August 6, 2008

A few more pics to enjoy (sorry they're sideways)...

Here's Blessing on our retreat to Pensacola Beach Adorable beach babies... We're riding the street car! This is me and Nautika out in Jackson Square (she is a silver angel) This is me and Nautika at her "favorite spot in the city"

Love from a 25 cent machine...

These past two weeks have been very different from the rest of the summer. A lot more sleep and a lot less cute and crazy pre-teen girls everywhere. It has been refreshing in one way but sad in others. The other interns left last Friday and so it is just Eric and I here now with the regular staff. It is very quiet every day until six when the moms and children get home, then it is "boy time" (the three adorable kids that live here at the center affectionately call Eric "boy" and every afternoon they have a blast climbing all over him and playing some sort of dinosaur game where Eric makes a mean scary face and they all run away screaming...needless to say that is our favorite time of day) In addition to helping out in the office and participating in the more "normal" day to day routine (which is actually very abnormal because we never know who is going to come to our door or what opportunities await us) I have also still been spending time with our friend Nautika...you may remember her from Eric's blog because she and her brother are the street performers we met down in Jackson Square. She is an amazing girl with amazing potential. My time with her every Saturday is something I will always treasure. Whether we went on a picnic, read poems in the library, or shopped for school supplies, Jesus has been faithful to fill every moment with His love. Ever since the first moment I saw her, leaning against a street light trying to play an old clarinet, I was overwhelmed with the deep love that God has for her. She and her brother have had to grow up fast and even as I type this letter they are downtown, carrying the burden of supporting their mother. They wear smiles as they pose as silver statues but underneath there is heaviness and worry about what tomorrow will bring for them. This past Saturday Nautika was sad when I picked her up and in the car she kept daydreaming about someplace far from New Orleans, so I began asking her questions about what was going on and she began to share with me her dream to be back in Virginia, where she had friends and could play instead of worrying all the time. Her mother had already told me that they were getting kicked out of their house next week and that she was ready to give up and it seemed that Nautika was weighed down by all these worries much to big for her to carry. I began to tell her again about the way that Jesus loves us and that the most wonderful thing about God is that He never leaves us, even when things are unbearably hard for us. I told her that I think He wanted me to meet her that night in the quarter because He wanted her to know Him and to trust Him even though she is afraid. She listened as she always does and we continued down the road. I told her to choose any restaurant and that is where we would have lunch, to my surprise she chose Pizza Hut so I pulled in. The first thing we saw was a wall of 25 cent machines so I told her we would buy some treasure. We turned the wheel on the machine, hoping for the digital pet advertised on the front, but instead a small plastic ring came out. At first Nautika looked at the plastic treasure with disappointment, then she handed it to me. I took it out of the plastic ball and I literally yelled with my squeaky voice, "Look Nautika...you won't believe it!" The small purple ring, probably the only one in the whole machine filled with plastic toys, had a sticker where the jewel is supposed to be that read "JESUS LOVES YOU." Nautika's face immediately lit up and we both smiled. I told her "He must really, really want you to know" and she responded, "I think He really does." This seems like such a silly story and most kids would have been pretty mad about wasting money on the stupid ring, but Jesus really loves Nautika so much that He wants to write it everywhere, He wants to spell it out with clouds, He wants to put it on every billboard in the city, and broadcast it over every radio station...He wants us to believe Him. He would do anything for us to believe. All summer it seems that this simple lesson of the profound love that God has for us comes to me again and again. I am praying that Nautika will receive His love and she can fulfill all the dreams that are in her heart. Please pray for Nautika's family and for all the people we have met here to be transformed by the love of Christ. We are going to be coming home this Friday and we look forward to sharing with all of you about our trip. peace. Sarah

July 24, 2008

No where else to go...

