May God Bless Me This Way Too

St Francis

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships, so you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe you can make a difference in the world, so you can do what others claim cannot be done.
– Franciscan Prayer

A woman stopped into church today with a flier she wanted us to post. It’s for a prayer vigil for Pastor Saeed Abedini, a reformed pastor in Iran who has been in a horrible prison since September 26, 2012, because of his faith. Folks in our church have asked for prayers for Pastor Saeed several times, I told her. They would want to know. So I have joined her Facebook group, Nebraska Prays for Pastor Saeed and the Persecuted Church, to get regular updates and to join with others who are praying for his release.

September 26, 2014, will mark two years of imprisonment for him and there will be a prayer gathering in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the west plaza of the capitol at 7:00 p.m. People across the world will be praying for his release. If it is possible for me to attend I will, but I will also honor her request to let as many people know as possible. You can read more about it here:

She was directed to me because of my heart for the people and the church in the Middle East, now under pressure in so many places. She seemed weary with her task. She had tried at her previous church and her current church to get the word out. One response was, “That’s the weekend of the men’s retreat.” That’s nice. Maybe the men of a church in Omaha could devote a small period of time during their retreat to pray for a brother imprisoned in another land for shepherding others who declare faith in Jesus. Or maybe not.

She seemed weary and said, “I’m just one person.” And that is where I tried to encourage her. “You are one person called by God for this purpose!” He doesn’t call the equipped, so the saying goes, he equips the called.

I am just one person, too. And yet God has placed a huge vision on my heart to help bring relief to the church in Syria and in Iraq in their work with refugees.

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction.” (That is quoted from the Aramaic Bible in plain English. If Aramaic was good enough for Jesus, it humbles me to quote it here.)

He has taken my former timid, shy, scared self and given me power and love to do his work. I am walking into that these days with my big project. I have been bold to ask those gifted in ways I am not to help, and they have said “yes.” I may be only one woman, but I have the gift of community and I believe this project will succeed because it is not my vision, but God’s.

God has blessed me in the ways that the Franciscan prayer above puts into words. My tears don’t stop, my anger builds, I have grievous discomfort over what I see and read on the news every day. And I am foolish enough to believe that one woman can make a difference.

The Lord’s Prayer

Arabic Lord's Prayer

Every night for as long as I can remember, (and I can remember a long, long time back!) I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer before going to sleep. It used to come in a long litany of prayers starting with, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and ending with “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost…” And in the middle of all of those prayers came my own personal petitions of, “God bless this and God bless that. God protect him and her…” through multiple verses and choruses until I had named every family member, every cousin, aunt, uncle, friend… It was usually a very long time before I could actually fall asleep.

But the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father” as I called it, was the main point for me. The words of that prayer have brought me comfort in sorrow. They taught me a new way to pray one night, as if I really meant it. The night Jana and Susan were hit by that train 31 years ago, I finally listened to my heart as I said the words, “Thy will be done.” Did I really mean that? And it forced me to come to God in total humility as I prayed for his will to be done in the lives of my two sisters. I didn’t pray for their survival or a perfect recovery or that they would be without pain. I prayed that “thy will be done” and for me to accept that, even if they didn’t survive. That was one of the biggest lessons in my life.

The words of that prayer have joined me in community. I have prayed it in English while others around me were praying in Spanish, Italian, Czech, German and Arabic. I have been in the midst of the body of Christ all over this globe and been amazed at the wonder of its poetic meter. No matter what language the body was praying in, we always ended our phrases at the same point. Miraculous? Maybe. Purposeful creation? I’m pretty sure!

The first time I went to Lebanon and Syria, Dr. Emily Brink, one of our faithful women, brought us some songs to learn that they would sing in Arabic in the church. One of them was “Abana in Heaven,” the Lord’s prayer in Arabic. This is how I imagine we will all sing it in heaven someday:

I close my eyes and I’m there. Hauntingly beautiful, isn’t it?

But it was in Iraq this past March that someone else gave me an even more wonderful picture of this prayer, and so I would just close my post today with the blog I wrote that day in Basrah as we were preparing to leave our family there once more.

The Bread We Need (March 19, 2014)

We have come through our last full day in Basrah with an ending culminating in the centuries old tradition of baking naan, the Arabic flatbread served with schwarma. Bread. It is served at every meal. Daily. And it was the focus of Meryl’s devotion this evening. The Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-18: so familiar! Say it with us now, Give us this day our daily bread.

Meryl led us through several translations of this line from the familiar one above from the Greek to the one they use here in Arabic: Give us our bread sufficient for the day. It’s interesting how the focus changes from one of time to one of amount; the difference between a western understanding and an eastern understanding. And when the Greek is translated backward to Syriac, so close to the Aramaic which was the language of Jesus, it comes out this way: Give us today the bread that doesn’t run out. It’s the promise of sustaining life. It’s a prayer to deliver us from fear. It’s the vision of the great banquet with Messiah. It’s communion.

From our visit with the Chaldean church earlier this week, to our visit with the dear Armenian Orthodox Abuna (Father) Turkum today, to every moment with the Basrah Evangelical Church, it has been a time of holy communion.

Basrah crossThe benediction for today came at the end of our schwarma – our communion – this night. We shared words of gratefulness, words of love – the words that families share when they don’t know the next time they will gather. Hugs all around! Kisses galore! One more backward glance at sweet new babies, playing children, nodding elders. And as we left this place with gifts in hand and hearts full of pictures and stories, we walked one more time under the light of the cross at the top of the church. May it shine in this place for generations to come.