Sermon on the Mount

Austin Stone is doing a 4 week video series, “From Israel” All of the videos are shot entirely on site from Israel. It’s incredible to see the words of scripture come to life in the places they happened 2000 years ago!

Here is part one. Matt Carter reads the words of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. Take a few minutes to watch this video. I promise it will bless you.

psst… click the four arrows-facing-out button on the bottom right of the video to make it full screen 

Sermon on the Mount from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

Radical

Photo by Joshua Gigliotti

Photo by Joshua Gigliotti

‎”There is never going to be a day when I stand before God and He looks at me and says, ‘I wish you would have kept more for yourself.’ I’m confident that God will take care of me.”

David Platt

 

Open our eyes

“I try to avoid seeing pictures of those starving people. It’s too depressing. I would rather see the pictures of safari animals.”

A good friend of mine recently took a trip to Kenya and Uganda. Yesterday at work, I sat on my computer sifting through pictures of her recent trip. My heart aching at the sight of these orphans – hungry for food and love. Wishing with everything in me I knew how to teleport so I could hold them for a while. Love on this one and that one. Put hope in his beautiful chocolate eyes. Tickle them relentlessly just to hear joy in their laughter. Shower her with kisses and tell her of One who will never leave nor forsake – no matter who in her past has done just that.

At one point a co-worker passed by my desk and made the off the cuff statement at the top of this post. I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it – she is a sweet and good-natured person. But it took everything in me to not explode at that moment. I was fuming inside. ‘What do you mean you try to avoid them?  What if that was your son – your mother – your sister???  What if that was you?!?’

Why do we close our eyes from the difficult? Why do we choose not to see? Is it easier to look the other way? Less uncomfortable? Does it seem too overwhelming?

Yes.

Does choosing to open our eyes cause us pain? Does it stretch us? Require us to spend ourselves for someone else?

Yes.

Is it too much to handle? Is there too much hurt? Is it impossible to make a difference?

Absolutely not.

I think we have this whole thing backwards. Maybe we are afraid to pour ourselves out because in doing so we believe we won’t have enough for us. But what if the very act of taking on someone else’s burden and giving away is the exact thing that fills our cup to overflowing? That brings us joy? What if giving away is the key to contentment?

“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”  -Isaiah 58:10-12

Friends. Let us open our eyes. Let us choose to see.

 The most severe drought in decades is threatening the lives of more than 11 million people — especially young children — in the Horn of Africa. Famine has been declared in parts of southern Somalia, and threatens to spread further if nothing is done to prevent it. Kenya and Ethiopia are also severely affected by the crisis, with millions in critical need of food and water. World Vision has launched an emergency response to the drought and food crisis, working to provide life-saving essentials to the most vulnerable children and families . . .Thanks to government grants, your gift today can multiply up to 5 times in impact to help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support, healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families in need.

Cha-Ching

Spoiler alert: This post might be offensive. Seems like talking about money almost always is. I would apologize but in all honesty, I’m not really that sorry. Just know I’m also preaching to myself  as I write this. I am, however, sorry for the length of this post …

I guess it all started with my trip to Iraq. Seeing how much I live with and how little I truly need. Seeing how little people live with in another country – even those who are not considered poor. Living out of one (under 50 lb) suitcase for six months makes you realize all those things you can do without (and there is A. L.O.T. I can do without).

I came home after Iraq infuriated with the waste in the American culture – especially the Christians in our American culture. Thoughts like “Really?!? You are going to pay someone to park your car?!? Do you realize a family of 10 in a third world country could eat off of that for a week!?!” or “Seriously? You are really trying to convince me that you deserve those $200 boots??? That would almost pay for the airfare of a child in Iraq to get life-saving heart surgery in Turkey!!!” and “What the crap? Our church in no way needs a new 2 million dollar building!!! And they are asking me to pray for it?”

I wish I could say that my anger was righteous. I’m not sure that it was. The way my heart was changed to view money and to be a good steward that there of was a good thing, but the way I let it make me critical (hateful even) toward others was not.

