Scott and Ryan Lieffers (then) with a Filipino jeepney

 

My friends, Rex and Jean Lieffers, left Atlanta with their two young sons 25 years ago to represent their church and several others in missions with Wycliffe Bible Translators (www.wycliffe.org). I got to know them when we were all working in Manila with SIL Philippines.  Jean and I share a passion for words, literacy, the Word, and writing.  

We worked together on projects celebrating the 50th anniversary of the modern Bible translation movement in Asia. Jean's  books include BY FAITH, BY WORD, Twelve Stories for Twelve Stamps, and Celebrate! Today the Lieffers' efforts, like mine with The Seed Company, focus on facilitating Bible translation around the world.     

Along with the Lieffers family and many other friends, I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the worldwide Bible translation movement. When God steered me away from the Philippines, I wondered if I’d ever be involved in missions again. Then He opened the door about 5 years later for me to do what I love—write—for an affiliate organization of the Wycliffe family I was a part of for 13 years (www.theseedcompany.org).   

 Today I’m celebrating with Jean; a major homeschool curriculum company recently bought 500 copies of BY WORD. Jean writes, “Pray the families reading BY WORD will be challenged to pray, give, and eventually SEND the next generation to the harvest fields.” 

Every day, I’m thankful for my part-time job. I’m also thankful for friends have made a career of serving Christ. But then, isn’t that all of us?

   

The Lieffers family

     

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Scorched!

June 22, 2010

Gary wasn’t coming home for dinner. Someone needed computer help, so he was making another housecall this evening. I scanned the refrigerator for leftover possiblities. Salad. Good choice; I’d had meat at lunch. And there sat a container full of baby-cut carrots. Gary doesn’t like cooked carrots, but he wasn’t home. So I got out the steamer basket and tossed the carrots in, put them in a pan of water and turned on the burner. But then I made a mistake.

I left the room without setting the timer. Sauntering back in the bedroom, I sat down in my “corner office” and opened a Word file. Typing merrily away, I smelled something. I looked at the clock. An hour had passed. What was that smell?

Then I remembered the carrots. Dashing to the kitchen, I found my copper-clad boiler now solid black.  Ebony ooze bubbled in the drip pan. Flipping off the gas, I took the pan from the stove and set it in the stainless steel sink. Carefully lifting the lid, I found my steamed carrots, except for a little char on the bottom, none the worse for wear! But now they were roasted instead of steamed.

The poor pan looked hopeless. I just knew I’d have to throw it away. Tarry crust coated its inside.  But I filled it with soapy water, chopped up the carrots in my salad and sat down to supper.

After the meal, I tackled my pan. To my great surprise, after a little scrubbing the scorched copper shed its black casing and shone brighter than ever! And the inside responded to steel wool and came out looking like new. The drip pan came clean as well.

I thought how like me that poor old pot is. No matter how crusted over I get with worry, anger, resentment or a pan full of other things I let boil dry, God can polish off that filth and reveal something beautiful. I reckon I’ve been through a whole box of spiritual Brillo pads, but He seems to have plenty. And it isn’t fun getting cleaned up. Wouldn’t I be better off not to allow those things to cook so long?

Next time I’ll remember to set the timer. Or maybe I’ll just eat my carrots raw.

Rainbow Lessons

June 18, 2010

Heavenly entertainment

Last night I had nothing thawed to cook for supper, and rather than eat sandwiches, we went to IHOP. A thunderstorm grumbled overhead, and as we left the driveway, rain pelted the roof. But after we’d gone two miles, we drove through a wall of water that opened onto dry pavement! It was one of those “scattered” thunderstorms that doesn’t seem so piecemeal when you’re underneath it.

We drove into the parking lot at IHOP about 10 miles from home in a sprinkle, but the sun gleamed through the gray. As we walked into the restaurant, a rainbow shown against the cumulus. Gary grabbed his camera phone and took a quick picture. We could see the entire expanse of it from one horizon to the other. We requested a window seat with a full view of the spectacle. Then Gary gave me a rainbow lesson.

I learned you can’t see a rainbow unless you’re between the sun and the rain. The colors are actually just a reflection of the sun against the moisture in the air. If you were still in the rain, looking toward the sun, the rainbow might be there, but you wouldn’t see it.

