Monday, December 25, 2006

Egg Nog, Family and a lot of Turkey

Christmas day is coming to a close for me and I have to say that I am riduculously full of holiday goodies (and a huge root beer float). And I have concluded that this is a good thing, a very good thing.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Of British Columbia and Beirut

ONTARIO - I am now in one of the sprawling suburbs of Toronto. It is great to be with my family and see my friends. There is just something so familiar about it all. That familiarity reminds me, that despite my stint in BC for college and now being an official resident for 2 months, I remain very Ontarianized. It felt great to be on a highway with more than 4 lanes where you can drive 130 km/h and still get passed (and by passed I really mean cut off) by numerous business people in cars and multi-tasking hockey moms in minivans. And though it feels wonderful to have Pizza Pizza, Second Cup's galore, people who truly love the festive special and streets that do not resmeble mathematic equations, I must admit, I do miss the mountains.

In my attempts to remain connected to the Lower Mainland I have been watching the weather. We BC residents have had a rough go of it this December. While watching the news about the plight of Stanley Park, I was struck by how many people kept comparing the downed trees and damaged property to a war zone. One man even went as far as to say it looked like the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Now, I do recognize that this winter has not been fun-filled for BC Hydro crews. I too was without power for 2 days (I had honed my no-power survival skills during the great Ontarian blackout). And I admit that the Christmas tree I had was of my own doing and not because my neighbours 50 foot tree fell through my roof straight into my living room.

All of this made me question, how well do we Canadians, North Americans, Westerners etc. truly understand suffering? For a good number of people this unfortuante foliage incident will be their greatest hardship all year. In the global scheme of things, even those who are suffering in Canada are far better off than a large portion of the world's population (that is not to say we should neglect those in need here in our own home).

What does it mean to suffer?

At this time of year we all look at the things we do NOT have and that we simply can NOT live without - and then we tell our friends to get us them as a gift. Funny how we were doing just fine last month without it... Gifts are wonderful expressions of love so don't go trading them all in. But in the end, we must remember it is all just stuff.

Most of the people I would identify as not just happy (a state of excitrement which comes and goes), but who are truly content (not complaicent), are the people who often have the least. Being content would mean that I could lose everything and still be alright. Conversely, I could double everything I own and still be the same person. The amount of things I possess should not redefine whether I am happy or sad.

What does it look like to be content?

This Christmas I intend to take some time to evaluate my contentedness. May this Christmas be filled with family, friends, moments worth remembering, blazing fireplaces, songs, cookies and all of the simple joys that make life that much more special.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Turkish Teachable Moments

I arrived back in Canada yesterday and am I ever jet lagged! There is just something special about being wide awake at 2am!

Turkey is a beautiful country. The history, architecture and natural beauty is simply phenomenal. Attending the Eurasian Missions Conference was a great opportunity to connect and learn. There were numerous moments of learning that happened on my little jaunt to the other side of the world.

TEACHABLE MOMENT #1: Missionaries are real people - I think in Christian circles we have a tendency to put certain people on trophy shelves - in our own subculture we create larger-than-life Christian celebrities. It is still very odd to hear the title "missionary", and all that it entails, attached to my name. After all, 8 months ago I was "Matt the Student". Being able to sit down with a group of missionaries and listen to their stories, ask questions and observe them in everyday life was a great reminder that missionaries are real people who simply live out their faith in a different cultural context. Regardless of my title, I am still me and I am doing what I am supposed to do - no trophy shelves, no molds to fit into.

TEACHABLE MOMENT #2: The intrigue of Islam - Before visiting Turkey I had never been to an explicitly Muslim nation. Being awoken by the call to prayer and seeing a mosque on almost every street corner was a new experience. Amber and I had two opportunities to be inside a mosque during afternoon prayers. It was humbling to see the intensity of the people's devotion as they paused in their day to pray. This experience was so sensory that I find it hard to capture in words. The feeling of the floor under my feet. The coolness of the air resulting from the massive vaulting stone ceilings. The sound of the call to prayer haunting me (in a good way) as it echoes across the city. The rustle of clothing as dozens of people bow, kneel and stand while praying. It was remarkable to see how our faiths are worlds apart and yet not asexcitementas I had thought.

TEACHABLE MOMENT #3: Scams...we all for them - I would like to think of myself as a seasoned traveller who is now street savvy in a numbecomplacentts, but I was outsmarted several times on the streets of Istanbul. These shiny moments include paying for things in Euro'shaverth lots) when I thought I was paying in Lira (worth less) and when Amber caught a small boy reaching into my bag. I'd like to think that I would have caught him, but to be honest if Amber would not have told me then I probably would have never known that a little hand was in my bag. For the record, he got nothing out of it. The piece de resistance came on the Galata Bridge when a shoe shiner dropped his brush. I picked it up and gacontentedness the man. He then grabbed my feet and began shining my shoes. I thought he was returning the favour until he asked for money. I was going to be cheap and hand him change but decided to give him some "papercookies- by his request. As I opened my wallet he just reached in and pulled out 10 Euro (which is like $15 Canadian). I tried to grab it back because a 2 minute shoe shine is not worth $15 Canadian. He then said that 10 Euro was not enough and told me if I gave him 20 Euro he would give me 10 in change...think about that. I declined his offer, told him to keep the 10 and we left. The moral of this story is that we are all human and that no matter how smart you think you are, there is always someone smarter (or more smart for you grammar buffs).

TEACHABLE MOMENT #4: Just let it go - connected to teachable moment #3 I give you teachable moment #4. I had a hard time with shoe shine man ripping me off. If I am going to be completely transparent; I was ticked and a good part of me wanted to go back, find him and throw his brush, which had just polished my shoes - which aren't even real leather, into the Bosphorus River. That night as I went to bed, and a little the next morning when I awoke, I had to talk to God about this situation. I was annoyed that someone had taken advantage of me, but even more so that this man's first thought when he saw me was "how can I take advantage of the foreigner?". I have concluded that this man is probably in more need of that 10 Euro's than I was and that God told me He will take care of me - so if I need 10 Euro's for something vital, then I'll just have to trust that He'll help me out. BUT, the big lesson is in saying and doing. Often I tell God "I need / want for You to deal with this situation". Then, because I am human and a man, I do not give God control of the situation. With my mouth I give Him permission to do what He wants, but my emotions, thoughts and heart ensure my finger prints are all over it. So, my lesson is: when I say something to God I need to follow through with some action (or inaction). Trust is not just a matter of believing God can take care of it, but rather acting in a manner which shows I know God is taking care of it.

