Archive for August, 2010

Face to the Wind

In the past two weeks of sailing, the crew of the Africa Mercy have enjoyed relatively smooth sailing, besides the couple of days in the middle where we hit some bigger swells.  One of the many benefits of a smooth sail include the opening of the bow to the crew.  It is here, in the past couple days, I have enjoyed the beautiful weather around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas, whale and dolphin watching, and relaxation in the warm winter breeze. 

Many of the crew go out to the bow to relax on their time off, enjoying the fresh air and the sunlight.  At times, there are very few people out on the bow, making it an excellent place to retreat and spend some quiet time with God, surrounded by his creation. 

Other crew go out each afternoon in the constant search for whales, dolphins, flying fish, seals and penguins (yes, all have been spotted, though I have not seen the seals or penguins myself).  Sometimes, the wildlife shows up in full force and in a matter of hours you can spot dozens of whales and dolphins gracefully swimming alongside the ship. Though, at times, you can spend hours on the bow and see nothing but a couple of birds and flying fish. 

No matter what sort of creature decides to show its face, the view is always beautiful. 

Around lunch time, you will find a steady stream of people out on the bow, enjoying each others company and their sandwiches and chips.  Many times, the little children come out and join their parents.  They are always welcome and bring joy to everyone present. 

No matter the reason for being out on the bow, there is a sense of freedom.  You are no longer confided to enclosed spaces of the ship, but experience the wide open seas.  It is peaceful and awe-inspiring at the same time.  With the salty air blowing through our hair, we all breathe in a taste of the sea and enjoy each and every moment of the experience. 

Nothing can take this away. 

God Bless and PEACE

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Whispers

Have you ever realized how hard it is to actually hear the voice of God?  It’s elusive.  When I was younger (in Middle and High School) I thought people who heard God were delusional.  Then I heard him speak for the first the time and knew how blessed those people were. 

Lately, I’ve found it difficult to quiet myself and listen for that voice again.  So many things get in the way.  So much noise surrounds our lives.  We struggle with hearing God because everything in our lives drown him out.  Life bombards us with billboards and sounds that send us into shock. 

There are a few times and places where the noise of the world fades away and all that is left is the silence.  These are the ‘thin places’ where it feels like the Kingdom of Heaven and God are within reach, just beyond our grasp, or surrounding us in the present moment.  These places may be far and few between, but if you keep your heart open, you will find that they invade our lives if we let them. 

Last night, after the Sunday night community worship here aboard the Africa Mercy, a handful of us stayed behind as Marty, one of the Chaplains aboard, continued with worship.  Lately, I’ve been struggling to quiet my own thoughts, my frustrations, my fears, my demons.  In this time of worship and reflection, everything seemed to fade away as I gave it all up to God. 

And in that silence, between the notes and cords of the music, I could hear one of the youth, a student at the Academy aboard the ship, praying.  Her soft whispers echoed throughout the room, barely audible. 

It was in this silence that God moved.  I cannot explain it with words, nor can I explain it with pictures, sounds, or with my own being.  It was a peace that flowed.  It was more than silence.  More than a whisper.  It was indescribable. 

It was a blessing, sent at the exact moment of need. 

When everything seems to be falling apart, search for the silence and embrace it.  It is there, where no other noise is present, that God whispers into our hearts. 

God Bless and PEACE

Questions of Another Kind

Before the sail started, a week and a half ago, many people departed from the ship, including the leader of my dining hall team, Aafke.  So, everyone (but me) thought it would be a good idea to make me the team leader, a little later than the two weeks that Mary Lou had said it would take. 

It’s been a struggle.  Some of the people who have been put on my team constantly challenge everything that is done.  Why do we have to do that?  Why can’t we do it this way?  Why do we have to start work so early?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

To tell the truth, it gets a little annoying.  Now I know a little on how church leaders feel.  How God feels.

At times, it is healthy to question things.  When someone quotes scripture, go and look it up, read it in context and see if how they used it fits in with the whole scripture.  When the church does things that seem to go against the teachings of Jesus, do research, look at the traditions and at the word of God.  When something just doesn’t settle right with you, look into it and figure out the reasons you feel that way.  Don’t accept someone elses word for it, go and discover it yourself (whatever ‘it’ happens to be).

One of the things that I have noticed about the modern-day church is that nobody questions.  Or if they do, they settle with the answer ‘it’s always been done that way’. 