By analogy, it made me wonder how many rainbows have been somewhere ahead of me, but I was too busy complaining about the rain to go a little further and look back to see the colors. God’s blessings always reflect something about His character, which is many-faceted like the colors of a rainbow. The original rainbow (the one He showed Noah) was the sign of a promise. In order to recognize God’s promises when there’s a thunderhead threatening my situation, I have to be looking at my storm from the “sunny” side, shining His truth on it. And finally, you never see a rainbow on a sunny day. If I’m going to enjoy the rainbow, I have to endure the storm.

Dinner out was a treat; the entertainment was heavenly. 🙂

Civility in Small Doses

June 13, 2010

When I walked into Trader Joe’s recently, an overzealous clerk greeted me in quite a friendly way, giving me an undeserved smile. I smiled back and returned his enthusiastic “How are you?” making eye-contact and returning the smile (but with a little less effervescence). A few moments later, he made his way from the vegetable bin he’d been stocking and walked deliberately to where I was deciding which bread to buy.

“Thank you for inquiring as to my well-being,” he started. “I’ve greeted more than fifty people today, and you’re the first one that’s asked how I was doing. What ever happened to just general civility? I really appreciate that,” he finished. I stammered something, and I agreed with him in general principle with something polite. He went back to his vegetables and I continued my shopping.

But the interchange made me think. He was right. As a society, we’re in too big a hurry. We’re taught not to talk to strangers, and for good reason. But it’s tipped the scale to the opposite extreme. We’re becoming a people that doesn’t socialize at all. People sit in the same room and text one another. We prefer Twitter or Facebook to an actual human voice on the telephone (at least some do; I haven’t quite figured out Facebook and I refuse to become a Twit!).

Another occasion brought up the subject again for me. While I was grocery shopping at Kroger this morning, Gary parked the car and came in to talk to the lady at the bank inside the store. After I’d finished and checked out, he called me over to the bank window. As he did, a lady came from behind the open counter and introduced herself, and — going right past my outstretched hand — embraced me in a hug. “I’m so glad to meet you!” she said. “We so enjoy Gary. He talks about you.” She put her hand up and pretended to whisper, “He really loves you!” She carried on with a little small talk.

Although I’m sure part of that exchange was professional, I believe most of it was genuine. And it felt good to be welcomed, without any agenda, and treated like an individual. Like somebody thought I was a momentary celebrity. Sometime I’m going back to that bank and greet her by name and see if she remembers mine (eternal skeptic that I am).

I learned a lesson from a friend last year who was visiting from a small island in Alaska. Where she lives, everybody knows everybody. We were in a grocery store together (no – I don’t really spend my life shopping… just in this blog!!). At the check-out stand, no one was behind us. My friend answered a question the clerk asked and then returned a question. She asked the girl’s name. Something came up about the cashier’s family, and my friend expressed genuine concern, asked more questions and found out that someone in the cashier’s family had been murdered and she’d been raised by grandparents. She hadn’t been able to forgive. It was a five-minute conversation, but I’ll never forget how that young girl just opened up her life and her pain because a stranger genuinely cared.

I want to be more careful about seeing people who serve me in any capacity as individuals. It doesn’t hurt to ask a waitress’s name and even ask her if there’s anything you can pray for her about when you pray over your meal. A grocery clerk might not tell you her life story, but there’s no telling how much brighter her day might be if she thought someone cared that her feet hurt. The yard man just might welcome a cool glass of tea. You never know.

Civility. Let’s not let it become extinct.

A Fickle Allegiance

May 25, 2010

 

 

In the late summer of 1997, I found myself flying all over the Philippines at government expense. But I wasn’t just sight-seeing; I was working. My company, SIL Philippines worked in the country by a government contract to do language research, literacy work and Bible translation for the 120+ languages used in the nation. I was working as a literacy specialist, and serving in the PR department. We related to many different government agencies. Part of my job included representing SIL on the National Literacy Coordinating Council.

I don’t remember when they started giving awards for the best overall literacy programs in the country, but

The road to Hamtik, Panay, Aug. 1997

the Literacy Coordinating Council (LCC) was responsible for deciding who received the awards. As part of the council, I was one of the team chosen to go evaluate and make reports on five different programs. Something I saw on the news today made me think of one of those.