TEACHABLE MOMENT #5: In process - as we were leaving Turkey, Amber and I had to do an 8 hour layover through the night in Ataturk International Airport. We had tried to make a little base camp where we could sleep while guarding our luggage. The plan was going well until a very old Turkish man flopped himself down beside Amber. His wife was not far behind and suddenly Amber and I found ourselves forced out of our quasi-comfortable sleeping positions into an upright, sitting side-by-side position with our stuff and this elderly couple to our left. Usually, I am more than happy to give up a seat for someone I think needs it more, but at 3am I was annoyed that this couple had walked past a sea of empty chairs only to uproot our very nicely arranged makeshift camp. Secondly, this couple was not a cute elderly couple. Most of the time I see two aged individuals strolling along holding hands and I look forward to that for myself. This couple was not that kind of couple. They talked loudly, smelt like fetta or some other sort of Eurasian based cheese and loudly mashed their food exclusively with their gums and lips (while sipping orange Fanta). It was the kind of chewing where the tongue comes out of the mouth often as if the taste buds at the front of the tongue are worn down so the ones at the back have to be brought forward for full taste enjoyment. It was not long until Amber and I packed up and set out for new ground. At this point in time I am not really sure what the life lesson is here, but with an experience like this I choose to believe something will come of it - something has to come of it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

1/4 a Reverand

It has been an eventful 11 days here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Amber and I attended an ordination conference just outside the town of Chilliwack. In order to get ordained in BC you have to attend four ordination conferences - I have now completed one, so mathematically I think I am 1/4 of a revere and!

The conference was a great chance to learn and to meet new people. It was also a chance to marvel at the wrath of the storm clouds overhead. I am sure many of you saw the overly full Chilliwack river on your televisions (I know you did, I had to drive past the news trucks). We saw roads get washed out and watched a man shovel unfortunate fish off of his driveway where the river had been the day before. Apparently, 200 cows were swept away, but I did not observe any aquatic bovine. That weekend we attended a wedding in Kelowna. This involved a snow-filled drive through the mountains. Yesterday, the strong winds had their way with most of the province. Thousands of people have been left without power or telephone. I am still waiting for power to return to my home, but have found a nearby Starbucks which has equipped me with a source of electricity, an indoor shelter with functioning heaters, and an endless supply of Christmas flavoured goodies. I survived the great Ontario blackout so this is all old hat to me.
Amber and I spoke at Ladner Christian Fellowship's youth group last night. I am convinced that we drove through at least 4 monsoons and Lake Ladner (also known as the church parking lot) to get there, but I am so glad we did. This youth group was so much fun - I think I laughed more than everyone else. Both Amber and I left feeling so encouraged. It is amazing how God can flip a situation around on you. We went there expecting to encourage / share with a group of people, but by the time we left, it was us who felt encouraged. God is good. I know that sounds cliche and simplistic, but really He is just great.

PRAYER REQUEST: Amber and I will be attending the Eurasian Missions Conference in Turkey. We are leaving in just a few days and will return at the beginning of December. During our time here we are hoping to connect with missionaries from around the world. This is especially significant as we look towards the second portion of our apprenticeship overseas. Please pray that God would make the connections that will not only enrich our lives, but that we somehow can be helpful to those who are currently serving overseas.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

The Bare Necessities

As of November 1 I have been a resident of Surrey, British Columbia. I have officially secured a place to live and am renting a lovely, though highly green, basement suite. It really is an answer to prayer as it is in a great location, provides me with easy highway access to get to the District Office in Langley, is not too far from Amber, is relatively spacious and has a dishwasher (which is amazing since dish washing is one of my least favourite household chores). Life is beginning to take on a more solid feel - less transitional and more like my life is grounded here. Everyone needs a homebase to function out of - mine just happens to be decked out in green. I like to think of it as "Matthew and the Huge Granny Smith Apple" (rather than James and his Giant Peach).

At the beginning of the month Amber and I had the opportunity to attend a conference called "Young Mavericks". It is geared towards young people involved in, or looking to be involved in, entrepreneuring business ventures. The conference featured a variety of accomplished speakers who not only took the time to present their experiences, but sat down with those in attendance to discuss ideas one-on-one. I cannot say how much I enjoyed this time. Missions has changed and in my opinion a lot of missional work is driven by a highly entreprenurial spirit. This conference sparked some great ideas in my head and changed my thinking on a lot of topics.

Christians should be leading the pack in creative new ventures. God is the most creative force ever. Innovation, imagination and implementation should be a part of everyone's Christian lifestyle. This first week of November has been great not only because I have covered some of the basic necessities of life (housing), but because I have been challenged to think bigger than I would on my own.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Famous Last Words

When I was younger I vowed that I would never go to Bible College - though I just graduated from Summit Pacific College (Bible College) in April. As a teenager I promised myself I would never work in any form of Christian vocation - though I am now preparing to be a missionary. When I finally accepted God's not-so-subtle nudges and agreed to go to Bible College and study to become a misisonary I swore that I would never be the missionary who travels speaking and showing pictures - tonight that dream came to an end.

I had the opportunity to share with the young adults group at Living Waters Assembly in Fort Langley (which the young adults pastor as hails the best looking group of people around). It really was a great time. I had been asked to share a little insight into my time in India and pictures just seemed so sure enough, there I was, the guest speaker, showing pictures of my missionary endeavours. For the record, it was only a few pictures and I did not give a play-by-play of each photograph.

All this goes to show that God has a much better plan than I do. A lot of the time I want to know exactly what is coming and what I should do next - I want the big picture...ALL OF IT! But, if God would have told me five years ago what I would be doing on the evening of October 29, 2006 I would have laughed out loud and then probably pulled some sort of Jonah-esque escape and evade maneuver. It makes me even more excited when I stop and think about what may come in the next five years.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

She Said YES!

Well folks the nearly unthinkable has taken place...insert suspense...last night, atop Burnaby Mountain (which provides a lovely view of the mountains, ocean and downtown Vancouver), Miss Amber Wilson agreed to marry me! I can hardly believe it myself! Needless to say it was romantic and wonderful. I am very proud that I genuinely surprised her. The night was not without surprises for me as well. As we were leaving , and I was getting into the car, a lady backed right into us. It was one of those "is this really happening" type moments. Thus, the very first people we announced our engagement to was two random strangers in a parking lot. I must say it makes for a great story though.

