PC: KSB

God is faithful: a year-end reminder

Every day is an opportunity to thank the Lord. For his faithfulness to stay with us and to keep his promises and guide us in our call; for his goodness to want our best and warn us of harm, to provide for us, and to bless us with sweet gifts; for family and a hospitable American and Congolese community of faith; and for his love that never leaves even when we stray, we bless the Lord.

2017 was yet another crazy year. I moved multiple times and had the opportunity to travel in and outside of the United States while undergoing significant transitions in life. One of these transitions was graduating college, a huge testament to God’s faithfulness. God saw me through all this and provided incredible old friends to stick with me from college through the distance as well as new ones to love me in my Denver home.

It was also a year of creation, as I began writing for the Denver VOICE in June and released several song collaborations, which you can listen to here:

My favorite blog posts of the year from this site fell in September.

The call God has given me to live in Congo (three years ago as of this coming MLK Day weekend!) and my deep desire to work with refugees remain the same. My goals in this direction do as well, and I hope to make significant progress in 2018. Despite discouraging, disorienting, and downright dreadful circumstances in the second half of this year, I can see God’s goodness. I remember his promises to me.

As the hymn below declares, I know God’s hand will bring me home, even to Congo, by his good grace. He has brought me to where I am now, and he will remain faithful.

 

*Updated on Jan. 02, 2018, to include “Gatherer,” which was released just before the new year.

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Who is my neighbor?

You hear a lot of talk about loving your neighbor, but what does that really mean? Neighbor love can be defined in three ways and about 450 words, so let’s go.

Neighbors are the people that live on your street. Americans in general are pretty bad about knowing the people who live proximate to them. My dad, cognizant of the importance of loving the people in your local community, always made sure he built relationships with these neighbors and served them. I grew up knowing a few neighbors but definitely failed at reaching out to the people across the street and next door once I began renting on my own. That’s something I’m working on in my new location and which comes into the story in my next post.

Then there’s the idea of neighbor that Scripture holds in the story of the Good Samaritan: your neighbor is anyone you come into contact with.

This requires compassion for anyone you meet, regardless of having a pre-established trust. This requires a bit of bravery and stepping outside your comfort zone because you might not like the people you meet – you might even be from conflicting religious or ethnic groups as in the story Jesus told – but still God commands us to love, to give of ourselves and resources, to those neighbors. (And honestly, God doesn’t ask much else of us besides to love.)

Plus, getting to know the people you meet might not be bad! Why fear when you could have a spirit of openness and a vision to see the good in others? You could meet some pretty fantastic people by looking up, and if you hadn’t chanced it, you never would have known them. That’s how I met my collabo and now good friend on the single “Astrogirl,” and you can listen to it to see how that went!

Finally, this concept of loving neighbor applies to loving those you haven’t met but still impact indirectly through how you take care of the earth, stand up against systemic injustice, et cetera.

Even if you don’t immediately see the effects, someone will be impacted by your putting milk jugs and soda cans, which aren’t bio-degradable, into landfills, and it will eventually come back to you too. Even if you aren’t personally impacted by immigration policy, the migrants and refugees who spent years searching for safety and even being promised a home here, are. And even if your biological son wasn’t shot because of his skin color, that son’s family and community are impacted by your choice to stay silent or to speak up against racial injustice.

No person is more deserving of human rights and a safe and healthy home than another. No neighbor deserves less love because of cultural, emotional, or social distance.

2017 Solar Eclipse, PC: KSB

It’s been 500 years since the Reformation, and I’m calling for unity

Today my former evangelical church celebrated 500 years since the Reformation. My alma mater has made a whole semester of it. But even as a Protestant myself, I’m not so sure I want to be celebrating it.

Since moving to Denver (which is why I left my previous church), I’ve befriended a house of Catholic volunteers. A few months ago, I was volunteering alongside one of the folks doing this one year service program, and he invited me to their weekly mass and dinner. Now I’ve become a regular and call myself a friend of the house. I love going each week because it is such a place of peace.

And I’ve learned a lot about Catholicism since I became friends with them a couple months ago. But I realize that this might startle some of my family, so let me give some background.

