I feel like the world is trying to live in a paradox.
One where everybody wants to be loved for who they are, but only love certain parts of themselves. One where people are hurt when they are not accepted, but do not accept others. One where we are all striving for something- we may not be sure what it is, but we’ll know when we get there.
There seems to be a lack of satisfaction within my generation. On social media, we make fun of ourselves for how self deprecating we are, posting about our insatiable desire for validation in an attempt to gain some “likes”. The irony of it is not lost on me. Perhaps this resounds throughout history, but the sound of it is just getting louder.
That we would present ourselves to society and expect everyone to accept us does not seem possible. Surely, in a world full of unique individuals, it would stand to reason that you cannot expect 100% of the population to agree on anything, including [but by no means limited to] your fashion statement, sexuality or religious beliefs. Furthermore, this seems like such an impossibility to me because we are bound by a tendency to not even completely accept ourselves. Take, for instance, in dating. One partner would have it that they are loved completely and wholly, mistakes and quirks included. That when they are irritated, it is for a reason and that is understood and absorbed by their significant other. When they indulge in bad habits, it is taken with a pinch of salt as it’s just “who they are”. And yet, there are things about us that, no matter how much we try, we cannot love. Memories that lurk, regrets woven into our personality, a temptation to be what we are tired of fighting. And yet, when we are rejected, even be it by one person in a sea of admirers, we take it to heart, and moan that no one truly understands.
And what about tolerance?
That what I say is the truth and what you have to say is a combination of your upbringing, background and probably some misunderstanding. Deep down, it makes me feel better to think you’re a little bit foolish for thinking in such a way. And of course we can’t discuss or explore our differences on the off chance someone will say something even remotely challenging, because that wouldn’t be… tolerating me. That might hurt. That might take some time and energy to understand. And I would rather not, thank you.
What about this sense that the world is not right? That we may never be able to make it right, what with all the violence and pain and hungry and global warming, for heaven’s sake, on top of all that. And we just don’t know how to fix it, but we know we have to so we’d better buy recycled toilet paper and give a dollar to the Salvo’s man.
I will here suggest something that will seem impossible.
Just as impossible as being accepted.
Just as impossible as everyone being tolerating.
Just as impossible as saving the world.
That there has been an answer all along.
What if there was someone who knew all of your flaws before you’d even really met them, and loved you completely? Loved you enough that, despite knowing everything you are ashamed of and afraid of, they died for you? Someone to fulfil your greatest desire of knowing that all the pieces of you weren’t to be displayed or hidden, but were puzzle pieces that form a beautiful picture.
What if there was an ultimate truth? Some people fight over what it may be, some people argue it doesn’t exist. But what if it did? And it was all mapped out, by someone who knew what they were doing? And it sort of just… felt right? A list of directions, so to speak, that you’d always been trying to follow, to a point, all laid out for you. A list of directions you could point others to. You always knew eggs, sugar and milk went together but now you’ve found a precise recipe.
And, what if there was a point?. A way to fix everything? And someone who was willing to do it, save the world? To make things right and beautiful again?
Maybe there is.
I believe there is.
I believe it’s Christ who loves you, Christianity which directs you, and God who is going to save the world.
And if you disagree with me, that’s fine. Just tolerate my opinions.
When I was in year 9, I held a birthday party where I asked everyone to give a gift to charity instead of giving me a gift. An avid gift giver myself, people never really seem to know what to get me, so I figured I’d make an easy way out. But, as we sat down to pizza, one girl gave me a gift anyway. A dainty bronze coloured chain held a green coloured stone. And it was one of the most beautiful things I owned. It was certainly, up to that date, the best gift I’d ever been given.
I wore it constantly- it went with everything from my school uniform to smart casual get ups. It made me feel confident, it was beautiful and I felt like I looked sophisticated just for wearing it. I felt it had been given to me by someone who truly knew me and cared about me- it was a gift in the truest sense, unasked for and truly treasured.
And then, two years later, our friendship ended in flame and ashes. It was fury like I had never expected and pain I hadn’t seen coming. Notebooks were filled with pages of rage [that is not an exaggeration], and I spent many night curled up on the couch, crying on my mum’s shoulder. There is no point in explaining the details- the point is, a person I had thought cared turned out not to. Photos were deleted, and one still lives in my cupboard because I can’t bring myself to look at it or throw it away. Letters were thrown away and I had to slowly figure out how to live life differently. I lost many few friends in that time, in the fall out.
But that necklace sat in my trinket dish, and it wasn’t long before I wore something I wanted to complement with it. I decided to, and tried to look at the necklace as just a thing. To remember the pizza and party- the characters who could still play the joyful memories again and again in my head.
I did that up until two weeks ago, when I lost the necklace.
As I rummaged through every bag and coat pocket, waited in agony for the current load of washing to be done so I could dig through the clothes I’d recently worn, and even began to dream about where it was [that is also not an exaggeration], I had to ponder why I was so caught up about it. It wasn’t as if I’d lost just some piece of jewellery – indeed, I have to admit, sometimes when cleaning up I find something I hadn’t realised I’d lost. No, this was combing the house as if I’d lost an engagement ring or some medication I needed to take daily. This was trying to describe jewellery to my DAD as he were a sketch artist trying to understand the face of someone who had attacked me in an alleyway. This was heart racing, this was important enough that I am writing about it now, when I lost it maybe three weeks ago. And, being me, I had to ask why.
Initially, I tried convincing myself it’s because it was pretty. To be fair, I have lost something that was once a staple to my style. My hand goes to my throat when I’m distracted, and doesn’t find anything. My work outfits look significantly more boring. And something I considered truly beautiful isn’t within my reach anymore. But, I have a few pretty things now. I could wear another necklace. I’ll probably end up buying another one soon enough.
