Monthly Archives: January 2015

Necesito aprender más palabras

Yesterday, in the cafeteria:

Cafeteria lady: –¿Qué quieres?
Me: –¿Cómo se dice? (points at meatloaf)

Cafeteria lady:–Pastel de carne.

Me: –Sí, por favor. Y también las papitas. ¿Cómo se dice éste? (points at carrots)

Cafeteria lady: –Las zanahorias.

Me: –Sí, damelas, por favor. Y, al fin, un panecito.

Friend behind me in the line: —Did you take Spanish for your foreign language?

Me: Yeah…

When people ask me why I started learning Spanish in college, the short answer is to simply shrug and say, “Uh, I don’t know. I just wanted to learn it.” The long story, though, is that I got hooked with the Spanish language during my freshmen year of college. My school required a foreign language, and since I had just recently taken Latin (yeah for homeschoolers!) in high school, I thought that Spanish (which is derived from Latin) would be pretty easy. Then Christmas break of my freshmen year (after taking one semester of Spanish), I went on a mission trip with my church to Lima, Peru.

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Touristy Part of Lima (Miraflores)

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I and some other people from my church helped the missionaries there put on two Vacation Bible Schools for the kids in the neighborhood, and we also got to do a bit of touristy stuff. My one semester thus far of Spanish meant that I could say: Hello (¡Hola!), good (bueno), thank you (gracias), you’re welcome (de nada), my numbers (uno, dos, tres), a few of the colors (rojo, naranja, azul, amarillo), and some other random words (carro, enferma, perro, etc.). All in all though, I really wasn’t able to effectively communicate with the kids that we were doing the VBS for. However, I knew just enough words that I realized that I could learn a lot more.

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The VBS that I helped with in San Borja, Lima

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What really got me hooked on Spanish during that trip, though, was on the last day of our visit, when the missionaries let us clueless Americans go shopping in that marketplace by ourselves. In most stores, there were fixed prices for everything, but in the marketplaces bartering was the name of the game. And guess who knew the numbers in Spanish? That was me! And then trying to get a taxi ride back to where we staying, guess who had to translate (and almost get us lost too)? That was me again.

00000073In one of the many marketplaces in Lima ^

So, by the time I got back to the States after that trip, I felt a super-strong yet random desire/need to really learn the Spanish language. I ended up taking three more semesters of Spanish. I also invested in an English-Spanish Bible, and in less than a year I had studied enough that I no longer needed the English part to fully understand what was going on. I also found some creative ways to learn new Spanish vocab words in the midst of being super busy with schoolwork:

trepadora, reloj, casaca, zangolotear, caseta

I learned that the easiest way to expose myself to new Spanish words is to just make some pictures with the words and stick them on the desktop of my computer. I also found that I learn the words better if I associate the Spanish word with an image rather than simply having the English translation next to the Spanish. That way, whenever I try to think of the word, I don’t have to first think of it in English, then translate it, to remember it. This is essentially what the Rosetta Stone software does, in that the whole point is that you try to discover the meaning of a word from the context given in a picture, rather than by giving an English translation and making you memorize the Spanish.

I now read in Spanish for several hours each day, as well as take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to practice my Spanish skills, such as in my conversation shown at the start of this post, and also with other friends of mine who want to learn Spanish too. I am fluent yet? No, not even close. Will I survive when I go down to Latin America next year? Yeah, probably, although I may have to go through language school for a while to brush up.

Not only has all of this studying benefited me personally (it will definitely help me when I do go abroad), but it has also opened up doors for me in terms of being missional. As with my conversation in the cafeteria, it helped open up a door for a friendship. Sure, the lady also could speak English, but by showing her that I was interested in learning more of her own native language, I was able to build trust. I’ve also had several opportunities to use my Spanish in lengthy conversations with native speakers. For example, this past summer I went on a really cool mission trip to Guatemala. Because my Spanish skills had drastically increased over the two and a half years since I had gone to Peru, I was able to have a lot more conversations with the kids that we ministered to, the missionaries that we worked with, and everyone else that I came into contact with.

So, am I going to able to become fluent or competent enough to speak Spanish before I head overseas? We will see. I do know, though, that this crazy idea that God put into my heart three years ago now has already resulted in great things being done for his Kingdom, así que sé que Dios tiene un plan con todo esto (so I’m pretty sure that God has a plan with all of this)…

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The Little Things

I’m one of those people who can often get caught up in the big, exciting moments when I can clearly see God doing great things, and yet look over the little things that God is doing when I’m not even looking—little things that can often make just as big of an impact on someone as the big things. I’ve rediscovered that truth several times this past week.

