Leading worship at a multicultural worship night. PC: Wheaton College Student Activities Office

Live to worship

7:23 PM – I fiddled on the violin as Henry set up the sound system and turned on the keys. The song began as a rehearsal for Sunday’s worship, but it morphed into something else. After ten minutes, it was a new song, and I removed my shoes.

Every third quarter note, the drum set emitted a crescendo like cymbals. The resonance of Henry’s keyboard traveled across the empty stage to make it ring and fill the room with the sound of ghost musicians. I harmonized in the microphone as Henry led the worship song. My voice filled the space with improvised lyrics, prayers to our Father in Heaven.

Eventually we brought the song back to the original lyrics, closing the song with a prayer paralleling the introduction. “I love the Lord for He heard my cry and He delivered me from my fear/ and He lifted me up higher and higher… I believe You move at the sound of my voice/ You heard my cry and You answered me… I just wanna thank You/ I just wanna praise You/ I just wanna sing a song of love and have Your heart be moved by mine/ O God, be moved by mine.”

The power of prayer, revealed by the Holy Spirit through human voices over electronic keys and soft percussion. The power of prayer, captured in lyrics written by covered and covered by Jaye Thomas, read in the combined quote above. The power of prayer, like a psalm, a form of writing that is itself a musical call to God.

7:48 PM – I slipped my bare feet into my shoes, he shut off the sound system, and we went home.


Worshipping with my friend Henry this Christmas break made me realize how much I miss my worship team in Illinois. It has only been a few weeks since we practiced, only a few weeks since we conquered finals and rode into Christmas break, but those weekly times of worship are precious to me. Every Monday we meet to pray, fellowship, and worship God through music. We practice our pronunciation and have fun on the glockenspiel as we prepare to lead our multilingual community in worship.

This year I prayed for a team of worshippers, people who would want to spend time with the Holy Spirit even if we did not have an event to prepare for that particular week. God answered my prayer and has blessed us all through our habitual times of fellowship with each other and with Him.

This January I have the honor of helping to lead worship for Snow Camp, a winter retreat. My team plans on attending the weekend event as well, although we will not lead the worship together. A colleague is organizing the time, but I have the privilege of contributing to the set and leading vocals. Preparing for this throughout the month of December has thrilled me because I anticipate the Holy Spirit’s presence and power at the retreat and desire to know the Spirit more even now.

One of my main purposes in life is to worship God through music and prayer. Worshipping Him renews the life in me since I am spending time communing with the one who gave me new life: Jesus Christ. What joy!

David and Asaph knew this joy when they wrote the Psalms. They knew God’s heart and His faithfulness as they sang songs of worship and praise, songs that begged for Him to intervene and rescue them, songs that always ended in some form of reflection on who God is. Songs of sorrow and songs of dancing. Prayers, put to music.

Israel Houghton sings it accurately: “To worship You I live / I live to worship You.” This is my purpose: to glorify God. This is the purpose of any Christian, in fact, through whatever gifts and privileges He has granted you. May the new year only increase your desire to know God’s heart and worship Him, the Almighty One.

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Me and my family when they dropped me off in Wheaton for my freshman year of college.

This is my last…

Many college seniors count their “lasts” – the last chicken tender night at the cafeteria, the last general education classes they put off for three years, the last spring break road trip with the roomies, the long-awaited last set of finals. I do not know what collegiate lasts will most strike me, but I am preparing myself for some larger lasts.

I hope to return the Democratic Republic of Congo soon after I graduate. I hope to live there permanently or until God moves me elsewhere. I recognize that I do not know God’s timeline for my return, but should these plans follow my ideal timeline, this year could also be my last living in the United States.

Leaving the States does not mean I will never visit; my sister will graduate high school next year, and at some point my best friend will be married. These people are incredibly dear to me, and if at all possible, I would love to attend these memorials in their lives. Hopefully I will also be able to take a vacation every several years to see those I love in the U.S.

But nothing is certain.

This Thanksgiving could be my last with my extended family, the paternal relatives I grew up with for the first 17 years of my life. My transition to college and my immediate family’s move across the country has prepared me for the long-term separation, but the ache of being away from my cousins on holidays has not grown much easier over the past few years. I will savor this last, precious Thanksgiving with my family.