However, eventually I came to think about the memories that were attached to it. The person who gave it to me. That birthday party, surrounded by those girls who I don’t talk to anymore. Those girls who turned their backs on me. A group of people who might never have seen me or known me the way I wanted. A girl who, years later, would sear me with words in the middle of the quad at school. The memories that were attached to that necklace were sweet and pure, because I’d never allowed myself to attach the bad ones to it. It was a reminder of a time when things were good and happy, and without it, I live in the aftermath of what happened. For some reason everything else about the time is slightly bitter and I still get a weight at the base of my sternum when Facebook suggests them as a friend, or I find a note from long ago. But that necklace was from a time when a good friend gave me something I treasured.
What insanity is human reason that a mere string of metal and rock should make one weep?
So what do I do now? Do I just forget about it? I jumped out of bed this morning to check a pocket it had been in during my dreams last night- the realisation it was so significant is what caused me to write this post. I rarely write about simply my “life”, but this I wanted to get out in some musing way that could perhaps provoke thought in another. I have to admit, I searched online for a similar one. I still get jittery when I remember another place it might be- I cleaned our drain looking for it [I might have pushed it down rather than up, a thought which still scares me]. How can I let it go? Why shouldn’t I, says the cynic in me- after everything, all I’ve managed to let go, perhaps it’s symbolic. And yet, I still instinctively search that trinket dish when I’m in a rush of a morning, ready to pick it up and put it on.
April ran me down,
left me looking at the backside of a pig herd.
At the end of the month, mud thick as thighs
was smeared across my eyelids and lip corners,
and all over my spirit.
So tired, this voice I am losing is both a red and white flag
that tells a more honest story than my mouth does.
I’m tired of the discipline it takes to say no.
Of the daily quits and the daily asks.
Each message a jagged skip and whatever groove I had finally slid into.
Tired of being a thread always pulling through.
Of showing up to a keyboard, unimpressed by anything I have to offer.
I, too, am unimpressed by my own biography.
Tired of wanting to claw my way through skin until I am an indistinct skeleton,
slinking out unnoticed.
Perhaps then I wouldn’t be held by the fire of my own splintered dreamboards.
Shrink me tiny enough to escape failure by any on of my hundred definitions.
Help me believe that this art was only ever an experiment
I’m tired of doing my best.
Of telling the sugar to let me go.
Of being looked at like the next shiny trophy.
A feeling like a ladder rung, like an empty promised land.
I’m tired of what it takes to get clear,
of how heavy the fighting heart weighs in.
Of the “not quite, almost, just wait here”.
Of the questioning of my own aloneness, of my own enoughness, of my own too-muchness.
April reminds me that I am a six-figure grave and whoever taught me what that would mean.
Where is the triangle of blame that promise me relief one day?
Where is the relief in any of this one day?
The truth is, I am only bothered when I think or I know I have completely lost control.
My reputation, the feels, the knowing.
I have chased and begged them home, but I never learned to lasso.
So I’m doing my best for the thousandth time to actually let it go.
And everyone who’s actually nailed crow pose or hit five miles
know that repetition expecting a different result isn’t always insanity.
Sometimes it’s just a way of growth.
I am flaking mud.
Really I am left in no one’s dust.
I am miles behind and I am still winning.
I will never forget my own name.
I am letting us all off my hooks.
I am showing up, even when other people don’t.
I am not forcing resolve,
because I’m not sure that’s the way life folds.
But I’m reconciling versions of myself,
because I want them to meet one day and laugh at how right we swore we were.
I am not made of formulas, so I can no longer respond on your cue.
I’m gonna start asking questions that may make me seem slow,
but I am labeling that a good four letter word
And I figured out that two pieces of dark chocolate a day are not adding more inches to my waist,
than nearly three decades of stress I asked this body to stomach.
The manna has come enough to know that I will not be buried alive.
And I’ve never watched, but I can tell I am beautiful when I’m writing
and I know there is a humble man saving the rest of his fourth of July’s for my firework giddy applause.
And I don’t know where he is, but I know he doesn’t play hide-and-seek.
And I know I want to tell him that I haven’t been waiting.
I’ve been creating a hotel of stories he can thank for the shameless, crooked smile I’ve become.
I am flaking mud.
I am waking up.
April is gone and I think May was a new sun and I’ve never loved the sound of crumble as I do now.
Under all that earth, I got soft, somehow.
I got a second draft biography.
It says: I’m not much of a sailor but I’ve built some sort of boat.
If you judge me by my crew, I am thoroughly good.
If you judge me by results, I am a two-time world champion of facing what I feared the most.
I have been published by several renowned atlases, for my work repairing lighthouses using only sound.
You’ll know they’re mine when you see them.
How the lights loop haphazardly like they’re completely out of control.
The strangest thing is, in many ways I don’t know. I feel like there should be a list of great revelations, and deep soul searching, but I figure that as time goes on, I’ll notice things that weren’t there before, like walking into my room and seeing Dad had “cleaned it” [he literally took everything on the floor and put it in two large black garbage bags in the middle of the room].
I know my relationships have changed because I’ve seen those changes in the past couple of days. I wanted to write these posts before my mind subconsciously reverts back to what is expected. However, while I’m living in this bubble of wanting to talk to every sales person and getting surprised at the range in Coles, I figured I’d get the most out of it. I’ll be affronted by kisses on the street and the seemingly trivial problems everyone seems to have. Maybe after a while those things won’t seem as big any more- however, perhaps they will.