This particular journey was the final one of the five. I flew with four LCC men (my lady teammate couldn’t make it at the last minute!) to Panay Island to visit the “Army Literacy Patrol System.” I don’t remember the name of the remote town where the airport was. We all climbed into an army-issue weapons-carrier-type truck—I got part of the front seat next to the window, being the only female on the trip—and started out over the muddiest road I’d ever seen. Sliding and spinning up a steep grade, the heavy vehicle’s wheels slung mud onto my arm that was resting on the open window! When we reached the summit, we debarked at a school, where Colonel Pangantihon met us in his camouflage uniform and took us to a room for orientation.

 

We debarked at a school

 

Several other soldiers joined us, also dressed in camouflage. The room was neat but sparsely furnished. The Colonel explained that the Army Literacy Patrol System (ALPS) was taking the weapons of WAR—Writing, Arithmetic and Reading—into the hinterlands where rebel insurgency had long been a problem. He explained to us that the rebels were not criminals. They were simply discontent because their needs had not been met by the government. Therefore, rather than being treated as criminals, they needed to be treated as victims, and provided what was necessary to meet their needs. The soldiers were doing a terrific job teaching literacy (in the two classes we observed). They were also helping the community members set up cooperatives to market local products and assisting them with road improvements, clean water sources and simple health aids. In doing so, they had stemmed the tide of young people joining the insurgency.

Observing "W.A.R."

What made me think of it today was the state of emergency declared in Jamaica. On the other side of the law from the Colonel’s group, the benefactor in Jamaica is a dangerous criminal. He has won the hearts of the poor, however, through his philanthropy. They don’t care what he’s done wrong to others; he’s helped them and met their needs. The government is trying to extradite this modern-day Robin Hood (surnamed “Coke”) to the U.S. where he is to stand trial for many violent, drug-related criminal charges. And people are fighting to keep him in the country because he “takes care” of them.

The stark contrast between the two scenarios is obvious. But beneath the surface hide subtle similarities. People in general will submit to whoever meets their needs. Communities will surrender their allegiance for a crust of bread, a new road, education for their children. The authority providing that assistance can be good or evil at the core. For society in general, that doesn’t seem to matter (at least in these two examples).

What about me? What about you? If we’re hungry, how far will we compromise or close our eyes to the truth in order to have our needs met? Whose hand will we eat from when the time comes and we’re suffering?

May 13, 2010

Butterfly garden, EPCOT

Tonight I heard there’s legislation pending that would require cell phone companies to notify you when you are almost out of minutes. They’re trying to avoid high cell phone bills for people. On the surface it sounds like a good idea, but something about it bothered me.

It’s the same thing that bothers me about making kids wear helmets to ride bicycles. And requiring child safety locks on everything under the sun. I believe in protecting children; don’t get me wrong. But I thought that was what parents were for!

All of us want security. But no one wants to take responsibility for it. Consider the famous case of someone suing McDonalds because the coffee was too hot. Hmm. Now businesses write warnings on hot cups to protect themselves because people are too foolish to wait until the beverage cools for 30 seconds before they drink it.

My cell phone company could warn me. But why don’t I just take responsibility for my actions and check on the minutes? Why make someone else responsible for my negligence? It bothers me that this attitude pervades our society. That’s what happened to the economy. Someone expected someone else to do the governing instead of exercising self-control. We are a society of children that require helmets so we don’t hurt ourselves. I should stop here before I get political. 🙂

Security can’t be found in cell phone companies, economic recovery or helmets. Security is about peace in a deeper place. It comes from being grounded on something fixed, unshakable. “I am the Lord, and I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). We can depend on that word. I wrote a poem about it (inspired by Ps. 139).

The Word

You are in, around, above, below,
before me to prepare the road
behind my vulnerability
between me and the Enemy;
beside in every time of doubt
through blustery days to lift me out.
Prepositions I’ve not half spent;
Above them all: Omnipresent!

You are Strength, Guide, Shield and Fortress,
Hope, Peace, Mercy, Grace.
Friend and Brother, Father, Lover,
Companion, Husband, Guard, and Cover.
If person, place or thing is noun,
You’re omni-everything, I’ve found!

You forgive and cleanse me, wash and mold me,
In protecting arms you fold me,
encourage and bless, strengthen, guide,
hug and hold me to Your side,
change my attitudes and love me
even when I’m rude and ugly;
feed and house me, give me space
and then You offer me Your grace!
Energy that heaven sent,
The Active Verb: Omnipotent!