I started questioning the way things were done in the church while I was still in middle school, at the age of twelve, thirteen and fourteen.  I asked why the church preached to sell everything you own and give to the poor, but yet had chalices and plates made of solid gold, silver and platinum, priests wore fancy clothing, and the church had plenty of money hidden away to buy and purchase all these fancy things.  I  questioned why the church that I observed did not practice what they preached. 

I find that it is healthy to question your own faith.  Why do you believe what you believe? Was it because of your parents?  How you were raised?  Do you agree with everything your church preaches?  What about their traditions?  What don’t you agree with and why? 

Some questions are harder to swallow, and many people avoid them like a plague.  Questions like:  Are you really a Christian?  Are you living the life you want to live?  What is holding you back? 

In questioning your faith, you find answers for yourself.  You find them in scripture and in your own personal experiences.  In doing so, you strengthen what you believe and reveals the truth of these beliefs. 

If you hae never questioned your faith before, I challenge you to start asking questions.  It doesn’t matter what faith you have, Christian or not, you must know why you believe.  If you have questioned before, I challenge you to continue to question and to grow in your faith. 

If you don’t question, how will you ever know what you believe?

God Bless and PEACE

What Is Going On Here?

If you’ve been following my journey for a little while, you know that the Africa Mercy is making its way from Lome, Togo to Durban, S. Africa.  While the sea has begun to get ‘fresher’ as the Cap’t put it, we, the crew are continuing to enjoy the ride.  While most of us are lacking sleep, we make up for it with extra doses of hot-chocolate (which ran out this morning) and coffee. 

On the first day of sail, we left a number of crew back in Lome.  Some continued their journey elsewhere, some returned home, and then others stayed for a couple more weeks.  Tom Bradley, the photographer while aboard the Africa Mercy,was one of those crew members who stayed behind in Lome.  Part of his story even made the front page of WordPress.  Look for the blog titled Living in Lome.

While sailing, some of the nurses joined the different teams in and around the ship, including the dining hall and galley.  While Becca Taylor is not on my team, it is an honor to have her (an all the nurses who have volunteered) in the dining hall family.  She provides a unique perspective into the life of a dining hall steward. 

It’s been an interesting sail so far.  We have seen a fin whale swimming right off of our port side (less than 10 m) and a humpback whale waving off of our port bow, before disappearing beneath the surface (both were a little camera-shy).  We have seen waves crashing over our bow, and now, due to the force of the waves, metal plating has been placed over the bow windows in the dining hall. 

While this does dampen the lighting in the dining hall, it makes us feel a little safer knowing that the waves wont be coming through the windows. 

The weather should be getting better in the next 24 hours (possibly late tonight) and then, according to all the radar weather maps, it looks like it’ll get rougher around the Cape of Good Hope in the next couple of days. 

The ship will be going into dry-dock for repairs and refitting.  The plan is to do a bunch of work around the ship, replace the old generators, and weld everything back together by February.  Mercy Ships still need a bit of financial support for the process, but they are going on the faith of knowing God will provide. 

God Bless and PEACE

Crashing Through the Atlantic

At times, I wonder what an old Danish Rail Ferry is doing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s rough sailing, especially as near the bottom of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope.  While it is, at times, a bit frightening, it is also a grand adventure. 

This morning around 7:15, during breakfast, the ship tilted to close to twenty degrees, far from the point-of-no-return (somewhere past 40 degrees or so, I’m not sure about the exact number).  It was interesting to try to work as the ship rocks back and forth, snapping upright due to the combination of our high buoyancy, flat bottom and high center of gravity. 

Throughout the day, the seas continued to become rougher as winds and swells increased.  Between meals, I went around the ship, trying to get a picture of the waves crashing over the bow.  I went up to the dining hall (deck 5, same deck as the bow), the International Lounge (deck 6) and eventually up to the bridge (deck 7). 

The image above was taken from the International Lounge, starboard side, a deck above the bow.  It was a lot of fun watching the waves crash over the bow.  To get the image, you just have to be patient, work through a watered down window and have fun. 

Life on the high seas, while I continue to stay positive, can be very difficult.  In conversations, we can easily focus in on the negative.  How little sleep we got.  How many things have gone wrong.  Complain why we have soup in the middle of a storm. 

I noticed that when we pray, we pray for the storm to end.  We ask for our circumstances to change.  We ask got to remove the our struggles. 

I wonder why we focus on everything else, instead of asking God to give us strength.  My prayer is that God gives us enough strength to turn to him.  That instead of looking for a solid fortress, I pray that we embrace the storm and learn from each and every wave, every struggle and trial. 

