Greetings. I have been in Oregon now for three days. Friday I arrived in the morning at the Portland airport and spend the day with Wycliffe missionaries at their home. I also had the joy of a long nap. I do not deal well with jet lag and by the time I got to Oregon around 11:00 in the morning I had been up since 4:00 a.m. Eastern Time which was 1:00 a.m. Pacific Time. I was pretty darn tired!
Saturday morning was a time for a presentation in an intimate group at Jim and Louise’s home. I was asked to share my story, and to start at the beginning. So they heard it!
Saturday I was taken out to lunch at Bob’s Red Mill, different than the Red Mill in Seattle. I was in organic flour heaven! It turns out that not only is it a natural foods restaurant it is also a natural foods grocery store. I was able to find sought after vegetable broth powder to put in recipes in Sudan that call for chicken broth.
Saturday night was spent with another host family, a second career pastor and his wife. It was wonderful to hear the stories of how God has worked in their lives bringing them to a time of a new ministry after retirement.
Today has been a blessed time of preaching and “camp”. This morning I preached at a small church in Portland. I am preaching one sermon for all of the itineration times as there is not time to write a new one for each Sunday. I also am preaching one that I preached in the chapel at the Nile Theological College in Khartoum. I want to give the congregations a flavor of what it would be to hear a North American ordained woman through the lens of a Sudanese man or woman.
This morning I felt a different voice in the preaching. This was the voice of the teacher, the one who makes the bridge between the listener (the student) and God’s Word. It was the voice of the one introducing uncomfortable and radical thoughts and trying to keep God’s actions in the world accessible though possibly foreign.
The Holy Spirit was strongly present in the service and the congregation felt it as well. We had trod on Holy Ground.
This afternoon I was whisked away from Portland and brought to a Presbyterian Church camp in the woods. This is the first week of camp for the summer and the program this first week is for Middle Schoolers.
As always when I come someplace in the mountains surrounded by trees I think of Buck Creek in the Cascades mountain range in Washington state. That camp has since passed out of Presbyterian camps but was formative in my own youth and in the childhoods of my two children.
There was a campfire tonight that I chose to attend. I was absolutely freezing with my African top and jean skirt, someone was so kind as to find me a camp t-shirt with long sleeves and it helped some, but let me tell you it is cold at night in the woods!
The flames of the fire reminded me of my years at Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) in Issaquah, Washington. At the Providence Point site there was a wooded area near “the loop” (a paved road that went around most of the multi acred property). The area had a campfire pit and rough wooden benches lined up the way that such things are at campsites. Tonight as my guide and I approached the campfire I was reminded that these times of fellowship, singing, story telling and fires are also times of faith formation. That is what I experienced at LBI (now Trinity Lutheran College) and what I hope the young people who are at this camp this week will also experience.
Community away from the formal setting of a church building forms faith in different way. This community is perhaps more wholistic, just as the community is where I teach in South Sudan. Bible Colleges, church camps, mission trips, provide a 24/7 experience of eating together, singing together, worshipping together, talking together. Praying together. Hearing God speak in community for a longer stretch than Sunday morning service. With those of us for whom relationship is a major faith vehicle, spending time in community, soaked in community, away from other distractions, can be a way for God to speak to us that may not happen in other settings.
I realized tonight at the campfire that this has been a special and powerful day. It has been a gentle powerful, not an overwhelming powerful. Kind of like the movement of the Holy Spirit this morning through the sermon. Gentle, not overwhelming.
The Apostle Paul experienced Jesus Christ in an overwhelming bee sting kind of way. My own experience of Jesus Christ has been in a gentle rosebud opening slowly over time way. Jesus knows that not everyone is capable of enduring the flame of overwhelming. On the other hand, not everyone has the patience for the gentle rosebud.
Tomorrow I have 45 minutes with the kids. I’m taking pictures of my students in Africa and I will tell their stories. I will tell the story of how God in Jesus Christ got me to Africa and the story of God in Jesus Christ is working in the lives of my student.
We will also pray. Sudan is on fire today. South Sudan will (hopefully) be declaring independence from the north of Sudan on July 9th, 2011. There are forces in Sudan that are not happy about this separation. There are many battles being waged against the civilian populations of Sudan. Prayer is needed. Against this backdrop of human pain and suffering is the story of hope. My students are that story.