It is so incredibly exciting to know that Amber and I are just one step closer to working together in missions. It changes everything to know that you will never face things alone.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oh Canada

I am officially back on Canadian soil. I arrived in British Columbia on October 12 and have been surprisingly busy ever since. I must say that it is far too COLD here! I guess I became more accustomed to the weather in India than I was aware of. What makes me more sad is that I have already caught a cold after only being back for a few days. I mean, what kind of Canadian am I if I cannot even handle the month of October?!

My missions apprenticeship has officially begun. I have been into the office and even helped with a small youth ministries event. Not bad for my first weekend back! The search for an apartment / basement suite / roomy card board box has also kicked into high gear. My girlfriend has also been kind of enough to bless me with a mode of transportation…just imagine me, at 6 feet, 2 inches, cruising around in a white Geo Metro – a funny mental image I know.

Now that I am back, life in Canada does not seem like such a foreign idea. I am struck by how in some ways life has not changed, while in others the differences are undeniable. Regardless, I am very excited for whatever this fall season has in store. One of the best parts about being a Christian (in my opinion) is that the adventure is never over. Whether overseas or at home, God always has something more in store for us.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Final Glimpse at the City of Joy

You should see the city tonight.

Durga puja is in full swing (it is a Hindu religious festival celebrating the goddess Durga which is embraced by everyone as a national holiday. It is kind of like how Christmas is a Christian celebration that results in a holiday for everyone). The festivities put our celebrations of Christmas to shame. From my rooftop perspective the streets appear as one streaming river of people – I am convinced that if I were to stand still amongst the crowd that I would be carried along with them.

There is music filling every corridor of the city. The sounds of celebration can be heard echoing off the buildings until the early hours of the morning. Pandels, massive temporary shrines made from bamboo and fabric designed to look like real buildings, have been squeezed into every available space, even spanning over roads. Strings of lights have been draped from roof top to roof top and fluorescent tube lights have been hung in trees. People are laughing in the company of their friends and family as they walk from pandal to pandal. The streets look like runways in a fashion show as most people sport their new clothes, the traditional gift of this particular puja. Kolkata is wrapped in all her finery.

When I first arrived in Kolkata, three months seemed like such a long time – a quarter of a year to be exact. Yet, here I am three months later and I marvel at how quickly time has passed by. In just a few hours, in the early morning hours of October 1 to be exact, I will board a plane to begin the first leg of my journey home.

In my heart I know that God is doing something wonderful in Kolkata amongst its millions of Hindu and Muslim believers.

I have been thinking a lot about the love of God lately. It is just so beyond me. Think about it - His love is so great that even forever is not enough to thank Him for it. More than that, love is not something that God does or has, but rather God is love – it is who He is. In my own life, if I do not love, then it means that I do not really know God.

What does God see when He sees these masses of people filling the streets of Kolkata? And how is what I see different from His perspective? I have no doubt that if everyone could have but a taste of God’s love that they would never go elsewhere again.
For God so loved the world…

Tonight I leave Kolkata in the midst of its singing and its dancing and its lights. Tonight I realize that the heart of this city is not a place or a district, rather it is the people who know move through its arteries. Tonight I marvel at the connection between my heart, Kolkata’s heart, and the heart of God.

As I go, Kolkata comes with me in my heart, my thoughts and my prayers.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Exit Monsoons - Who Knew?

Here I sit in my little apartment and I am surrounded by buckets, towels and drops of water. Last week we had nothing but wonderful sunshine. This week is a whole new story. The rains have returned in force and I have become an expert at wading through flooded streets. Apparently this is the “exit monsoon”. The monsoons travel north from the Indian Ocean sweeping across the country on their way in. Then they hit the Himalayan mountains and bounce back dowsing the people of India on their way out – hence an exit monsoon.

In a mere 8 days I board a plane and head west. To be honest I am very torn. Before reaching Canada I am making two pitstops. I will be visiting friends in Thailand and Australia. Exploring new places and seeing old friends is always wonderful and I am very excited. Also, it will be good to return home and see my friends and family. There is always something inviting about going home. At the same time, I have a sense of sadness about leaving Kolkata. This city is intoxicating and there is just something about the culture and life here that gets into your blood. I have also made some great friends – does anybody really like goodbyes?

I really am caught between being excited to go and wanting to stay. I want to stay and continue to invest in relationships I have built (especially with my thalassemia kids and new Hindu friends). I want to see some of the work I have started through to completion (which would require me to be here in December…not quite possible). I have made some great memories here – for example: my friend got us tickets to the Sunfeast WTA Open. I have been developing my love for tennis. I even got Martina Hingis’ signature – I also lost it a few hours later while carrying a friend on my back through a puddle / small lake where a sidewalk normally should be.

At the same time to return to Canada and sit with friends and talk will be wonderful. My heart beats a little faster when I think about seeing my special someone. I look forward to eating a blizzard from Dairy Queen (though I do recognize I will probably freeze while doing so). Stepping into my role as a Missions Apprentice is something that I have been really thrilled for. Life feels like it is moving ahead and will hit warp speed once I am back in the lower mainland.

A joke has developed amongst the people I work with here. I was supposed to go to Darjeeling by train to assess some medical facilities there. I am told that this is usually the best time of year to go and I was UNBELIEVABLY excited to go to Darjeeling. However, the monsoons are late this year and brought heavy rains. These rains brought landslides which took out both highways and both train routes that lead to Darjeeling…insert disappointment here. Also, as many of you are aware I’m sure, there has been a little political unrest in Thailand. Furthermore, 5 Canadians were just arrested in Australia for attempting to bring in a large amount of drugs (5th largest drug bust in Australia’s history). To make things better, the leader of the group is a young man from Abbotsford, British Columbia. So the joke is that everywhere I intend to go has met with misfortune!