Sorry it has been so long since the last time that you heard from us. Things have been very busy around the Friendship House. Last week we had our friends Get Real (a mission organization from back home in Georgia) come down for a visit. We were able to meet some of their friends from previous visits to the city, who have trusted in God's promises and plans and have made their way from the streets into a nice home. It was truly a beautiful moment to sit with them in their living room (packed full with twenty five people) and here them praise the Lord for His goodness and faithfulness. It was strange to think of them once sleeping under a bridge on the cement to inviting us into their home and offering us coffee. They once had no hope and they had no where else to go so they turned to God and believed Him to be exactly who He said He was. On Saturday we were also able to do some neighborhood clean-up projects with the group followed by an amazing night of building relationships with the homeless down at The Wall. The Wall is the place where Get Real and the Friendship House used to go frequently to give out food and simply befriend the poor of the city. Post-Katrina there was no one there to talk to or share a meal with so they began going down under the bridge (where we have also been going weekly since we arrived). However last week the city "cleaned out" from under the bridge. All our friends from under the bridge were either picked up and taken to a hotel or to a shelter in order to improve the appearance of the city for important events and visitors that will be coming soon. I do not claim to know the motives behind this action but I am fully convinced that this temporary fix will have no permanent effects. Once the money is gone all those people will be right back where they were before...on the street with no where else to go. I do not claim to understand what it would be like to be a part of the government or to be in charge of creating laws for an entire city or nation all I know is that injustice abounds. Often the poorest of the poor are treated as though they are not human at all. Sometimes I think actions such as these are taken to protect ourselves from the discomfort and guilt that the faces of the poor may cause us. We think it's easier to oppress and ignore than to carry the burden of their pain and need. I myself find my first response is to look away and go on about my own business and yet we are called to a different response, we are called to a more compassionate way... Psalm 140:12 I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Psalm 113:7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap Proverbs 14:31 He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. Proverbs 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done. Proverbs 21:13 If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. Proverbs 28:27 He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses. Proverbs 29:7 The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. James 2:5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? We are called to be people who care for the poor. I do not know what this looks like for everyone nor do I think it will look the same in all of our lives but I know that without it we will be missing out on depth of life. Sure we may be alive, we may even have eternal life to come, but we will miss out on something mysterious and beautiful if we do not share our lives with the needy here and now. We will miss out on the chance to love and serve Jesus himself (Matthew 25). The Kingdom belongs to the least. It belongs to the most undeserving of us all because it comes through grace alone. It may seem that our friends on the street have nowhere and no one to turn to but God is calling them to Himself, He is calling them into His family. He has given us the responsibility of inviting them in to our homes and welcoming them to belong. We all need a place to call home. Peace. Sarah

July 11, 2008

Refreshing reminder...

We are truly grateful for all the people we are living with and are around here. It's been a growing experience for Sarah and I. The other night we went with one of the seminary interns to ride across town. Her name is Khemtida, she is from Thailand. As we drove across town I was reminded of the simplicity but complexity of our Faith. Khemtida came to the U.S 14 years ago to study abroad. She grew up Buddhist, and was very connected with her family. While in the U.S she began taking English as a Second Language(ESL)classes. She told us that she began to see Jesus in her teacher and ended up becoming a Christian through that experience. She began her journey following Jesus... "the One true God" she said. Within the hour that we spent with her I was encouraged so deeply. There was a simple and genuine sincerity that was seen deep within her heart. She began to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and at that time... her family disowned her, they refused to talk with her, and for years they didn't talk. Now she is almost finished with her Masters of Divinity so they are impressed with almost 10 years of education so they have started communicating a little more. I am telling you this story to express how sometimes in the U.S we forget that people really do get disowned because of the Gospel. People really do suffer because of the name of Jesus and this suffering produces such an intimacy that nothing can break it. Khemtida is a deep well of spiritual intimacy with Jesus, and it's a breath of fresh air here in the U.S because not many people have truly experience persecution in the name of Jesus. Remember today that many people are killed every day because of the name of Jesus. Children, mothers, fathers... they give their very life because they know the Truth and the Truth has set them free. Take a few minutes and pray for those suffering for Jesus' sake, and also pray that we could find it somewhere in our heart to desire the privilege of suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ our King. I love you all! Eric

July 5, 2008

Our explorations of the city...

