Cross-shaped prayer

iron cross at Westminster

A picture taken in London just before heading to Scotland in January 2016–looking into the inner courtyard of Westminster Abbey

In January of 2016 Dave and I led a group of Wheaton Academy students on a trip to Scotland. It was a double-duty trip for us. We were praying for guidance; about which of two very different directions we should pursue. One of those directions was Scotland. We met with the UK field director of GEM (Greater European Missions) during that trip, and it was in many ways an exploratory time for us.

But we were also praying about moving into the city of Chicago, to live in a depressed neighborhood, for Dave to teach/work with underprivileged kids. It was strange how God used the wonderful, spiritually rich trip to Scotland to confirm that it was not the decision for this time, and Chicago is. One of the confirming moments came when we put on the program for an assembly at a Scottish public high school. We began with a video one of our students had made to introduce the team members and their home. After shots of Wheaton Academy and its grounds, the video moved to the downtown area of Chicago. One shot showed hundreds of people milling around the Bean. Watching it for the first time in that assembly, I suddenly got choked up. There were all those people, of all ethnicities and races and religions, gathered together to look at a reflective structure, but going home to segregated neighborhoods, going home to places sorely in need of gospel hope. Behind me in that auditorium sat rows and rows of students who needed to hear about Christ, and I was fervently praying for them, but my heart was pounding for the people of Chicago. When Dave told me—without my saying anything about my own experience—that he’d had much the same reaction when he saw the video, we knew God was stirring in our hearts.

Another affirming moment on that trip came in a coffee shop, where Dave and I had retreated while the students shopped in the area. Here’s what I wrote in my journal about that time:

We were talking about a topic we’ve often discussed: why are some prayers—especially those for “small” things—answered, while others, particularly those for very necessary, very important things, seem to be ignored. This topic had re-surfaced because I told Dave how glad I was that a member of our mission team who’d felt sick the day before was fully recovered. I remarked, “Several of us were praying for her.”

He got a funny look on his face and pulled out the book he’s currently reading: There Are No Children Here, published in 1991, written by Alex Kotlowitz, a Chicago journalist. It follows the lives of brothers Lafayette and Pharaoh, two young boys who lived in the Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex just blocks from Chicago’s Loop that was a veritable war zone. Dave turned to a passage and gave me a preface before reading it aloud. Nine-year-old Pharaoh, seeking respite from the violence and drama of Henry Horner, has found a condominium complex nearby with green lawns and trees. He goes there to sit under the trees and simply be.

Pharaoh had long sought such a refuge. For a few months last spring, he’d attended Bible classes at the First Congregational Baptist Church. Washington Boulevard was lined with churches, but most of them now served people who had since moved from the neighborhood. Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner. Pharaoh grew bored with the classes and began to question whether there was indeed a God. He often prayed to him, asking that he let them move from the projects. But, Pharaoh would say, “I be praying but he don’t do nothing. Maybe there ain’t no God.” It was as much a question as it was a statement. (page 143)

Dave read the last line and then looked up at me. “I’m struggling with this right now. How can we pray for such relatively small things as someone’s upset stomach when people all over the world are living lives like this?” He tapped the page in the book. “And how does God see these vastly different prayers? Why are our prayers for someone’s stomach answered when a young kid praying not to be molested or sold for sex doesn’t get the answer they so desperately need? When a mom who has prayed for food to feed her family watches her baby starve to death? I don’t understand!”

I don’t understand either. Part of his question does have to do with God, to be sure, but Scripture tells me God is not indifferent to suffering, and Christ proved to me God is not indifferent to suffering. But we, the people of God, the Church, are the body of Christ here, so why is it that Pharaoh was left so abandoned? Where was the church? Why weren’t the churches of Chicagoland agonized by Henry Horner and the other housing projects? And the violence and hopelessness of areas like Englewood and Lawndale and Garfield Park? Why aren’t we agonized now?

I asked Dave to hand me the book. I wanted to look at one line in particular. I read it aloud to him. “Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner.”

“What if the churches were supposed to be the answer to Pharaoh’s prayer?” I asked. “What if they were supposed to pray about Henry Horner—along with all the personal requests they had—praying BOTH, until God so changed their hearts they were ready to act and intervene and enter in, even if in small ways at first? Until they served the people who lived right nearby rather than those who’d had the resources to move out?