This year could hold my last Christmas with my immediate family and maternal relatives as well. This last would have happened anyway when I begin a family for myself, but now I am realizing our last Christmas together could potentially be now, this year, in 2016. Bing Crosby put it well when he crooned, “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.”

A mouse-bear I made of snow after the February 2013 blizzard in Connecticut. PC: jeanni Bennett

A mouse-bear I made of snow after the February 2013 blizzard in Connecticut. PC: jeanni Bennett

It could also my last time to see beautiful, beautiful snow for a long time. Some New Englanders yearn to move away from the cold, but I always loved my home state of Connecticut with all its seasons and its snowy winters. In Illinois we get a small amount of snow as well, and it transforms the landscape. It makes everything new. I will miss this.

As a senior in college, I hope to soak up most of the lasts. Some can hurry up and pass – I am quite excited to be finished with the academic aspect of school, honestly – but I do want to make the most of my time on Mu Kappa Cabinet and with my worship team. I want to make the most of my time with friends and family when I see them on holiday breaks in a few months. I want to see my best friend again and finally meet the man who stole her heart.

I value relationships. For this reason, I will treasure my time with my housemates and friends in Illinois as well as any time I have with my family and friends elsewhere in the States. Yet for this same reason, I am also itching to return to DRC. As I prepare for many joyous firsts in my life after college, I thank God for the blessed lasts.

 

How to be a peacemaker in a war-torn world, Part 1

To be a peacemaker is to fight.

When multiple races, tribes or countries have conflict or war with each other, peace may seem unattainable. (Re)conciliation requires faithful, patient effort and continual hope. After all, people and groups disagree with each other and are often engrained in their opinions. One side has hurt the other in a significant way that needs to be repented from before any true change can be made. In return, that hurt side may be retaliating to this injustice. Even when two parties come to the table to reconcile, it’s not easy to rebuild trust.

The battle for peace is hard-won, but it’s worth the effort. It’s worth the energy. It’s worth the pain.

Here are some tips to bring two or more parties together for peace:

Listen.

Don’t assume. Speak respectfully and demonstrate humility. Even if you disagree (and have history and statistics to prove why), when you show you care about one party’s opinion, they are more likely to engage in conversation with you. So, be respectful as you listen to another human or mediate between two parties. Given some time, this can lead to positive social change.

Be faithful.

Change probably won’t be immediate, and you may be persecuted for your efforts – even by those you thought you agreed with, since you are trying to bring them into harmony with an opposing group that they think could harm them! Recognize the fear there and don’t take it personally; keep fighting.

The fight for peace may be mundane at times. It may seem hopeless. It may exhaust you, but remember why you are fighting. Look to the peace heroes who have fought the battle before you. Their examples offer great wisdom and inspiration as you press onward.

Keep hope!

We are not fighting flesh and blood but are battling spiritual powers. These spiritual powers work through the corrupt societal structures we see, and we need to remember that prayer is effective. Yes, stand with the oppressed; in fact, God commands this. Yes, work in tangible ways for harmony and unity, shalom and reconciliation. But also pray.

Without God’s strength and his promise to make all things new, we have no hope or power to bring peace.

Gain encouragement by look at the small examples of success. Record and retell the inspiring testimonies demonstrating the fruit of your labor. Keep hope, my friends; keep hope.

 

As you labor for (re)conciliation, ask yourself why you are fighting for peace. How much are you willing to sacrifice for this battle?

It’s not easily won, but it’s worth the fight.

UJN lunch squad, 2016. PC: KSB

Lunchtime in DR Congo

Six of us sat on the maize-colored rooftop, attempting to circle together in the sliver of shade as we ate our lunches. The men bantered in Kiswahili, and my eyes wandered to the green banana tree across the way. I rolled the bugali in my fingers, scooped some greens and dipped it in pilipili while trying to understand their conversation.

Usually you would eat wali na maharage (rice and beans) or bugali with some type of greens, but Mama Julienne gave me both on this day because she knew my love for bugali. I have a small amount of pilipili (habanero pepper paste) in the center of my plate as well. PC: KSB

Usually you would eat wali na maharage (rice and beans) or bugali with some type of greens, but Mama Julienne gave me both on this day because she knew my love for bugali. I have a small amount of pilipili (habanero pepper paste) in the center of my plate as well. PC: KSB

Mama Julienne had given me a larger plateful than the day before and included fritis because she knew I liked them. Eventually one of the men asked if I understood the topic, and upon my regretful no, called the rest to switch to English so we could all converse. We discussed relationships, talked about food and helped correct each other’s Swahili or English pronunciation and vocabulary. Smiles adorned our faces as we chatted and laughed together over a particular friend’s antics. A long, peaceful hour passed before we returned to work.