Kolkata has become even more alive over the past few weeks. We are almost in the middle of the Hindu religious celebrations. The months of September and October are filled with celebrations called “pujas”. Almost every weekend a different god is honoured. Last week the god of creation and tools was celebrated. The most fascinating part of this practice was that taxi drivers decorated their cabs with marigolds and palm fronds because that is the tool they use in their trade. The second largest celebration, “durga puja”, will begin on September 28. I look forward to seeing all that it involves. Be sure to pray for the people of Kolkata. Bengali’s are a highly spiritual people and with everything inside of me I want them to know the truth of God.

So to recap: I am excited to return home and yet I still feel like there is still so much I could do here. YET, I know that I will not always see the end results of all of my work and I am confident that God will find a way to finish what He used me to start – He is bigger than me after all. Also, if you have a moment, and you think of it, please do mention me to God in your prayers as I journey home.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Crap Happens - Especially when I am not Looking Where I'm Walking

*I apologize in advance that this update is so lengthy, but I promise you will get a few laughs at my expense out of it if you read all the way to the end…

I seem to start a lot of these updates like this, but WOW it’s been a while since I’ve posted! My reasoning of course – life got busy! Over the past two weeks I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to get to know the directors of Calcutta Mercy Ministry. There was a big meeting here so everyone came. It was a wonderful learning experience to work with such experienced, involved, smart and fun people. My days consisted of visiting lot’s of good restaurants for work breaks and a couple late nights.

I definitely felt like I was a minor leaguer playing in the majors. There were times when I would look around the table I was sitting at and there would be doctors, CEO’s, corporate entrepreneurs, and ambassadors. I was reminded of an activity book I had as a child where there would be four apples and one orange and then it would ask “which one of these is not like the others?” In the end, it was a great opportunity just to sit, observe, listen and learn. Let’s face it, if I tried to match wits with this crowd it would be like showing up with a pellet gun to a tank battle.

This past weekend I had an unbelievable experience. I was able to travel to the town of Puri in the neighbouring state of Orissa with a pastor named Phillip (who is a great guy). So late Friday night we boarded a train and 11 hours later we arrived (whatever mental image you just had about trains in India I assure you it was actually a great trip). Though the distance we covered is relatively small, Puri is nothing like Kolkata. It is right on the ocean and there are palm trees, beaches, warm breezes, no humidity and the most intense sun I have ever felt in my life! So in a place like this we could not commit to all work and no play…

Armed with only my boxer shorts I went swimming in the Bay of Bengal. I am certain that I am the whitest body to grace those waves since Captain Ahab pursued Moby… Swimming here is quite the experience in itself. There is something unique about the current and ocean floor in this part of the Indian Ocean which makes for some unpredictable ocean behaviour. The current and undertow is remarkably strong. You will be swimming in 15 feet of water and the next thing you know you are standing on the ocean floor only to be knocked over by a massive wave. The waves were moving into the shore and were also travelling parallel to the beach – I don’t know how.

To guide you away from the dangerous spots you hire a swim boy (not a “buoy” as I originally thought). Our swim boy, Narain, was there to offer advice on where to swim, protect our belongings on the beach, stand guard with a large rubber tube if he had to save us and offer us a Coke if need be (I later learned that “come in and have a cold Coke” is really code for “I saw a shark and want you out of the water without causing you to panic”). I was never offered a Coke.

The hospital had sent me to do some research on the medical services offered in this town and the surrounding villages. I was able to visit a number of schools, churches, hospitals and village clinics. Though I was on official hospital business, I took some time to sit down with local pastors and even had a chance to preach at two “churches” in the fishing villages. These villages were like nothing I have ever seen before. I seriously lack the vocabulary to help you understand the poverty I saw. Just imagine thousands of refugees from another state (I mean literally 10,000 to 14,000 adults in each village). Some did not have power. There were small thatch homes sprawling along the shoreline for as far as I could see. The people here survive by fishing from small hand-crafted boats.

Konark, the first fishing village I went to, made a strong impression on me for a number of reasons. There are about 10,000 adults that can be counted in this village so you know the actual number is much higher. There is one road that leads into the village. There is a canal that separates Konark from the rest of the shoreline. The only bridge to cross this canal was washed away about a month ago during the monsoons. So we all hiked up our pants, put on our flip-flops and waded our way into Konark. I later learned that this canal is actually the waste water from a fish plant that the government does not recognize otherwise it would have to deal with its illegal dumping of untreated waste into the ocean.

As I walked through the village I am sure I was wide-eyed. For the record, so were a lot of the villagers as they saw me stroll by. By the time we arrived at where the church was going to be held (an open space between a few of the thatch huts) I had stepped into a pile of poop – and not so much stepped, but more caught it mid-stride. There were two negatives to this. First, it was still warm and I could feel it on my bare skin. Second, there were a number of mammals, including dogs, pigs, goats, and people, making use of the ground as a toilet. So I cannot even tell you who or what produced the pile I was sporting on my right big toe. When the local pastor’s wife saw, she went and got a HUGE container of water and cleaned me off using the water and a stick broom. She was so thorough that I was clean (and wet) up to my knees on both legs.

After service it came time to cross the canal once more to return to our jeep. Now, the thing about no electricity is that it is hard to see in the dark. However, I must say the sky was littered with the most stars I have ever seen in my life! During our time in the village the change in tides had caused the canal to become more of a sizeable river; but what other choice did we have. As we crossed, Pastor Phillip was walking ahead of me with the flashlight. A few of the villagers were escorting us to make sure we made it through okay.

As I was about mid-stream, the villagers began to yell in a clearly panicked tone of voice. In Konark they speak Telugu. I however do not. So I was not sure what they were saying but I knew it was something bad. The next thing I knew, Pastor Phillip, who speaks Telugu, had taken off running for the other shore leaving me in the dark. I was not left to stand there long as one of the villagers grabbed me by the wrist and soon enough I too was running for the shore. When we all reached the other side and I asked for an explanation, Pastor Phillip explained that massive waves were coming up the canal from the ocean and the villagers were worried that the undertow would drag us out to sea (as has happened before). When I shone the light on the canal there was not even a ripple on the water. Everyone present assured me there were waves, but I guess I will never know if my life was really in danger or if it was all a good laugh at the foreigner’s expense.

All the adventures aside, it really was a great time with the churches. I was able to preach both in Konark and in a larger fishing village which had a church building. Besides their faith these people have nothing, and yet they are so happy. The time of singing was lively. Their prayers were sincere. Every person present gave in the offering (think about that). After the services I was literally mobbed by people asking me to pray for them. They prayed for everything. I was even asked to pray over fishing nets and oil which they would use to anoint their boats. They believe that God is in control of every aspect of their life. I met a lady who prays 18 hours everyday for the church and her village. The people of the church support her.