“I know it’s not really an answer to your question, but I don’t think the answer is an either-or proposition. I think we should pray about all hurts, even the ones we see as small.”

I looked back at this journal entry a few times during the months that followed, as we prayed for both “big” and “small” and received guidance for all and then detours and then more guidance. For us the conversation was about the inner city and inequality in education and racial reconciliation in the church. But even more so, it was a conversation about prayer and change–heart change. And that’s a conversation for everyone. Not everyone is being led to the inner city, but all of us are being led somewhere, even if it’s right out our front door, even if it’s simply onto our knees.

Prayer opens our blinded eyes and guarded hearts to the needs we are meant to see, meant to enter into.

So I’d like to end this post with some words I read recently in The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Wright.

The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God. … Learn new ways of praying with and from the pain, the brokenness, of that crucial part of the world where God has placed you. And out of that prayer discover the ways of being peacemakers, of taking the risk of hearing both sides, of running the risk of being shot at from both sides. Are you or are you not a follower of the crucified Messiah? (The Challenge of Jesus, chapter 8, “The Light of the World”) 

Today I Awake

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The Garfield Conservatory is just down the street from our house–so beautiful! And free! This is the entrance to the fern room. (shot by Emily Underwood)

In the Daily Office app I use on my phone (The Daily Office from Mission St. Clare), yesterday’s hymn was “Today I Awake” by John Bell. (I’ve shared another of John Bell’s hymns, “Take O Take Me As I Am,” in a past post [click on the title above to see the post, which has the words as well as a link to a recording of the hymn].) Bell’s treatment of the Trinity is beautiful, and it reminded me of the book Delighting in the Trinity (this link leads to a blog post recommending that book–so good!)

I re-read this hymn all day long yesterday, and last night I found a Youtube recording of it so I could also hear the tune. Click on the title below to listen to the recording. Hope you enjoy as well.

Today I Awake” by John Bell

Today I awake and God is before me.

At night, as I dreamt, God summoned the

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Fish @ the Conservatory  (by Em)

day;

For God never sleeps but patterns the morning

with slithers of gold or glory in grey.

Today I arise and Christ is beside me.

He walked through the dark to scatter new light.

Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people

to hope and to heal, resist and invite.

Today I affirm the Spirit within me

at worship and work, in struggle and rest.

The Spirit inspires all life which is changing

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Another Conservatory pic (by Em)

from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.

Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,

above and beneath, before and behind;

the Maker, the Son, the Spirit together

They called me to life and call me

their friend.

Scotland trip, final post

I haven’t included any photos with this post, but Emily (daughter) put together a photoblog with a few of her best shots from each day. She’s a fantastic photographer, so if you’re interested, click on the link above.

We returned to Chicago yesterday, exhausted and, in the case of several of us, sick with colds or sinus infections.

But it was more than worth it. The opportunities our students had in this second week to really get to know the local teenagers and share their lives and faith with them were amazing. We told them to give all they had from morning to late night—they could sleep on the plane.

After Wednesday’s morning assembly, we went straight to another RMPS class. The students were studying the biblical account of creation, and we split into small groups and discussed with them. We were able to focus on the character of God/his love and care for his creation/his relationship with his creation rather than getting stuck on exact views of creation or who Cain married, etc. Conversations about the love of God for his creation—for us—naturally led to our students’ personal stories, and a few were able to share their own testimonies with their groups.

Side note: I’ve been praying that our students would sense the reality and power of the Holy Spirit on this trip, and several have said things like this to me: “I was asked a question that I had no answer to, but then, suddenly, I had an answer, and it was good!” I believe that this is more than good “thinking on your feet.” It’s God’s Spirit doing good work in and through us!

