Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Bell Lap

I officially signed a contract for a job next year. 

It has taken a while for that reality to sink in. As the news slowly sinks in, a myriad of emotions have been flooding my mind and heart. Relief, sadness, peace, grief, fright, are among the adjectives that first come to mind. This has proven to be a very tricky thing, because recently a lot of people have been asking, "Do you know what you are going to be doing next year?" As I explain to them what has been solidified the next thing out of their mouth is almost always, "Are you excited?" Notice excitement was not one of the words used above. I have found myself answering that question with an awkward laugh and a stare into space, as I strive to figure out how to most accurately describe my thoughts. Not only am I trying to figure out how to best communicate my thoughts, I am also trying to decipher whether or not the other person is truly interested in what I am saying, or if they are asking simply out of common courtesy. I figure if you are still reading at this point, you are genuinely interested, so I will do my best to share my heart and my thoughts. 

"Are you excited?" 
That is a tough question. Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to what is ahead. With a joyous heart, I am anticipating all the new aspects of life that will come knocking on my door in the coming months. I have been blown away by God's faithfulness and the way He has provided for me in obvious ways. Yet, the ultimate truth for me right now is this: It is hard for me to be excited about what is next, because I am so sad about leaving where I am. 

As I have been telling friends about what is next, I have been blessed and encouraged by their reactions. I will be moving to the Pittsburgh area, where I already have a number of great friends. In telling them the news I have gotten responses such as:
I can't tell you how excited I am!
- I'm excited for you to be not too far away from us! You'll have to visit!!
- Happy for you. It'll be fun to have you around. You can stay with us if you need to while you try to find a place. 
- Dude. Best text ever. Really excited about that. Now I have a long run partner. 
- I'm so excited! I got the news, it will be the best thing I will hear today! 
- I honestly thought you'd never come back (although I'm overjoyed you are). I can't wait man. I'm excited for you and selfishly for me.

Those are all texts/emails I have gotten in response to sharing the news. My reaction to notes of this sort has generally been one of these three things: 
1. I am humbled. 
It has been humbling to see people genuinely excited about me moving near them. I was not expecting that reaction, but it has been tremendous. I have been away from my closest friends for many years now. I have felt as though I have missed out on their lives because I am over here. Everyone is welcoming me back with open arms and great excitement, and I am humbled by that. 

2. I am encouraged. 
I don't envision this move being easy. I don't think my transition will last a short while - but I am encouraged to know I have some great friends who will be around to plug into my life, and pour into my heart. I am thankful, and encouraged to know I am moving to a place where there are many people nearby who care about me. Not only do they care about me, but they are excited for me. They are excited by my return. 

3. I am scared. 
A lot has happened in our lives in the years that have passed. Great friendships trudge through the seasons of life and are not changed. But, as I move back, almost all of my friends are married. Many of them will soon, if they have not already, welcome in their own children to this world. Things have changed, and I am scared of how change will change things.

But overall, I am encouraged. Deep down, the words I shared, and the texts/emails I didn't share, have meant the world to me. Each one brought my tears of joy and has calmed my nerves. It has been encouraging and exciting to see the reaction of others.

"Are you excited?"
I love this place. I truly care for the ministry that happens here. I have invested years of my life here, and I have come to the point where I call it home. It has not always been easy. There have been rough stretches, but man, I have absolutely loved it. I don't envision this as some utopian society. It is flawed. We are a bunch of sinful people, saved by a God of amazing grace. We are not perfect, yet this journey, this adventure, has been nothing short of amazing.

As others have walked through the processing of this I have heard things such as:
- Think of all the new students you will get to minister to. 
- Think of the new players you will coach. 
- Be excited about the new students you will have, and the way they will need you to pour into them.  

I agree. I get each one of those statements. I believe in those statements, which is why I feel passionate about where I am going. Yet, my reaction to those phrases has been this: "I don't want new students. I don't want new players. I want THESE students. I want to keep pouring into the ones here." I don't see it as a trade. It is not this student for that student. The students here have a special place in my heart. They have been a huge part of my life. They are not just students, they are young men and women of God who have a story. Their stories have intertwined with my story. Whether for one month, three years, or five years. 

A week ago I had a group of students over for dinner. We sat around the kitchen table and laughed, talked, and shared for close to three hours. It was one of the best nights of the year. My sides hurt from the laughter. My heart was full from the sharing of lives. It was beautiful. I sat and cherished every moment knowing soon these nights will cease to exist. 