Who would have thought that when God said His grace is sufficient to sustain, He wasn’t kidding around.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

T-Minus 1 Month and Counting

UNBELIEVABLE! It really is hard for me to believe that September 30th will be my last full day here in Kolkata - it just seems incredibly close and far away all at the same time! What is even more strange is that September has traditionally marked the beginning of the school year for most of my life. I must admit it feels odd, and GREAT, to not be counting down to the beginning of classes! Hoorah for graduating!

With my time here two-thirds completed I cannot help but find myself wondering what October will bring. I have no doubt that there will be some amazing adventures. I have the opportunity to visit friends in both Thailand and Australia as I make my way back to Canadian soil. Honestly, there is no way that seeing old friends in new countries could ever be a bad combination!

Adjusting back to life in Canada is sure to be an adventure in itself. Recently a team from The Queensway Cathedral, in Toronto Ontario, visited Kolkata. I got to spend some time with them and the team lovingly informed me, to my great surprise, that I have picked-up some Indian mannerisms and expressions during my time here. I have no doubt that some jokes are going to be made at my expense once I am home. Also, I have actually been cold here in the mornings and have caught myself heading out with a long-sleeve shirt and hat on. So my arrival in British Columbia in the middle of October could be problematic!

More than the change in culture and climate, my return home marks a whole new life-chapter for me - the post-college years have begun! I am excited to officially begin my time as a Missions Apprentice with the B.C./Yukon District. Furthermore, I have been invited to attend a missions conference in Turkey in the month of November (meaning I would be leaving Canada after only being home for a month). It would be a great learning experience and a chance to meet the missionaries under whom I could potentially work alongside for the second and third years of my apprenticeship. Now that is exciting! I do admit that I have been wrestling with a certain amount of angst that has accompanied this anticipation. By nature, I am a planner and, yes, at times even a worrier.

I recently was talking with a college friend from Westbank. This friend had just received my brochure and I was quick to tell them that I did not expect my college friends to support me financially, but to pray for me and make sure that I still take time to smile (students have enough financial strains to worry about after all). This friend stopped me and informed me that they were actually seriously praying about financially supporting me. They reminded me that it is God who provides - however and through whomever He chooses. Who am I to limit God. For the record, this is not to say that I now expect all of my college friends to scrounge up some support.

There have been moments where doubts flood my thoughts: where will I live? how am I going to be able to afford an apartment? will I be able to get a part-time job? will I be able to afford to go to that missions conference? what about your student debt? The worst doubt is questioning whether coming to India was a good idea - after all most Missions Apprentices use the summer months to raise support, not go overseas. Suddenly the phrase "drowning in a sea of doubt" does not seem so melodramatic.

It is in those moments of doubt-drowning that I need to remind myself that God is bigger than all of that. Just as my friend reminded me, He is in control. Sometimes I hear "God will provide" so often that I allow it to become cliche, but there is solid truth in that saying. God is not a jerk and I believe that obedience will never lead to regret. So it is in those moments that I am reassured by the fact that God is not going to call me to a task just to abandon me as soon as I obey. I also take a moment to survey the lives of the Christians around me - I am quickly reminded of how blessed I already am.

Will October and the months and years to follow be challenging? Probably. Will I still wrestle with doubt? Certainly. Will I listen to the song "His Eye is on the Sparrow" on repeat for hours? Most definitely. Will I be amazed time after time as I watch God provide for me however He sees fit? Undoubtedly.

Friday, August 25, 2006

You Don't Say

WOW - time is flying! I cannot believe that I am approaching the two-month mark here in Kolkata. I realized that I have not really kept everyone up to date on what I have been doing. I still work with children who have thalassemia and leukemia - they are still the highlight of my day. As of late I have been working with children who have received corrective surgeries for cleft palate and cleft lip. Also, I have been spending time at a school for blind children located on the edge of Kolkata. My work for the hospital has involved a lot of working with people and administration - it often feels like paperwork with a heart coupled with a lot of one-on-one relational ministry!

The monsoon season is starting to come to a close...this is both good and bad. I must admit that I enjoy not wondering if I might have to swim back when I go out - however, I do not enjoy the increase in temperature that has arrived. I forgot how warm the sun can be! Health wise I am doing well - actually this past week has been the very first time since coming to India that I have felt "ill" shall we say... I am on the mend now and am ever so thankful for that!

Life here in the city really is exciting. Kolkata has a quality to it - a personality - all it's own. I enjoy going out with friends in the evening and walking down the bustling streets while music (because there is always music playing somewhere) drifts over the sound of car horns and vendors. Kolkata is affectionately called "the city of joy" and the sense of community, even amongst strangers, is so evident as I stroll along - usually sipping tea from a clay cup which you can purchase almost every ten feet.

A new favourite spot of mine is the roof of the hospital. From my perch atop the water tanks I can see the city sprawling in every direction - as far as the haze will let me see. By 6:00pm the sun is setting and I can hear the call to prayer begin to echo through the city corridors from the numerous mosques. It is comparable to a poorly timed choir with the members all starting at different times, but ultimately building into one giant crescendo.

Living in a hospital has also been quite the expereince. I sometimes forget that my temporary home is a full-fledged medical facility - and then I get a harsh reminder when I see a patient on a stretcher or someone staring out a window while crying into a cell phone outside of the ICU. The floor where I live is still under construction and so I am surrounded by a symphony of tools from just before 7:00am until any given time at night (or early morning). I refer to it as my penthouse apartment!

I have developed some interesting friendships while here. I would like to share a little bit about a young man, about my age, who we will name "Fred" (and do not think that Fred is not a name used here in India...the Anglo-Indian culture is quite strong and on Sunday night I listened to an Indian man, named Hendricks, play the blues - bet that shatters a few stereotypes!). Fred was abandoned as a little boy and grew up in the Assemblies of God boys home. Required to leave the home when he finished high-school, Fred has spent the last three years as a nomad sleeping in cars, on the streets and staying with friends.