After our morning in the school we took the train into Edinburgh and had afternoon tea at historic Jenners on Princes Street (I called it “high tea” when talking to a Scotsman, and he corrected me; high tea involves a cooked/hot meal while afternoon tea involves the three-tiered tray with crustless sandwiches, scones with clotted cream [the students thought it was butter] and jam, and mini cakes and tarts.) After tea we visited Faith Mission College and learned about the program at this college that seeks to train its students for living out the Gospel. It would be a great gap-year possibility. If you’re interested, check out its website. Next we headed to St. John’s Church in Linlithgow to eat a meal cooked by the church’s youth worker, Lorna, and a small group of her youth and interns. Afterward we joined them at the project they visit every Wednesday night. The girls stayed at the Linlithgow Young People’s Project and played games with the youth who showed up while the guys went with the Project coordinators to a town three miles up the road to play football (soccer) with the youth from a scheme there (the equivalent of a housing project in the States). Following the youth time, we debriefed with Pamela and Graeme, the leaders of the project, and their insight was fantastic. It was good to see the perspective of people who work every day with kids who are in desperate need of love and care.

Thursday’s morning assembly was particularly special because we shared with the same students whose classes we’d been in, and because Megan, who already had a cold, persevered and sang through it. We had a little gap, so we went out for a Scottish breakfast and last-minute shopping, and then returned to the school for the lunch Bible study Rob and Jerry, another missionary, have been holding with the kids at the high school. During that study, one of the high school students asked one of our students, Sarah, how she could know Christ, and Sarah prayed with her. (Sarah had the opportunity, later that night, to pray with another student as well!) We went to another RMPS class and had small-group discussion about the students’ dissertation topics. Rob and Jerry also hold an after-school discussion group, so we attended that, then listened to a quick concert by the high school band, and headed to the church to help set up for the evening’s activities.

The first event was a traditional Scottish dinner of haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) shared with all the host families. Then it was time for the ceilidh (pronounced cay-lee). We’d been inviting students and youth group members to this all week, and we had no idea how many students would come. We didn’t do an official count, but we’re sure it was more than 50 and might have been as high as 75. We danced, led by caller Graeme (the same Graeme who works at the Linlithgow Young People’s Project), took a break to hear testimony from one of our students, and then danced more. The kids hung out till late before we got them back to host homes so they could pack and get at least a couple hours sleep before heading to the airport in the morning.

We’re grateful for an amazing trip and safe travels. Please continue to pray that the friendships started on this trip will continue, and that the seeds that were planted will bear fruit. Pray for Scotland.

Scotland pics

We had an awesome day–I hope to post about it sometime tomorrow (or in the airport the following day)–but I’m just posting a few pics tonight. I really need to gather some of the best from the team to post here; some of them have taken amazing pictures.

beach

St. Andrews’ Caslte to the left–and Abby and Britta looking out to sea.

swilcan bridge

the students on Swilcan Bridge at the golf course

dave on beach

Dave looking at the students. He didn’t want sand in HIS boots!

St andrews

the view from inside St. Andrews’ castle looking down at the sea just below. See the birds nesting on the ledge?

Max on beach

Max trying to leap from the rock to the shore without getting too wet! (He didn’t succeed!)

poppy in sunlight

A poppy on the gate at St. Andrews’ cathedral (hung here to remember fallen soldiers, particularly unknown ones)

Carson on rock

Carson standing on the cathedral ruins

St. Andrews chapel

the chapel at St. Andrews

Scotland, school days

NOTE: my apologies for the lack of pictures–I have some, and I’ll try to post them tomorrow.

Yesterday morning we held our first assembly at the local public secondary school. We showed an introductory video made by our three senior guys; one of the group members shared a brief testimony; and we showed a video of The Father’s Love Letter while Megan and Carson performed “How He Loves.”

That last video/song combination had me in tears (and when they repeated it again in this morning’s assembly, it had the same effect). Sarah shortened the version of The Father’s Love Letter that is available online (just follow the link above) and then Maggie and Emily made videos of the two of them writing out key phrases from the shortened love letter in cool print/script combinations. Then they put all the videos in the correct order and sped them up. Originally they wanted to record voices onto the video reading the Love Letter aloud, but the size of the files prohibited this. They weren’t sure what to do, but then we had the grand idea of asking Megan to sing as Carson played “How He Loves.”

INCREDIBLE!

Really incredible!

As I listened to Megan sing and read the words of the Father God—written to all of his rebellious creation—I thought, “Oh, if we could fully believe that this is who you are, Father, and then live in awe of this great love—what a difference it would make!”