We have been trying to spend time around the center and build relationships with the families here. The little boy who stays here absolutely loves Eric. He calls him "Boy." So whenever I walk into a room he will point and say "Boy" because he knows that Eric is more than likely right behind me. Eric loves playing around with him (most of the time Aan'jay rides on his back or they fight like dinosaurs...it is very entertaining)In addition to hanging at the house we have been exploring the city. I thought some of you might like to hear about the fun things we have done. Two weeks ago Kay (who is the director of the center) took out us out for a New Orleans style night. We went to eat at Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro and then we took a walk through Jackson Square and went to listen to some amazing jazz musicians at a place called Preservation Hall. This venue still looks like it is set back when Jazz first began in the city and the musicians are incredible. It was fun to think about the history of this place and the beauty that comes from human creativity. Whenever I hear music, or see paintings, or watch one of the street performers posing on the street corner it becomes clear to me that we were made for worship; created to create beautiful expressions of what God has placed inside us. This city is truly the most diverse place I have ever been: no two people look alike and there is always something new and exciting to see. Another trip we took was to the swamp on the east bank. The day started out beautiful and sunny, but as usual the skies turned dark and the rain began as we were halfway down the trail. At first I was a little nervous but it felt great to be outside! I realize how much I love the mountains and rivers of North Georgia when we are here in the city. The trail leads you about a mile into the swamp along a small wooden walkway (no fences, no protection, just the walkway)where you can observe all sorts of creatures. There were giant spiderwebs in all the trees filled with creepy spiders and we even saw a snake crawling along the trail. We had hoped to see some alligators but once we saw what the trail was like many of us decided it would be ok if we didn't. However, I soon spotted the first alligator peering up through the water. It was a little scary but also really cool. Then we walked down to the end of the trail and there was a bridge where you could see for miles. It was truly beautiful. We were all soaking wet on the ride home but it was a great trip. Every day Eric and I try to get out into the neighborhood and meet people. It is fun to look at all the colorful houses and the interesting people. We have made friends with some kids down the street who we spend our afternoons with playing football, basketball, or frisbee and they are looking forward to recording some of their original rap songs with Eric. People here are not quite as friendly as they are back in Habersham but if you start with a smile it is not long before they are sharing their story. The people here love their city and they want to see it rebuilt and restored. Last night we went downtown and ate with another mission group that is here from Arkansas. Then all of us went up on the Riverwalk and watched fireworks across the river. We are enjoying our time here and we are trying to make the most of all our opportunities. Please continue to pray for us and for the people we meet. Peace. Sarah

Pictures!!!

This is Eric and his little buddy Aan'jay This is me trying to make friends... This is us on the little wooden boardwalk in the swamp He was pretty close...yikes! The swamp spiders were super creepy (I made Eric pose to show you)

June 30, 2008

The truth always moves me...

I am amazed more and more each day by the way that God has loved us and given us the privilege of sharing His good news with all that we meet. Each time I hear the story of how He loved us unto His own death I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Each week for Up2Hope we have a theme and this week's theme is eternal life. Each day we will be talking about the different aspects of what it means to have peace, especially in our relationship with God and others. I had my lesson all planned out for today and then this morning during breakfast the girls started asking some weird questions. As I listened to their questions the Spirit spoke to me reminding me that many of these precious girls may never have been told about the love that Jesus has for them. Maybe they've heard about the way he died on the cross, but do they know that He rose again and now lives to give us life? Do they know that He desires to be with us at all times and to be all that we need? Do they know that He wants to give them hope beyond their circumstances and use them to change their home, their neighborhood, and the world? I know this is starting to sound a little idealistic, or maybe I am sounding like one of those street corner evangleist, but it is true. It really is TRUE! Jesus, God himself, put on flesh, and came down to earth to be born lowly and humble. He grew up and showed us the Kingdom here on earth. He loved with all His heart and felt deeper compassion than we can fathom. He loved with all His heart and in return He was killed, but He did not resist He walked the long road of suffering because at the end He saw that His dream of being with us one day would become reality. He died because He loved us and desired that we could truly live. As I shared the gospel with the girls I began weeping trying to explain that what I was telling them would change their lives. I wept becaus He has changed my life. I pray that He has changed your life and that because of His love you live different. How could we not live different? How could we just keep living the same old way, doing the same old things when we have found this kind of love. We cannot stay the same, dear family, we must begin living as new people.

