Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Honouring God in Singleness

For those of you who know me well (or even a bit!), you will have heard me ranting at various times over the years, about singleness and particularly the lack of teaching on singleness in the church. It´s been something that has been close to my heart for a long time, as I see so many people hurt or simply feeling ignored by the church. I´ve lost count of the number of times I´ve heard sermons about marriage, or sermon illustrations based on marriage relationships, yet I have never heard one sermon about singleness, or any sermon illustration that would apply to the single lifestyle of the significant proportion of the church congregation. That adds up to an impression that marriage is the ideal for everyone, and singleness is something to escape. But this actually isn´t very biblical. Paul talks very explicitly (1 Corinthians 7) and encouragingly about singleness - and that from a cultural context where it hardly existed!! We must realise that radicalness of that teaching. We must also recognise the society in which we live; everyone will experience some stage of their life as a single adult (before marrying, or after being widowed or divorced / separated and those who are single all their lives), yet we give very little teaching about how to confront the specific challenges of the single life and to celebrate it´s joys.

So anyway, I was really happy to be invited to the Guatemalan Christian Student movement´s annual camp at the weekend to share a workshop entitled 'How can I honour God in my singleness?'. Although it was a relatively short workshop, it was great to be with a bunch of young people animated by the subject, and willing to talk and share about their experiences. 
We looked at and broke down some of the myths about singleness and marriage that are expressed in our society and in the church. One is about finding your 'Media Naranja'. This is a spanish phrase which literally means 'half orange' but is used to signify something like 'soul mate' or 'other half'  - a partner that fits you exactly. The message that that communicates to singles, is that they are incomplete or only half a person until they marry. But the Bible teaches us different - we are created uniquely and loved by God for who we are. Of course we are fallen and broken people - but we find completion and healing only in Jesus, not in any other person. John 10: 10 explains that Jesus gives us life in abundance. Abundance - not half measures!

During the workshop, I asked them what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of being single. A group of young lads at the back suggested one advantage: that you don´t have to bother showering or washing quite so often!!!! I hadn´t thought of that.... but clearly single men have a different perspective! We then went on to talk about how we can confront the disadvantages and celebrate the advantages of being single. First and foremost, we talked about focussing on our relationship with God, and knowing our identity planted in him, and nothing else - so that whatever the world tells us about being 'left on the shelf' or needing to change something about our looks or personality in order to find a mate, we can be strong in knowing who we are. We said several times that our aim is not to find a partner but rather to honour God in whatever situation we´re in.

The other key thing is about not worrying or thinking over decisions or options that don´t exist at this time. This was my excuse for a photo of George Clooney!

 Photo added after several complaints from readers!!!

My point is that George Clooney isn´t knocking on my door with flowers begging me to marry him. So as that isn´t an option for me, I don´t need to waste emotional energy thinking it over. Equally at the moment, I don´t know any man who I feel I could make a good relationship with, and who feels the same about me. So I don´t need to spend time considering this or worrying about whether or not I´ll marry in the future. I should only concern myself with the options that are relevant to me right now. I´m single, so my choice is about my attitude towards that, and how I honour God and obey him in that situation. For me, the best choice is recognising singleness as an opportunity and following God to wherever he leads me, without thinking of how it could be different with a partner. 

I really enjoyed leading the workshop, and would love to do more of this type of thing. There are so many people who struggle with being single, and often times, the comments and attitudes of the church, can make that struggle even more painful. I long to see a church that appreciates and encourages single people in the unique gifts that God has given each one, so that they flourish and take their place as valued members of the body of Christ.

Workers for the harvest

Over the last few months, we´ve had a number of Guatemalan applicants who wish to serve with Latin Link in another country. For me it´s so exciting to see how God is calling his people to serve Him in mission. At the moment, we have a group of 8 Guatemalans preparing to serve with Latin Link elsewhere, in the UK, in Holland, in Ecuador, and in Mexico. We are meeting up once a month for training and to encourage each other, especially in the process of raising the financial support that they need. 5 of the 8 are hoping to leave, this summer, so are busy explaining their calling to friends, family and churches and inviting people to be a part of thier support team as they venture into mission.This last sunday, I went with Pedro and Karen as they presented their project in another church.

The support raising process can be a real challenge, but even more so, when you´re raising money to serve in a country that is more expensive than here. But God is always faithful - and it´s been brilliant to see how the group encourage and are encouraged by one another and the advances they see in others fundraising. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Finding Rest

The first couple of months of this year have been really busy, and it had worn me down abit. So over the last month, I´ve managed to get away by myself for a couple of weekends - firstly to the beach - and then to the mountains. And it was really good to relax, and to give myself time to think straight again.
It´s a funny thing, how we manage to get ourselves so busy that we´re not really sure why we´re doing things any more. 