The audiences during both yesterday’s and today’s assemblies went silent when the video began and Megan’s sang her first note. Please pray for the students’ hearts. Pray that they will remember the exact phrase that will most impact them and speak into their lives. Pray that the testimonies they’ve heard from the students will draw them to hope in God.

After assembly yesterday (Monday), we had our last day trip, riding the bus with Graeme (I think I misspelled his name last post—forgot about the Scottish spelling) to St. Andrews (home of the British Open). Graeme, an avid golfer himself, positioned all the students on the Swilcan Bridge, and told them that pictures on this bridge would make them the envy of any other golfer.

Then we were off to sights that I appreciated far more: a lovely chapel at St. Andrews University (someone was up in the organ loft practicing when we went on—an awesome experience); the ruins of the St. Andrews Cathedral—where we read gravestones and inscriptions and simply enjoyed being outside in the sunshine (first day of sunshine in WEEKS!); and then St. Andrews Castle, also in ruins. Oddly, several of the kids said this was their favorite castle, perhaps in part because they had to use their imaginations and clambering up and down ruins in the fresh air is wonderful. We were also able to descend the cliff to the skinny beach. Several of the kids got wet feet and pants, and Cameron, who’d never before seen the sea or ocean, had sand all in his boots, and I think his feet took hours to warm up, but he said he would do it again in a heartbeat.

On the way back to Livingston we stopped at Anstruther’s, well known for its fish and chips. They ARE really delicious, but we did notice a heart clinic right next door to the shop and when we mentioned this to one of the wait staff, she laughed but didn’t say anything!

We returned to the church and spent some time sharing testimony and praying for the next day (today), when our students would shadow students from the community high school all day.

I’m writing this now at the end of that day, Tuesday, a truly blessed day. After this morning’s assembly, the students went off to classes. At lunch we met in the library for Q Place (a weekly drop-in center Rob and another missionary run–the “Q” stands for “question”). Then we attended a senior level RMPS (Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies) class. The students were working on their senior dissertations on individually chosen ethical/religious questions. Our students separated to tables around the room, and the RMPS students joined them, asking about the Christian perspective on issues like abortion, organ harvesting, women’s rights, etc.

Every single discussion led to genuine conversation—to bonds being formed between the RMPS students and ours. It was beautiful.

I was proud of our students for several reasons:

-they didn’t turn a difference of opinion into a debate. They remembered that the point was not to be “proved right” but was to dialogue and share Christ and a biblical view (and to admit when they simply didn’t know or didn’t feel that there was a clear answer)

-they came to see the students across from them as real people much like themselves

-they wanted to continue to get to know these students. They didn’t simply want to share their views; they wanted to enter into true, respectful dialogue with the RMPS students.

-They were vulnerable and willing to share their own stories when they impacted the conversation or topic (today was a vivid lesson in how God can take our sorrows and difficulties and use them for good).

We had an early dinner in lovely Linlithgow, site of the castle where Mary, Queen of Scots was born. (The restaurant was The Four Marys, named after the Queen of Scots’ four handmaidens—who were all named “Mary.” Very interesting story.) Then we got the kids to their host families so they could get some rest.

Please pray for good rest. We are in the school part of each of the next two days, presenting at morning assembly (the student body is divided into four sections, with one section going to assembly each day) and then attending two RMPS classes. Wednesday night we will spend time with a youth group. Thursday afternoon we will attend another discussion group at the school and then a big party (called a calJO:JIO:JO) that we’ve invited as many local students to as possible. This is all very exciting—but it’s also exhausting, and we’re already tired. It’s a great time, though, for our students to see and know the power of the Holy Spirit. Please pray for us to rely on supernatural strength rather than our own.