Last semester, just before school started, my school had a big “welcome party” on campus, where all of the clubs had booths, the cafeteria stuff made burgers for everyone, a live band was there, etc. I was walking around, catching up with friends and meeting new people, having a good time. Toward the end of the party, I by chance (well, you could say it was by chance) ran into a young lady (18ish) and her dad, who lived in the apartment complex next to my school. The young lady (we’ll call her Elise) was interested in the school, and since I wanted to be friendly (a.k.a. Missional) I offered to give her a quick tour of the residence halls. I and my buddy Nick showed her my room (cause it has a really cool view of the nature preserve and it’s clean!) and talked with her about her interest in college. We talked for maybe five minutes, after which she went home with her dad, and I never saw her again.

^View from my room of the nature preserve

But then, just a few days ago, I was waiting around the dorms for some people, when one of my friends walked by. “Levi! I just met Elise! She said you were her tour guide.”

“What? I’m not a tour guide? Who’s Elise?”

“You know! Elise! You gave her a tour! She just moved into the residence halls.”

“I don’t know any Elise…I’ve never heard of….oh! That Elise!”

Like I said, those little things (like five minute tours) can make a difference.

So last Saturday, I was on my way back to school in Austin, Texas from my parents’ home in middle-of-nowhere North Carolina, and I was hoping to enjoy a nice, calm, relaxing flight with a little bit of time for looking out the window (the plane was flying right over the Appalachian Mountains) and a little bit of Spanish study time. Yeah right. A perfect missional opportunity (i.e. a chance to reach someone with the Gospel) at my grasp, and I thought God was going to pass it by? No. Let’s be real.

So this flight happened to be completely full, and since I was flying Southwest, I was 100% guaranteed to have two random people sitting in my row. I somehow was one of the first ones on the plane (something that rarely happens to me) and, of course, grabbed the window seat (the Appalachian Mountains did look really awesome), and soon afterward a young lady (maybe four or five years older than me) sat down in the row, with the middle seat open. Eventually, an older lady (probably in her late fifties) squeezed in between the two of us.

We at first had a cheezy, nonchalant conversation about the weather (well, I mean, there were supposed to be ice storms in Texas, so it wasn’t totally boring) and such, and we soon settled back as the plane took off—her flipping through the airline magazine (the one with the really fancy gadgets and knickknacks), and me into some Spanish studying and glancing out the window.

^Appalachian Mountains

Throughout the flight, though, we went back and forth between reading and chitchatting. She had a lot of really cool stories, since she’s retired now, and her kids (spread throughout the USA and Europe) tend to fly her around. She also talked about her faith (Roman Catholicism) and grandchildren. In fact, she talked so much that I barely had a chance to say anything. Poor choice on my part? I don’t think so. First, she had really cool stories. Second, being missional doesn’t mean that I have to dominate the conversation, make it all about faith/Jesus/grace/need for repentance. It’s ok to just listen to people. After all, in being missional, I’m not trying to manipulate people. I genuinely want to show God’s love, which often be expressed best by having an open ear.

Third, I hope that what I did say made a difference. In discussing her faith, it was obviously she didn’t have everything figured out, and, knowing that I wanted to be a missionary, she asked me a few questions (e.g. “Is it ok to watch bad TV?”). Rather than clearly showing the Biblical commands about different theological points, I focused on the most important thing—one’s relationship (i.e. friendship) with God. Whatever impact that God made on her heart with my few but poignant words, I hope that it was a lasting one.

So this semester, as part of my Practicum/internship with LINC Austin I get to help serve food to some homeless people about my age who hang out around the UT campus in downtown Austin. Normally (well, ok, I’ve only done it a few times before now, so nothing about this is “normal” yet) I like to mingle with the street youth. However, this time, there were so many jobs to do in the serving line that I barely managed to pop out from behind the counter. Which meant that the only conversations I could have were brief.

“Hey bro! I like your hat? Are you a Texan fan?”

“Hey! I like your necklace? What’s all the objects mean?”

Did my friendly, brief chats with these street youth make a difference? Better question: Can God use me in whatever situation to bring people closer to being in a relationship with him? Can he do the same with you?

