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.