I will soon be calling a new group "my students." It will be hard to release this current group. I have walked alongside these students, and they have walked through life with me. I hope to have touched their lives, in the way they have touched mine. While my heart is joyous about the new opportunities in the future, right now my heart is at a point where I don't want new students, I want these students. 

A few years back, I was talking with my good friend Manny and at one point I said to him, "I really want to stay another year, because I want to see this class graduate. I feel as though I have some really good friendships with this class, and I want to be here for their senior year." He responded by saying, "What happens if you say that again next year when a new group of kids comes in?" My response was, "Manny, if that happens, I will praise Jesus for continuing to give me students who I can get close to. I pray that each year my life is intertwined with the lives of the students in a deep and meaningful way." That was a few years ago, and my prayer has been answered. I look at this group of seniors, knowing I have walked very closely with them. I have coached a lot of them, counseled over half of them, journeyed on mission trips with them.  I look at the students in next year's graduating class and I find myself devastated saying, "Man.. I so desperately wish I could be here to walk through the next year with _____ and see him graduate." 

I appreciate everyone's encouragement in letting me know that I can create similar friendships with a new class of students. But I ask you to do this for me, be sensitive in that encouragement. Students are not random strangers who come and go. They are students with amazing stories who have allowed me to journey through life with them. Each one is unique. Each one has a story. Their stories and their lives have become a part of my story and my life.

So here I am... on the bell lap of my time at BFA. Staring down the final 8 weeks of school. I know where I am headed next and when people ask, "Are you excited?" I don't really know how to answer the question. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Small Groups

"Why don't you have a small group?" I was asked that question toward the end of last October by a student. The question honestly stung a bit. I was hurt and discouraged by the question. After being asked the question, I sent an email to a close friend and took the opportunity to vent, voice my discouragement, and seek encouragement and advice. But, the disappointment from the question stayed with me for a while and took some time to shake off.

Starting at the end of September, I began inviting a group of seniors over to my apartment every Thursday for dinner and a chance to hang out. I would always send the invitation out to eight or so students, with the knowledge five or six would be able to come. I really enjoyed the opportunity to cook for students, and was glad to open the door and provide them a place to hang out and relax. I envisioned this group of students as my small group, but when I was asked the stinging question mentioned above by one of these Thursday seniors... it hurt.

At BFA we have small groups that meet once a week. The leaders of these groups are teachers or adults in the community. Generally, the groups meet on Wednesday night from 7.30-9.00pm. The groups are same gender and for the most part, the participants are students within the same grade level. They meet at school and then go in separate directions from there for the next 90 minutes. That is the general framework of what small groups look like here. It is such a great asset to this community and I know the time is extremely powerful for the fostering of growth in the students.

I don't always desire to mold to the framework that is set before me. Not sure why, but I am never opposed to doing something slightly different than the "normal." So when I considered becoming a small group leader, I decided I didn't want to be an official leader, but wanted to do something on my own and do it apart from the given framework.

A few weeks ago the same student asked me the same question, "Why don't you have a small group?" This time I wasn't offended at all, and was prepared to give an answer. My answer went something like this...
"I consider you guys to be my small group. We may not meet at the same time as the others, we may not do the exact same thing, and that's okay with me. We're not a group of only guys (females come over for dinner as well). But what makes a group a small group? In my opinion it is a group of individuals who build community and decide to go through life together. This may not look like other small groups, but I believe with our fellowship around the dinner table, with the sharing of our lives, with the time we spend together, we have traveled through this year together. That makes us a small group. And, I believe that we have helped transform one another. I know you have positively changed me and encouraged me, and I hope we have done the same for you. Our conversations are a time to talk about what we are struggling with and what is going on in our lives. We are having worship through our fellowship. We are encouraging one another by opening up and talking about struggles. We are helping each other out by laughing together. We may not look exactly like other groups and we may not have the official title...but you don't need an official title to go walk life with someone."

Thursday is a day I always look forward to. Through conversations at the dinner table I have formed some great friendships with the students. They have shared with me and each other, their excitement about school events, about sports, about classes they are taking. They have discussed their fears about leaving and heading to college. Worries about what is ahead are put out on the table to be heard and prayed for. They have listened to me as I've handed out advice and talked about what is going on in my life. In fact, my Thursday night crew were the first ones in Germany to know about my plans for next year and how that is all coming together.

