier and more unifying in the long run.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out and how long it will take for an agreement to be reached.

Note: I’m not an Australian expert.  I’m not an Aboriginal expert.  I’m not a political expert or even well read in this particular political instance.  I’m simply commenting on what I see as glaring cultural and historical differences that are keeping these two sides at odds with each other.

The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part Two)

In May I posted Part One of The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs so now here is Part Two.  Originally I had intended it to be just one entry but as History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part One) got longer, I realized that it would be best to split up the reviews by books.  I read these two books Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms and Eternity in their Hearts almost simultaneously.  And I think they are more interesting when viewed together but they can also stand on their own.

EternityintheirHearts

I borrowed this book from a friend after our conversation about culture and the gospel.  I had read one of Don Richardson’s books before but Eternity in their Hearts gives a broader look across many different cultures.  Even before I read this book, as a Christian I believe that God has woven himself into the fabric of this world.  “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” Ephesians 1:4 NLT  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 NIV  I believe the Bible is true.  I believe the Christian faith is reasoned and reasonable and can stand up to scrutiny.

So with this in mind, I was not surprised as I read through Eternity in their Hearts and heard the stories of past and current cultures that have evidence of the one true God and the Christian gospel in their culture despite never having been previously expressed to the Bible or Christian proselytizing.

In the Part One post I had a couple quotes where people claimed that their religion was the oldest or their scripture was the most accurate.  It was these quotes and others similar that hung in my mind as I considered the information in Eternity in their Hearts.  It made my mind work as I considered truth and what truth actually means.  This of course is a bigger question and discussion but this short Youtube video Truth Refocused does a great job of presenting why truth can’t really be relative and to each his own.

I can’t do justice to this book by summarizing the stories, if you’re interested, you will have to read them on your own.  But I can tell you that stories of cultures that cross continents Greek in Europe, Inca in America, Mbaka in Africa and the Chinese in Asia are thought provoking.  And that’s just Chapter 1 which tells about cultures and people who have knowledge about a “Vague God”.  These cultures all have a name for or a belief in a supreme God that has been passed down often with stories that parallel Biblical stories with amazing accuracy.  “The Chinese call him Shang Ti- the Lord in Heaven….In Korea he is known as Hananim- The Great One…Belief in Shang Ti/Hananim predates confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism by an unknown number of centuries.”

Chapter 2 continues to dig deeper and focuses on an area in and around Burma where multiple people groups had hymns were waiting for the “Lost Book”.  All of these groups were waiting for a sacred book and some even had detailed hymns and Biblical stories that were also passed down and continued to whet the people’s appetite for more knowledge that they believed would be found in the “Lost Book”.  “Karen prophets actually taught their people hymns passed down from generation to generation by verbal communication alone…Karen hymns to Y’wa reveal how astonishingly clear the concept of the one true God can be in a folk religion!”

I could continue because this book keeps going through Papua New Guinea and many other places.  It explores many people who had glimpses and even more of the gospel before ever having the Bible or hearing the Gospel, causing them either to look expectantly towards a time when they would hear the truth more fully or in some cases this knowledge just proved to be a platform for understanding the gospel in their culture and context.  It is definitely worth reading but I have a couple warnings. You will need to ignore the heavy use of the exclamation point (which I get because it’s an exciting topic but not enough to merit all the exclamation points used).  Also when the author moved away from his story telling strength, his theories and arguments, while still compelling, can get dense and difficult to wade through.

But despite those warnings, Eternity in their Hearts is an interesting and thought provoking read.  If you like history, religion and culture, this book combines them all.

He is Risen!

thecross

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.  Luke 24:1-8

Let us celebrate the truth of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  He is risen, indeed!

*Thanks to Phil King for this great picture of the flower covered cross from Ukarumpa’s morning service this year.