Compared to European history we are rowdy teenagers but compared to Middle Eastern history, the United States of America is a babe in arms. And yet by God’s own hand and human desire for freedom and justice, we are a free people under a system of laws designed to protect and defend human rights. We are not perfect and we are not always Godly, but God has not left us yet. More a stew than a melting pot, we are representative of all other nations in the world, all those with lengthier histories. From all people groups we have been united under God and the flag of the USA.
Today I am thankful to the men and women who have taken the oath, worn the uniform, and protected our country, our freedom against enemies both foreign and domestic, against great odds. Some have returned haunted by the battlefield, some physically wounded, and some in boxes covered in flags. Some have returned educated and trained to serve as civilians even leaders of the world. To these men and women I say: “Thank you for your service.”
Today I am thankful to be an American, recognizing that there divisions and wounds, troubles and sorrows, idolatry and rebellion in homes across the country, in the halls of government and even in my own heart. And so in thankfulness for this great country, the grandest on earth, I submit these wise words from scripture for all to consider:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)
The Lord protects the foreigners. He defends the orphans and widows, but he blocks the way of the wicked. (Psalms 146:9 NCV)
The first sentence of this verse grabs me by the throat. I have been a stranger in a strange land both foreign and domestic. Ask anyone who has moved across the country leaving behind the familiar and they will tell you how “foreign” one can feel even within the continental United States. Moving, setting up house, working in a new environment, finding the grocery store, the cleaners, etc. and making friends requires a level of energy that only can be supplied by God. For the gregarious person some of these actions of settling in a new place go by quickly, but for someone like me, who watches to learn the lay of the land and the voice of the people before jumping in, time passes in baby steps.
The task grows exponentially when in a foreign country where the language is unfamiliar and to work, order food, count money requires a trusted translator. In Mexico for two mission trips, I relied on interpreters primarily, although after my first trip I took two semesters of Spanish at what was then Tulsa Junior College. The second trip went so much easier than the first even though my Spanish was so limited..One of my interpreters who was a native of Mexico told me that Spanish was the language of Heaven…I laughed and said that was funny, I always thought Hebrew was. Perhaps all of us, myself included, consider our first language to be the language of God.
Language opens so many doors when in another’s country. I found strangers helped me more, their attitude was different if I attempted to communicate using their language even with my poor skills. Someone once told me that the greatest compliment an expatriate can pay native citizens is to learn their tongue. Believe me this is true even in the USA. Try speaking Brooklynese in Montgomery, Alabama or vise versa. Or Oklahoma middle America speak in Kentucky where there are turns of phrase that have to be acquired.
The Lord protects the stranger in foreign places. He has protected me. He has provided a rich diversity of life found only in stepping out of my comfort zone, where I speak the language, like the food, trust the water and know what is expected of me. To be like God then, I, too, must protect and care for the strangers and foreigners in my midst. I must also be a good stranger when I am in foreign places, striving to understand the natives both tongue and customs. I must not expect everyone to be like me…that would be a disaster for sure.
Thank you , Lord. I am so grateful for your protection in all the new environments I have encountered, in all the places I have been the foreigner. Let my Gratitude lead me to care for the strangers, the non-natives, I encounter as I would like to be cared for if the situation was reversed. Remind me also that everywhere I go on this earth teaches me something about You and that the truth is “I am a poor wayfaring stranger” and “this world is not my home”. Amen
In June 1987, our daughter Brandee left with Teen Missions International’s Tanzania Team for a 5 week construction mission. Today TMI teams have the benefit of multiple satellite connections, so updates on the team’s arrivals and departures are available. Not so in 1987, we got one phone call when she left TMI Boot Camp in Florida to travel to JFK International in New York City. So, we did not know the team missed the flight intended and were divided at JFK or that our daughter and the remaining team members with leader got on a plane that had turned back to NYC due to engine problems to fly to Frankfurt. Looking back, probably best I did not know.
Brandee loved Africa, so I developed a prayerful concern for the second largest continent with its complex history, tribes, and diverse cultures, religions and politics. Even before she served there for 5 weeks in 1987, my in-laws had lived in Cairo, Egypt for 5 years as expatriates with an American oil company. Then in the 1990’s, our friends, Jeff and Rita Osborne served with United World Mission in the northwestern area of Kenya, working with and coming to know the Turkana People. My view of Africa widened as my eyes opened to the stories and pictures from the teeming streets of Cairo, the pyramids, the desert of Egypt, to the mountains of Tanzania, the Serengeti Plain, and then the arid land of the Turkana people in Kenya. My prayer world expanded and then almost evaporated.
There are a few frightening words in this life that I have heard more often than I would ever have chosen. Cancer is one especially when followed by Terminal. In 2002 on a visit to supporters in the United States, Rita received that diagnosis. Electing to stay in the States near family, both Jeff and she settled temporarily in South Carolina. I was able to visit them a few times before her death in March 2004. My final visit was in December 2003. At that visit, Rita gave me the necklace you see in the picture. When she gifted me, she told me to wear it to always remember to pray for the Turkana. I promised and have done that, and yet that too has expanded to include the work that Jeff and his wife Lucy are engaged in near Nairobi,
Ibukun and the country of Nigeria,
and now a second generation TMI team member, Rita’s granddaughter, Joy who is in Zambia building a bridge this summer.