My prayer is the same for all Christians around the world.  Whenever we encounter struggles, dont run from them.  Don’t flee from danger.  Turn to God for your strength, and rise above whatever is in your path. 

God Bless and PEACE

When the Waves Go Boom

If anyone tells you that sailing is boring, then obviously they have never sailed with the Africa Mercy.  There is always something going on, each and every day.  We have a whole calendar full of events, from Titanic up on Deck 8 to karaoke in the Cafe, Celebrations for crossing the Equator to Game Nights with Settlers of Cataan, Hand and Foot, and Killer Bunnies (three of my favorite games), and the favorites, Pirate Day and Sailing Olympics. 

Each and every night, dedicated volunteers keep a constant vigil during Pirate Watch.  I helped out the first morning of sail (from 5am – 7am) along side of one of the crew chaplains, Marty Schwebel (seen below in his Pirate Watch Garb, including eye patch, camera, night vision goggles, and radio).

We watched as the sky went from pitch black, through the colors of morning until the sun crested the horizon.  It was beautiful.  Besides us two on Pirate Watch, a handful of others joined us, including Rachel (one of the girls that works in the galley) and some of the Gurkhas who eventually relieved us of our duties and sent us to get breakfast. 

This past weekend, we celebrated the sail with the Mercy Ship’s tradition of Pirate Day and the Sailing Olympics. 

Saturday, Pirate Day, was a fun-filled day where we sported the Jolly Roger, sang sea ditties, dressed up and had us a treasure hunt.  Most of the crew participated in some form or another, though most of those that dressed up were the children and youth aboard the ship.  Some parents and adults joined in on the fun as well. 

Above, you can see the gathering of Pirates from around the globe, from S. Africa to N. America, Holland to Norway, New Zealand to England.  Young and Old joined in on the festivities.  Below, you can see how young we start ’em off. 

The next day, Sunday, we had the Sailing Olympics, held every time we sail.  Hosted by our abundance of Hoob-noobs on board, the rules  were relatively simple, a little confusing and altogether fun. 

Some of the rules were vague and confusing, but they were ment to be.  Each event was specifically designed to help the crew battle the elements that the sea may or may not throw at us. 

Above, you can see some of the crew taking target practice in case of the event of marauding pirates from the day before (aka: little kids) attacked and tried to over-run the ship.  Below, others of the crew practiced building supports in case the structure of the ship buckled and gave way. 

We continued to practice, and to train.  From memorization to planning, packing to fleeing, seriousness to loads of fun. 

We all enjoyed the hours of fun provided by the crew.  The fun will never be forgotten, and will be looked forwards to on the next sail (for those fortunate to sail with the Africa Mercy again). 

Now, we rest and try to keep our feet beneath us as we have hit rougher waters.  Already seeing 20 degrees of tilt, we all know we are in the capable hands of the deck officers, the captain and, most importantly, God.

God Bless and PEACE

The Battle Cry

Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil
Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad!
V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha
b’khol l’vav’kha
uv’khol naf’sh’kha
uv’khol m’odekha
v’ahavta l’reakha kamokha!
Amen!

The Shema.  This is the cry that rocked the world.  The early Church embraced this with everything they had.  All their passion and with everything they had, they shouted it out for all to hear.  This was the cry that consumed their lives. 

Hear O Israel:
The Lord is our God – the Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your might,
And love your neighbor as yourself!
Amen!

This is the battle cry of all Christians.  Of all the Followers of the Way.  Taken from Mark 12:29-31, this cry was taken up by the Apostles and their Disciples, the ones that had lived for God for years and the new believers alike.  They shouted this with more than their voices, but with their very lives. 

The early Christians understood what it ment to live for God.  They died to themselves daily, handing everything over to a kingdom that was not their own.  Where has this passion gone?

There are many who still follow this cry from the heart.  Many still shout it with all the strength of their lungs.  Like the small community church where I first heard this cry, there are many communities and gatherings that still shout it in words and in deeds.  Many individuals, from missionaries in their own back yards to those across the globe, dedicated leaders, whether parents, teachers or church leaders, to the new believers who have not lost what it means to truly love, have all embraced this war cry. 

That’s what it is, a battle cry.  A war cry.  When the lines have been drawn and the swords sharpened for battle, this is the cry that each of us takes up.  This is what rallies us.  Lifts us to greater deeds.  Gives us strength. 

But this cry, the Shema, is nothing if we just shout it.  We must live it.  Enter the field of battle with new-found strength.  Around this banner are veterans and new recruits.  Learn from them.  Encourage them.  Be led by them.  Lead them. 