Scotland, days 2-4

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The group outside Stirling Castle

Well, we did see Stirling Castle and the William Wallace monument on Friday, but Billy (named after Wallace himself) was not our guide/driver. Instead, we rode with Graham, who is an excellent guide—full of all kinds of interesting tidbits—but a bit of a speedy driver on the windy Scottish back roads. By the time we finished the day, one of our kids had actually gotten carsick and several others were looking a bit green around the gills.

stirling castle.jpg

A view from Stirling Castle

But our time outside the bus was quite enjoyable! Stirling Castle has been restored and is staged to look as historians believe it would have at the time of James V of Scotland. We got a look at the medieval-era castle kitchens, the palace with its multiple waiting rooms (for persons of different rank), the Great Hall which once seated 500 for a banquet at which they wheeled in the fish course on a 5-meter long ship complete with brass cannons!

stirling castle 2.jpg

Another view from Stirling Castle

After Stirling we drove to a tiny town named Kilmahog (literally “church of mahog”—so evidently some church leader named Mahog lived there at one time). Kilmahog is home to (among other things) a woolen mill and a GREAT little café where they make everything from scratch and have homemade soups that are delicious and just outside ordinary (like Friday’s choice: tomato cranberry—yum!). It was also home (until fairly recently) to the famous highland cow Hamish.

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Em in the Highlands

We drove a little ways into the highlands (absolutely beautiful) and then turned around and headed toward the William Wallace monument. We made a quick stop at Doune Castle (where Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Outlanders, and Game of Thrones were all filmed), which was perfect timing for our motion-sickness-prone group member to completely lose her lunch (we told her she shouldn’t be embarrassed; after all, very few people can say they’ve puked at the site where Monty Python was filmed!) and then drove to the William Wallace monument. We climbed up, up, up the steep hill to the base of the monument and then 265 steps to the top of the monument itself. We were grateful that the weather cleared for a bit, so we could see the whole of the town of Stirling laid out below in the valley and Stirling Castle up on the other side of it. We stopped in the historical rooms as we descended. In one of them was a replica of Wallace’s giant sword. He had to have been not only tall but incredibly strong to heft that thing. (The most conservative estimates put him at 6’2”ish, which, since the rest of the Scots in his time hovered around 5½ feet, is comparatively ginormous).

We ate dinner back in Livingston and then spent some group time preparing for the church service on Sunday before heading back to host families and bed.

Saturday we rode the train system into Edinburgh. The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is almost magical in its beauty, but it has dark undertones. The spiritual history of Edinburgh is rich, as we learned when we took the Reformation Tour in the morning. Dave and I consider this particular tour key in teaching the students the Christian history of Scotland and its current spiritual state. It’s run by Christian Heritage of Edinburgh, and it’s excellent. Paul James-Griffiths ends the tour at St. Columba’s Free Church with hot chocolate and his perspective on the the church today in Scotland. His view is supported when you leave St. Columba’s and see the state of so many of the physical churches on the Royal Mile. One hundred years ago these churches were the birthplaces of social, political, and educational reform and scientific and medical discoveries, but now one is a nightclub, another a social club, and another the starting point for a ghost tour.

We gave the kids some free time after lunch (which we ate at The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter), and several of them remarked to us about the dark feel of some areas of the Royal Mile. The bright point, for me at least, was when we visited Queen Margaret’s chapel at the top of the hill at Edinburgh Castle. I’d become fascinated with Margaret the year before when we visited Edinburgh, and I researched and wrote about her when I returned home. (Here’s the link to a piece I wrote about Margaret.) Following dinner at Deacon Brodie’s (named after Deacon Brodie, the respectable-man-by-day-burglar-by-night who provided inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), we returned to the church to finish getting ready for the Sunday service. We were also able to have a really sweet time of sharing testimonies and prayer before host families picked up the students.

This morning’s church service was wonderful. Our students led worship and shared testimony to God’s work in their lives and worked with the children and really interacted with the church members. There are incredibly few young people in the Church in Scotland, so we were told again and again what an encouragement our young people were.

We had a potluck following church and then some down time and then held a joint service with a youth group only a couple miles down the road. We put them in small groups mixed with both our students and youth group members in each group. One of the questions we asked them to answer was this: What makes it hard for you to follow Christ in your school or home context? Our students talked about how easy it is to get complacent; their students talked about not knowing a single other Christian in their schools. We shared prayer requests in these small groups and worshipped together and shared more testimony. It was a really beautiful time of fellowship, and when it was time to go, our students didn’t want to leave—which was exactly the result we’d prayed for.

After a dinner of fried pizza (or you could get a fried burger!—both ‘ick!’ in my opinion—we sent them back to host families. Tomorrow, very early, we will be at the community high school, leading the first assembly of the new year to 250 students. Please pray for this assembly. Pray that hearts are already prepared, that the word of God falls fresh, that the technology works correctly, that we see and sense the Holy Spirit’s movement, and that God’s love is palpable.

last day in London/first in Scotland

westminster.jpg

The prayer engraved outside Westminster Abbey

We’re in Scotland!

