Wednesday, August 25, 2010

new photos

Check out a few new shots of our friends at Anawim on the photos page...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

love

Each night while the team was in Nigeria, we met to read scripture together and reflect on the day, specifically what we encountered, how it made us feel, and how we saw God working.  Since we've been back, some of the verses from the trip have been popping back into my head. Here's one I just stumbled across again, it's Galatians 5:13-14:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
Called to be free! Paul explains earlier in Chapter 5 that freedom means Christ came so that we don't have to live a life of burden, a life enslaved to sin and its temptations.  Instead, he has won for us a lasting freedom that we are to use for service, to "serve one another in love," to "love our neighbors as ourselves."

Love.

From the moment we stepped out of the car at Anawim, we were loved. The boys and girls ran to us, hugging, touching, holding, loving us. They braided Lisa's and Christy's hair. They sat on my lap asking why my skin and hair were different from theirs. (One boy, Jude, went back to his room and came out a minute later with a small packet of shampoo -- he told me to have it so I could use it to keep my hair clean and beautiful.) They asked us to read them stories and play games with them. They begged us to stay out of the sun so we wouldn't get too hot. They offered us their seats when we came to see them. They danced and they sang. These children, these beautiful, happy little boys and girls -- they knew love; they loved love! And they loved us, people who looked strange and talked differently, people who couldn't understand their situations, people who came from far away and were leaving soon enough, they loved us all the same, they loved us as themselves.

Daniel and John Bosco.  Happiness, Blessing, Mercy and Anna.  Favor, who wants to be a nun, Elizabeth, who wants to go to law school to help Sr. Oresoa with the adoption process, and the boys who all want to be soccer players! They have all been given freedom, a freedom that only Christ can give, and they all have chosen to use their freedom for love.

Then, in an instant, it dawned on me. I broke down. Someone decided these children were worthless, not worthy of food, not worthy of attention, not worthy of life. All of them, every single one, had been left behind, many discarded by their own parents, shunned by older siblings who just didn't care or relatives who couldn't bother. Pictured here is Paul, both he and his twin brother Peter were tossed to the streets as infants. He told the story of how they begged for food in the streets and ate mostly from trash cans.  Paul explained that their relatives rediscovered them after a period of time and threatened to kill them, and then Paul went on to say that his older brothers lived in the next state over, one working as an engineer and the other... the pastor of a church!

One of the most touching moments of the trip was when our leader, Rob Devereux, was playing a few songs on his phone for one of the orphans, named Sunday. Then, Rob told him about a song that he sings at his church back in the United States, Nativity. Rob explained how whenever he hears it, he always thinks about Nigeria, about Anawim, and all the boys there. As the tune began to play, Sunday stopped, and his mouth slowly dropped open. He just stood, listening. Once it ended, Sunday said to Rob, "That is the most beautiful song I've ever heard." The song was Love.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

God honoring prayer

Each day at the Anawim Home, the community arises before sunrise to head to 6am daily Mass. (The sisters gather in the Chapel at 5am to pray before Mass.) After school, they reconvene at 3pm to pray the divine mercy chaplet and again at 6pm for the rosary. In addition to these formal, corporate prayer sessions, each car trip, before and after each meal, and spontaneously whenever the situation called for it, they pray. We prayed with them. A lot.

At one of our nightly reflections, the team started to talk about all the praying we were doing. We noted a lot of different things:  the true dependence on God it showed, how formal the prayers were, everyone's discipline and dedication, the repetition, reminders for us of Catholic school (and yet how we still barely knew these prayers), and how it sometimes seemed labored. We all pretty much came to the same consensus that once home, you would not find any of us praying these traditional prayers on such a strict schedule.

Wanna guess why? Because we didn't feel any different. Before and after, not much seemed to have changed. No one was moved emotionally or really feeling the goose-bumps-presence of God. And none of us left asking for more.

Reflecting back on our discussion that night and the faith of the community in Gwagwalada, one thought comes to mind. I get caught up so much in the feelings of prayer and worship that I forget that its purpose is to give praise and honor to God. I'm guessing we weren't the only ones who didn't feel anything significant during those prayers, but you know what... everyone keeps praying! Every time they gather, they worship God. Every time 3 o'clock rolls around, they pray. Everyone at Anawim pauses to profess their faith, acknowledge their dependence on God, and lift up their needs and the needs of others in prayer. All feelings aside (good, bad, or indifferent), they pray.

I could make excuses about why the rosary or the strict schedule aren't my favorite, but the fact remains that those prayers are not about feeling good or holy and they are entirely about honoring God. And you know what else? I think He's listening. The amazing work being done by Sr. Oresoa and the sisters of the Poorest of the Poor is truly remarkable and would be impossible without divine assistance. The sisters realize this and they depend on Him. It was awesome to witness their faith and to know that Nativity is a part of such great work being done in Nigeria, a work so great that God is personally seeing to it that it gets done!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

a missional summer

It's been a crazy summer...  July presented five days touring churches and schools in Haiti devastated from the January earthquake. And August started with a two week trip with the Nativity:Nigeria team serving the poor and experiencing some tremendous injustices on the other side of the globe.

There are many, many takeaways from these two trips.  And I'll be sharing them here in the coming days and weeks.  If you want to learn more about the Nigeria mission trip, check out nativity-nigeria.blogspot.com where you can find a daily journal, "spotlights" with all the missionaries, and a lot more.  I'd like to share a few wins from the last trip before I sign off.

First, it was awesome to have Sr. Oresoa, the founder of Anawim Home, paint such a clear picture of the relational aspect of Nativity's mission work.  Anawim Home gets a number of visitors throughout the year, but Sr. Oreosa, at a board meeting we attended, pointed out the dedication Nativity:Nigeria has to "eat, sleep, and live among the poorest of the poor." This is what it's all about, loving our neighbors! Sure, we are also committed to supporting their efforts to carry out God's work among the poor, but the reason for the trip is to walk in their shoes for two weeks.

It was also great to hear our trip leader, Rob Devereux, talk about his experience of returning to some of the places he visited last year.  The awesome part was hearing him recount how Sister expressed specific needs to the team last year (e.g. the borehole at Anawim and fence in Kaduna) and then returning this summer to see how those needs had been met. This highlights the need for our efforts to be measurable. It's super rewarding and equally motivating to see how the outcome of last year's Advent Conspiracy has really changed lives in Nigeria.

Lastly, the support shown from the Nativity community is a big win.  The sendoff at the 10:30 Mass was very uplifting, the N:N blog recorded hundreds of hits each day, and twice while we were away, members gathered to lift up the missionaries in prayer.  As a member of the team, this felt really great to know that we were truly representing all of Nativity.  And also knowing that we were being watched and prayed over the whole time, not only ensured a great experience, but also gave everyone peace and safety as we took some risks. I think this speaks to the necessity for our missions to be long-term.  Support has grown tremendously over the years, and I think we need to give the opportunity for the church to get behind our efforts -- this takes time.  The fact that we are invested in Nigeria and continue to send new teams each summer helps spread the word about the mission and allows for more people to get involved.

So thanks for all your support!  Check back soon to hear more about the trip...