It’s funny how easy it is to drift back into old ways. How easy it is to blend back into one’s culture. It’s one thing to be ignorant of life outside the US and not to have seen what real poverty looks like. It’s one thing to not know how filthy rich our country is because of never experiencing anything else. It’s an entirely different story to have experienced it, lived it, breathed it and chosen to forget. I am ashamed to say I am the latter.

It snuck up on me. Surprised me. My critical spirit toward how Christians spend their money did not change and yet I began to convince myself of things I needed. I was blinded. “Gap’s having a sale! I have to buy clothes at these prices!” “I am way to exhausted to cook this week. I deserve to eat out.” “Everyone has a new Iphone!!! It would make life SO much easier. MUST get one! I can’t survive without it” “Only 80 channels?!? They call this cable!?! What are we going to do without such and such channel???” and on and on and on…

The past few weeks God has taken the blinders off. To say I’ve been humbled would be the understatement OF THE YEAR. Thank you, Jesus. Sometimes I need a good smack on the head – metaphorically speaking.

In Bible study a few weeks ago: We were asked to choose something to pray for in our culture. My prayer was that Christians in America would be able to focus on the needs in the world instead of being so inwardly focused. (At this point I am still critical of others and am clueless to my own selfishness. Sometimes I think I’m so holy that it’s nauseating. Forgive my evil heart, Lord.)

That same Sunday at church: The sermon was on missions. The pastor spoke on how selfish we are as Christians – so content in our American bubble. Blatantly oblivious to the suffering in the world. We skip over the parts of the Bible where God commands us to look after widows and orphans and feed the poor. We nod our head in agreement when Jesus tells us to go out into all the nations thinking that doesn’t specifically mean that I have to go. It should not be radical for someone to devote their life to being a missionary… we should ALL be missionaries wherever our address. It should be radical to be a Christian and NOT be one. (At this point I should have heard my wake up call. Instead I think, “Yes, Lord! This sermon is an answer to my prayer from Bible study! You and I, God, we are going to fix this thing!” Ha! Little did I know that I’M the one He’s talking to.)

The next week is when things start to change…

We get rid of the cable. Good start. I stumble across PLC’s website and think, “Why have I not been supporting this organization that I’ve loved and rallied for these past 3 years?!?” Then, I’m at work and stumble across the World Vision site and a sweet little girl from Uganda stares back at me: I am the orphan – care for me. I am the poor – feed me. I am the least of these – love me. 

I was driving to work the other day and decided to listen to a random sermon. It shouldn’t surprise you that I picked one (at random mind you) entitle ‘Money: a gift or a god?’ About how God gives to us so that we can give away. How we need to be better stewards to what he entrusts us with because that just it… it’s not ours!

And here is the kicker… yesterday I was reading one of my very favorite blogs and this is what I read…

“It is easy to look to God and ask, ‘Why is there so much poverty in the world? Why is there so much hurt, so much inequality and unfairness, so much destitution?’ I bet He would ask us the same thing.”

And He says to me…

Ashley, why is there so much poverty? Why is there so much hurt? Why are there so many orphans unloved and so many poor not cared for? My sweet daughter I’ve entrusted you with SO much. What are you doing with it?

My life needs to radically change.

Does yours?

13 Things . . .

. . . that have happened since I last updated
Which, lets face it, has been awhile:

Today I got stuck in an elevator.
It was a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

PLC bought a new car.
I miss the Patrol (aka The Beast)
But thanking God for providing.

I rode the Sulaymaniyah bus.
Payment for the ride is driven by the honor system.
I’m convinced it would never work in America.

My friend, Sazgar, helped me pick out Gili Kurdi (traditional/festive Kurdish dress)
Don’t worry, pictures to come.

I experienced culture shock for the first time at a foreigner’s party.
50 people attended (Dutch, British, Irish, Australian . . . but mostly American)
I realized Americans are loud and a tad bit obnoxious.

I visited Sulaymaniyah University with Kanar and Shaza, two good friends.
I almost felt as though I was at an American university.