Around 2 p.m. we trickled out, following each other down the stairs, across the dusty ground and to the rocky sidewalk that led back to the kitchen. The mamas stood over the fire, and other staff sat around in white plastic chairs to eat their lunch. We stacked plates and utensils in a tub to the left and poured water over each other’s hands to remove the remaining, sticky bugali.

Bugali, aka fufu, is made of boiled maize in east Africa. You roll it in your hand and use it to scoop the greens or other food. It is my favorite. PC: KSB

Bugali, aka fufu, is made of boiled maize in east Africa. You roll it in your hand and use it to scoop the greens or other food. It is my favorite. PC: KSB

This summer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I learned how to eat well. I ate three meals a day, a diet of starch, protein, fresh fruit and vegetables from the market. I ate increasingly larger amounts of food because many friends said I did not eat enough, and the mamas wanted to make me bigger. I ate healthily and was satisfied. Furthermore, I took my time to eat it, and I ate with others in community. Life was peaceful and abundant.

I am back in the United States now, and already I am eating less food at mealtimes. People here are generally more rushed and leave meals more quickly, although they do eat together often at my college. The task-oriented culture reaches even the third culture kids and international students who live here now. However, I have learned how to rest and feed my body, and I can still apply these lessons in my current cultural context. I am blessed.

 

Ten things I love about Denver

While I’m not a native Coloradan, I lived in Denver during a life-changing summer two years ago. Now I am back for a bit, and I am so happy. Here are ten things I love about this city, culminating with number 10.

  1. Public transportation.

    Riding the bus is inexpensive and provides the opportunity to people watch, rest from a fulfilling day or observe the city itself through discolored windows. I feel independent when I take the RTD, and I learn about social dynamics by observing where people sit and how they speak to each other. If you’re from a city, you can probably relate.

  2. Sunshine.

    If I could define Denver in a word, I would say yellow. Yellow defines the feel of the summer sun on my skin, the invisible color of the air, the feeling I have while living here – due in part to the serotonin-boosting sunshine. As John Denver croons, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” Even his name reinforces how the sun connects to this Coloradan city!

  3. Mountains.

    The Rockies awe me with their majesty, the majesty that reflects their Creator. Although I behold them daily, they have not lost their splendor. They always provide me with some metaphor, and they draw me closer to God. In this city, they also help me find my way since I can always know which way is west. As a directionally challenged person, I appreciate that.

    Denver blog view from LFS office

    The view from my office, PC: KSB

  4. My internship.

    I could write blogs upon blogs about my internship. I work with refugees who are resettling in the United States, and I love showing up to work every morning. My coworkers are caring, relational, hard-working and fun, and I relish being surrounded by their many languages. I hear a lot of Arabic in particular, and one of the case managers is teaching me Kiswahili since I am on my way to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is my second time interning here, and each time I’ve been thrown into learning and doing. I could go on forever about how amazing my internship is, but I’ll move on from describing my amazing weekdays to the event that makes my weekends so fabulous.

  5. Jazz in the Park.

    For ten consecutive Sundays each summer, thousands of people gather in City Park to hear live jazz and consume cuisine from the food trucks. Elderly couples and children dance together by the gazebo, and families hold picnics by the algae-covered lake. Whether chatting with friends or vibing to the music alone, I love the atmosphere.

    Denver blog leaving Jazz in the Park

    Leaving Jazz in the Park, PC: KSB

  6. Old friends.

    Since I lived here two years ago, I have been able to reconnect with people whom I met during a formative time in my life. I have enjoyed catching up with old friends, having fun in community and being near people who can build me up in my faith. These friends vary in age from children to people more than twice my age, and some even call me family.

  7. Walking.

    I appreciate the calf muscles I have been able to sustain by walking; I like feeling strong. While walking is obviously a good way to travel from place to place, exercise or release stress, it is also conducive to exploring. Immersing oneself in Denver’s shops and neighborhoods is easier by foot than by car since it allows for more spontaneity and closeness to the details that characterize Denver. What you discover will depend on where you walk and how open you keep your eyes and heart.