^ Me, and some of my awesome friends, ready to serve food to the street youth this Thursday

Keeping Watch

So last week I talked about eschatology (the end of the world), differing opinions on all of this, and a little bit of what Jesus has to say about all of this. I then mentioned that one of the most important things that Jesus mentioned was not the actual details of his coming back/how the world ends (although that stuff is definitely important and makes for a fun conversation–just not right now), but what we (as Christians/God’s forgiven people/sinners saved by grace, etc) can be doing while we wait for him to get back. I concluded that we can definitely be busy sharing the gospel (the good news of Jesus).

Now, besides what I said last week, there’s another thing that I would like to point out from what Jesus said in Matthew 24-25. Near the end of chapter 24 (verse 42, quoted here from the NIV, to be precise) he says: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Kind of ambiguous, right? Then Jesus tosses in a quick little parable about each of us being like a servant watching at the door for the master to return (translation: we’re like Alfred waiting for Batman–Jesus–to get back, but we know the garage door opener isn’t working, so we have to be on our toes to crank the thing open the moment he comes roaring back in his batmobile). So…we’re supposed to be watching…for Jesus to come back…by doing what, exactly? Like I said, kind of ambiguous.

Which is why Jesus takes all of chapter 25 to explain what we are to be doing (in addition to sharing the Gospel) while waiting for him to get back (in clouds, not a batmobile, in case you were wondering).

Really quick: being the good Lutheran that I am, I need to make sure that I make here the proper distinction between Law and Gospel so y’all don’t get too terrified or become motivated out of fear. What Jesus is talking about here is not stuff that we have to do to get his favor when he returns, but stuff that we get to do out of gratitude and joy because of what God did for us (giving us forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus). En otras palabras, no somos el pueblo redimido de Dios porque hacemos estas cosas. Al contrario, hacemos estas cosas porque somos el pueblo redimido de Dios. (English translation: In other words, we are not the redeemed people of God because we do these things. We do these things because we are the redeemed people of God.) We’re motivated by what Jesus did for us, rather than us having to do stuff for him. Sound theology–check. Showed off Spanish skills–another check. OK…moving on….

So in chapter 25, Jesus lays out 3 of some of his most popular parables: The Parable of the Ten Virgins, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. These all help to put into more concrete terms what Jesus meant by “watching”. A big problem, though, is when people only look at one of these parables by itself (a.k.a. using Scripture out of context) rather than viewing them as a whole.

So the Ten Virgins (five were wise and were ready when batman, er, Jesus-figure comes back; five were foolish and weren’t ready), despite the various opinions that I have seen on this parable, really can be summed up by Jesus’ own summation at the very end (verse 13, NIV): “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the hour or the day.” So, once again, we have to be watching. AMBIGUOUS! But then the next parable starts to clear stuff up: the Parable of the Talents (Jesus-figure gives his servants/employees different amounts of money, tells them to invest it, some do, one doesn’t, Jesus-figure returns and praises those who made good use of what he gave them, but isn’t happy about lazy guy), as I see it, is partially summed up in verse 29 (“For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”), but (at least I think) could be summed as saying: “Keep watch by making the best out of what God has given you.”

Since God has all given us stuff (time, possessions, connections, resources, money, whatever), as redeemed people of God we can express our gratitude to God by being good stewards of what he has given us, using what we have for his kingdom and his glory. But how does that work, exactly? I’m glad you asked. That’s what the next parable is all about.

So: Keep watch. Keep watching by making the best out of what God has given you. And: Keep watching, making the best, etc., by helping those in need. So I somewhat misspoke when I said that there were three parables in this chapter. A parable is a metaphorical story used to illustrate some theological point. But the Sheep and the Goats account is actually more of a story (i.e. Jesus is saying what’s actually going to happen). Jesus tells how he will come back, sit on his throne, everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY) gathers around, and Jesus says, “YEAH! Good job! Thanks for helping me out!” to one crowd, God’s redeemed people. God’s people are like “Huh? What are you talking about? We’ve never actually seen you before Jesus! How could we have fed, clothed, or visited you? Then Jesus says to them in verse 40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Translation: What we do now for the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, and the prisoners, we’re also doing for God. One way that we keep watch is by doing the best with what we have to help the poor.

Real life example: SO, this there’s really cool organization that I work for (well, I don’t actually get paid, although it is kind of an internship for school) is called LINC Austin, and it’s all about what I just spent 990 some words to talk about: helping the poor. As the name implies, they’re based in Austin, Texas, and their mission is to reach out to the homeless and impoverished in Austin, as well as gather the community together to let them together help these people. As an intern with LINC Austin, I get to do all kinds of fun stuff. One thing I do is go downtown with LINC about twice a month to lead church groups in handing out sack lunches to homeless people and (more importantly) starting conversations with the people to form relationships and remind that they, even though we love to label them as “homeless” people, they are still people. Por ejemplo, un foto (for example, a photo):

^Me, with some friends, doing street outreach in downtown Austin, Texas.