We may not be an official small group. We may not do things exactly as others do. We have different numbers and mixed company. But, we are walking through life together.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Number Five

Almost at the end!
A picture with three students after finishing. 

This past Sunday I went out and completed my fifth marathon. Despite the weather being a bit chilly, it turned out to be a great day and a great race. 

I was really encouraged to have multiple people cheering me on. One can never fully voice how much encouragement you receive when there are people on the street cheering you on. The amount of energy that empowers your body when you hear voices you recognize, is tremendous. This particular race forced us to do a 13.1 mile loop twice, so it made it a bit easier for fans to find opportunities to see runners. Added to this, there quite a few switchbacks as we ran through the streets of a picturesque German town. There were multiple times where I ran past friends, and it was always a blessing. I never knew when I would see them, but could definitely hear their voices above those of the Germans, and appreciated their presence. Beside the cheering, the knowledge that people you know could appear around every corner, adds a sense of accountability. When the legs get tired and the body wants to stop, an extra ounce of motivation can be found through the thought, "I can't stop. I don't want them to see me walking!" 

I have been training for this particular race since January 1. My entire training regimen has been far more relaxing than previous races, and I really came to enjoy that. The main aspect that made it more relaxing was my desired finishing time. Previously, I have always targeted a Boston Qualifying time (sub 3:10) this time from day 1 my goal was 3:30. Not too far from Boston, but significant enough that I didn't feel as much pressure or stress to get my time down. Releasing myself from that pressure made me enjoy my training a bit more, and also made the actual run pretty fun. This race was all about getting another one under my belt, enjoying the experience, and of course... the freebies after the race!

My goal was to finish in 3 hours 30 minutes. I missed that by two minutes as I came across the line in 3:32. A huge part of me is absolutely fine with this. In the big picture of a mediocre marathon runner, two minutes slower than your goal is not bad at all. Unfortunately something inside of me is not entirely satisfied with my time. Perhaps I need to be less competitive. But, the main reason for my dissatisfaction is that I don't feel as though my time accurately represents how well I actually ran. I realize a marathon is a full 26.2 miles, not 20. But, through my first twenty miles I was on pace to cross the line in 3:18 or 3:19. I had visions of setting a PR (3:17:24). But with about 6 miles to go, my body started shutting down. It wasn't so much cramps in my legs, but exhaustion and an empty chest. My mind simply could not will my body to keep going at the pace I was carrying. Over my final 12km (little more than 6 miles) I averaged a full minute slower than I was averaging for the first 30km. (A marathon is 26.2 miles, or in Europe distances are measured in km, sorry for bouncing back and forth). Finishing slower than I had been running for the overwhelming majority of the race, left a bitter taste in my mouth. I honestly felt like I ran better than a 3:32... but I have to keep reminding myself a marathon is 42km, not 30km. So, there is a bit of added motivation for when I start training for my next race. I haven't picked one out yet, but have no doubts I will run at least one more in 2013. 

All things considered, it was a great day. A great opportunity to get out there and do something I love. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bangladesh Recap. #7 Friday

This is the seventh post regarding our team's recent trip to Bangladesh. Please go through the other days and read the posts to learn more about the trip. It was an incredible trip and I would hate for you to miss out on something!

Thursday ended with the big birthday celebration which brought a lot of laughter, fun and memories. It's not every day you get to do the cotton-eye-joe with 65+ Bengalis while wearing a Punjabi! Despite the fun that was had, there was an undercurrent of sadness as we knew we would be leaving in the morning. My alarm went off shortly after 5:30am to give us all a little more time to pack up, clean up, and make sure we had everything. That began a 36 hour trip that would eventually bring us back home to Germany.

Leaving the orphanage was not fun, and you could see it on everyone's face. As odd as it may sound, it was comforting and exciting to see the difficulty in leaving. Though we had only been there for a short time, and most of us could not easily communicate in a common language...friendships had been formed. Each member of our team had at least one person they did not want to leave. You could see it on our faces, a part of us was going to stay at the orphanage. But, I found encouragement and peace in seeing the relationships that had been made. I found strength and joy in seeing that God had worked in and through our team. Despite our wishes, we piled into our two vans and began a 280km drive to the airport.