    Denver blog Izzy and me at Juneteenth 2016

    Izzy and I at the Juneteenth Festival, PC: KSB

  8. Festivals every weekend.

    There’s always something to do in the city. With many of these events free and public transportation so easily accessible, Denverites have no reason to be bored. Although I am a bit of a homebody, I also find it healthy to get out of the apartment and explore. I particularly enjoy the cultural festivals such as the one in Five Points celebrating Juneteenth Independence Day. Participating with friends makes the deal even better.

  9. 16th Street Mall.

    Street musicians fill the air with sweet melodies, and public pianos beckon from the center of every block; it is basically the dream. The street is always crowded, which makes it a great place to observe or potentially make connections. (I once met a man who works for the Denver Voice, the homeless newspaper based in my building, while heading toward the movie theater there.) For consumers, 16th Street Mall is the place to satisfy physical hunger, find any item one may desire or simply browse the windows. The mall bus is free and can take you closer to your destination if you’re not in the mood to walk.

    Denver blog 16th St Mall

    A group of activists on 16th Street Mall, PC: KSB

  10. Diversity of people.

    This plays into almost all my previous points in some way. Living with a family of another race and nationality, learning about my friends’ religions in a setting where we all respect each other and can make civil and genuine conversation, appreciating global cultures daily through my friends’ food and the city’s festivals, the buzz during Pridefest when rainbow flags decorated all of Colfax and hundreds of thousands of people from around the country came to celebrate – I do not experience most of these things in my wealthy, white suburban college town, but in Denver I am surrounded by diversity of all forms.

    I am learning so much in this city, and I am thriving off the diversity in which I live. Even if you do not live in a city, I encourage you to seek this out. A trip to Denver won’t hurt either.

What are some things you love about Denver? Comment below!

http://ricktylerforcongress.com/2016/06/07/the-billboard-strategy/

Are white Americans under attack?

“Make America White Again.” Thus said the Trump-inspired billboard in the link my friend posted. I follow my friend LBJ on Facebook since he constantly shares stimulating posts about race in the United States, and this week he posted a news link that I thought must be a satire.

However, snopes.com confirmed the existence of the since-removed billboard and shared a wealth of information about the man who put it up. Rick Tyler is from Tennessee and is running for Congress on a blatantly white supremacist platform. I will address a few of his points below. For more information on Tyler’s consistently racist beliefs, see his campaign website, which is more of a hub for mini audio clips on white supremacy than an explanation of his political plan. I suggest you skim these sources now so you can read this response in context.

According to the Associated Press’s article on ABC7 Chicago, “(Tyler) told WRCB-TV that he doesn’t hate ‘people of color,’ but wants to return to an earlier time ‘when there were no break-ins; no violent crime; no mass immigration.’”

Americans, we can do better than to vote in a man who believes black people are animals and that intermarriage between races is wrong. We can do better than to buy into these things ourselves.

Tyler romanticizes the past and portrays the past sixty years as the decline of this nation due to immigration laws that allow more people of color to enter. That vision of the United States is simply not true. The way the United States addresses crime and incarcerates people of color has shifted over the years as policies are created or adjusted, but crime has been here all along, and not as a function of skin color.

As for the immigration comment, going back to a time before mass immigration would mean a non-white nation since Europeans were the first mass immigrants to a land of Native Americans. Somehow the majority of people forget that.

Tyler uses Christian lingo to bulk up his points, but taking Scripture out of context or using it to divide people on the basis of skin color is never what God wants. Snopes quotes Tyler saying, “The Caucasian race has been inordinately blessed and favored by the God of scripture. It was among this people that the new covenant gospel of Jesus Christ took root, blossomed, and flourished. Western Christian civilization evolved in the ensuing centuries leading to the eventual rise of our beloved America of yesteryear.”

Actually, Jesus Christ established his new covenant in the Middle East, in Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and then his followers spread his good news west into Asia, north into Europe and south into Africa. Missionaries continued to spread his Gospel of redemption and reconciliation, mercy and grace, love and truth and justice throughout the world. Clearly, Christianity is not a white religion; it is for everyone who would believe in Jesus.

Continuing with Tyler’s religious comment, the white race has not been favored more highly by God than any other race or ethnicity. Since the concept of race was developed by errant humans, those considered to be white have been privileged by other humans, by fellow white people, but this is not a sign of God’s blessing. Human power has nothing on God’s, and one would be wise not to confuse the two. Another word of caution for people who want to be like Jesus: avoid conflating Christianity with patriotism, white supremacy or nationalism.

