Friday, September 23, 2016

"Dimensions of the Faith"

For the last few months, I've been working through a series of Bible classes from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. All missionaries serving long-term with SIM are required to have some basic Bible courses, and this one was highly recommended. My first term of service overseas will likely be less than 2 years (and therefore not "long term"), but I am planning to return to Africa as a "career missionary," so I decided to start working on the additional requirements. *Go ahead, call me an over-achiever!*

Their "Dimensions of the Faith" course is available online for free, with both the audio lectures and PDF workbook available for download. The courses are designed for any Christian desiring to have a better understanding of how the Bible is put together, basic church doctrine and theology, and a proper understanding of missions. Thankfully, there are very few seminary terms, so it's pretty easy to follow along! Each lesson is about 45 minutes, and the two- or three-page workbook lesson helps me stay focused. Seriously, you should go check it out!

After working through the "Biblical Interpretation" and "Old Testament Survey I" courses, I decided to skip ahead and go through the "Church History I" class. Here's a quote from yesterday's audio lesson that really hit me:

"In our own post-modern world with its radical relativism, there appears to be less and less need to be tethered to truth or tethered to historical evidence. People simply tell their own stories and allow you to tell you ownbut with no absolute requirement, no rule against which all of these are tested. In the midst of that relativism, although, I'm here to remind us that for the Christian scholar, history must be a study built upon evidence. We must find those sources, study them, analyze them, and tell the story based upon what was the reality of the past rather than what we might have wished it to be. This means for the evangelical scholar that we must be absolutely diligent in our searching out of the truth rather than creating reality for our own purposes."
-Dr. Garth Rosell

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for "telling your own story" and recognizing each person's individuality. I believe it's important for each person to feel like they've been heard, their ideas are valid, their experiences are real, and their reactions are normal (albeit sinful at times). I agree that there are personal applications of Biblical principles. I agree that the Bible is "living and active" and that the Holy Spirit causes verses to "pop out" and enlighten us as we read. But where we can easily get into trouble is when we interpret the Bible or alter our theology based on our individual desires. However, the Bible is not a story that needs re-telling in our own ways, nor do I think it needs a "modern-day interpretation."

Likewise, church history should not be retold without talking about the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or the Reformation. Without understanding what led to those dark periods in our history, we can easily repeat it! There's a tendency to downplay the low points of our particular denomination while tearing down other denominations. It's easy to point fingers at other religions and their heresy while disregarding the wayward teachings in our own churches today. I see that the modern-day church is becoming more and more "culturally relevant" while becoming less and less a source of truth and clarity. In our search for the lost sheep, are we drifting further and further away from the sheepfold and the Shepherd?

Anyway, just some thoughts. I'm enjoying going through this course as it draws me back to the foundations of my faith, challenges some of what I've always been taught, and consistently points me back to the Scriptures to seek out the truth. I'm realizing how important it is to be firmly grounded in my own faith before leaving for the mission field. There, I know I will encounter Christianity mixed with animist (folk or voodoo) beliefs, churches that are struggling to implement Biblical worship and church government, and unique Biblical interpretations seen through the African worldview! 

Saturday, September 17, 2016


When you walk into my room, this is the first thing you see:

(Inspiration originally from A Beautiful Mess, one of my favorite blogs)
Yes, it's unusual to have a 2.5' x 5' board covered in flowers on your wall! The word "Restore" has sort of become my motto. So much so, that it's part of my ministry tagline: "Restoring Dignity to African Women through Physical Therapy."

God first spoke this word to me in January 2013 at the Passion conference in Atlanta, Georgia. This packed three-day conference for over 60,000 college-aged students came at a pivotal point in my life. I was 2/3 of the way through physical therapy school and about to start my first clinical rotation (which I was utterly freaked out about!) I was moving back in with my parents for a time and starting to think about job-searching and post-graduation plans. I was working through the fallout of a relationship I'd had through most of college that had recently ended, and I realized that I was losing touch with my closest friendssome of whom I'd even come to the conference with. Worst of all, I felt like the dream of becoming a missionary physical therapist that God had placed in my heart during the summer I spent with Mercy Ships in 2010 was further away than ever. 