I grew up with people who had “converted” from Catholicism to Protestantism, or evangelicalism more specifically. They saw and thus I heard of the dark side of the Catholic Church: the extreme focus on works over faith, where doing was all that mattered. To me, it seems like a hopeless task to reach the throne of God, coming from that perspective; just read Romans 3:23, 6:23, and John 3:16). I was taught that Catholics were not Christians, and indeed I knew several that were not.

I grew up in a pretty atheist state, although nominal Catholicism was prevalent as well, likely due to cultural ties and passed-down religion.

But when I went to college, I met Catholics who were Christians. These people believed in Jesus for their salvation. They were people with different traditions, more liturgical blessings instead of the freestyle prayers to which I was accustomed, but they were people who believed that Jesus is the Savior of the world and loved those around them as Jesus did.

Then, in a Social Change sociology class during my senior year, I read documents from both evangelical and Catholic leaders. The Catholic Church is well-organized and unified in its beliefs, whereas there is no one leader of the evangelical church making statements on doctrine. Thus, while is more difficult to define the global “evangelical” viewpoint on any issue, the papal encyclical for example, lays the Catholic stance out.

What I’ve noticed is that the Catholic Church does a lot better job of caring about social justice and for the earth than the evangelical church. It’s understood as a natural part of Christianity, although evangelicals in America generally have a harder time seeing that. I admire and agree with these things, however. I think the evangelical/Protestant church can learn a lot from the Catholic Church in these regards.

The Catholic Church also has a richer understanding of history and a lot more examples of faith since they do not skip the whole period between the early Church and the Reformation. Though all Christians are saints, the Church-ordained saints serve as examples of how to live holy lives. They’re not gods or idols, but they are examples in the faith.

(Now, the Catholic Church can also learn from the Protestant church, and we can both learn from the Orthodox Church as well. The Church is like a mixed media sculpture, and our diversity has the opportunity to strengthen and unify us as we are molded into the image of Christ.)

Because I’m friends with this house of volunteers, I’m now having conversations before dinner and hearing words at mass about Church unity. These Catholics in their twenties and the priests who are preaching have a heart for everyone who calls themselves Christian. As a Protestant Christian, I appreciate and agree with this too. And it is crucial to hear this as many celebrate the Reformation today, since the Reformation stands as a marker of division in Church history.

I’m still learning a lot. I don’t agree with everything Catholic, and I still call myself a Protestant. But I see a lot of shared beliefs in our diverse practices, and I don’t believe that we have to be exactly the same in order to have unity or worship together.

I’m also not ready to say that the Reformation was completely bad. Martin Luther called out some things that needed to be said in that day, such as paying for indulgences to save deceased relatives from their sins. It was a huge money making scam that hurt the poor and corrupted the truth back in the 1500s, and Luther was a prophetic voice in the Church to stop it. For what he did to restore the Gospel truth (that we are saved by grace through faith) and thus care for suffering communities in body and soul, I am grateful.

But I don’t want to glorify division in the church, as I fear is happening particularly at this 500 year marker of the Protestant Reformation. Today, countless Protestants are rejoicing at their Reformation from the Catholic Church, and many Catholics are looking on saying, “Are we not one Church?” Protestant Stanley Hauerwas writes an educated article about the Reformation, disunity, and sin here, which I encourage you to read.

We can have different practices, we can all celebrate truth and grace and the living out of our faith, and there is no getting around the fact that we do have different histories now, but are we not one Church with the same goal of building the Kingdom of God?

DACA, the Wall, and the fall of Jericho

 

I had a revelation about walls the other day, and it seems fitting to share it in light of Trump’s decision to end DACA. I have only grief regarding that decision, but the revelation that I had last week is a bit more hopeful…for some.

Denver skyline at sunset. The city. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Denver skyline at sunset. The city. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

God broke down the walls of Jericho. He can and will break them down the physical and relational walls that Trump is helping to build in the United States, walls that have been going up for over a hundred years. God’s plan is to bring people together to worship Him: all nations, all languages, bowing and worshiping together at his feet. Dividing people by tribe, nation, or language does nothing to serve that purpose.