I thought I’d be more surprised by the difference in wealth, but walking into my local Westfields today was pretty normal. I guess it was because I remembered it. A discussion in the group was us having wealth. If poverty exists with wealth, does that mean everyone should be poor or everyone should be wealthy? I posed this question to my dad today, and he clarified what I’d been trying to verbalise. That those who God blesses should give to those who don’t have the same blessing and be the blessing. My friend left his guitar with our village, and another friend lugged around a few kilos to do one day of craft at kids club- in Australia, that could be giving a spare sleeping bag to a homeless person or old clothes to Vinnie’s instead of chucking them out. Thankfully I’ve had an upbringing where to do such a thing would be insane. Unfortunately I’ve grown up in a society where it isn’t. So no, I wasn’t surprised by the amount of food in my pantry, but I wasn’t upset when Mum gave half of tonight’s spinach pie to our elderly neighbour [if you’ve ever tasted it, you’d understand why someone would be upset].
I know I’ve left Fiji with some new lifelong friends. There is a small group of people in this world right now who know exactly what I’ve been through. There are new friends in another country who would happily open their houses up to me again. That’s such a strange feeling. I have shared tears, laughter and love with people I didn’t know six months ago. I trust these guys, and don’t know their middle names. There’s a different perspective of what is important to me, and I realise God has used that to His glory. Because our relationships aren’t based on common interests, or what we’ve seen on television, or who is the prettiest but rather the fact that we love God. He is the common thread, weaving together a tapestry of willing people.
I can honestly testify to how God can use a person if they are willing, because I was and I have just had one of the best, most life altering experiences of my life. I don’t know how I’m going to live it out, but I’ve got a newly refined character and heart which have been through the trials and survived them. Although it wasn’t always good, it was amazing at times, and all of that has been carefully planned by a God who loves me and knows what he’s doing. All of this is completely insane.
To those wondering what to do with your lives after high school, or even right now, I’d say take some time out for God. Your five minutes a day may accidentally be turning to three, you may have skipped a few church services, but if God is as significant as you say he is- as you feel he is- then give him your time and He’ll do the rest.
As for mission, I dunno. Maybe. Not a solid no, as a lot of people walked away saying. But perhaps I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing and let God lead me where he thinks I should go. But I know I can survive time away from what I know, and be used. And I know I’ll have these memories for a long time to come.
3 Not only so, but we[a] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
The coolest thing about my time in Fiji was seeing how God works.
Every day we were off doing something. We began at an orphanage called Loloma [Love] House, playing with the kids and a lady began to cry because she couldn’t speak English with us. Straight off the bat, I knew we were doing something special. We visited church services and ran kids groups and some of my mates gave sermons. Especially every time we sang together, I could feel the room vibrate with a multitude of voices praising God. Wow, the Fijians have a talent for singing- harmonies that are just known and hymns that look simple but sound how I figure music will sound in heaven. The sense that God smiled every time we joined in on a hymn.
A bit of a side note is my pastor pointing out that singing and liturgy is actually rather important because sometimes the message of the sermon gets a little lost [sometimes pastors aren’t actually theologically trained]. Originating in Britain, the translated books found in Methodist churches at least are the true and clear message of the gospel, and our lives as Christians. A regular reminder outlined in the words of timeless hymns and bluntly stated in what sometimes seem like stodgy creeds and prayers read every week.
I saw the way God works across the world. While the differences were striking, it occurred to me that we were all worshipping the same God, and all He requires is for you to profess with your mouth and believe in your heart that he is Lord and raised Christ from the dead to be saved [Romans 10:9]. Once that was straight in my head, I could enjoy the wild singing along with the solemn hymns, the yelling and the times of silent reflection, dancing with the kids and shaking hands with the adults. In all of these situations, God was working. As important as denomination is in the West, going to Fiji I learned to appreciate a living faith in the Seventh Day Adventists along with the Methodists simply due to the fact a clearly living faith meant they were going to heaven and not everyone who professed to be a Christian would. Seventh Day Adventists told me how they had been addicted to grog [kava] and alcohol but God had turned their lives around. Methodists told me they had been Seventh Day Adventists and found God in their current church. And I got a clear feeling that all God wanted was their love and acceptance and he loved them regardless of everything else. Year 13 itself is technically run by the Anglican church, but I go as a regular attendee of Hillsong, and mix with a melting pot of people simply in love with God.
I saw the way God worked through every situation. While we can either see our wealth as a reason to rejoice in God or become numb to His blessing, I was struck by how Fijians can rejoice despite their poverty. I met so many people who seemed to have nothing but instead recognised what they did have as provision from God. My homestay family had a tin shed with no furniture but a few cupboards and a fuzzy television, yet the mother shared with us how her and her husband had begun with nothing and were so incredibly blessed to have a house now, and enough food for them and their son. She gushed about how even his talent in playing soccer was a gift from God because it meant he might one day have a career as a professional sportsman [a dream for a lot of Fijians] and neither her or her husband had given him that talent. Moments like that, of utter vulnerability when it came to discussing the Lord, became remarkably precious to me.
I noticed the work of God not only in the Fijians, but in the people around me. From the first day, everyone was on their guard to be as loving as possible to one another. When we were tried and felt like snapping at someone who had done something stupid, we remembered they were just as tired. When someone cried, they immediately had a dozen shoulders to lean on, but no pressure to. God worked through everyone to both show his love and remind us he was still there. One night that really just exemplifies what I’m trying to say is the night I had a panic attack. I haven’t had one in so long that, when I began to cry in front of my friends and the concerned faces began to close in until I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t remember what to do. I ran away, down into a garden, and expected to either be ignored or for a bunch of well-meaning people to follow me, but just one did- my mentor Kiara, who sat with me and helped me to breathe as I tried to understand what had happened through shuddered sobs. The next few hours blew my mind. Kiara held my hand and didn’t push me, and when she left, a friend silently joined me and told me stories until I could focus on his breathing instead of my own. When I tried to ask a question about a story and my voice cracked, he didn’t comment, just simply drew me close and answered calmly before continuing his story. And, when I emerged from the depths, notes were waiting from my friends so I could feel the support while no one was watching.