I learned to sing Happy Birthday in Kurdish.

Angel and I made oreo balls.
SO good.

I sat on the top floor of our house for hours watching a thunderstorm with the window open.
I’ve missed the rain.

I bought a piece of artwork from my good friend and talented artist, Ismail.

I’ve read 5 books:
Unshaken by Francine Rivers
Unveiled by Francine Rivers
The Shack by William P. Young
A Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
Crazy Love by Francis Chan

God has been teaching me a lot about faith and prayer
and even more about my pride.

AND 3 new kids are going to surgery in Turkey on Tuesday!!
I’ll introduce them in the next few days

Turkey Bound

On Tuesday morning, the Preemptive Love Coalition was able to send two more kids to surgery because of generous contributions to our organization! So exciting! Let’s meet them shall we?

Meer

This is Meer. Fifteen years old, he is one of the oldest kids PLC has sent to Istanbul, Turkey for heart surgery. Meer’s case is particularly urgent. He should have had this life-saving procedure years ago.  Also because of his age, he is able to understand what is about to happen to him. Meer’s surgery is scheduled for tomorrow.

Please be praying for peace for him and his family and pray for wisdom and guidance for Dr. Cicek (the pediatric cardiologist who preforms the heart surgeries in Turkey).

Ramyar

This precious little four year old boy is Ramyar. We met him just a few short weeks ago when his family came to visit our Iraq office. His family was able to collect all the things needed to send him to surgery (i.e. passports, echos, paperwork) in about two weeks. Amazingly enough, all of this usually takes months. Ramyar is borderline inoperable. In Turkey, diagnostic tests will be performed to determine if he is a candidate for surgery. These tests will determine if his little heart can handle surgery or if it is too late.

I don’t understand all the logistics of these complicated surgeries, but pray that Dr. Cicek finds what he needs to in the preliminary tests, that this child has a chance at a long, healthy life.

You can follow these kids over the next few weeks on The Preemptive Love Coalition Blog. You can also follow on Twitter ( Meer’s Twitter Page and Ramyar’s Twitter Page )

Also, I would ask you to keep praying for baby Daryan. Daryan is about five months old. He was sent to surgery in Turkey with the last group of kids, almost a full month ago. Despite staggering odds, he survived surgery. His heart is completely healthy, completely corrected, and in essence, perfect. However, his little lungs are not yet strong enough to control the increase in blood pressure. Daryan has been intubated and in ICU for the past four weeks (1/5th of his short life) on several drugs hoping his blood vessels will dilate enough to support his tiny little life. Dr. Cicek said that it is now a waiting game. Pray for healing.

This video of Daryan was taken in the few days following his heart surgery:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

Iraq Update: Chwar (4) + a VERY special announcement!

Greetings friends. I’m so sorry it has been so long since I’ve updated you on the happenings in Iraq. This post is way overdue!

The past few weeks have been a whirl of planning, projects and the beginning of the end of the summer. My main projects have been graphic design work for some local fundraising here in Suly and helping plan a banquet for all of the children who have had heart surgery this year. I have so much respect for event planners now! I also forget how not knowing the local language makes things at least twice as complicated. One of the other interns and I had planned to get the invitation for the banquet designed and printed one morning last week. My initial thought was that it would only take us one hour, maybe two at tops, because of how long it takes in America. Two hours soon turned into an all day affair! We didn’t factor in that our invitations, written in English, would not be understood by the Kurdish families (cue: slapping my palm against my forehead). We met with PLC’s translator and had him translate our invitation. Then I realized… I don’t have an Arabic font on my computer! So, we had to find a place to type it up for us. Hold on though, we have to find a place to type it up for us with someone that speaks ENGLISH. After about an hour of searching, we finally found an internet café that could type and print up a copy of the invitation text in Kurdish. Whew, this part took the majority of the morning. The afternoon was spent with our translator scouring the Bazaar for a print shop that would print on cardstock. Two hours and a few cantaloupe smoothies later… we have our invitations. Success! (update: after all was said and done and printed and delivered to families

we realized somewhere in the process the time and date of the party were left off the invite. Haha oh Iraq!)