God also broke down Jericho’s walls without the use of force. His people used the peaceful and persistent method of marching around the city. Racial justice activists and those who stand up for immigrants in the United States follow these methods as well, and although they use only their voices, they are met with opposition and force by those who do not understand their shouts for justice, their pleas for systems and structures to be made right. But God did it for Jericho, and He can do it here.

Human violence is not necessary to accomplish God’s purposes, but faith and faithfulness are. Friends of God, be persistent in walking around the city until the walls fall. In the face of hopelessness, cry out to God and keep walking around the city doing His work.

Jericho is meant to be a metaphor here for bringing people together. A house divided cannot stand, as Jesus said in Matthew 12.

But suppose one wants to look at the story of Jericho literally instead of taking the above point to heart. So be it.

The walls were around Jericho just as this nation is building walls around itself so that newcomers may not enter and those who are not accepted must leave. The United States is Jericho. God used others to destroy the old city of Jericho, decimating everyone but Rahab, the one woman who respected Him, and her household. Hear me: The United States is also in danger of destruction.

We are bringing it upon ourselves.

In the face of this destruction, are you one of the righteous whom God will protect, or are you living in sin, disrespecting God by disrespecting the people He has made?

…People like Latinx and Black Americans who have done nothing but live and work for this country yet are daily suspected of drug dealing or violence because of their darker skin. Shot in the streets without a trial, innocent but perceived as guilty and not given a chance to defend themselves before their breath is ripped from their chests. Men imprisoned, separated from their children, called felons, and stripped of their voting rights for petty crimes. Why? Because Black and Latino men were profiled to begin with, instead of white men. Because there are quotas certain judicial departments must meet, so even police with good intentions may be put in a pinch to fulfill their jobs. Because the laws are inherently racist and very complex. And because Americans themselves are racist and unnecessarily fearful.

…People like undocumented immigrants who barely getting by because they can only land under the table jobs unless they have the right connections, because their other skills and education are not valued more than a paper calling them citizen, because it is easier to cheat and deceive people who do not have the power to fight for themselves if they do not have that magic nine-digit code called a social security number.

…People like Latinx folk who are documented Americans but are told to return to “their country,” told to speak English, or complimented on their English as if being an English speaker is both the original and superior language the United States. (Neither is true; ask a person of indigenous descent.)

…People like war- and famine-fleeing refugees who enter the United States with nothing, are given extremely little help from the government, and work low wage jobs because their credentials may not be recognized or because their English is not yet fluent enough or because they do not have the required education yet do not have the time or finances to pursue that education here. Some refugees recognize this discrimination by name and others do not. Regardless, the inequity exists. I witness it daily.

She could be a Dreamer, I suppose, with the universe before her but the tentacles of this nation's unjust policies stinging and strangling her head. I found her when returning from the Santa Fe art walk in Denver.  PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

She could be a Dreamer, I suppose, with the universe before her but the tentacles of this nation’s unjust policies stinging and strangling her head. I found her when returning from the Santa Fe art walk in Denver. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

I prefer the metaphorical version of Jericho that points to Heaven. It’s more joyful, harmonious, full of hope. But the literal version, which portends the destruction before God destroys the world for its sin and then makes it new again, is just as crucial.

God does not discriminate. In Amos 9:10, He told His chosen nation, “All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us’” (ESV). Yet there is hope of restoration, for forgiveness comes with repentance. (Read 1 John here and consider the story of Nineveh.) God does not change, so this is true for Americans today as well as Israelites and Ninevites of old.

Where do you stand before God and in this nation? Where does your church stand? Your city?

 

Laughing with my friend Dina after church a few weeks ago. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Five funny moments from church this week

Two months ago, I began attending a Swahili-speaking church. I am growing in my understanding of the language but am not yet fluent enough to understand without aid, so a couple friends help me out. For context, the church is also a charismatic evangelical African church, unlike my previous evangelical white American churches. This means we actively believe in both the power of the Holy Spirit and the importance of God’s written word, and we like to dance.

Both translation and the extra energy found at a charismatic church can lead to a lot of laughter and smiles. This Sunday was no different. A cheerful friend translated for me, and we had to hold back laughter at multiple points throughout the three and a half hour long service.