I was overwhelmed by love. By support from a team who encouraged me, held my hand and built me up when I couldn’t stand up by myself. A group that had somehow managed to solve something without calling it a problem. Friends I could count on. And the most astounding thing was that they didn’t do that in their own strength. And how do I know? Because I’ve had panic attacks before. Told to be quiet, that I was making a scene and treated like a leper. To show astounding love is only possible when moved, I’ve discovered, by the One who is love [1 John 4:8]. And so, God moved the people around me, and reminded me that he was always there for me too. And the next time I felt like snapping at one of them, I tried to love them not as they had loved me, but as God had loved me.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because He first loved us.”
I wanted to write this blog post because, despite the fear that many people may skip it, or that it may hurt to write, I know it’s important.
I was most confronted by the things I didn’t see coming.
Growing up with an Indonesian mother, I’ve been to her hometown and the capital, Jakarta, a few times. I’m unfortunately not a stranger to poverty, so going to people’s houses in slums was frustrating, not confronting. No, the problem was in the problem- I was struck by how little I felt I could do about the problems I was facing. Kids getting sick by perfectly preventable and curable things like leaving sores on their legs uncovered and a lack of education about nutrition leading to people buying food that is cheap rather than useful. I was angry that I felt helpless.
During debrief one night, we were asked by what had confronted us and what we could do about it. My answer was that, even if I dedicated my life to medicine and tried to heal as many people as I could, I wouldn’t get to all of them. I wouldn’t get to enough. When I talked to people, whether for hours or minutes, I was aware that I could be speaking to a hard heart, with words going in one ear and out the other. When I slaved for hours in the sun painting what was to be a food hall for a women’s refuge, a voice in my head asked if anyone would even notice- we were mocked by the builders straight away for being women when they wanted us to move the building garbage outside first. I looked into the eyes of a little girl on the bus with a scab covering half of her face and I wondered how she would get it and how long it would last, my little first aid kit pointless. I was confronted by my own weakness, a drop in the ocean.
Then there was the reaction of the people around me.
I was scared I would judge the Fijians, and I found myself instead judging my own friends. There’s this part in “Tomorrow When The War Began”, a great series of novels by John Marsden, where the main character, Ellie, thinks about an ice block she threw away. She describes how it’s burning hot and all she can think about is this ice block she threw away before leaving home because it had too many little icicles on it and what she would do to have it back. However, she reflects, given enough time back at home, she would probably throw it away again. We had just emerged from the slums and all around me was chatter about how the cordial was probably diseased and complaints that we had tuna curry for lunch. Some people outright threw it away. That was scary, the feeling of anger bubbling up inside of me and trying to hold my tongue in case something regrettable was said. I was rapidly remembering every time I hadn’t finished a meal, hadn’t put in offering at church, had gotten distracted during a video or presentation by missionaries trying to help these people because now I was one. I was feeling these emotions, raw and hard, and the scary thing is, the people around me were probably so frustrating because they were reflecting who I had been.
I’m not sure if confronted is the right word, but I was surprised by the easy attitude. Three quick examples are religion, time and use of things.
In Australia, it is perfectly okay to be an atheist. However, if you were to be some religion or of no religion, you are usually ready to defend your beliefs because into any conversation could slip a dangerous “why?” The amount of times people have questioned my religious beliefs at home, not out of curiosity but so they could tell me I’m wrong, means I’ve developed a nice little speech to use as a shield. In Fiji, there is no such thing. While it was easy to ask people what religion they were [pretty much the only answers being Christian or Hindu], and to enter into light-hearted conversations about God, there was no sense of having to be wary. It was hard to actually challenge people on their beliefs because I didn’t want to break this sense of assumed okayness- when people gave theologically wrong sermons, when Hindus told me Jesus was “one of their gods” and when people listened to my beliefs, it was all done with a smile and a nod. Almost bred to be trying to prove myself right, I found it both relaxing and frustrating to talk to people who were just happy to accept anything. I think this is a reason behind a lot of “nominalism” or being whatever religion because your parents were- it’s just easy. Cool beans, sure I’m a Christian.
Time! FIJI TIME!!! I love organising, plans, and being on time. But, when we woke up at five a.m. on our first Sunday in Naimalavau to be ready for a church service and there were only people from Year 13 there for the first 45 minutes, it was clear planning wasn’t going to be a priority for us. It was frustrating when people were late or just didn’t show up. On one hand, it’s a privilege and a great opportunity to be asked to put together a youth service with five minutes notice because there just happen to be a bunch of teens in the community hall. On the other hand, it’s remarkably stressful. However, I was truly challenged by this ease of attitude around time when one day, a rugby match which we had been excited for all week and prepared signs for with the kids was cancelled. We were literally walking to it, when Ma [homestay mum] noticed some people walking back and, in a casual tone, asked “is it on?”
“No,” they replied.
“Okay,” she said.