It seems that lately PLC has run into some major walls. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours.

Issue number one… Buy Shoes Save Lives is one of PLC’s main sources of fund raising. In Kurdistan there is a traditional hand-made shoe that most Kurds wear called Klash. Every part of the shoe is hand made, from the sole to the hand stitched top, taking approximately 30 hours for each shoe. (http://preemptivelove.org/bssl/klash/) Part of PLC’s vision for Iraq is to find local solutions for local problems. So, PLC buys the shoes from the local Klash makers and sells them all over the world. Proceeds go back into the community to fund the heart surgeries. Until about two weeks ago, the general consensus was that the entire shoe was made here in Iraq and for about 5% of Klash shops, we’ve recently discovered, this is true. However, 95% of Klash makers in Iraq only make the hand stitched top and import the sole of the shoe from Iran. Even this would be okay besides the fact that it is illegal to import anything made in Iran to the United States. So, we are back to the drawing board. BSSL is what PLC was founded on in the beginning and it is not a part of the organization PLC wants to loose. Pray that PLC is able to figure out a solution to this problem.

Issue number two… The Patrol. All 7 long term staff of PLC share one vehicle… a Nissan Patrol. When they were first looking for a car to buy, they needed something inexpensive, reliable and a vehicle that could easily travel the uncertain Iraqi terrain. They were blessed with the Patrol. However, recent news has revealed the origin of this beastly car. During Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq, the vehicle his soldiers used was one that was durable and reliable… yes, the Nissan Patrol. Almost every Patrol currently in northern Iraq belonged to the government prior to Hussein’s downfall.  After Saddam was captured, people literally raided all of the government property and took what they wanted, then sold it. So, BASICALLY that means PLC, without knowing, probably bought a stolen car. Legally, this car still belongs to the government even though it was bought and paid for by the Preemptive Love Organization. PLC is currently seeking out how in which to gain legal ownership of the car, but until then the Patrol could be taken away from us at any time. If that weren’t enough, a new law was passed that makes it close to impossible for foreigners to obtain driving permits. Again, PLC is trying to legally find a way in order to get licenses but until then, our Kurdish translator will do most, if not all, of the driving. This puts a major damper on many operations.

Issue number 3… We have been working most of the summer on a local advertising campaign called Tip Jars. The idea was to put money boxes at local grocery stores with a huge poster about our organization in a way to increase awareness and community involvement. We got the money jars built. I designed the posters. We sent the posters off to the print shops. We got the grocery stores okay. Then, found out that we need a license?!? A license to put up a poster and glass box in a store. Doesn’t make sense to me but I guess it’s a good idea to follow the law of the land. The license will take several months to obtain, as it seems all things take time here. It’s good that the campaign will be put into action at some point. Just much much later than we expected.

Issue number 4… At the end of the summer (aka about a week) PLC will be changing completely as far as staff go. Not only will the interns be heading back to the US, most of the PLC team will be leaving as well. As PLC has grown and funding increases, the ability to send more kids to surgery is upon us. However, each time a group of kids is sent to surgery, someone from the full time staff has to go along with them to Turkey. Costs increase with sending PLC staff and throws the organization off balance when someone is out of the office for two weeks up to a month. PLC has decided to relocate one couple to Turkey to set up a base there. It is going to be really good to have a base in Turkey since the actual surgery is in Istanbul. So, one couple will be leaving Iraq along with the interns in a very short period of time. Another PLC couple will be heading back to the US in the fall to have their first baby! And PLC’s physical therapist will most likely be moving to another city in Iraq for various reasons. So, this leaves one family to run all of the organization by themselves in the fall. I know that they are overwhelmed with this task. And not only that, but living in a culture that is not your own is difficult and draining and one needs community and support to be able to maintain sanity. Please be praying for all of the full time staff as their lives will be dramatically changing very soon. And on that note…