Can you relate to any of these moments?

When your translator translates English into English.

At the start of the service, my friend kept forgetting to translate. I would catch her eye, and she would apologize and catch me up on what had just been spoken. At one point, the choirmaster was giving a testimony to praise God since he had recently turned 40. We both were listening to his Swahili when one of the mamas in the choir turned to us and said in English, “When he’s done, let’s all sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ One, two, three, ‘Happy Birthday.’” Those of us in choir agreed. My friend proceeded to translate the choirmaster’s Swahili testimony and then translated the mama’s already-English words to English.

“That was English,” I said. “She told us in English.”

“Oh,” she replied.

When your translator translates the Biblical Joshua to “Josh.” Repeatedly.

I grew up in the Church and have never heard the Biblical character’s name or his book translated this way. Apparently my friend had not either, for she caught mistake each time yet could not help repeating it. The pastor would say something like, “Na Musu alisema ku Yoshua,” and she would translate, “And Moses said to Josh.”

Technically, it’s accurate—it’s a nickname—but it cracked us up. I had to hold back both tears and laughter at several points throughout the sermon. Good ol’ Josh.

When a two year old steps into his mom’s livestream of the sermon.

Our church posts its services on YouTube each week, praise and worship and all (see here), but one of the pastors’ wives also livestreams it on Facebook, at least when her husband is preaching. She sat in the wooden pew in front of me this week.

Her young son stepped in front of her camera as if to say, “Hello Facebook world, I’m here and I’m cute and I know it.” (Sorry I don’t have a link for this one.) We knew it too, but that’s not why the viewers were online. I motioned him aside, but he shook his head at me in refusal.

After a few moments, the mama next to the pastor’s wife pulled him away. Ultimately, we and the viewers were there for God, not for the child, however cute he may be.

When the pastor is so animated that his mic falls off.

The Swahili-speaking pastors’ charisma always humors me compared to the French translator’s calm demeanor. All the preachers I have interacted with this summer are gentle in person but jump around and shout when up front. It’s their preaching style. It’s a charismatic church. But even when the preacher grabs his arm to demonstrate an action, the translator is best described as “chill.” He copies their motions but is more reserved.

This week, the pastor was so energetic that his clip-on microphone fell off in the middle of the message. He didn’t miss a beat, didn’t seem to notice, but continued preaching as the choirmaster jumped up to clip it back on for him.

When the pastors repeat the Scripture they ask others to read.

Often, in the beginning or middle of the service, the pastors will ask somebody to read a passage of Scripture in Swahili—or another language like Kirundi or Kinyarwanda, if needing clarification. When the person reads it in Swahili, the pastors will shout out the passage after them, line by line.

“And Jesus said—”

“AND JESUS SAID!”

“Be holy—”

“HOLY!”

“As I am holy.”

“AS I AM HOLY!”

(This is not a specific example, but I chose it because my church has a strong focus on holiness.)

I do not understand why this repetition is necessary since the person already read it, but it makes me smile.

 

I am grateful for my church and the countless ways my friends there have helped me and loved me. I am glad God is a God of humor, too; it makes life enjoyable.

Do you have any similar experiences to these five, either from translation error or from having an animated pastor? Comment below if so!

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Confession: I am a PK

The same twangy tune plays at the end of every Midwestern Mu Kappa Snow Camp, a man’s voice singing, “I’m an MK (missionary kid); I wouldn’t trade it. If there’s any better life, I couldn’t name it. Yes I’m an MK; I’m glad it’s true, and you can tell your folks you wanna be an MK too.” My friends and I have a lot of different thoughts on the song overall, but hearing it has made me realize something: I’m a PK (pastor’s kid), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My History

I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a church of thirty. Yes, thirty people. My dad did practically everything: setting up chairs, preaching, organizing the kids’ club on Wednesdays—everything except singing, that is. Mr. Jeff and I took over that for the sake of the congregations’ ears. When I wasn’t at school, music lessons, or friends’ houses, I was at church.