Even though there’s a lot of work put into this, as well as all of the other LINC Austin programs and such, my point here is not to show off how snazzy I am for getting a cool internship, but for showing what you (yes you reading this) can do. This “program” of handing out sack lunches to homeless people was started a few years ago by a bunch of college students who wanted to make a difference. Whenever they could get some money together (not a lot–often just $20-30) they shrewdly bought some food, put it together into sack lunches, and handed it out to the homeless. The key, however, is the conversations that were started. Feeding these people is definitely important. But what’s also equally important is building relationships with these people as well as simply affirming that they’re people, too, just like you and me.

So guess what…you can do something too. You can be watching for Jesus’ return (out of gratitude, not fear) by sharing what you have with those in need, communicating the gospel message not only with your words, but also with your actions. Maybe not by passing out sack lunches–there are plenty of ways to help and form relationships with the poor. It doesn’t take a lot of money. It doesn’t take a lot of people. You (or better put, God working through you) can right now do something with whatever God has given you to make a difference and change someone’s life. Watch. Use your stuff wisely. Help the poor. Not quite so ambiguous.

Another option for internship!

So in addition to the two missionary organizations that I’m in communication with (as I mentioned in a previous post), I’m also now in contact with LCMS World Missions about me doing my internship in Latin America, probably followed by permanently being called as a missionary! From the little that they’ve communicated to me so far, they seem like they would be a good fit for me. For my internship I would be working directly under a mentor as a part of a team of missionaries. I love this idea, since team ministry has always appealed to me a lot more than working solo, especially after having amazing team experiences in both my camp and youth ministries adventures. They also have a lot of opportunities for where I could be placed. We’ll see where God takes me with all of this.

Missing the Point

I was driving from my school in Austin to the Dallas area over this past Thanksgiving break to visit one of my siblings, and, although I was mostly keeping my eye on the congested roads (hurray for holiday traffic!), one particular billboard caught my attention. It was one of those “End of the World” prediction announcements (like the one we had back in 2011, 2000, 1995, and…you get the idea), telling all of the world (or at least anyone driving north on I-35) that Jesus is going to come back on some day in September 2028ish. Now I could spend the whole rest of this post arguing against this line of thought and arguing for my particular understanding of eschatology (fancy word for the end times). However, I quite possibly could then be (as the owners of this sign perhaps are) missing the point of Jesus’ words about all of this. Let’s see what the Bible says:

So when reading through the last parts of the Gospel of Matthew, people often can nod and approve of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and flipping over tables (Matthew chapter 21), Jesus debating with the chief priests and elders (21-22), and Jesus pronouncing several “woes” on the teachers of the Law/Pharisees (23). But then you get to the puzzling, dividing, awe-striking chapter of 24 (and also 25) that can leave people scratching their heads, when Jesus is confronted by his disciples with the following question in verse 3 (from the NIV): “…when will this [i.e. the destruction of the temple] happen, and what will be the sign of your coming of of the end of the age?”

I could talk for hours about this entire passage, but I want to focus on one thing in particular, one thing that we often skip over. As Jesus talks throughout the next two chapters about his coming and what that will and will not look like, he mentions two key things that he does not simply command, but he assumes that his followers on earth will be doing while they’re waiting: Being his witnesses in all the world, and using their God-given talents and resources to help the needy (I’ll talk about this topic later, also).

Jesus talks about in verses 9-14 about his followers will be persecuted for their faith, will be rejected, and will be hated by all nations. Nice and cheery. But get this: in that midst of all of that “cheeriness”, Jesus makes it clear that he expects (he isn’t directly commanding here) that his disciples will at the same time be sharing their, sharing their testimony, sharing the amazing good news (i.e. the Gospel) that all people can have a restored relationship with their Creator because of the sufferings, death, and resurrection of God’s only Son (Jesus), and that that relationship can last for forever (a.k.a. eternal life). Like he says in verse 14 (from the NIV): “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations…”

So is eschatology and the study thereof important? I think so. But before we get into the whos, whens, hows, wheres, and whats of Jesus’ return, let’s focus on the most important thing: making sure other people are ready for his return, not by scaring them with deadlines or apocalyptic dates, but by sharing our hope in Jesus with them.