Traveling tales that are easy and simple rarely get remembered. Let's just say...we won't soon forget our  travel. We left at 6:30am for a 9:00pm flight. We knew we might hit some traffic, but figured we could cover the 280km in a few hours and then have some time to spend in the city. Maybe a last minute shopping excursion, maybe one final team dinner, something relaxing and uplifting to help dull the sadness of leaving. We gave ourselves A LOT of time to get to the airport, and it turned out we needed every second of it.

The first few hours we were cruising and doing really well on time. In fact, as leaders we began to wonder what we would do to fill all the extra time we were thinking we would have. Later in the day, we looked back on that conversation and couldn't help but laugh: "Remember when we were wondering how we would fill time? Now we need to figure out what to do in case we miss our flight!"

Then, one of our vans started to have issues. Something was wrong and the driver needed to get it fixed immediately. We eventually found a car mechanic who took 30 minutes to fix everything. Then we hit traffic...a lot of traffic. At one point our vans were turned off for 90 minutes because we did not move an inch. It was hot. It was dusty. We were going nowhere. We were pressed for time. We had 9 people in a small van. Sounds like the perfect recipe for complaining, bickering, and crabby people. Our vans could not have been any further from that. It was incredible. The long car ride proved time to play "would you rather" "truth or dare" and games we made up. It gave us an opportunity to play the ukuleles we brought and sing to anyone walking by. There was a homeless kid who stopped by our van and we gave him everything we could, we heard his story and gave him some mango juice. We even got out of the van, climbed a city bus (which you are allowed to do) and took in the city from up top.

As odd as it may sound, the traffic jam and the long car ride was a lot of fun. I walked away so impressed and proud of our students. Not once did I hear them complain. Not once did I hear anyone bicker or whine. We were in pretty nasty conditions, and they handled it so incredibly well.

We made it to the airport about an hour before our flight took off, breezed through security, and hopped on our plane. We still had a lot of travel ahead of us (2 flights, a 3 hour train and another 25 minute drive). Making our flight brought another reminder of the phrase I had been hearing/seeing all week long: God is faithful.

On our drive from the orphanage to the airport we averaged a speed of 13mph. It was tough, but I know we all had a great time with it. The students were absolutely amazing.

Thank you for taking the time to read my daily recaps of our trip. I hope to write one final post tomorrow to do an overall recap. I am also in the process of creating a team video that I can post when it is completed (probably another 10 days or so). I am also still in the process of collecting pictures and after getting some more I will create a slideshow to put up.

The trip was amazing. Thank you for your prayers and interest.

A view of the traffic jam we were in. Just a few cars and people!

Climbing the city bus in traffic. Incredible memory. 

A group pic from our very first day in country. 

A team picture during the week. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bangladesh Recap #6. Thursday

This is the sixth post about our recent trip to Bangladesh. Feel free to read the other five posts to find out more information about the trip.

This was our last full day on the compound, and there was a sense of sadness throughout the day. There was still excitement and anticipation for things to come (mainly the birthday party at night) but there was also a sadness knowing the end of the trip was drawing near. I don't think there was anyone in our team who wanted to leave - had you given us the option to stay longer I am certain that each and every one of us would have gladly stayed longer.

During the day our team had the opportunity to take rickshaws through the country side, stopping at a brick making factory to see how bricks are created. This was a bit of a treat as we had seen rickshaws throughout the week, but not everyone had a chance to ride them. So the leaders thought it would be a fun excursion, but also an educational one. Again, I feel as though I am without words to describe the brick making factory. It looked miserable and hopeless. As we were walking around I couldn't help but think of the Israelites in Egypt. Seeing the physical toll it took and the labor required, it brought that entire story into a whole new perspective for me. I am excited and thankful to read through that account with a new vantage point.

Sadly there is a bit of corruption within the country, and we saw how real this could be. At the compound we had hired 8 rickshaws to take us on our expedition and had agreed upon a round-trip price. After we walked around the brick yard and prepared to head back, the rickshaws had all conspired to higher their prices. They were all demanding double the originally agreed upon price. We were unwilling to meet their demands, so they rode off without us, forcing us to have a solid 45 minute walk back. And here is the was HOT. But, I never once heard anyone complain. A long walk in nasty heat, without water, at the end of the week? No problem. Everyone took it in stride and had a lot of fun with it. I was so impressed and so proud of our team. Their attitude was simply incredible.