And we turned around and went home. She didn’t shrug, she didn’t appear mad or disappointed and I realised just how much it is a part of Australian culture to get righteously angry over things. If a rugby match was cancelled like that in Sydney [because some kids were playing cricket on the field and the school had forgotten the match was on], there would be a riot, letters written, angry rants on Facebook. But the Fijians were perfectly fine with it. After all, what could they do? It would probably be rescheduled and they’d post photos on Facebook of the kids with our signs. Then we decided to go to town to get the ingredients for Ma to teach us to make roti. Okie doke. Why spend the energy?
The use of things, though, and the ease of those attitudes stung. In Australia we are constantly being bombarded through advertising on television, bill boards and packaging to change. This is bad for the environment, they’ll be bad leaders of the country, your dog food isn’t good enough. And we’re taught to think critically and we’re convinced by reasoning. In Fiji, you just do things the way you do them. On one level this looks like burning your rubbish in a fire [including plastic], and using a machete to cut the grass. You have a problem, and a solution. On the other hand, this looks like feeding the chickens because you’re going to eat them and their eggs but neglecting the dogs because they don’t need to be fat to protect the house. We were followed around by a young dog we affectionately named Alfred, who enjoyed our company because we did the odd thing of patting him. However, one day he followed us to the house in which we had our meetings and a lady walked out with a wooden plank and beat him as a group of teenagers listened horrified. Things are used for what they are needed for. Dogs protect the house. Fire destroys the rubbish. Machetes cut things. And I know I’m not completely off in my understanding of this mentality due to the advertising in Fiji. Apart from the fact that there’s barely any, the government is clearly trying hard to change things because there is no polite reasoning- it’s blunt.
Seatbelts: “the belt your child actually needs.”
Speeding: “breadwinner dead to speeding.”
Pepsi: “Stop staring, start drinking.”
McDonalds: “Big Night? Big Mac.”
Australians, I feel, would be positively offended at being communicated to like that.
So, there were a lot of things that confronted me in Fiji. A lot of things I wanted to hide from, or attack or at least feel like I was making a dent on. However, when I wanted to shut off I realised that it would be cutting off a lot of change- I was here for a purpose, and that was to be used by God. I had no idea what to do in a lot of those situations, but I did realise I could do something in some situation. One story emerged of a woman who was heavily pregnant- it cost $20 Fijian to give birth in a hospital and we spent that on an average Macca’s run. When some people from Year 13 gave her that money, she broke down. I’ve been challenged by how I spend my money and time, and I am set on changing and challenging those around me. I reckon, in a way, I caught a glimpse of what God feels every day- an overwhelming compassion to love and fix. While he has the power to do what he wants, our pastor Luther who gave a lot of talks on mission while we were over there, reminded us he is always with us and giving us that power as well. As helpless as we feel the reality is that we can and have the heart to fix things. In Fiji, it was generously giving and accepting the white teenagers. In Australia, it might be putting in more effort at Sunday School, upping my offering, supporting more organisations with my money or even one day dedicating my life to mission now that I’ve seen what it does and how it feels. No, things won’t be perfect until heaven and we live in a broken world. However, until then, I can only do what I can do, and, with His help, trust that it’s enough.
“18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I stepped off the plane yesterday and the smell of the air was different. It was freezing, and when I went home I had the first hot shower in a month and opened my drawers to dozens of different options. After a month of being told we weren’t allowed to touch or hug the opposite gender, we probably shocked the Australians with our vigour in embracing our loved ones and each other. I slipped on a pair of skinny jeans after a month of long skirts, and got my hair cut. I had hot chocolate and sushi.
Travelling to another country means we were told to expect differences not only in the obvious things, but in the small things. Yes food, culture and sights and smells. Having five different types of friend breakfast [bumbakau, roti, pancakes, toast with butter and sweet and sour bumbakau- I wasn’t joking. Plus, not much fresh fruit due to the recent cyclone.] But church, family and manners also took a major twist.
Yesterday, when I went to order that sushi, I tried to ask the man about his day and he nodded at me before turning away to continue what he was doing. The lady with the hot chocolate was tart, and didn’t add anything unnecessary, like a “thank you” for handing over my money, or for ordering. It was confronting after a month of being greeted with huge smiles by construction workers, welcomed into stranger’s houses as family and being clung to by kids at kids club.
So, the biggest difference was how huge Fiji is on hospitality.
Four times we went on visitation- the first time in a slum, the second in the birthplace of Hinduism for Fiji, and the last two times in our “Local Church Mission” village, Naimalavau. We were told to spread out and meet people, encourage them to or in faith in Christ.
The first time, we hadn’t even reached as far as we were planning to go before a man came out and asked us what was going on and would we like to join him. We followed him onto the veranda of a house made of tin which he had painted a bright purple, where he offered us cordial and stood while his son sat on a hard wooden chair and offered us the couch. The resounding thought in my head was they had nothing, but they were offering us everything. And, despite being Hindu, they listened to me for an hour on Jesus, offering questions and nodding. I have no idea what was going on in their hearts, but as a little girl arrived from school, clinging to her dad, and we were greeted by an elderly grandmother, it became more and more important to me to convince them this life is not all there is. Surrounded by poverty, disease and the overwhelming love they had showed us, all I wanted was for them to know God loved them and was watching over them, as they worshipped their careless, distant statues. By the time we left, I was spent, praying silently in my head that God would use that conversation somehow.