Tyler exemplifies white supremacy at its prime. Initially I was surprised by his radicalism since it is 2016, but when I look at the history of this nation, I see that nothing has really improved; racism has only changed forms over time. To say Tyler could be from the Jim Crow era glorifies the present, which evidently is not accurate. While Tyler is only one man who, according to Snopes, accrued only a small following when he ran for Congress in 2014, the fact that he is making such racist, Islamophobic and homophobic public statements is frightening and, honestly, maddening.

For the sake of length, I cannot address everything Tyler has said, but many of his statements are so outrageous that they seem not to need a response. How could anyone believe that there is a white genocide in this nation, for example, and that black Africans are destroying the “once pristine and orderly white-ruled” South Africa? Read and research history to discover the truth.

Three Words on Waiting

Waiting: it seems like the theme of my life. I was wait-listed twice before being accepted into my college. I have been waiting to find the right guy since high school. I am now waiting on my visa from the Democratic Republic of Congo so I can finally visit the country where I hope to live. Although I recognize I am by no means the longest-sufferer around, I feel that I have experienced a good amount of waiting in my short life, and I would like to encourage you in your times of waiting.

1. Waiting is frustrating.

Let me just put that out there. In this impulse-driven American society, even an hour can seem like an eternity. If I don’t want to wait sixty minutes to enjoy a home-cooked dinner, I will stick a potato in the microwave so I can eat in five minutes. Others may call in take-out or go on a Los run. When I see the little check mark signifying that a friend has read my message but then does not reply for a couple hours, the waiting makes my imagination go all sorts of places. (No, they don’t hate you, Skye. They’re probably studying and will reply later.)

And when you are waiting for something you have put your heart into, such as applying to college or for a visa, frustrating may not be an emotional enough word. Waiting can be worrisome . . . unless you realize that God is in control and has asked you to lay your burdens at his feet. In the words of Gospel singer Travis Greene, “He’s intentional, never failing.”

So what do we do in the meanwhile?

2. Wait actively.

In other words, waiting does not equal passivity. Let me be clear: I am not saying, “God helps them who help themselves.” That adage is not found anywhere in Scripture. In fact, that adage elevates humans to God’s level and limits him to a failsafe. In reality, we can see God’s help most when we are helpless. Jesus mentions this in Mark 2:15-17 regarding our need of God due to the sin we all have. But I have digressed.

While God is not our genie in a bottle that we call when we have met our limits, he is also not a genie who does everything for us if we do have faith. We still have lives to live while we trust him, and we can honor God by living lives worthy of Him (not loafing around waiting for him to do something magical).

In my current situation, I have done everything humanly possible to pursue my goal, but God operates on his own time and not necessarily ours. Sometimes there is nothing left to do other than wait for your visa with patience, faith and integrity – praying all the way.

Prayer should not a cop-out to avoid a particular task; rather, it is a powerful and effective tool we use when we come before the King of Kings. It is a pleasing fragrance to him. It is a way to beg our Abba for mercy and grace (and visas). No request is too large or small, but his answers come in his time. Hence the waiting again.

3. There is a purpose to the waiting.

A few months ago when I was in the middle of preparing for my summer trip overseas, a friend shared some encouragement. She and I were texting about a couple matters including my summer trip, and she talked with me about waiting. I did not understand why she brought this up since I was confident in my plans and excited for the summer, but now I find her words quite applicable.

This friend shared a song with which I was familiar through my worship team: “Sovereign Over Us,” The lyrics read, “You are working in the waiting/ you are sanctifying us/ and beyond our understanding/ you are teaching us to trust.” That sounds about right. I don’t understand why I must wait, but I do  know I must trust God. Then comes the promise in the chorus: “Your plans are still to prosper/ you have not forgotten us/ you are with us in the fire and in the flood/ you’re faithful forever/ perfect in love/ you are sovereign over us.” Amen.

Admittedly, I do not know the purpose to this wait. Neither does the organization I will be joining. But I know that if nothing else, God can use this time to glorify himself through all of us who are waiting — if we wait upon him.

 

Hold on to hope, friends. God is for us, and he will not fail his people. Pursue your God-given dreams and plans, and trust him in the process. And if you do not have a specific vision from Him now, honor God wherever you are. He is faithful.