The night ended with a big birthday party celebration. Afternoon games were cut short a little so that everyone could shower and get dressed up for the occasion. The guys on our team wore Punjabis, while the kids got dressed in their nice clothes as well. For dinner we had chicken in our rice which is a delicacy to them. Having meat is something that happens at best, one meal a month. As a team we were able to purchase 25kg of chicken and provide everyone with a lot of meat. Following the meal we met in the chapel room for devotions, singing, and games. Some of the girls preformed a traditional Bengali dance, which was amazing to see. We had been told it would be best for us to prepare something as well, so we came up with a "traditional" American dance...the cotton-eye-joe. I helped lead our team through the dance at first, and then we had everyone joining in. I was really impressed by everyone's ability to pick it up so quickly, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone mix together.

The highlight of the night for me, would definitely have to be the new bracelet I got. I delivered the night's devotion on Thursday, but as I was preparing on Wednesday night a lot of crazy and disheartening stuff happened, one of which was my bracelet completely broke. (A longer, but really crazy/interesting story) Honestly, I was pretty discouraged about this. But, a few moments prior to standing up to deliver my devotion, Shimol, one of the young guys I had been hanging around most throughout the week, grabbed my arm, pulled out a bracelet, and tied it to my wrist. I was touched, excited, encouraged, impressed. I know some may say, "it is just a bracelet" but it was yet another sign to me of God's faithfulness. And the greatest part - the bracelet is my favorite color combination, which I know for a fact Shimol had absolutely no idea about.

I fell asleep Thursday with some of the same thoughts I had every night: incredibly impressed by our team and their attitude, reminded of God's faithfulness, loving the experience in this country, thankful for the opportunity to be there and not wanting to leave.

Thursday concluded giving us one final day to head to the airport and fly home.
A man carrying bricks. 

Joy, Shimol, Me, Gidion. 

One of our students teaching some little guys how to play the ukelele. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bangladesh Recap #5. Wednesday

This is the fifth recap of our recent trip to Bangladesh. Please read through the previous posts to learn more about the trip and all that it entailed.

We had planned on visiting a few of the other ministries in the area, but unfortunately were not able to. There is currently a lot of civil unrest in the country of Bangladesh and the people commonly call for strikes. When this happens, it is very unsafe to venture far from your home. So, all plans we had of leaving the compound were scratched and we came up with something different.

Despite any discouragement there may have been as a result of the strike, there were two things I continually saw throughout the week that were once again emphasized on this day: God's faithfulness and our team's amazing attitude. We were traveling/in country for 9 days. Of those 9 days there were at least 5 days of strikes...meaning 5 days where it is unsafe to drive. God is faithful in that, NONE of those strikes were on days where our team had to travel to/from the airport. Had there been a strike on our major travel day, we would have been stranded at the airport. I can't help but see God's hand in the fact that we arrived on Friday, and there had been a strike the previous day, and the day after. When we flew out, there had been two straight days of strikes, one day of normalcy (our day to fly) and then a strike the following day. During the week, each time one of these strikes disrupted our plans, our team had a phenomenal attitude. They didn't complain. Didn't bicker. Didn't moan. They heard the news, joined in the alternative plan, and gave it everything they could. They were tremendous.

With the strike we were forced to stay on the compound and decided to paint a fence. Under the big umbrella of this ministry there is a hospital on the compound - and they have a large metal fence outside their building. The building is probably 4-5 years old, and it didn't look like the fence had been re-painted since the erection of the building. The team got geared up, and went to work! We had our entire team working, plus some kids from the orphanage, so we had close to 20 people painting. Similar to when we built the sidewalk, it was a great time for us to come together as a team and work on a project. Different pockets of people played different games to help pass the time. I'm always amazed at how enjoyable you can make these types of projects. I have spent many long, hot, summer days painting...and I've detested every minute of it. But in Bangladesh, I was loving every minute of the point that I went back and painted in our afternoon off time.

That is another thing that has been rolling around in my head and heart since the trip. Similar to yesterday's post, I seem to have more questions than answers. It has been my experience that while on a mission trip; the hard tasks, the boring jobs, the things you normally try to avoid or detest doing for a job (painting a fence) are actually a lot of fun. I am filled with joy and excitement as I carry bricks, or paint a fence in the squelching heat of Bangladesh. Why don't I have that same joy, that same attitude, that same satisfaction, when I do the same thing at my day-to-day job? My first response to that questions is, "Well that is because on a trip you are there to serve and you find joy in serving." Which then prompts the question, "What is the attitude of my heart for the other 51 weeks of the year when I am not on a trip?"

