Wednesday, July 29, 2015

an open letter to Multnomah students

Last fall, one of my college professors, Ray Lubeck, invited me back to speak to his Bible Study Methods class. Ray was more than just a professor to me. He became my mentor, boss, and friend, even performing our wedding in Colorado! It was an honor to visit his class again. I just came across my notes from the message I gave that morning, and I thought I'd share it with you as well.


18 years ago I sat where you are sitting.
I soaked in every word that Ray taught.
I poured myself into lab assignments.
And it changed my life.
Seriously, I couldn't figure out why no one had ever taught me this stuff before.
The Scriptures were opened up in a whole new way for me and the Bible came to life.

17 years ago I stood where I'm standing now, as a [Bible Study Methods] lab instructor.
It was the single most fulfilling thing I had ever done.
I kept coming back, teaching a total of 5 semesters.

12 years ago my husband Danny and I sold most of our things, packed up the rest, and headed to the Philippines as missionaries. We were more than ready. We had 4 years of the best Bible training on the planet tucked under our belts, teaching and church ministry experience, a strong team of prayer and financial supporters, a set of gifts that were a perfect match for the needs our mission advertised, and a commitment to reach Filipino Muslims with the gospel.

Weeks stretched into months as our initial enthusiasm wore off. We floundered. Ministry opportunities were not unfolding the way we had anticipated. Life in Manila was really tough. It was hot. We wilted. It was smoggy. We could hardly breathe. Language school was brutal. We were so homesick.

One day I was walking to the market to see my Muslim friends. I thought about their lives. They were immigrants from another island, far from home and trying to get along in a new language. Squatters by day and squatters by night, they sold pirated goods along the street without a permit and lived in makeshift homes on property they did not own. At any moment the police could show up and drag them off to jail for any number of infractions. The women sat pregnant in the hot sun for hour after hour selling combs and batteries and cell phone covers. After their babies were born they left them home with an older sibling and return to the market to sell again so the family could eat.

On my way to the market that day I felt so, so empty. What did I have that these friends really needed? I had come prepared to teach Bible study methods, but they could hardly read or write. We were here to reach them with the gospel, but what tangible benefit did the gospel offer them? A stable income? Reliable housing? What I knew to offer was a far cry from what they needed. As for godly character, I was depressed and discouraged, cranky and selfish, homesick and tired. I had come armed with colored pencils and an inductive Bible study method. I felt a little silly.

It was around this time that I got an email from Dr. Karl Kutz [another of my professors from Multnomah]. He was conducting a survey of graduates from the biblical languages program to find out our greatest accomplishments post-graduation. My Greek and Hebrew Bibles had made the trek across the ocean with me, but frankly, they sat untouched on my shelves getting moldy from the humidity. My greatest accomplishment? Umm… at first I groaned. There was nothing much that belonged on a resume. After some thought I decided that my most noteworthy accomplishment was that I could walk unannounced into a Muslim neighborhood climb the cement stairs of a 3-story building onto the rooftop where two families lived -- my friends from the market. Salma and Aisah and their husbands were raising their small children on that rooftop with no railings. Two lean-to shelters stood side by side, with corrugated metal roofs and walls with scrap linoleum floors. Their only furniture was a table on which the TV and a small gas stove were kept, powered with illegal gas and electricity. We sat on the floor as the pouring rain seeped through the holes in the floor and soaked our clothes. We talked and laughed, and I prayed in Filipino for Aisah's new baby, whom she had named Ishmael, or for Salma's whom she had named Eliana, after my own daughter. I longed for these friends to meet the Savior. I loved them, and I knew they loved me.

They had no pencil between them, and they could not read their copy of the Qur'an which was carefully wrapped and tucked between the wooden post and metal walls of their home. I would never have an opportunity to teach them inductive Bible study methods. That's not what they needed anyway. We all cried when Danny and I were called to move back to the US.

Yes, I've accumulated more degrees since then, and my Greek and Hebrew are not as rusty as they were in 2003. But if Dr. Kutz sent me that email again today I'm not sure that my answer should be any different. Allow me some liberties with 1 Cor 13:1–2:

If I read fluently in the languages of the ancient near east, but do not have love,
I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have impressive intellectual powers, advanced degrees,
and an exegetical method than can unlock all mysteries and all knowledge, 
and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Soak in all you can this semester. It is valuable training, and it will shape you in profound ways. But know this: without love, we are nothing.

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