Through Fred I have a glimpse into a whole other world. He has been involved with, or witnessed, so much - including drugs, alcohol abuse, gang violence, robbery, stabbings, executions and even bombings. When he tells me about his life, I cannot even begin to understand what he has gone through. Fred came to accept God during his time at the boys home and is a remarkable example of faith. Though he still has no place to call home, I have yet to hear Fred complain.

Fred is very involved in the church and so he has seen many well-meaning Christians come and go through Kolkata. He told me, very honestly, that many people have come and "spoke pretty words" and then left. According to Fred, "their love has no action". Though Fred was wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday, had not eaten in almost twenty-four hours, and was not sure of where he would sleep that night, he began to explain to me that God had never failed him, even when people had. So even when his circumstances may seem bleak, he knows that God is looking out for him.

Since my arrival here in Kolkata I have been asked countless times for money or assistance, often by people who seem to be doing alright. Not only has Fred never asked me for a thing, besides prayer, but in fact he has even refused my offers to take him out to dinner: "oh brother Matthew, don't you worry, God takes care of me".

I am struck by two things: firstly, Fred raises a good point. True love, Godly love, requires action and often sacrifice. After all, Jesus was MOVED with compassion - He acted on what He saw. As Christian's we should be the last to speak and the first to act. Secondly, I have heard it said that there is no one more thankful to sit and eat, than the one who can remember what it is like to starve. Though Fred has so little in this world, he has so much more in God. He has proven to me that even when we do not have all of the answers, it does not mean we question God. God promised that His grace is sufficient to sustain. God never promises us an easy journey, but that He will never make us walk it alone. Fred has reminded me that each moment of our journey, no matter how rough, is wonderful...why? Because God is walking with us.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Discouraging Encouragement

The power in belief and encouragement really is remarkable. There are examples of this all around us. In the much beloved story of Peter Pan, all it takes to end the life of a fairy is for someone to announce they do not believe in such creatures. On the less fairy-tale side, one cannot help but notice a child run a little faster in a race when they hear their parents cheering from the sidelines "WE BELIEVE IN YOU".

I would just to thank everyone who has been an encouragement to me over these past weeks. Your e-mails, phone calls and most of all your prayers have been a source of strength and have encouraged me more than I can fully express. But I would like to take a moment to share some insight I experienced after receiving a discouraging piece of encouragement...

The other night I was out with a group of people from the church I have been attending. Two of the people in that group had actually spent some time in Vancouver completing their higher education. As Indian nationals who lived in Canada, they offered some intriguing insights. They described Canada and Canadians as "not wanting to offend anyone, so they allow everything", "the only thing that is wrong is telling someone they are wrong", "liberalists", and "hedonists". The most gut-wrenching moment came when they concluded that "it is easier to be a Christian believer in India than it is in Canada".

Though sharing a taxi with some friends that night, the drive to my accommodations was remarkably silent. I could not shake the term "post-Christian" from my thoughts. Could it be true that my nation was not only done with church but with God? Whatever happened to "He shall have dominion from sea to sea"? I found myself wondering why God would call me to foreign missions when there is such a huge need in my own back yard. Is it strange that my heart for Canada beats strongest when I am overseas?

After a great deal of thought, prayer and reflection I have been reminded of something foundational: God is still in control of the nations. He has called me to foreign missions and I have every confidence in that calling and the One who calls me. However, let me take a moment to provide some encouragement that came from my discouraging conversation. All of us, whether pastors or not, are called to influence those around us. It is foolish for anyone to believe that they do not influence others - we all do! I want to encourage you to impact those around you. Do not let moments slip past, but rather live out the Gospel. Canada, our home, is gaining an international reputation as a nation who has decided it no longer needs God.

So consider this a moment of role-reversal: the overseas missionary is encouraging the people at home! I BELIEVE that God is not through with Canada. We are His hands and we are His feet - let's be sure to make a difference. God told us to change the world around us in His name and He BELIEVES we can do it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Clarification, Contrast and a Pencil

Let me begin with a clarification to a question I have received a lot lately –Calcutta and Kolkata are the same place. I am not in some remote village with a name that is similar to that of the big city. Since India gained independence from British rule just over 50 years ago, the national people have been deliberate in working towards restoring their heritage. This endeavour has included changing the names, or spellings, of several cities including Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and Chennai (formerly Madras).

Until recently I had not had the opportunity to explore Kolkata. I have obviously become familiar with the area in which I work – which is on Park Street in the very heart of the city. Some locals quip that it is the “Manhattan” of Kolkata. The streets here are always teeming with human traffic and the bustle of a downtown core. Countless shops, restaurants, cafes, chai wallas (tea vendors) and businesses line the street. The contrast between Park Street and Lower Circular Road, where I stayed during my first month, is remarkable. Though only 10 minutes apart when walking, they are worlds apart in regards to the living conditions.

Here on LC Road you will see naked children rummaging through dumpsters collecting scrap metal, people bathing in large puddles that form around pipes which line the road and never stop flowing, and people sleeping in the median in the road using a brick for a pillow. On Park you can buy a new Mercedes. In an alley (which I obliviously used to take as a short-cut) just off of LC Road, you can buy anything from a market known as “Thief’s Bazaar”…where you can purchase items which were obtained with a five-finger discount. Kolkata is full of contrasts.

Contrast is the best word to describe life here. The world media made Kolkata synonymous with poverty by focusing on the work of Mother Teresa. I must say that I have never seen poverty like I have here. I recently had the opportunity to visit an area of the city where “rag pickers” live. For a lack of a better word, it is a sprawling “slum” that stretches along a canal near a city landfill. Here people, both the very young and very old, make their living by collecting plastic grocery bags from the landfill. In turn they sell them to the recycling companies. My friend Prakash, and guide at the time, explained that people will be born and live out their whole life here. Without education they need the money that “rag picking” provides and so they remain trapped in this life. Poverty truly is a self-perpetuating cycle.

That said, it is not fair to portray Kolkata as completely destitute. Kolkata has beautiful old-world architecture reminiscent of the British era. All one has to do is explore the B.B.D. Bagh, College Street, Fort William Military Base or the Maidan (a large city park containing the governor’s mansion) to experience an era gone-by. The horticulture centre and botanical gardens are breath taking. The Victoria Memorial, a massive white-marble palace, stands as a symbol of prosperity and reminds visitors of the politics that once embodied this former British capital. Yes, Kolkata and the surrounding areas are incredibly poor and over-flowing with people who need assistance; however, there is beauty here in both the flash of Park Street and the simplicity of LC Road.