My Sundays began with a 9:15 a.m. Sunday school class through sixth grade, which later switched to a 9:00 worship practice and 10:30 church service. I helped lead worship; listened to my dad’s half hour message; chatted with the church family before, during, and after the service; and sometimes joined them at Wendy’s for lunch around 12:00. Mondays were my dad’s Sabbath from ministry, though he still had coaching and sometimes teaching or landscaping.

Wednesdays we went to Family Night at church, 5:45 p.m. on pizza nights and 6:30 on regular nights. There I first participated in and then led children in AWANA, an inclusive Bible club where kids memorize Scripture and play energetic, competitive games. The adult Bible study took place at the same time, making it easy for families to come and go together. For a few years we had youth group at that time, too.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

We did everything in the church. My dad even held his tonsil removal/birthday party there! Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

On Friday nights I attended a youth group at my friend’s church, where I would sometimes go for weekend conferences if I wasn’t leading worship. The church week never ended, and I was fine with that.

I never quite left the church grounds either. For several years, we lived in the parsonage, or what I called the “church house.” This meant I was seconds away from the actual church building, and Bible studies, Sunday school and youth group were in the living room or basement of the house itself.

If I haven’t made myself clear, I spent a lot of time at church as a PK.

Fighting Stereotypes

Toby Keith captures one of the stereotypes of being a pastor’s kid in his song, “God Love Her.” The young woman in the song is called “a rebel child and a preacher’s daughter.” The opposing stereotype is that PKs are goody two-shoes.

I suppose I have always hated stereotypes, because before I was passionate about racial conciliation or even aware of racial injustice, I fought against the PK stereotype. I didn’t face much flak for being a PK—perhaps because I was around so many Christians all the time, and my family was in good standing—but I overreacted when I did.

When the boy at church youth group said, “Oh you’re a PK” in a negative tone, I immediately countered him by saying, “And a coach’s kid and a teacher’s kid and a landscaper’s kid.” My point: don’t assume I fit the selected categories of (A) Goody-goody or (B) bad girl because of my dad’s job.

Reaching Understanding

Many people also thought that I loved Jesus more because my dad was a pastor. For about nineteen years of my life, I denied it: If my dad wasn’t a pastor or youth pastor, he would still love Jesus just as much. I would still have grown up in a Christian home. But both my parents are so involved in ministry that I cannot separate who they are from what they do. Others minister Christ’s love and grace in just law practice, honest accounting, cheerful mail delivery, compassionate medicine practice, truthful journalism, joyful car cleaning, patient retail work or tireless social work, and my parents do it through faithful church ministry.

When I turned twenty last year, I recognized that this has shaped me. I do not love Jesus more because I am a PK, but being in a Christian family devoted to church ministry certainly helped me to know God and see Him at work.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

My best friend, cousin, and I began a garden outside the church. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

As a PK, I had to make sacrifices that were not my choice. We did not have much money, and we did not enjoy the privileges many middle class Americans have. However, God always provided what we needed. We were never without food or housing, and we always had sufficient clothes for each striking New England season. God blessed us with loving friends and relatives, although Connecticut did grow lonely for my family, due in part to their status at church. In all the trials we faced, God taught us how to trust Him and how to pray. He gifted us with “daily bread”: exactly what we needed at any time, usually not more, but certainly never less.

Achieving Growth

At just the right time, God moved my family to a new place where they could thrive. They are still so involved in ministry that the church directory had to cut out the allotted “hobbies” section to fit all the ways they invest in the church. They enjoy friends, good jobs, and warmer weather. Life is not easy for them—my dad works three jobs including his youth pastor position, my mom has one, and my high school sister has a couple—but God provides for all their needs.

My children, if I am blessed to have any, will likely face similar challenges, though with a cross-cultural component since I plan to do ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I doubt they will have much materially, at least by American standards, but I believe they will have all they need in order to rely on God and know his goodness.

I cannot predict how they might respond to the MK song, but as long as they love the Lord, I will be pleased.

 

 

 

Montana. PC: KSB

“My grace is sufficient”: praising God in the face of chronic back pain

“You’re too young to be in pain like this,” they tell me. I shrug and grin sadly. It doesn’t change that I have had chronic back and neck pain for the past six or seven years. I’m only 21.