June 23, 2008

A genuinely good day...


Today has been a wonderful day for us here at the friendship house. Ever since we arrived Eric and I have been trying to adjust to the reality of life here among our new community. Things were not at all what we expected but God has called us here for this season and we know He will be faithful to change us and use us if we are willing to listen and obey. He delights in our willingness to follow Him wherever He leads. After talking with some friends about some of the questions rolling around in our heads we have come to the realization that Jesus has always, and will forever work all things for our good. He is never ever safe, but is indeed always good. Today was a fun day with the girls of Up2Hope, filled with crafts, laughter, games, Egyptian food, dress-up, and dancing. Something about being free to be silly refreshes your soul. Honest, if any of you haven't had a good dance around the room or a silly burst of laughter you should immediately stop reading and enjoy. We are called to enter the Kingdom as children, free from the cares of the world and willing to sing and dance no matter who is around. After camp Eric and I took a ride over to the park where we met eight new friends. We tossed the frisbee, spun in circles, rode around the sidewalks, and enjoyed a cold glass of water. They shared their afternoon with us and as they walked down the street I was overcome with thankfulness. I am thankful to be alive and to know real love. Love that enables me to care for people whom I have never met. Love that allows me to love people simply because they have been created for love. I realize more each day that I have freely been given all that I have and I never want to withhold one bit of what I've received from another. I want to pour out love and grace, mercy and kindness, forgiveness and joy into the lives of others the way it has been poured over me. God's love is like a rushing waterfall of all things beautiful, covering over all the darkness that used to be. I am so thankful to be a child of God and to have the privilege of sharing His good news with the poor and needy. It is indeed good news that the God who made us has made a way to bring us back to Himself and give us abundant life we never dreamed of. This news should change our lives forever. I am so excited about what the rest of the summer will hold for us. I thank God for all that He has done for us. Peace. Sarah Here's a short video we made for all of you who want a glimpse of everyday life...

video

June 21, 2008

the unexpected and the story of a street performer...