The second place was relatively well off, however my friend M and I were somehow drawn to what I initially thought was just an abandoned shack at the bottom of a concrete driveway, so old grass was growing through the cracks. When we knocked on the door, a small Indo-Fijian lady [of Indian descent, from when Britain brought over Indian slaves to work on the sugar plantations] peered around the door and asked “what side are you on?” Foolishly thinking geographically, I told her we were staying in Suva. She repeated the question, adding “Hindu or Christian?” We emphatically replied Christian and she let us in, revealing a family gathered in the living room. The next twenty minutes were filled with discussions of Christ and how they had ended up using the “house” while there were struggles over the lease. They gave us cake straight from shopping bags, and burning hot tea in chipped mugs. I gave the daughter a leather bound diary and she was almost in tears. Once again, I left with an overwhelming compassion and sense of helplessness, figuring I may not see them again until heaven. Praying we had made a difference.
The third place, though, possibly impacted me the most.
Every day in Naimalavau, our breakfast, lunch and dinners were prepared for us by the village split into their Bible studies or “cell groups”. Every family falls into a cell group because every family is “Christian”. While it was often discussed how heartfelt that faith was, it was definitely acted out in the generosity and love afforded every meal, and our reception around the village. Somehow, by the end, they all knew our names. My very own home stay mother Marica [pronounced Maritha], had an empty fridge and still managed to fill a crate with snacks for my homestay buddy and I. We shared a paper thin mattress on the floor of a room they had given up to us, and every day we returned to it swept, our clothes folded and any washing done.
The thing about visitation, though, is that it’s often with people you have literally never met before. There isn’t a rule about it, but when a friend I had made named Oscar leaned out of his window and greeted M and I, I almost kept walking. Thankfully, he had the wisdom to linger long enough to ask whether Oscar had been visited, and, when it turned out he hadn’t, we ventured over the wooden planks squished into the mud to enter his home. Inside we found all of Oscar’s brothers, sisters and their children. We sat and shared our favourite Bible verses, praying for them and Oscar’s mother who he told us was rather ill. However, we had only been there about fifteen minutes before she walked out. It turned out she had been listening the entire time, and she was in tears. Oscar gently explained they were due to her pain- the illness affected her breathing. Yet, once she’d introduced herself, she told us in pained whispers, completely out of the blue that we wanted to sing for us. We listened to her and Oscar then perfectly harmonise not one, but two hymns. And, as we sat there fighting tears, she openly wept, reading us encouragement from Jeremiah. Nancy told us how she knew God had sent us to her, at a point when not even her own family had visited her upon hearing she was sick. By the end, we were holding hands and praying, not just that she would recover, but thanking God for bringing us together.
The last lady we met on one side of the village and she led us to the other side just to have us in her house. She told us the story of how her husband was away for months at a time, and she was praying for him as he had a new found faith but had recently been demoted. As we sit and listened, she completely opened up about the different spheres of her life and how she needed prayer for different things like her son at school, and that her kids wouldn’t miss their father too much. In Australia, I have no idea what the odds are of even being let into a house while doorknocking. A two hour conversation can skim but the shallowest of subjects, and to cry in front of a stranger is shameful. Yet, here we were in front of a lady being completely vulnerable with two people simply on the basis that we were Christians and we wanted to share time with her.
So, the good differences are clear- so many things moved my heart and made me wish home was a little more different. The hospitality wasn’t just in feeding us and going hungry, but in pouring love and kindness on strangers.
Not all of the differences were so good though.
Going to an all-girls school where feminism was breathed, having to wear a long skirt every day spoke volumes to me. We had to sit a certain way during cultural ceremonies and, although I was allowed to take part in them as part of Year 13, the women of the villages weren’t invited to join. Once a woman is married, she needs to give up her job and join her husband. I resisted the temptation to ask how that felt, not wanting to negatively stir the pot, but it was foreign. However, that modesty came into play quite quickly for me. During our visit to Nasikawa Vision College, a high school built on the vision of a Korean Mother’s Group of all things, we had the opportunity to spend two nights with a family. Constantly being on our toes not to offend or come across as the Western ideal we knew from training had been beamed to them had begun to seem tiresome. However, when we found out the youngest daughter refused to watch anything but MTV, I knew we were in for a tart reminder. I don’t have MTV at home, and I hadn’t watched any television for two weeks- suddenly exposed to the grinding, scantily clad women I so blindly glanced over in my everyday life, I felt almost protective of the little girl trying to imitate them, transfixed. Several outfit changes, random brand placement on flashy cars and women in their own videos almost completely exposed shocked me, as I curled my feet under my floor length skirt and looked around at my family in their long sleeves. I wonder how they felt. The stark contrast made me ashamed of my own world, and all the judgement towards the traditional modesty of Fiji evaporated for a while. Although it was uncomfortable, I was forced to challenge the notion that my life is the “normal” standard.
Something one of my leaders said is that, yes, there are differences. But you shouldn’t judge them and you may not be able to change a lot of them. Just take from them what you can. I’ll think twice before getting changed, before politely refusing to be visited by someone of a different religion, before spending all my money on food and leaving spare change for church. That missionary said we were “like dogs in a museum”, but I disagree. I saw everything, but I observed. I didn’t understand everything, but I struggled to understand some things. And I just may have.
The night of Bible study in the village, I was disappointed because I didn’t get to go to my homestay Mum’s. However, when I returned she was sitting with my buddy and sharing what they had been thinking about. She’d been meditating on Jesus’ call to be the light of the world and I laughed because I had preached my youth talk on that exact passage. Completely out of the blue, she began to cry. [Side note: a definite difference in the prevalence of bursting into tears. However, you’re not allowed to make a sound during funerals, or you’ll get whacked by a warrior with a wooden stick. True story.] She told me that she now knew I was meant to be there, in her house. That the Holy Spirit was in both of us and had put the same things on our heart- we were connected. All the time and love she had given, she had given just to try and demonstrate God’s love, and I understood that. I’m still struggling with whether this love is different from Australian society, but all I can do is do my part to make sure it isn’t.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
Yesterday morning, I returned from a one month long mission trip to Fiji.