In high school I went to the chiropractor about once a year for back pain. I thought this was normal, and maybe it was. Doctor Metzger was great, and I appreciated the adjustments he gave when my bones needed it. I also appreciated his honesty, jovial personality, and belief in natural medicine. But in college the pain intensified.

I remember lying in bed in Denver the summer after my freshman year, crying and praying that I could move my body in order to get up. My cousin Jonathan prayed for me from two time zones away, a bad chiropractor stole my money, and I wasn’t well enough to hike in the Rockies. Then sophomore year began.

I composed a mental list of friends who could massage well so I wouldn’t overburden one person when I desperately needed some relief. These student masseuses have been incredibly kind over the years, and I am deeply thankful to these friends. Yet even the most thorough massages would not be effective for long. At first they helped for a couple weeks, then a day or so, then only a few hours. Now they don’t do much at all except to provide very temporary relief and comforting physical touch.

The pain makes college more difficult since I spend all my energy controlling it, which hinders my learning in class and tires me out when it comes time to do homework. Praise the Lord that I have made it this far, with only a few months left until graduation! Although my back and neck issues have caused me to struggle, I am still on track to graduate. I know others whose diseases have set them behind or caused them to drop out of school.

About a year ago, I was in constant pain, and approximately once a week I would break down and not be able to walk, since the pain translated into a weakness in my extremities. I remember collapsing and sobbing in a pile of leaves after church one Sunday, unable to walk the quarter mile from church to the main campus building. Dry leaves served as my tissues, and after the tears had released enough tension in my back, I managed to walk home with multiple rest stops. Typically the pain would build back up over the course of a week until my next breakdown. The pain was usually worst on Sundays, which I understood as a spiritual attack.

This pain hindered not only my own body but also my work in Goma, DRC, this past summer. When I was too weak to teach English one day, I lay crying on a couch in the director’s office and then held my friend Clarice’s hand. My driver took me across Goma to search for medicine so I could prevent more breakdowns and work again.

The pain came to a climax in the first week of my senior year this past fall when I broke down four times in one week. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish college although I’d worked so hard to get to this point and God had shown himself so faithful to bring me there. I began going to doctors and having my friends carry my bags and support me physically as I walked.

I have learned to ask for help when I need it, for I cannot do everything on my own. I am weak on my own. But I am not alone, not with God’s Spirit in me and His people around me.

I’ve been to chiropractors in recent years, but they can’t offer an explanation and don’t do much to help my larger problem. X-rays say my bones are fine. Finally I went to an alternative doctor who confirmed that my problems aren’t structural but rather a conglomeration of internal issues that have built up over years and manifested especially in my shoulder and neck — viruses I’ve had since birth or gotten from a vaccine, strep in my shoulder, and so on. No wonder massages and chiropractic adjustments couldn’t fix me.

This doctor’s remedies have helped a great deal, allowing me to go even weeks without thinking about the pain, although my back would still be uncomfortable at times. What a gift! But a little after Christmas break, the pain started to worsen again. Two weeks ago, I had to stop six times on the four block walk from my house to the place where we had worship practice because I wasn’t strong enough to carry my guitar. I just kept praying, “Yesu, Yesu, Yesu,” taking strength in the name of Jesus.

When I arrived at worship practice, the pianist was playing “Because of Who You Are.” I asked her to keep playing piano, just keep playing, and I laid on the ground and cried. That afternoon I decided to praise God regardless of my pain. I told Him and my team that even if I suffer with this pain for the rest of my life, I will give Him glory and praise.

Since then, I have taken new joy in my suffering. Instead of neglecting God in my trials, I will turn to Him. He has shown himself to be mindful and good and gracious and faithful, and my life would be desolate without the hope Jesus gives. The Bible promises that God will make everything new, and I long for that restoration. Meanwhile, God has given me incredible friends to support me emotionally and help me in my physical need, people who pray for me, and people who can relate to me and guide me along. I am blessed.

I believe Jesus heals, and I’ve witnessed Him do it multiple times in multiple places from Goma to Wheaton. I don’t understand why he heals some people and not others or why some people are healed on the spot and others wait for years. In all this, I do know that His love is constant and faithful and sweet. And I will praise Him for all my days on this broken earth and in heaven where all things are made whole.