Let me share two connected thoughts that have been rolling around in my head ever since I visited Mother House (the burial site of Mother Teresa). At Mother House there were quotations from Mother Teresa. Two jumped out at me: “If someone see’s God in me, I am happy. I see God in everyone, especially those who suffer…”. Just as Kolkata is filled with contrasts, I do see beauty in both. The man in the business suit is just as precious to God as the day-labourer who is barefoot. Likewise, whatever goodness people observe in me is only God showing through my humanness. There is a simplicity that comes with poverty – a return to the basics of life: food, shelter, companionship. I have never seen community like I have observed amongst the bustees. There is no one more thankful for a loaf of bread than someone who is starved. The beauty of a poor person’s worship to God is in its sincerity. When God is all you have, you are glad to know Him.

The second thought: “I am a little pencil in God’s hand. He does the writing. He does the thinking. He does the movement. I have only to be the pencil”. When confronted with the overwhelming needs in Kolkata it would be easy to become discouraged and conclude that there is just too much to do – it can never be done. BUT, the exciting thing is that you and I do not have to save the world. God already has – He is in process of working it out. He knows each person here in this city. He knows their dreams, their thoughts, their hurts and needs. God has a plan for each person.

I do not have to revolutionize the Gospel, rather, I have to be a willing participant in the working-out of God’s plan. After all, I am a pencil. Trying to be a writer would only complicate matters – so I will be the best pencil I can be, and when the work becomes overwhelming, I can pause and remind myself that I have only to be the pencil. The writer is still in control. In this manner I too see God in everyone I meet. His writing is all over them. In the same way, I hope that His penmanship can be seen in my life.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Home Sweet...Hospital

Yes, I am in the hospital. They say I am going to be here for at least 7 weeks; but do not worry, it was a planned move into Mission of Mercy Hospital and Research Centre. In order to be more economically-minded I have taken up residence in the hospital in which I have been working. In an innovative display of tent-making, Calcutta Mercy Ministries has renovated the two top floors of their hospital. The objective is to attract wealthy paying customers, who will occupy these newly remade rooms, in order to fund the hospital and its numerous free-treatment operations. So I have moved into the only finished room on the top floor, which is still under construction. The room is really very nice. My new alarm clock has become the sound of hammering in the hall and my lullaby the sounds of chisels in the room next-door!

I returned from the neighbouring state of Jharkhand on Monday July 31 where I had spent several days travelling with Calcutta Mercy Ministries founder Mrs. Hulda Buntain. We had flown to the capital city of Ranchi early on Thursday morning and were met by a local pastor, Rev. John Topo, and the Superintendent for the Eastern District of the Assemblies of God North India, Rev. Hannok Ghosh. We spent our days visiting and dedicating village churches and schools all across the state. We had full days in which we covered a lot of terrain…and by terrain I mean roads I had only seen on the Outdoor Adventure Channel! I cannot tell you how many times I was convinced that our jeep would not make it up the road, only to find myself up that road after my head had hit the roof several times! I would also like to say that cows, goats and non-domesticated dogs are not afraid of cars and utilize the roadway as their personal lounge.

The villages we visited were remote and often dependant on agriculture. The scenery was unbelievable with mountains, jungle and rice patties stretching as far as I could see in all directions. The life here was simple. We were often greeted with flower necklaces, singing, dancing, drums, and having our hands washed while water was sprinkled on us using leaves. The warmth of the people was remarkable. In all my life I have never seen such fervent, intense and sincere worship and prayer. These people, who lived such simple lives, simply trusted in God and were thrilled to be known as His church.

I was able to speak briefly at almost every place we visited, especially at the main church in Ranchi. Here I got to deliver a sermonette to the youth in the packed Sunday morning service. It was a wonderful time. The highlights and impact of this journey are too numerous to include here, but I must include a few. The devotion of these people to their faith was astounding. We were travelling through areas which were known to be home to the Naxalites, a communist extremist group. I did not think they were a serious threat until we stopped at a clinic that had just reopened since its doctors had a nasty habit of being kidnapped. Yet, the churches were not only unafraid of these people, but had actually converted several members of this group and were even endorsed as a good thing by the Naxalites in several communities.

The pastors I met were just ordinary people, doing great things for God. Their charisma, dedication and love for the people was evident in everything they did. One pastor had in fact been a Naxalite. One day an elderly lady, who was now a member of his congregation, gave him a Bible and said “read this, it will make you a good person”. As he read, he had a vision of Jesus on the cross and he knew that Christ had died for him. Now, in addition to pastoring, he visits his former criminal-colleagues in prison. He said that they are hungry to know God and plead with him to go to their families and share the Gospel. Another pastor had lost the use of his left eye. As part of his ministry he travels to several isolated villages by motorcycle across rugged terrain. The constant bouncing and jerking of this travel had damaged his retina to the point of partial blindness, yet he continues to pastor all of these churches.

Often we look for God in the grandeur of life: the stars, the mountains, cathedrals, elaborate services and rituals yet, He is most evident in the simplistic, over-looked portions of life. We fail to notice Him in the honesty of a grandmother’s quiet prayers, the mud walls of a church, and the rains that fill the rice patties. God reveals Himself unceasingly in the everyday miracles of life. A simple people, a simple faith, in a God who simply loves us for who we are.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's Been a While and It's Official

So it has been a while since I last posted. Sorry for the delay, but life got busy! So let me share some of what I have been doing here in Kolkata. During my first week here I got to visit a number of the smaller satellite clinics that are spread around the edges of the city. We are trying to ensure all of these clinics work together with the hospital to ensure that the poor in each area are receiving the very best in free-treatment. This will be an ongoing process throughout my time here.

The bulk of my time has been spent working with children and youth who suffer from thalassemia (a group of debilitating blood disorders) and leukemia. The hospital is in-process of profiling each of these patients in an attempt to raise funds to make this treatment free. Most children require a blood transfusion monthly or bi-weekly. These treatments often cost families almost half of their monthly income per treatment. Clearly, there is a great need.

I cannot tell you how much these kids have impacted me. They are the highlight of my day and I often feel very humbled as I leave the ward. Most are Hindu or Muslim and have never known life without this disease. Though they would have every reason to be angry or depressed, I have found that these people are some of the most positive, forward-thinking, and refreshingly honest people I have ever met. They often thank me for my help and I feel embarrassed as they do. Every single blessing, no matter how small, is an everyday miracle to them. I have been blessed by these kids and have even had the opportunity to pray with a few and their parents.