CUE SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT… drum roll please… I would like to announce that I, along with two other interns, have been asked to stay until December. The PLC team presented this to me several weeks ago and I have thought and prayed a lot about it. I don’t think my time is over here. I have began to develop amazing relationships with several Kurds here and I don’t think it is time for those friendships to come to an end. I think God has so much more planned for me here as I am starting to see hearts softened and trust built with people here. Also, the three of us interns could offer much help in running the organization and meeting with all of the families this fall when the one family will be here alone. This summer I haven’t been able to do as much design work for PLC as I’ve wanted and as PLC has wanted me to do. We have had many commitments this summer and most have them have seemed higher in priority than design work. This fall my commitment level would be so much different. One of the guys that is staying is a photographer and he and I will be working together on many projects. I know this is where I am suppose to be and have such a peace about being here. And so… I’M STAYING UNTIL DECEMBER!

With that comes many challenges that I wasn’t expecting when I left the states almost two months ago. First of all, I wasn’t planning on saying good bye to my friends and family for six months. I already miss them and miss being in Texas. I don’t think I have fully come into the realization that I will not see them until Christmas. I will not be with my family for the first time in my life during Thanksgiving. The reality of this all has not hit me yet and I don’t think it will until all the other interns have left. Please just pray for my heart that I will keep in perspective why I am here. Also, my Kurdish is HORRIBLE and I’m not just being modest. I have not learned as much of the language as I would have liked. I can barely communicate with people here who do not know English. Since I am staying, this has to change. I have to be able to talk to families that I will be going on visits to. I won’t always have the luxury of having PLC staff member to translate for me. I will be going on many visits with only the other girl intern, who doesn’t know Kurdish either. As soon as the other interns leave, the other two interns and I will have an intense few weeks on language learning with one of PLC’s local translators. Other languages do not come easy to me. I think I studied Spanish for about four years in school and now can only say a little more in Spanish than I can in Kurdish. Pray for grace for me to learn this language and an ability to understand and retain it. Also, funds are an issue. I will be working teaching English at a local institute during the fall. This job will pay for a lot of my living expenses but not all. I will also be teaching gymnastics to some of the American kids who live here. I am probably most excited about that job. It will help a little with expenses as well. But I will still be about $2500 dollars short. I know God will provide. He brought me here and He will not withdraw and leave me out in the cold. I know this and I am completely at peace that He will provide, but please pray that God will just guide wherever the money is suppose to come from.

I am so sorry that I haven’t updated everyone in so long. Things are going so well here. Some days are so easy and wonderful and I love it. Others are more difficult as it is so exhausting living in a culture I still don’t understand and frustrating to have such a language barrier. But God is so good. I have learned this in such a new and real way since being in Iraq. I have realized how much bigger his picture is and His will is than I could have ever imagined while living in my comfortable American bubble. More than anything I have done since being in Iraq, God has began changing me and my heart all the more. I am so so grateful to be here and to be able to experience amazing things half way around the world. I feel so very blessed that the Lord would bring me here and reveal Himself to me in such a new way and reveal the love He has for His people… not just for our country but the WHOLE world. Thank you for supporting me. There is no way I could be here without your financial support and especially your prayers. I don’t think I can say that enough. I wish I could bring you all here to experiencing what I am getting to experience.

Prayers:

Pray for Buy Shoes. Save Lives.

Pray for PLC’s vehicle situation.

Pray for the Tip Jar campaign.

Pray for each person that is leaving in about a week, the interns along with full-time staff. Pray for the staff and the interns that are staying in the fall that this transition will be good for everyone. That no one would get discouraged but that we would remember that God’s strength and power is made perfect in our weaknesses.

Pray for my heart as I try to refocus for the next few months. I don’t know what to think about it at all; I don’t know how to process it. I just know I’m suppose to be here. Pray for my family as well. I know that was hard for some of them for me to go to Iraq for the summer. I can imagine that me staying for four more months might be difficult.

Pray that I am able to learn this language!

Pray that my money situation will work out. That God will provide.

Thanks again for your prayers. You are such a big part of what God is doing in Iraq! I you are enjoying your summer as it is beginning to wrap up.

Be blessed!