The chain of silver around my neck
A filigree charm of Africa
reminds me of the times on your deck
laughter, tears, chats about heaven,
about the time you would have decorating my mansion
cramming in talks, relieving the tension
more tears, more laughter, too little time
And a chain of silver from you to me
Africa in silver filigree
The chain of silver hangs around my neck
and I finger the silver charm
as if somehow it connects us in some respect
promises made, laughter, tears, arm in arm
In heaven, girl, my mansion next to yours for sure
No talks now, so let me say this to assure
I am praying for the Turkana, for Kenya, for Jeff,
for his new wife, Lucy, who you would love
For Nigeria and a young woman named Ibukun
All these and there is more
Your granddaughter, the delightful Joy
This year in Africa, like our daughters went
For all these I pray
because I wear your chain of silver
Africa in a tiny sliver.
It is more than silver, more precious than gold
For it reminds me of my promise to always pray
And so it expands, God’s growth unfolds
For me, for Africa, for the Kingdom of Heaven
We were in Nashville today for a doctor’s appointment at Vanderbilt. As I pulled off I-40 to the stoplight at Broadway, I saw a familiar sight, a man selling newspapers. From our ten weeks at Hope Lodge for Terry’s radiation and chemotherapy treatment, I know these men hocking these newspapers and these newspapers are not ordinary. These are newspapers published for and about issues of homelessness. The folks selling them are homeless or have been homeless.
“Street Newspaper” is a term for a newspaper that focuses on the issues surrounding homelessness and poverty and is sold by homeless and formerly homeless individuals on the street. 
Across the United States there are a growing number of individuals and families living without benefit of a place to call home. These folks, including children, live without benefit of a permanent address. . .while the overall number of homeless decreased slightly between 2011 and 2012 by 0.4%, the number of homeless families increased by 1.4%…62% of the homeless were living in emergency shelters or transitional housing, but 38% were unsheltered, living on the streets, in cars or abandoned buildings, places not intended for or safe for human habitation. 
Many of these folks are ordinary individuals and families who hit a really bad patch, some are victims of domestic violence, some made really bad choices, but whatever the reason they live in poverty with no place to call home. Some are mentally challenged or mentally ill individuals who have been discharged from hospitals or simply left. These individuals face even greater perils as they wander. Homeless, baffled, tormented they become easy targets and some of them traumatized, carrying a war zone between their ears, become dangerous to themselves and others.
Move back in time with me as we explore the scripture in Luke. I think this event exists for us to read and consider today, because God intended it so that we would understand the problems of poverty, homelessness, and tormented souls have always been with us. God wants us to be more like Jesus everyday, so how did Jesus approach and help the man at Gerasenes?
Now, just so you know where I stand, I believe the man at Gerasenes was possessed by a Legion of demons, but I want to approach Jesus response to him from a slightly different angle. Jesus and the disciples had experienced a rough night at sea and the disciples, no doubt, were still in awe over his calming of the wind and waves. Face it folks, they were one exhausted company, when they stepped on shore to be greeted by, WELL! A wild naked man, ranting and raving. Not a pretty, nor a welcome sight. Easy to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear, well maybe a little difficult, what with the man running directly at Jesus, shouting at the top of his lungs, flinging himself or being flung into the group of men dragging themselves out of the boat. Okay, NOT that easy to ignore, but possible. Point being Jesus did not choose to ignore him.
Let’s stand off from the scene on the beach, not too far, because we want to hear and see what happens. What happens, what does Jesus do?
He sees the man.
He assesses his condition.
He takes action.
His action creates an adverse reaction in the man.
He probes deeper.
Too bad for the pigs, but wonderful for the man. Not so great for the pig farming economy, but restoration for the man. An indication here of God’s regard for human beings, human rights, the human soul. Clearly, one man’s welfare outweighed the welfare of a herd of pigs. Clearly, the results viewed by the community were miraculous. Here clothed, hair and beard trimmed, talking sense was the naked, violent, insane fellow who lived in the caves. He cleaned up really good, once Jesus took hold of him.
Still, once the astonished town people started looking around, dead pigs bobbing on the water, frightened workers, the loss of income, the adverse effects of this man’s healing, they got together and asked Jesus and his disciples to leave. It doesn’t say, “And don’t show your face here again.”, but you get that feeling.
As Jesus leaves, the restored man attempts to follow, but Jesus has another ministry for him. He sends him back, to live and work among the people in his hometown. His very presence is a constant reminder of the power of God, but Jesus instructs him to do more…Use your new voice, your ability to reason, your knowledge of God’s action in your life. Be a living testimony! And so he did just that!
In light of this scripture what am I, what are you called to do in this world where, just as Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you.”? Seems a bit overwhelming, doesn’t it? So much need, so many poor, so many hurting, so many unsaved…I think I will take a nap….I mean, pray about it!
Look instead in prayer to Jesus–one deranged man healed, when surely there were many others in similar states. I need to look right in front of me, wherever I happen to be and ask God to let me see as He sees, assess as He does, take action, and if thwarted at first, pray again, look again, probe again and persevere. . .One by one!
And then be a testimony to all God has done. Live as a restored sinner saved by grace! As D.T. Niles once said,
“Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
Whispers in the seagrass, sand between my toes
Listening to the ocean with its resonating tones
Warmth upon my upturned face, eyes lightly close
As I thank the Creator for this moment of repose.
The wonders of the tides, ebb and flow upon the sand
Majesty and power contained by the Master’s unseen hand
According to his natural laws, in keeping with his plans
Eyes open to its majesty, the depth and width expand
Beyond the horizon, others sit or stand like I and stare
As this very ocean laps beaches, and eases others’ cares
To some it signals rest while it shouts to others dares
And Even when it’s peaceful, you sense the power that’s there.
For one born in the middle locked in by land on every side
I cannot claim a kinship with those who can sail and guide
But at the ocean, with sand between my toes, there I abide
In the presence of the God whose hand controls the tides.