We have arrived at the end of week two and we are settling in more and more. Since we've been here we have mostly been spending time with the girls in the day camp UP2Hope and spending time with the other interns. We came expecting something totally different i must say. So it's taken a few days to adjust to what our experience is. Their have been many unexpected things so far in journey. (i.e we're learning to deny ourselves) Our days from 9 to 3 are filled with the smiles and restlessness of 10 girls from ages 9-12, they are so great! It's amazing to watch how they cling to us and to one another. There's one story I will share of a little girl named Nautica. The story starts with Sarah and I with some of the other interns walking through the french quarter after dinner one friday night. We walked past a street performer who happened to be a young boy painted as a silver statue. Behind him about 20 or 30 yards was a small little girl holding a clarinet. Putting two and two together we figured they were street kids because their was no adult around. So we walked up to this little girl and began talking with her and found out that the silver statue was her brother and that her mom brings them down to the square every night to make money to pay rent. So we invited this little girl named Nautica to come to the day camp. She asked if we had a flyer or something to give to her mother (we didn't) so we told her we would be back the next night to give her mom a flyer. Saturday night comes and Sarah and I head down to the square on our bikes. We walk up to her and it seems Nautica was suprised to see us again. This time her mother was sitting with them and for the next hour sarah and I sat with them on the curb hearing their story. After we left we had mixed feelings as to whether she would show up monday morning or not. And on Monday morning, believe or not, in walked Nautica with her mom and her 13 year old brother a little after 9:00.It's been amazing to watch her this week. She is precious. Our nights are mostly hanging out with the other interns here at the center. We play games mostly or just sit around and play with the babies. I have come to a realization while i've been here. I have realized how different and ab-normal our community is in Habersham and Toccoa. I realize how it isn't normal to experience what we are experiencing with our friends and family in Georgia. I miss you guys, I miss meaningful conversations, I miss worshiping with people, I miss hearing what's going on in people's hearts. I miss it. We have been here for two weeks, not very long but long enough to know that unless we don't spark a little flame, our relationships here aren't going to go much further. Like I said at the beginning, the experience so far has been unexpected, but it's a time to grow, it's a time to get uncomfortable, it's time draw from the well and pass along the waters that satify when christians connect deeply and walk together. Things may change within the next week, so pray that the Spirit would come and draw us together here at the center. The interns with the mothers, the mothers with the staff and the staff with the interns. Pray we could begin to connect on a deeper level and spur one another on to go deeper in the Lord. We miss all of you who pour into our lives on a weekly basis, those who stretch from Gainesville to Toccoa. Remember that what we have experienced with one another the past few years doesn't happen everywhere and that we are blessed to have one another. Pray that our relationships would deepen here at the Frienship House in New Orleans. We love you all thanks for you prayers. Eric

June 17, 2008

I cannot be self-sufficient.


"Blessed are the poor in spirit"- in contrast to spiritually proud and self-sufficient. Let's take for instance America's Poor. America's poor are severely dependent on the government for their survival. They are not self-sufficient at all. Their are even some who are below the line of government depency who depend only on the generosity of strangers or "the good samaritian." So what are we? are we poor in spirit? Are we truly dependent on the Kingdom of God in which we live? Are we dependent followers? or are we self-sufficient believers? "Blessed are those who mourn"-those who mourn, mourn over personal sin and coorperate sins. Those who's hearts break over their own sin and the sin of their nation, their city, their community, or their family. Those who mourn will be comforted. Do we mourn over our sin? Do we mourn over the sins of our nation,city,community,or families?Do we genuinely mourn? or do we ignore our own sin and point out others sin Making us feel better about being self-sufficient believers? "Blessed are the meek"- the meek are those who humbly acknowledge their dependence on the goodness and grace of God and portray no arrogance toward others. Not so much an attitude toward people as much as a disposition before God,namely, humiliy. Are we as people fully acknowleging our dependence on the Father for all things? Do we walk humbly before our King? Are we dependent or self-sufficient? which are we? Are we followers of Jesus? Or simply ones who believe he exists and has good bumper sticker statments? I cannot be self-sufficent and enter the Kingdom of Heaven! I must be dependent! These are the questions that have been rolling through my head today. I hope maybe they will stick with you for a few days or weeks. I really have a heart to lay hold of true discipleship. The kind that costs, the kind where I truly deny myself of all created things to follow Jesus, and the kind where I truly depend on Him for every need. Expecting no less and desiring no more. I hope other believers who truly desire to follow would count the cost of dependence and agree to pay it. Eric

June 15, 2008

Some pictures to enjoy...


The adorable twins that live here at the center celebrated their 2nd birthday Dora style
Eric leading music for the Up2Hope girls - they think he should be the next American idol :)
Me and Eric downtown on one of our daily bike rides (the roads are crazy!)
Crossing the state line

June 14, 2008

"The Lord has brought us a mighty long way..."