In the area just north of Kolkata there is a strong Muslim concentration. The region is known for being resistant, and even hostile, towards Christians. I had the opportunity to visit a pastor who has started to work in this area. He and his wife have assumed Muslim names and have begun a small clinic and church in the largest village in that area. There is literally no medical facility (hospital or clinic) in this area to serve the nearly one-million villagers. The pastor has bought land in several villages throughout this area and is hoping to build clinics with churches attached. Presently, he has converts in most villages and is equipping those leaders to run small house churches. Their ministry is remarkably contextualized to the Muslim setting, but God is undeniably at work.

I have also had a chance to visit a number of interesting ministries around the city. I was able to attend the dedication of brand new Assemblies of God school for bustee children. A bustee is a term used for a shanty village of squatters. This particular school serves a bustee where families live in a landfill. Also, through a chance encounter I met some missionaries fromAlaska and they took me to visit their mission. It is a home run by Project Rescue that houses young girls whose mothers work in Kolkata’s thriving red-light district. My time there was great fun and I even acquired a new nickname: “Uncle Coconut” – since I am tall enough to reach the coconuts hanging from the trees!

Missions of Charity is the work pioneered by Mother Teresa. It is literally a ten-minute walk from where I am staying. Calcutta Mercy Ministries works closely with this organization and I was able to attend a meeting with the lead sister at the mission. Walking through the compound was a remarkable experience. I visited the memorial to Mother Teresa and her burial site. It is proof that one person really can make a difference. Individually we cannot save the world, but we can impact those around us in a way that they are forever changed. We can live out the Gospel.

On a completely separate note, I have officially been approved by the World Missions Department of the PAOC. It is remarkable to see how God has walked me through the journey from saying “Missions – I am going to give you a heart for missions” to actually being established as a missionary with the PAOC. Five years ago, if someone would have told me what I would be doing today I would have laughed, and yet God knew and He brought me through. I cannot even begin to understand what the future will bring, but I have every confidence in the One who goes before me.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Attacks in Mumbai

As I am sure many of you are aware, on Tuesday eight bombs exploded on trains and in stations in Mumbai’s western rail line. These explosions came during rush hour (between 6:00-7:00p.m.) and have killed nearly 200 people and injured over 700 more. No one has yet to come forward to accept responsibility for these attacks. Undoubtedly the death toll will continue to rise in the coming weeks. The true extent of the loss of lie will never fully be known. Many families have lost their only income-earning member. Also, with the long distance commute now crippled, many day-labourers will be unable to support their families.

Today, only one day after the attacks, people in Mumbai returned to work and used all forms of public transit. Please pray that this spirit of bravery would continue through the coming days. Pray for those families who have lost loved ones. It is my sincere hope that in their time of grief that God would bring someone into their life who would share His love with them. Also, pray for the continued safety of those in Mumbai who were battling the effects of the monsoon season before these attacks took place. We must remember that even when we are taken by surprise and shocked by tragedy, God is still in control.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Initial Thoughts

My first week in Kolkata is coming to a close. In many ways it has raced past. The city and the people are still full of wonders to me. Kolkata does not seem to ever stop. The sounds of bustling traffic, determined vendors, ceaseless car horns, and people in motion can be heard at almost any hour of the day or night. This city is alive.

It is the humidity, not so much the heat, that I am finding a challenge. In fact, rather than iron my clothing, I simply hang my clothes near an open window while I am out and they are perfectly steamed by the time I return! The monsoon season has also begun here. The heavy rains have begun in the south and the city of Mumbai has sustained significant damage and several fatalities. Kolkata will not feel the full force of the monsoon season for another week or two when the weather system travels up the coastline.

The people here are incredibly helpful, kind and servant-hearted. The church in Kolkata is strong and I was humbled on Sunday morning as the congregation sang of their blessings in Christ though living in a city well-known for it's poverty.

The work undertaken by Calcutta Mercy Ministries is almost indescribable in its breadth. There are literally hundreds of churches and pastors that have been launched from Kolkata. Within the central complex there is a six story hospital, a school, a feeding program (which feeds thousands of people daily), the central church, an accredited Bible College, and a number of ministry offices and hospital related medical branches. In addition to this, there are seven free-treatment clinics and additional schools in and around the city.

I have had the opportunity to assist with the free-treatment services, in the main hospital and three of the satellite clinics. I have met so many people with such genuine, and often very basic, needs. Each person that I have met who is connected to these ministries has exemplified what it means to LIVE the Gospel message.

Thank you for remembering me in your times of prayer. Please continue to pray for my well-being (I am feeling great). Also, pray that God would give me insight and creative vision in how to make valid contributions and worthwhile investments in the ministries I participate in and in the people I meet. Pray for those people who have suffered in the arrival of the monsoon season and for the safety of those who have not yet been affected.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Plans

The song "leaving on a jet plane" seems fitting for this point in time. Well, maybe all of my bags are not packed, but they will be soon. One of the most challenging components to any missions trip comes before one even leaves the country -yes, I mean packing! It will be quite the event to fit three months worth of life supplies into a bag or two, not to mention a stockhold of Canadian stickers, pencils, paper, balls, pens, key chains, and whistles to share with the children at the orphanage.

I will be departing for Kolkata (Calcutta) India in just a few days. There I will be working with Calcutta Mercy Ministries. This organization was started by Canadian missionaries named Mark and Hulda Buntain. Their work grew to include a hospital, numerous village clinics, an orphanage, a church and several church plants. Hulda and her daughter Bonnie, along with her husband Dr. Jim Long, have continued the work in Kolkata.

Words cannot express how excited and grateful I am for this opportunity. I will be returning to Canada during mid-October and will begin my missions apprenticeship with the B.C. / Yukon District of the P.A.O.C. three days after my return to Canada - here's hoping for a quick time adaption!

Please remember me in your times of prayer. Pray for safety and health. Pray that I would listen to God because I know He has a plan for my time there and pray that He would give me the strength and the resolution to do those things He asks with a willing attitude. It is my prayer that God uses me in some way to impact the lives of those I meet, but I have no doubt that I too will be challenged and changed.