Despite the heat, we were able to finish one entire side of the fence. A major accomplishment and something we were very happy about. There was a second fence, but that would hold off for another day. The afternoon consisted of free time with the kids - which inevitably meant more cricket. Today's game was awesome, because I continually saw an increased knowledge of the rules and what I was supposed to do. In today's game, I actually got to run a bit after I hit it. In previous days I hadn't lasted that long, but was finally figuring it out. By this point in the trip, all the 9-13 year olds knew I would be playing cricket with them during their free time, and that was a lot of fun.

The night finished with a team meeting. We tried to meet nightly from 8-10 to process the day, look ahead to tomorrow, and be together as a team and relax. We had three students who brought ukeleles so there was generally a lot of singing during this time - - most of the songs were made up, which was quite entertaining. Throughout the week when time permitted, I would share a devotional "thought for the day" with our team. Something that had hit my heart and something I wanted them to think about. When I speak in front of people I feel like it is pretty easy to figure out who is engaged and who is spaced out. As I spoke I could really tell one person in particular was really listening. After I finished we had an hour to just hang out before we needed to call it a night. The student who was really engaged came up to me and asked a few follow up questions. We ended up talking the entire hour - and it was another phenomenal conversation. It was one of those conversations where you walk away and say, "God, if this one conversation is the only reason I came to this country... the whole trip will be a huge success." I hope to follow up with the conversation more throughout the remainder of our school year, and hope that the passion, hunger, and pursuit I saw in the eyes of the student will continue.

As Wednesday closed the reality that our trip was winding down began to hit. It was not a fun feeling as everyone was having such an incredible time. Nobody wanted the trip to end. Thankfully we knew we still had a full day on Thursday, which would include a big birthday party highlighted by some traditional Bengali dancing, and traditional American dancing... but you'll have to come back tomorrow to read about that.

Again, I apologize about the lack of pictures. As soon as I am able to get the pictures that go with these stories I will post them.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bangladesh Recap #4. Tuesday

This is the fourth post regarding the recent trip to Bangladesh. Please scroll down and read through the other posts to find out more information about the trip. There were two experiences that happened on this day that left a pretty big mark on my heart. Honestly, I don't know that I have fully processed nor fully come to grips with either of the situations, but here are my thoughts...

The kids at the orphanage absolutely loved to hold hands with members of our team. Not being the most prone to physical touch, it took me by surprise at first. But toward this point in the trip I began getting used to it - in fact, I would purposefully walk with my hands at my side (rather than in my pockets or folded across my chest) in case any kids came running my direction. If my hands were by my side, they would grab my hand and walk with me side by side.

Early in the morning we had finished breakfast and I had just completed washing my plate and my hands. There were no towels available so I threw my hands in the air a few times to let them air dry. Immediately after putting my plate away, I began walking toward the side of the building where the younger guys usually hung out. During the time between breakfast and school the guys are required to do some chores, so I walked around to help them out and hang out with them prior to school. As I was walking a kid named Solomon came running up to me and grabbed my hand. As we kept walking he felt as though my hands had not dried enough - so he took my hand and without hesitation and completely nonchalantly, he wrapped my hand up in his shirt to dry it. After covering my hand a few times, he deemed it dry enough, and then got back to holding my hand and walking with me.

It was one of those moments that was full of beauty. I was struck by the way in which he dried my hand without giving it a second thought. It impacted me to think that holding someone's hand was so important to him, that he would use his own shirt to make sure my hand was dry. It made me feel valued and important to have him seek out my hand to hold. It broke my heart as I wondered if he struggled with feeling unloved or unwanted by his biological parents. These thoughts and more continue to bounce around in my head as I think about the small act of drying my hand. As mentioned, I haven't fully processed this scenario. It was beautiful yet so mysterious.

In the afternoon we traveled into the city and had the opportunity to walk through a slum. Prior to entering the slum we purchased 100 bananas for 100 Taka (less than $1). We distributed the bananas amongst ourselves and decided to walk through the area and hand them to those in need. 100 bananas was not nearly enough, 1,000 probably wouldn't have been enough. My heart was broken. I really wanted to escape to a corner and weep. These people had so little. They lack material possessions but in looking in their eyes, it seemed as so many were lacking hope. I felt so inadequate, so helpless, so spoiled, so selfish. All I could offer was a banana, a smile, and a hand to hold for a few minutes. But today, a week later, that banana has been consumed, the smile most likely forgotten, my hand sits here typing at a computer.