Take up the Shema, the cry of the nations, and join the fray.

God Bless and PEACE

Living and Dying for Christ

A good friend once told me that if they died, they would be perfectly fine because they would be partying with Jesus.  How many of us think this way?  Are we really living looking forwards to our deaths?  Are we more focused on dying?  Or is our focused on life?

I was once told:  “It’s easy to die for your faith.  It is much harder to live for it.” 

I am afraid of death.  There is something about dying that doesn’t feel right.  It may have something to do with the ceasing to exist physically.  I believe all of us have fears of death.  For the living, it just doesn’t seem right. 

Early Christians were persecuted.  The Romans thought it would be fun to kill them all.  They rounded them up and put them in the arena with wild animals and gladiators, just to see them die.  They burned them.  Crucified them.  Made their death a spectacle. 

Followers of the Way knew they would die if they professed their Faith.  That didn’t stop them from speaking out.  From proclaiming what they believed. 

We are safe, for the most part.  In the Western World, you will not die if you profess your faith.  But many Christians are more ready to die, so that they can party with Christ, than to live out their Faith throughout the world. 

In living for God, we must die every day.  Every moment must be dedicated to His will, not ours.  Many people would rather prefer to die once.  It’s easier that way. 

It is difficult.  Living a life while chasing after God.  It isn’t easy.  I don’t think God designed Faith to be ‘easy’.  It’s an active choice that one has to make every moment of every day. 

God Bless and PEACE

From Faith to Religion

When Jesus walked the earth, he made it very clear that he came for something more than Religion, but for Faith.  When confronted by the traditions of the day, Jesus responded:

…”And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”

 – Matthew 15:3

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
     but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
     their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! … Thus you nullify the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down…”

 – Mark 7:6-9, 11a

Almost a year ago, I criticized the Emergent Church for throwing out the traditions of the church.  Now, I clarify what I wrote earlier this morning (see previous blog). 

The early church realized what it ment to follow Christ.  Look throughout the book of Acts and you will find what the ‘Biblical Church’ looks like.  They didn’t gather on specific times Sunday morning each week, but the Body of Christ flowed.  It was ever-changing because they were led by the Spirit of God. 

They had something more than Religion.  They had Faith. 

Jesus didn’t come to abolish of the Laws or the Prophets, he came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17-20).  The laws the Jewish people (and Christians everywhere) represented the Religion of the day.  Jesus called his followers not to follow these laws, but live up to higher expectations.  Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7).  Look at the teachings of Jesus throughout all of the Gospels. 

His way isn’t easy.  Many left from his teachings disappointed.  Even his closest followers abandoned him, denied ever knowing him. 

Jesus was calling us out of a Religion and into something more:  A relationship. 

The early church in Rome met in each others houses.  They met in the crypts where the dead were laid to rest.  They gathered where they could, because nowhere was safe.  Their calling was dangerous.  They were imprisoned.  They were killed.  All for being Followers of the Way. 

But something happened that changed everything.  Christianity was no longer outlawed.  It became safe.  They ventured out of hiding and the Faith was swallowed up by Religion once again. 

They became structured.  One person became more important than others and they forgot what it ment to make disciples.  Over the years, they forgot what it ment to be in a relationship with God, because Christianity became the Religion of Rome.  It became popular. 

Look at the construction of the Roman  Catholic Cathedrals.  The design and architecture of the Cathedral is taken from the Roman basilica, a town-hall type building commonly used as a courthouse and meeting place for common people.  The Cathedrals replaced the temples and the path of Christianity became the popular thing.

In the construction of the Cathedrals, the early Christians were trying to get as far away from Religion as possible.  They were trying to express their Faith in God.  The unfortunate irony of the situation is the fact that they created something that became the cornerstone for something less:  a Religion. 

With the growth of the Christian movement, through the use of Religion in the Roman Empire and the spreading of the word throughout the world, discipleship and living out the teaching of Jesus faded away, only to be replaced by a growing Religion that had lost sight of Faith. 

It is my belief that in the ‘Dark Ages’ or Medieval Age that the traditions of the Christian Religion became more important than Faith.  The church was a power that was wielded over the people.  The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (the five-fold ministry, found in Ephesians 4) were replaced by a political structure, where powerful men stood behind pulpits and on altars, spreading Religion, because they did not know Faith. 

