Actually Being In a Desert [Guest Post by Ryan McRae]

5 months ago, I burnt out of my job and moved to Afghanistan of my own free will. I’m attempting to reach over and punch the reset button on my life. Up until I boarded a plane to Dubai, my life had become crowded and full of distractions. Relationships were imploding around me and I felt this need, this compulsion (spiritual people would call it a “calling”) to get out of here.

All the things I depended on for my comfort and confidence were stripped away and shredded. My educational background—nobody cared about my Masters. My history? I didn’t have one here. My influence that I’d built up in the US—gone. I was in a foreign land, filled with war, without any of the tools I gripped onto. In other words, my idols were smashed and the temple I’d dedicated to myself had burnt down.

My depression for the first month can only be described as monumental. People asked me what the culture shock was like. It was like licking jumper cables connected to a 18-wheeler. I didn’t know military culture or Middle Eastern culture (which is a misnomer—the culture here is different from what you would find in Pakistan or Israel. It’s like saying American culture. Really? Which part? But
I digress.) I felt lost. I felt alone. And now when I utter the word “desolation”, I completely understand its meaning.

But this is exactly what happens when you reset your life. I’ve wiped the slate clean and now I’m forced to stare at the blankness. And I’m trying my best to handle the marker over to God instead of filling it up again with clutter and ego.

So how have I experienced God here, in this war zone?

I’ve been writing the Psalms out when I can. I keep a journal. One side, the psalm and I write a reflection on the other side. Right now I’m up to Psalm 58. The constant theme I’ve found so far is that God is a fortress. And I’ve seen my fortress that I’ve constructed—it’s a refrigerator box with a crayon scrawling that says “Ryan’s FOURTRESS. KEEP OUT!” It’s rain soaked and has burn marks on it. I’m reminded that I need to dwell in God’s fortress so when I pray I imagine it like I’m wandering around Minas Tirith seeing my friends and occasionally standing on the wall to see my tiny fortress, discarded.

I connected with the chaplain on my base and led worship with soldiers in the audience. I needed some place to serve and worship—and quick. But my joy has come from not having those idols bogging me down, not living every moment to impress someone, hoping they think I’m witty and hilarious.

Now, I don’t recommend you do what I did, head to war-torn country to find God. But I’d encourage you to find someone you love and trust and talk about the idols in your life. What do you lean on? What can you NOT do with out? Have that discussion and see what happens.

[Ryan McRae currently works in Afghanistan. He has written a book: A Quick and Easy Parent’s Guide to College that you can find here. Also, if you donate to his charity:water campaign, he will send you a haiku. Details are found here!]

Nailed It

Well, we are still on cloud nine because of this. But, the world keeps on turning, and one of the great events of the last couple of days (non-parenting category) was Sojourn’s first leadership community of the new semester. Last spring we introduced the “Golden Hammer” as a way to celebrate one of our teams that “nailed it” during the past month.

SojournBU won the golden hammer for the first time, and I am so proud of them! They’ve done a solid job inviting new people into the community and we are starting to see some good stories come in. Like this:

We held a welcome/intro event during the first week of class…I had a few students leave our set up time to randomly pass out fliers to people nearby. This was a bit of risk, and you can always look and feel stupid doing these kinds things. But they were up for the challenge and a handful of people who received fliers ended up coming to the event. One of the girls who came ended up joining a small group, at which she shared about her desire to connect more deeply with Jesus. She just didn’t know how to do that at BU. So, it was quite fortuitous that she happened to be handed a flier. Now she’s a part of a conversation about Jesus and Acts and the early church at one of our small group gatherings! Very cool…BU hasn’t had a ton of these kinds of stories but because our students are taking risks and making invitations they are going to become a much more regular occurence.

Adventure, Love, Suffering (RePost)

From Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost (The Faith of Leap)

“To love is to suffer…and that’s probably why we generally don’t do it well. Unwillingness to venture, plus a desire to be safe, holds us back from love. To be sure, most of us do have a vision of what makes a good life, and as believers we know that it involves growing in the love of God. What we seem to lack, however, is the will to attain to this good life of love. Most of us prefer to skip over the pain and the discipline, to find some easy, off-the-shelf ways to sainthood. Christian self-help spiritualities are a classic dodge of the real issues and manifestly do not produce maturity. We do well to be reminded of the cost of shortcuts in Carl Jung’s penetrating statement, ‘Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.'”

On That Which is Right in Front of Us

Yesterday I shared some pictures from Sojourn’s Spring ReadRetreatServe. For the “read” part of the day, students wrestled with three different perspective on the “act justly” clause of Micah 6:8.

One of the readings was from John Perkins’ book With Justice For All where he outlines the basics of his classic 3 “R’s” for Christian Community Development. One line stood out to me and framed my preparation for the day. Perkins says:

How can we claim to be loyal to Christ’s mission when we flee the mission field at our doorstep.

A couple of thoughts about this…One, we always think the grass is greener on the other side. It’s so much easier to be missional “over there.” Sometimes “over there” is the place we go on a “missions trip.” Sometimes it is the place where we volunteer. Sometimes it is even church. Often it is a form of escapism. It’s easier to go somewhere and get loved on by kids for a day than to deal with our cranky co-worker who makes fun of us for going to church on Sundays.

So, part of this is a call to see where we are: our workplace, our neighborhood, our campus, as our mission field. This is where we are, this is where we do life…live the Kingdom there!

Second, though, is this: sometimes we avoid going because we are comfortable where we are, it’s scary “over there”, the wrong people live over there, etc. So we hide out where we are to avoid getting messy. We hide out at church, in our small groups, and in our activities instead of actually getting to know people who are far from God who live next to us, who work with us, who sit in class alongside us.

So, part of this is a call to take a risk and move outside the walls of comfort.

I needed to hear this. Living in East Boston, it can be easy to see my “mission” field as the campus and the neighborhood simply as a place to live. It can be easy to get frustrated with people who just want to hang out with other people who look like them. I make excuses. I justify myself.

But I live in two worlds, the campus and the neighborhood, and I am called to live faithfully in both places. The kingdom is present and active in both places. Do I see it and do I join it? Not as much as I would like.

Saturday was a good reminder: do not flee the mission field at my doorstep.