I remember looking around my "small group" of over 5,000 students and around my "family" of eight, and I feeling utterly alone. The main session speakers were wonderful, the worship was phenomenal, and the small group discussions helped me plan how to integrate the teachings into daily life. But I felt like everyone else was experiencing God in a real and powerful way, while God had forgotten me and my hurts and my hangups. I just wasn't sure He cared about me and my dreams anymore. 

Then one night while walking to worship in The Georgia Dome, I looked up and saw this sign:

It was just one of dozens such signs with words like "Freedom," "Prayer," "Courage," "Truth," and other inspirations centered around that year's theme of social justice and modern day slavery.

But I couldn't get that word out of my head.

During our afternoon break the next day, I wandered into the Prayer Room. This quiet place was filled with students praying for social justice organizations and for other students' prayer requests posted on the wall. Other students were scattered around the room journalling or reading their Bibles. I found a beanbag in a corner, opened my journal, and asked God to speak to my aching heart...

"Lost in You, expectant waiting, tired of waiting, wait for Me. No shame. I'm not enough, He will equip. There's not enough time, God of the impossible. This is a generation of faith. At the death of death, power, all-consuming love, pouring out, in my place, it is enough, let go of your burdens. I will give you new skin, old dry bones replaced, dance for the first time, someone's gonna find their healing. Community, family, believing His promises. He is real, I am real, my time is now, my dream's not dead. Reshape. Network. Share. Love. Inspire. Wonder in awe of who God is. Expand my world. Rock my socks off. Restoration. He is leaving nothing broken. Restoring life
- January 2, 2013

***Those of you who have heard that year's Passion album, "Let the Future Begin," 
will recognize some of the song lyrics in that journal entry*** 

And right there in the corner of that Prayer Room, God spoke to my heart in the quiet and unmistakable way He uses with me:

"I have not forgotten you."

God had not forgotten my dreams. He had not lost me in the midst of graduate school and the angst of being a young twenty-something. But He was continuing to let me feel like I didn't fit in with my own generation, and continuing to let me struggle to identify with them. He wanted to enlarge my faith and prepare me for the real world. And as I ventured out out of the physical therapy classroom and into the clinic, He wanted me to remember that I was not in it for the money or for the personal fulfillment. He reminded me that I'd chosen that field in order to help people achieve their goals (and sometimes help them dream again), and so I could impact their lives in multiple areas, not just physically. He had not forgotten me. In fact, He was just getting started with me.

God continued to speak that word, "Restore," to me the rest of 2013 as I worked with physical therapy patients from all walks of life, with all sorts of injuries, and with vastly different goals. I thought He was leading me to a high-class and fast-paced clinic in Boston, but instead I found the perfect job at the small county hospital in rural East Texas where I started working in March 2014.

And somewhere in the mundane of the 9-5 job and small town life, I kind of forgot about my dream. I still wanted to be a missionary, but more in the "maybe one day" sense of the word. I  had gotten lost in the never-ending pile of patient documentation, learning all the real-world skills they don't teach you in PT school, and in pursuing various volunteer and continuing education opportunities that didn't really lead me any further towards the mission field. 

I made this wall hanging to remind me every day that my goal is physical restoration. I started to see my patients in a different light: restoring a high school athlete to his pre-injury status, restoring life to an older person undergoing surgery, restoring intimacy and dignity to a woman with pelvic dysfunction, and restoring sanity to a caregiver that was simply overwhelmed.

Now that I'm on the road to becoming a missionary physical therapist, I'm excited to join God in the restorative work He's already doing overseas! I'm partnering with a Christian organization and will be working at a Christian hospital, so will have unrestricted ability to share the gospel with my patients. In working with fistula care, I will have the opportunity to really build relationships with the women who are at the center for several months. And as I combine my physical therapy skills with others bringing their surgical, nursing, life skills, and evangelism training, we will have the unique opportunity to bring total restoration to each of our patients!