Walking the streets also infuriated me. Society has labeled them as useless and utterly worthless. Nearby there are people living with food in abundance, and enough clothes to clothe all the naked babies I saw. I thought through all the meaningless ways I throw away money. All the things I deem as "a must have" that really do not matter. None of this is meant to be a guilt trip. It is not meant to make myself, or anyone feel bad. It is a story about the reality of the condition in which some people live.

Since walking through the slums I have been asking, "What did they do to deserve to live in a place like that?" "Where do they find hope and joy?" "Why them, and not me?" "What can I do for these people? How can I help?" Lots of questions. Few answers.

As mentioned yesterday, Monday left me encouraged, excited and filled. Tuesday left me confused, with a heavy heart.

A week later, I still don't know that I have any more answers. I don't know how to appropriately re-enter a first world society after seeing the poverty that was there. I don't know what I can do, I don't know what I am supposed to do.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bangladesh Recap #3 Monday.

This is the third post regarding our recent trip to Bangladesh. Feel free to read through the previous two posts to find out what happened earlier in the trip.

This day was full, exhausting, rewarding, and powerful. Starting around 8:00am our team began working on building a sidewalk. We did a little work on Sunday, but Monday was to be a full day of work, and we set out with the hope of finishing it in one day. The first step was carrying bricks 75 yards from where they were dropped off, to the start of the sidewalk. From there, a few organized them and placed them down in the dirt, thus creating the sidewalk. The day was hot...really hot. But we had such an incredible time with this project. Helping build the sidewalk may be the highlight of the trip for me. It took 20+ people, over 8 hours to complete, and it was awesome.

One of the things that made it so enjoyable to me, was how we all worked together. For a while we were carrying the bricks individually from the pile to the starting point. (Of course, I helped create some competition in this, in trying to see who could carry the most bricks at one time.) But after a while we set up a line and passed the bricks down the line. For brief periods we had music playing (until the electricity went out) so those near me decided that while we were passing the bricks, we had to act as if we were walking down the cat-walk. Modeling and carrying bricks in a hot, dusty climate do not seem to go together, which is what made it so entertaining. When the power cut off and we lost our music, we began making up stories. One person would create one line of the story, and then the next person would continue the next line of the story - like a tennis match we would volley back and forth.

These seemingly pointless yet entertaining games were awesome. It created a sense of unity amongst our team. It made what should have been a difficult and mundane job, fun. I walked away feeling like I had gotten to know a few of our students better, and helped build a sidewalk that would greatly benefit the orphanage. It was also a great image of everyone coming together and offering what they could, to make something happen. Some could carry no more than 5 bricks, some could only pass one brick at a time. Some helped entertain the others, while some worked silently but diligently. Everyone played a role, and everyone offered what they could. No one job was more important than the next. Everyone did what they could to help out.

Following our time of games (yes, another game of cricket was in store for me) we ventured into a nearby city where we were invited to a familie's house for dinner. The 16 members of our team were there, as well as a husband and wife who have been missionaries in Bangladesh for 25+ years. Following dinner we spent two hours listening to them tell stories and share their experiences. We were all engaged, eagerly listening, soaking in the stories and being impacted. There were moments that brought me to tears (though I tried as hard as I could to hold them in). Stories that once again reminded me of a truth I was constantly hearing; God is faithful. Sitting on a floor for two hours is a long time, especially after the physical day we had had, yet had it not been so late, I imagine we all would have enjoyed sitting and listening for even longer.

Our van ride back to the compound lasted 40 minutes, and proved to be the icing on the cake to an incredible day. I was engaged in a conversation with 3 students and I was secretly hoping we would get stuck in traffic, get lost, or get a flat tire. It was a great conversation, and something I am blessed to have been a part of. We were talking about what God was teaching us, where He might be leading us, how we can use our talents/gifts for His kingdom. It was quality time with the students, which is something that left me encouraged and excited.

The sidewalk was not completed today despite all our hard work. This did not leave us discouraged, rather it gave us something to look forward to completing in the coming days. My head hit the pillow on Monday night and I was pretty exhausted. Yet, at the same time I was lifted up, excited, and encouraged.

This is a picture of the sidewalk almost completed. 

This is one of our students hanging out with some of the kids.