On the first weekend away I read Beloved: Henri Nouwen in Conversation, which was so simple and short but incredibly powerful. He talks of busyness. "If you are busy, very busy, ask yourself, 'Why am I busy?' Perhaps you want to prove something. Why are people so busy? Perhaps they want to have success in their life or they want to be popular or they want to have some influence. If you want to be successful, you have to do a lot of things; if you want to be popular, you have to meet a lot of people; if you want influence, you have to make a lot of connections. The problem is that your identity is hooked up with the busyness" 
In contrast to busyness, he also talked about solitude. "Solitude is listening to the voice who calls you the beloved.... Solitude is the place where we go in order to hear the truth about ourselves."
It is so easy to get caught up with things, and not really realise why we make the decisions we make. And within the church there seems to be even more encouragement to 'do more stuff' - which pushes us further from our sense of ourselves and our belovedness. And yet "the christian community is a community of people who remind each other who they truly are- the beloved of God" - or at least it should be!
 As someone who enjoys solitude, none of that surprised me, but then he also went on to talk about the connection between solitude and community, a sense in which you can´t have one without the other, but also how they are two expressions of the same thing. 
He describes solitude as not necessarily being alone or having time to yourself - but being a part of making deep connections with others. "Prayer and solitude are ways to listen to the voice that speaks in our heart, in the centre of our being. One of the most amazing things about that concept is that if you enter deeper and deeper into that place, you not only meet God, but you meet the whole world there. ... A lot of people think about prayer or solitude as withdrawing from the world into a private space, but that´s not at all the case. The contemplative life, this mystical life, shows that the deeper you enter into the solitude and the deeper you come into the heart, the more in the world you are.... Solitude and prayer bring you into a spiritual communion with the whole people."

Living in a country which has a deep-seated suspicion of solitude or any form of aloneness, I love this idea that it´s not a case of whether we are alone or in company, but that what is important is that we connect with people, not about superficial stuff or talking about the weather - but a deeper connection which recognises each others belovedness - who we really are in God - his beautiful and unique creations. It´s about a solidarity with people, which connects us with God´s image in each other. And that´s why often the people that we see as must connected with God (from a sense of solitude and belovedness) are also 'activists'. Their connection with God in solitude and prayer has led them to a deep connection with their fellow human beings (Christian or not), which propels them into action - which is very different from just plain busyness!

My second weekend away was up in the hills outside Antigua, where I stayed in a wooden cabin built into the hillside - and spent a lot of time just appreciating the views. 

 The view from this working avocado farm looks out over Jocotenango in the valley, towards the volcanoes in the distance. That´s Volcan Agua on the left, and Volcan Fuego and Volcan Acatenango on the right.

 That weekend I was re-reading a book by Tony Horsfall 'Working from a place of rest'. It was good to be reminded that we are designed to start from a place of rest - rather than needing to 'earn' rest by working hard. It made me rethink a few things in my life - and change them when I got back. And I´m continuing to seek solitude and community with people that I interact with.

Monday, 24 February 2014

A week of birthdays

This week I´ve been to 3 different birthday parties - so here´s a quick round up of very different traditions. 

 First up: Swiss precision made penquins standing to attention!

Second: British made Strawberry cake. (I sort of invented it as I went along!)

And Finally: Guatemalan 15th Birthday party - complete with pink princess dress and tiara, a pig roast, about 150 people, lots of (naturally coloured??) cakes, one of which ended up in the face of the birthday girl (thanks to her younger brother!)

Latin Link International

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Quito, Ecuador as part of Latin Link´s International Assembly which are held every 4 years. It´s a key event for us as a community, as we have fellowship with members working in many different countries, and together set priorities for the future. 
 As we were in Ecuador, on the first night we were treated to some local music.
 Each morning, I really enjoyed our times of worship together, when we often sang in 4 different languages simultaneously. That sounds like it would be a shambles - but it actually wasn´t. It was just very special to be amongst a crowd of people - and hear the same worship song - sang in spanish to your left, english to your right, and german or portuguese behind you. It seemed like a taste of heaven. 
 We also had great times of corporate prayer together. Each day, we heard from members from a different region where we work, and prayed over the issues affecting them. There was a real sense of unity and being community - inspite of (or maybe because of) so many differences.

Monday, 20 January 2014

El Salvador

I´ve just come back from El Salvador, where I was visiting a friend, who is usually working with Latin Link in Uruguay. It was great to catch up and hear how God is using her there.
We also had a bit of a day out, and visited the Boqueron, the crater left from a volcano explosion many year ago. It´s incredible to think of how the landscape has changed from the force of an volcanic eruption.

The walk there, also gave some amazing views over the city  - both to the east over the city, lake and towards another volcanoe in the distance, and also to the south, over the city and right out to the pacific coast, less than an hour away from the city.

Monday, 6 January 2014

New Year Art!

I´ve eventually had time (and the house to myself) in order to complete some arty projects that have been on my mind for a while. I guess this is a message that God´s has put on my heart over the last year; to walk with Him more closely, to know Him more clearly, and to go deeper in knowing myself through Him.