time to play

23 02 2013

Yesterday there was a group of school kids on the subway platform, waiting for the next train.  As they boarded, I noticed many of the adults who were close to that subway car’s door walked further than usual to get onto the next subway car, to avoid the noise of that class of children.  I followed the kids onto the train, to observe and catch whatever phrases I could understand.  Most of them were playfully interacting with each other, and I’d say they were probably between 9 and 12 years old.  A few had smartphones, interestingly the girls who had smartphones were using them in groups–one group of three playing an electronic Uno game, another group taking pictures of each other and laughing a lot, whereas the boys tended to be using their phones by themselves.  When the train crossed the bridge over the Dnipr river, most of the kids turned looked out the window at the river, at the shore, at the world around them, except for one of the boys who had his nose stuck in his smartphone the entire time.

I reflected on my love for kids, for playing with them, and for helping them understand God’s incredible love for us in Jesus Christ.  I miss singing songs with the kids at my church back in Chattanooga, and miss my friends’ kids.  In Henri Nouwen’s South American journal, he said that for most of his adult career in seminary, in university, and in his teaching positions, he wasn’t around kids–from his 18th year until his 50th year, when as a missionary he moved into a roof-top room with a poor Peruvian family.  He reflected in his Thursday, January 28, 1982 journal entry:

The children always challenge me to live in the present.  They want me to be with them here and now, and they find it hard to understand that I might have other things to do or to think about.  After all my experiences with psychotherapy, I suddently have discovered the great healing power of children.  Every time Pablito, Johnny, and Maria run up to welcome me, pick up my suitcase, and bring me to my “roof-room,” I marvel at their ability to be fully present to me.  Their uninhibited expression of affection and their willingness to receive it pull me directly into the moment and invite me to celebrate life where it is found.  Whereas in the past coming home meant time to study, to write letters, and to prepare for classes, it now first of all means time to play.  [My grandpa’s margin note here says, “Beautiful!”]

In the beginning, I had to get used to finding a little boy under my bed, a little girl in my closet, and a teenager under my table, but now I am disappointed when I find my friends asleep at night.  I did not know what to expect when I came to Pamplona Alta.  I wondered how the poverty, the lack of good food and good housing would affect me; I was afraid of becoming depressed by the misery I would see.  But God showed me something else first: affectionate, open, and playful children who are telling me about love and life in ways no book was ever able to do.  I now realize that only when I can enter with the children into their joy will I be able to enter also with them into their poverty and pain.  God obviously wants me to walk into the world of suffering with a little child on each hand. (Nouwen, p. 123) [Here my grandpa wrote, “Let the children come to me & don’t let them get cut off because God’s reign belongs to those who are like children – Matt 19:14.  Beloved we are already children of God – I John 3:12.]

I’m thankful all the other families on my team have kids.  Last night I had dinner with my team leader’s family, as I often do Friday evenings.  I love arriving at their house  and hearing their son Zachary’s enthusiastic greeting, “Joel is here!” as he runs from the living room or kitchen to the entry-way to give me a hug and start telling me about whatever he’s doing.





giving thanks

27 09 2009

Its nearly 2:00 AM Monday in Kiev, Ukraine right now.  No wonder I feel a bit tired, jet-lagged here in northwest Georgia just outside Chattanooga.  Yesterday (Saturday) morning I got up at 3:30am for my flight home from Kiev, and I was home by 10:30pm.  This morning I woke early, alert and excited to gather with other believers to worship the Lord together.

Thank you for your prayers.  My trip was worthwhile, and I got a good sense of what the Presbyterian missionaries are doing to equip and encourage the Ukrainian church in Kiev and Odessa.  There are a number of ways I could serve in Kiev after learning Russian, including music ministry and mentoring, evangelistic outreach, discipleship, and possibly theological education in the future.  The team there looks like a good fit for me, and I got the sense they may think I’d work well as part of their team.

Please continue praying for me as I pursue where and how the King is calling me to serve in the coming years, and as I serve where he has placed me right now.  Tomorrow morning I’m returning to my full time civil engineering work, helping to push back the brokenness and play my part in seeing God’s common grace blessings extended through better, safer, and more efficient transportation systems.  I remain your debtor–thanks again for your prayers.

Last Sunday I was excited to worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ in Kiev, where I found myself longing to know Russian and thankful for Hebrew words like “hallelujah” that call everyone everywhere to praise Jahweh.  Today I was thankful to be able to worship in English.  Isn’t it exciting that God’s steadfast love, which narrowed through Abraham, Israel, Judah, and David until it focused on Jesus, burst out to all the peoples, languages, and nations of the world when Jesus rose from the dead?  As Psalm 57:9 says, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.”

Here are three pictures:

I’m at the Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gate) in Kiev, built by Yaroslav the Wise in 1037, destroyed when the Mongol’s sacked Kiev in 1240, and rebuilt in 1982.

The Kiev skyline at nightfall, from the front balcony where I stayed the first half of my trip.

Maydan Nezalezhnosti is the “Independence Mall” in the center of downtown Kiev.