                                                11/2/93

A Day of Hope

April 19, 2010

Last week I had meetings every night but Wednesday. Two of those were in preparation for last Saturday’s event: Day of Hope. What an incredible event! Twenty-eight local churches, 32 nonprofit organizations, 30 financial sponsors, 8 health agencies, cooperation from the city government to offer the event on the courthouse lawn… 900 volunteers served more than 2,300 people who had all kinds of needs. Many of them were out of work. Some were homeless. Others told stories of desperation. But no one left the premises without a bag of food and a heart full of hope.

Activities included a children’s tent full of fun for kids and their parents. The children also heard about the love of Jesus from a kid-friendly stage presentation. Adults received help with writing resumes. A few local businesses set up a job-fair tent and actually had openings to hire some people. Medical professionals gave health screenings. Local bands and dancers provided free entertainment. And volunteers handed out 40,000 pounds of non-perishable groceries in bags to every adult guest. Gary and I worked in the prayer tent, helping entertain the children of people who expressed spiritual needs. If they (the adults) requested prayer, two trained people (from various churches) took them aside to listen, encourage and pray. About 170 people got personally acquainted with the Savior. Their lives will change forever because of last Saturday, not because of what we did, but because they met the One who was in charge of it all.

The point: the follow-up. A number of churches had planned special events to follow up with Day of Hope guests. People are already assigned to those who came to Christ. They’ll need encouragement and nurture in their new faith. And lots of prayer. Hopefully, the event will be a catalyst for us to live differently, not one day out of the year, but every day.

I wonder if compassion is really a way of life for me? It’s so easy to ignore need. After so many scams, frequent warnings about stolen identity, syndicated begging, drug addicts with sob stories… there are calluses on my heart. How would Jesus handle those people who ask? What would He say to those who think they’re so far gone, they won’t even bother to ask? In the ugly face of urban desperation, I feel so small and insignificant. Even if I’m sensitive to the situation, I’m extremely limited in what I can do about it. So I let that stop me and I don’t do anything.

I pray for tenderness where God filed the calluses last Saturday. I pray that when God gives me opportunity to exercise His compassion, He will remind me of His perspective. And I’ll also pray for courage to follow His lead.

March 28, 2010

Hi. My name is Jenny and I’m an addict: I’m addicted to words. I like to play with them. You’d never have guessed… I just spend the bulk of every day at my computer composing, changing, editing, deleting and writing more.

What really defines me as a diagnosable linguaholic is my newest fettish. A kind but clueless friend showed me a new FREE app for my cell phone:  Scrabble! The game allows one to play with as many other unsuspecting victims as will sign on. I can have a dozen games going at once (which is why I haven’t given this link to others. I do still have SOME control over my substance). Now even in my spare time I’m playing with words. I’m glad shuffling them doesn’t start fires.

My favorite word is “Metamorphosis.” Being a poet and a great fan of colorful, dancing butterflies, the word for their transformation fascinates me.  The word’s etymology includes meta, meaning “form” and morph, meaning “change.”  To change form.

I’ve been reconsidering this word ever since church this morning. I was in a class studying “The Truth Project” when someone mentioned my favorite word (see www.thetruthproject.org for more info). I didn’t realize until then that it’s in the New Testament! Romans 12:2 says “let God morph you into a new person.” Okay, I paraphrased. But it’s right there in the Greek: μεταμορφοΰσθε: “be ye transformed” (no, I don’t speak Greek; I can just use reference books :)). It’s a command to let something happen, not an order to change ourselves.

Someone mentioned this morning that God allows struggle in our lives for a similar purpose to that of the cocoon around a chrysalis. I’d heard that before, but I’d never considered the fact that part of “letting God transform” us includes the cocoon-building. The metamorphosis can’t happen if I’m fighting while God builds the hard part around me. I have to trust His process.

Here’s a poem about my favorite word. I hope it means as much to you as it has to me.

 

Beauty: the result of struggle

Tiny face pressed against glass
Eyes wide with watching
As if an instant could miss it…
A chrysalis, balanced on a bare branch,
Focus of five year-old fascination.