...these are the words that my new, nine year old friend spoke to me as she shared her experiences during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Her story brought me to tears in the van. She is a quiet girl who shows little emotion but in her heart there is a storm of fear, frustration, hurt, anger, joy, longing, hope, and dreams that are much heavier than most nine year olds have to bear. She has endured a lot in her past and her family is still struggling to get by from day to day. She is part of the summer program called Up2Hope that will be going on all summer here at the center. Her mom is involved in the typing classes and the weekly bible study as well. When she shared her memories of the storm with me, I got a clearer glimpse of what it would have been like to have your whole life covered by water and everything you had known to be changed in a moment. Everyone here keeps saying "Everything is different now...everything." The ride beside my new friend was precious to me because in that moment I felt that I was actually sharing her life. I am discovering here more and more that the Kingdom is all about relationships. Somewhere along the way we began believing the lie that this thing we call "ministry" has to be big to count but I believe that the Kingdom is quite the opposite. Everything starts small: a baby in a manger, a group of twelve simple guys, a small community of followers meeting in their houses. Christianity is a grassroots movement of one person loving another with a love beyond themselves, until that love takes over the world. This summer is going to be full of opportunities to share life with others. Our summer program gives us the chance to share life with a group of beautiful little girls who face many challenges but who deserve a safe place to laugh, play, and dance without fear. Living here with the families and the staff gives us a chance to share the day to day like laundry and dirty dishes and to encourage one another toward love and good deeds. And next week will be starting a bible study under the bridge in town, where we hope to build relationships with the community of the street. All of us are looking for someone to listen to our story. We all want someone to care for us, to share in our joys and our pains. Jesus shows us the way when He left His throne to come down here with us so that He could know what is to be a man, to share in all our struggles, and to show us abundant life. I pray that each of us can begin sharing that life together. The Lord has indeed brought us all from a mighty long way and He will continue to walk with us until He returns... Peace. Sarah *check back for pictures soon...first I have to figure out how to get them from the camera to the computer and then we can share them all with you

June 6, 2008

The journey begins...or should I say continues


Well, we have the subaru packed to the ceiling with the bike rack on the back (which has caused a few small head injuries already today) We are ready to head for New Orleans. As we have been packing everything up this week I have been thinking about the journey that is ahead and ironically enough it has made me think of the journey that we have already taken to come to this point. My journey with Christ began in the pastor's office at Level Grove Baptist church and Eric's journey began at a Power Team service (by the way if you do not know what this means it is some crazy Christian body builders who tear up phone books and stuff in the name of Jesus...now you can enjoy Eric's story in much deeper way) From this point of accepting the Lord's call to follow we have both been trying to understand exactly what it means for us to leave our old life and follow Jesus in the way of the Kingdom. Too often we think that simply saying yes to the call is good enough so we settle in before the adventure has even begun. We just buy a Christian t-shirt, or put a fish on our car, and then we go on with business as usual. I know that this seems like the easiest way but in the end we missing out on an incredible journey with God himself. It would be crazy to think of the first disciples hearing Jesus call to them to come and follow and then read on in the story to find that instead of actually following they simply stayed by the shore and kept living exactly the same way they had been living before. This story would be drastically different from the ones we read in the New Testament. Because the first disciples were willing to follow with a whole heart, abandoning all that they had known before they were used by God to spread His kingdom around the world. They literally changed the course of history. We read of people who left everything to follow this homeless man from the wrong side of town who brought sight to the blind and declared that there was a better way...Jesus was not at all what they had expected; He simply was who He was and still today He is who He is. He is still calling us in the same way that He called them. Sometimes we get distracted and confused by all our stuff and all the good things we need to do but today Jesus is still seeking out those disciples who will count the cost and follow with reckless abandonment for the sake of the Kingdom. Eric and I have had many ups and downs on our journeys so far and each day we become more and more aware that God indeed is not safe but He is certainly good. And it is this goodness that draws us to follow. He is leading us all into new places and He is calling us all to loose our lives so that our lives can be found in Him. Today I pray that each of us would take time to reflect on where we have been and where He is leading us to go. I don't believe that there is any time to waste. There is a new song to be sung, a new dance to be danced, laughter to be shared, and enough love and grace to save the darkest and the furthest away. May we be found faithful to follow Him today and always... Sarah