To avoid answering a million of the same questions and giving awful, holey answers, I’m going to take the opportunity to summarise everything I can in a few blog posts. Also, seeing as it was only yesterday morning I was shivering in the dark on a beach praying with my mates, a lot is still processing. There just isn’t enough space on the internet or room in my brain to talk about every second of every day. However, hopefully here you’ll get a glimpse of what it was like, how I feel and most importantly what God has done.
Short term mission would be nicely summarised as going overseas to spread the gospel, and a large part of our goal was to help support the churches that are already established and that we’ve already supported previously. Something to keep in mind is that, while I was only there for a month, there have been groups going to Fiji from Year 13 for about 10 years, so our impact isn’t as limited as some other short term mission trips. A lot of the people we came to knew had known our predecessors and it was inspiring to recognise that what we were about to do would be remembered.
People have a large range of feelings about short term mission, or even just mission in general.
I had a (non-Christian) friend angrily rant about the invasion of mission on the people of a place- shouldn’t they be allowed to keep whatever ideas they had? The thing is, though, that 128 of us decided to spend the money, time and energy to get to Fiji because we know how significant the impact of Christianity can be. In a country with 35.2% living under the poverty line, a bit of hope can be useful. In a country with a military government, knowing there is a sovereign yet loving God can be comforting. And knowing that whatever happens in this life isn’t all there is to come isn’t just awesome, it’s news Christians are commanded to spread. The first missionaries came to Fiji 150 years ago and got eaten. The only reason Fiji is still largely Christian is because people continued to courageously recognise the importance of spreading the hope and good news of Christ to them. And, while we were under no such threat, it was still slightly terrifying to leave home and all its comforts to go and spread the gospel. While a few sermons were preached but 90% of ministry was through two way conversations and the rest was through manual labour. So, no invasion.
Another conception is that short term mission is pointless. You can’t learn the language, build strong relationships, or make a strong change in the time you are there. One missionary who has been there for three years described us as “dogs running through a museum-seeing everything but understanding nothing”. So, if we were on any sort of pedestal in our own minds, we were quickly knocked off them. The thing is, while you can’t convert a Hindu taxi driver in three minutes, it quickly becomes apparent how important it is to you that they are converted. For a lot of people that will manifest in a new found courage at home to tell people about Jesus and keep trying when it seemed initially too scary- for some it may actually manifest in coming back and trying again, or being a long term missionary overseas. The focus is on the change around us while I think by the end the point is to look at the change that’s occurred inside us and how that will then begin to affect our surroundings. A friend of mine said he was worried that our mission trip would turn into something selfish- that he would only change within himself, and not make that much of an impact. My response to him was that perhaps God wanted or needed the change to happen within himself first. Yes, our short term mission impacted us the most greatly- every time we talked to people, painted something or taught a scripture class, the cost and impact was adding up to no one but ourselves. However, I think of two things at this point.
Primarily, the starfish story. The value of short term mission is that it’s still an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. People were still astounded and, dare I say, changed by a group of teenagers paying to spend time with them, dressing and acting differently and respectfully, and pioneering for a God they knew so well. [How often we saw white tourists and felt ashamed at their short shorts, tribal tattoos and sunburnt necks. White person, a.k.a. kavalungi.] Every person we talked to may not have heard about Christ before as we know him so well, and now they do. Whatever impact we made was part of God’s plan and he’ll use it. But, another big point is that the way in which we have changed are significant. These changes, even if unseen aren’t insignificant and will impact our daily lives, our activities, and our churches.
So yea, it had its ups and downs. But it was definitely worth it.
One of my last diary entries reads this:
“In year 12 Biology we had to catch some bugs and examine them in a slide under a microscope. That’s how Fiji, or rather our short term mission, has been. You cannot escape as you are closely examined. You are representing Christ every waking moment. And, as you friends, leaders and Fiji watch you I’m reminded of a quote from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.
“And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin …?”
Every emotion within you is also magnified. You love stronger, you hate harder, you cry easily and you always want to sleep. Your head, heart and body are tired. So tired that kids making fun of you in a language you don’t understand, or one more dog yelping or even someone’s kindness can tip you over the edge. You fall into a drum beat fast enough that you don’t have time to think, you pretend you don’t need what you want and you march – crawl – slog through what you thought was light rain until your feet became stuck in the mud. The chairs you scrubbed will become dirty again, the kids may forget what you said and your bones will ache to the rhythm of your heartbeat.
So why am I here?
Because I’m looking forward to home.
Not the comforts of a warm shower and my dog.
Where God will greet me and run as he sees me coming. Where everyone I impacted in Fiji, everyone changed by me will embrace me in thanks. Where I’ll get to sit for eternity and play games with the kids who made me laugh. Where I’ll see my lifelong friends from my LCM and their tired, ashen faces will instead be lit by joy.
I’ll dance with Jesus.
My Father will be proud.