Traditions heavily influenced the church.  If something didn’t fit mans plan, it was changed.  Teachings of man replaced the teachings of God.  The high expectations of living for Christ were once again, drawn back to laws and human traditions. 

There were men and women in the church that still knew what Faith was.  They still held onto a relationship with their savior.  Some of them dove deep into their spiritual lives, seeking solitude and peace.  Others found their voice as Priests, Monks or in the Sisterhood (nuns).  Some spoke out against traditions, while others stayed silent.  Some of them left the church (both peacefully or by force) and are considered radicals and Protestants. 

I am not saying that all traditions are bad.  Many of them remind us of where we have been, as a Body, while others point us back to God. 

I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, so I know how much tradition can help be a stepping block to faith.  But the danger comes when we rely on these traditions, rather than the teaching of Christ, to lead us in our journey of Faith. 

Jesus came, died for our sins, conquered death, and gave us (his disciples) the Spirit of God to lead us.  I cannot say that traditions will not lead you to the truth about God, because one you do dig deep into the meanings beneath most traditions, you will find an aspect of God that may surprise you. 

As a Body, I do not believe that we need traditions.  Traditions come from man, trying to understand God.  They create Religion.  The same type of religion that Jesus spoke out against when he confronted the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.  We, the church, justify our traditions as pointing to God, just as they believed. 

Faith comes from God.  When we let go of everything and begin to follow His will for our lives, we discover what it means to live to the fullest. 

Every word of God is flawless;
     he is a shield to those who take refuge in
          him.
Do not add to his words,
     or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

 – Proverbs 30:5-6

God Bless and PEACE

Traditions and the Body of Christ

Over the past week, we (the dining hall stewards aboard the Africa Mercy) have said our good-byes to over half of our volunteers and crew, slowly going from around 15 (between crew and day-volunteers), to the small number of 4.  Each and every one of us said our farewells in a different fashion.  Some shed tears.  Others gave hugs.  And yet others expressed their sorrows in a different manner: soaking.

There is a little tradition in the dining hall that on the last day that someone works, they get soaked in the dish room (or in whatever way seems fit).  Some go willingly, while others stand to fight.  On my team, I got the honor of soaking both Aafke and Abi, wonderful and amazing sisters and daughters of Christ. 

Throughout the many denominations of Christianity, the different churches and faces of the Body, there are a number of traditions.  Some of them come from Scripture (ex: Baptism, Communion, etc. etc.) and some come from other sources (ex: Christmas and Easter, Lent and Advent, the liturgy and specific prayers, etc. etc).  I find that when most people, both Christian and not, think of the church, they are seeing the traditions, and not Body of Christ.

I know I will take some flack for this, but it’s been something that has been heavy on my heart for a long while. 

I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, a religion steeped heavily in tradition.  You can see it in the way the mass is structured.  You can hear it in the prayers that we say.  You can see it in the Eucharist.  The Catechism.  The hymns.  The construction of the Cathedrals.  I can see it in almost every church building that I have walked into, Catholic or Protestant.  I’ve seen it in every denomination of Christianity. 

In churches around the nation and globe, we have lost sight of the power and mercy of God and focused on the traditions made by human hands.  Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees and scribes for following the traditions of man and not the laws and prophets of God.  Look at Mathew 15 and Mark 7, when the Scribes and teachers of the law pointed out all the traditions that Jesus’s disciples were not following, He pointed out how they have replaced the commands of God with traditions of human hands. 

What would Jesus say to the church if he came back for a visit?  I don’t think it would be as nice as many people think.  He had harsh words against the Pharisees and scribes, but I believe he would be even harsher on those that claim to follow him.  His church.  The Body of Christ. 

I am not saying that all traditions are bad, almost all of them point to God, the father and Christ Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross.  They are a good starting point, but we must remember to look at their meaning, to find God’s will and plan through them. 

Am I saying that many churches focus too much on tradition.  Yes.  I believe that most churches and denominations have lost sight of God because they have only focused on man-made things.  Religion. 

God isn’t calling us to be religious people, he is calling us to be faithful to him.

Side Story:  I’ll leave you with a good sailing tradition (as the Africa Mercy is now in open waters).  Rachel, one of the crew members in the  galley, did some research and found that one of the ‘privileges’ of sailing around the Cape of Good Hope (around the bottom of Africa) is that the sailor can now have the honor of eating with both feet propped up on the table.  The ‘privilege’ of sailing around the Cape Horn (around the bottom of South America) is the honor of wearing a golden hoop through the left ear and eating with one foot propped up on the table.

God Bless and PEACE

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