 A worm lives in there, Mommy?
Why? Who wrapped it up? Will it die in there?
Let’s let it out, Mommy!
How can it breathe? What does it eat?
Motionless mummy in miniature,
You have an advocate!

 Cloistered in a woven tomb where
Metamorphosis means bursting bands
That bound a worm
and wearing wings;
Pressing walls apart with them,
Drawing strength from struggle,
Shattering  your shelter and
Spreading yourself into the open sky…

 A tear smears the window as she weeps.
Her heart hurts, and mine, for her confusion.
That worm is working hard, I whisper, close to her cheek.
The tender, tilted face begs a question.
If we help, he will stay a crawling thing.
Eyes wide find mine…
Just give him time, for he is making wings.

Jennifer Evans
Feb. 4, 2002
(Inspired by a sermon by Rev. Dan Brenton)

Time Out

March 17, 2010

What would I do with more hours in a day? Here it is almost 10 p.m. and I’ve just sat down to do something not obligatory. This morning, Monet had to see the vet at 8 a.m. Dropped her home and went to the drugstore for essentials. Met Gary in the driveway as he was leaving to medical appointments and a day of tennis, errands and movie night with the guys. Came in, stashed the stuff. Changed the bed and washed laundry. Short quiet time. Worked six hours. Went to the chiropractor. Came back, changed clothes and ran out to dance class, an hour of great exercise. Made phone calls to contact volunteers for a church outreach. Ate leftovers for supper. Folded and put away laundry and emptied and refilled the dishwasher. Called Mom. Now… ahh. It’s time to shower and sleep and start over tomorrow.

But I’m blessed: behind all the activity, there’s a purpose. In the midst of my mundane, there’s meaning. Someday, time won’t be an issue and I won’t have to wonder where the hours went. I’m convinced God is preparing the stage for His Son’s arrival. Whatever I do with my time, I need to keep in mind that I’m closer than I was yesterday to the end, whether that means of my own life or of the world as I know it. Am I ready? What am I doing to help others prepare?

In the meantime, I’ll keep revamping the routine and try to keep yesterday from using up tomorrow…

Before the flat screen; now she's on the scanner...

I’ve been remiss in writing, as you probably noticed. Work has been crazy-busy this week, and though I love my job — I get to write all KINDS of things — when I step away from the computer at the end of my day, I don’t want to go back and blog later. The hazards of doing what you enjoy for work: it uses up all the creative juices!

But here I am at the end of the week, still sitting at the computer where I’ve been most of the day. I’m grateful to my husband, who recently traded in his old desk chair because the lift mechanism failed while it was still under warranty. The new chair was wonderful, but didn’t quite fit him as well as the one I was using. I happily traded, so now I have a new leather chair that doesn’t squeak. Since I sit in it daily and do a lot of phone conferencing, it’s nice that it’s comfortable and quiet!

Today I’m realizing how thankful I am for small things, like the desk chair. My desk is an old one that used to be in a teen’s room. It’s a three-piece affair that includes a dresser, all along one wall of the bedroom with a filing cabinet on the far end. My in-house tech support (Gary) provided me flat-screen monitor that stares at me from the back corner and  customized my keyboard drawer to fit within the arms of my new chair. The whole thing corners a bay window looking out on my front yard. I can see the bluebird house from my chair. It’s nest-building time, and a pair have been checking out their tiny apartment. Today, Monet was sleeping in the trash can under the desk; her tiny kitty-snores made me laugh. No traffic, no commute, no distractions (no excuses!?). My private oasis.

Over the middle of the “office” hangs a world map. It’s one of those freebees that came from National Geographic. We subscribed one year just to get the map. I put it in a poster frame. (I think I managed to frame a cat whisker in one corner, but since nobody else sees it, I won’t bother to take it out.) The map helps me locate some obscure places that I need to write about. I’m slowly learning the geography of Africa, South America and Asia. The world looks small from here. I wonder how it looks to God? I can see Haiti and Chile in one glance. I can cover them both with one span of my hand.  But for the hundreds of thousands of people who live in those countries and others printed on the three-foot paper expanse, there’s no quiet oasis. Many of them are thankful just to be alive. They’re happy if they can find any food today, much less eat three gracious meals like I’ve had. For them a bed would be a luxury, much less a chair!

My map is a reality check. It reminds me to pray and challenges me not to take life for granted.