Everything makes its mark. If I’m feeling sad, it means I’m reacting to something, which will initiate a change God planned for me. If I’m smiling, it’s a reminder that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. And as much as it hurts now, when I’m counting my bruises, I’m grateful for each one.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
haven’t added anything to the White Elephant section of this blog in a while and today I got a new guitar which, in accordance to tradition, got a name bestowed upon it. So I figured I would narrate to you, dear reader, how exactly my guitars got their names, as each are equally interesting stories – then again, I make it my duty to make any story I tell interesting. Bindi
When I started high school it was mandatory to learn an instrument for the first few years. Year 7 was the piano, which I had incidentally spent the last six years of my life learning at the insistence of my parents, and so I spent those lessons carelessly mucking about with their simple melodies. Year 8, however, ushered in the introduction of the guitar and I was fascinated. I think there is still the idea floating around that cool people play the guitar and as my year 8 teacher had been “warned” about me by my year 7 teacher (who was blonde, religiously wore pink and called me Book Club) I was anxious to prove myself. The sound of the strings as I brushed against them sent shivers down my spine and I had a feeling akin to Van Gogh picking up a paintbrush for the first time- this, I knew, was home. So, after I had learned four chords (that’s all we were offered and that’s all one really needs in the beginning), I went to the local music store with Dad and we bought a guitar. My dad is a drummer but I’m as good at drumming as I am at dancing (not very), so when I showed interest in guitar, he was all for it. (Since then we have played shows together and recorded a cd.) Despite his “strong suggestions” I walked out of there with a cheap, 3/4, blue guitar.
Owning a guitar for the first time is like bringing home a new baby. It doesn’t come with a manual, everyone wants to give you advice and you don’t know what it needs to stop it from making that horrible noise. So when I was sitting with the chart I’d bought from a bookstore and figuring out how to play more than one string chords, it was tough but I loved it. The name came about when I was watching ‘the Amazing Race’ one night. The loveable Australian larrikins end up with an old bomb of a car that they need to fix and push but in the end gets them across the finish line, and that’s how I felt about my guitar. They named their car Bindi.
I would have to say my spirit animal is the acoustic. However, my dad likes to pick up odds and ends as he drives around and one day he came home with an electric, so I figured I’d do what has gotten me this far in life and give it a go. It originally had an eyeball on it- it took a lot of scrubbing to get it off the guitar but it’s forever stuck in my mind. The strings left my fingers white and I got to change my first ever string when one snapped and cut me in the middle of a church service. I wanted to bring it to church because Bindi doesn’t have a pick up, buts it’s dusty and a bit chipped and super heavy to lug around. It was a lot of work to get it presentable and to serve me.
Well, at this time it just so happens I had recently read Dracula (there is a story everywhere and in everything) and my new guitar reminded me of his servant. Smelly, found on the street and rough around the edges, Renfeild was eager but used to eat cockroaches. Plus, I was attending school in Randwick and so, my new guitar was christened Renwick.
Spellcheck refuses to even accept this as a name. So we’re a few years down the track and Bindi is starting to fall apart. Her soul is purely Australian- hardworking, deep and unique- but her body is very much Chinese and the glue and plastic are letting go. Her strings began to wear thin, and I tried to restring her with some beautiful rainbow strings I had found at a second hand shop but alas, as her bridge fell off and her pegs began to wobble, I felt the end was nigh. The strings refused to calibrate (or maybe she just missed the comfort of the strings she had known for years) and in the end I restrung her, fishing her slightly sticky strings out of my bin. (Not kidding. Wish I were.) Then I had rainbow strings and nothing but the internet so I googled second hand guitars. I called up a man who had over 900 ads online, selling everything from 95 acoustic guitars to the gates on his house (seriously), and scrolled past a strawberry mandolin- novel but not easy to fit in a case. Eventually I stopped across a man selling a good quality guitar with two strings missing who would throw in a free DVD player (“shred and watch movies at the same time- winning combo” said the ad). I polished him up- the guitar, not the man- and put in my new rainbow strings. He tuned to a t and I sang to my hearts content. And so I named Enfys, a welsh name meaning “rainbow”.
Although I struggle, as every hipster does, against being mainstream and sort of shallow (I recently went blonde, so I’ve been fighting the stereotypes, although, as it turns out, blondes do have more fun) I recently started a gratitude journal. I had a few empty books lying around the house as people know I’m a writer (although they never seem to realise I spend most of my time writing online, which needs neither paper nor pen) and I picked the prettiest one up a few month ago and started writing what I am grateful for in my life.
First came a lot of the obvious ones. My family, friends, religion,my dog, but then I found myself realising how much I had grown since the beginning of the year. It comes about as you think of what is in your life that wasn’t there before- a new youth means new friends, etc. I mean, it’s the start of another year, and that time that you start looking back on who you have become.
A lot happened this year, including a few bad things but as I took an internal audit, I began to recognise how they had shaped me, and for the better. So, as scary as it was, I took pen to paper and began to look at being grateful for the bad things. A few big ones included my Mum getting her wheelchair, which made us closer as a family, however it was a struggle adjusting and, I guess, each of us had to accept that our dynamic was going to shift. Having my first boyfriend was in so many ways a chaotic disaster, but I found it taught me a lot about relationships and about how I respond to different things. It spurred me to write about dating non Christians because I had ignored advice that I can now say was spot on. I also see it helping me in my new relationships, as well as helping me to appreciate the people I’m around more. I know I’ll do better in my next relationship thanks for the hardships of the first one. The HSC was hard, and stressful, but I finished it and was rewarded with a sense if accomplishment. That sense of relief, and release was worth the long hours and frustration- watching the fruition of my hard work pay me above and beyond.
I realised, writing in my journal, that I need to be grateful for the pain. Someone once said pain can make you bitter or better, and as I wrote down every person, circumstance and moment that hurt me so badly, I could not help but thank God that he had stretched me and I had trusted him to come out stronger. Pain sucks, it’s true, but when you weather the storm, the reward is far greater. You don’t break, but build. You get angry, and sad and hurt, but it gets better. And that is something to be grateful for.
I can now be grateful for a terrible year, even though the year was terrible while I was in it. I can now be stronger for the next terrible time, and remember this moment, knowing it will come around again.