With all sixteen kids! (Not much of an accomplishment, but on last year’s London/Scotland trip, we “lost” a kid the very first day, so I’m grateful!)

Yesterday we began the day with tube travel in peak morning traffic (one Londoner told me the government is considering all kinds of options to decrease tube traffic in the morning—it’s crazy!). Our marvelous tour guide Ruth met us just outside Westminster Abbey and told us one story after another as we walked through the Abbey. The kids kept turning to me and saying, “She’s amazing!” She really is! A good tour guide makes all the difference!

trafalger.jpg

The view of Trafalgar Square from the entrance to the National Art Gallery (see the street performer in the bottom right corner? Fun!)

Highlights for me from Westminster Abbey (if you’re a parent, this will give you talking points with your student):

-the tomb of the unknown soldier from WWI (when Ruth told us about the hundreds of war widows who came to the burial, all of them thinking of the unknown soldier in the tomb as her husband, several of us had tears in our eyes)

-Queen Elizabeth’s tomb—where she is buried with her enemy-sister Bloody Queen Mary (the tomb is pretty incredible, but the main point of fascination for me is Ruth’s telling of these sisters’ backgrounds and their father’s craziness!)

-the pause for prayer (Westminster is still a working church)

-Poets’ Corner (and especially Dickens’ memorial—where, following his death, the poor of London came by the hundreds to pay tribute to the man who was sympathetic to their plight and wrote about them as real and valuable people)

-the gothic arches—can you believe that those huge, soaring ceilings were accomplished through trial and error? Incredible.

After Westminster we walked to Buckingham, watched the changing of the guard, learned about the current state of the monarchy from Ruth, a born-and-bred Londoner who loves her queen, and then had lunch and free time at Trafalgar Square.

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I moved WAY back–still couldn’t fit the entirety of St. Pauls in the shot!

All fun, but the most meaningful part of the day for me was Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. As an Anglican myself, it had special significance, but even the students unfamiliar with liturgy took something from the service. When you recite the Lord’s Prayer in a place as grand as St. Paul’s, with the great dome rising above, and you remember that the God we worship is so much more majestic and mighty and beautiful as to make the dome seem pitiful in comparison—well, that’s pretty awe-inspiring!

Last night at room check, Dave and I gave the kids a taste of Scotland in the form of Tunnock’s teacakes (about which, by the way, there is currently a bit of a furor [sorry, couldn’t resist the word] because the director of Tunnocks just ran an ad in the London Underground marketing the cakes as “Britain’s” tea cakes rather than Scotland’s. Follow this link to read more!)

This morning, bright and early–correction: “dark and early”–we boarded the train to Edinburgh. Another smooth transition, aided by a very kind rail worker named Simon who saw our huge pile of bags and offered to put it in a secure car at the back of the train because he knew we would have taken it to our carriage only to find it packed so full of passengers there wouldn’t have been room for it. Thank you, Simon!

So now we’re in Scotland, the real heart of this trip, where we will hang out with Scottish teens and spend time in Scottish churches and do, of course, a lot of discovering of this beautiful, rainy, long-historied place. We spent the afternoon in training sessions, learning about the church in Scotland and talking about our faith and how to share it with the Scottish teens we will soon meet. After sessions and dinner, our students went home with their Scottish host families, and Dave and I caught up with Rob and Louise Bell, the missionaries and dear friends who help coordinate this trip.

Tomorrow we’re off to Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument. Our driver Billy will tell us all kinds of interesting tidbits about the Scottish hero he and so many other Scottish lads are named for, and we’ll end the day with some work time for the church service we’ll lead on Sunday.

Thanks for reading,

Jen

First day in London

tower of londonDave (husband) and I are in the UK, leading a trip for 16 high school students from Wheaton Academy. SO, for the next week and a half, my blog will have the extra purpose of updating the students’ parents.

We landed in London late last night and had not a single hitch with catching the very last train running and getting checked into our hotel. That may sound like no big deal, but with a group of 18, it’s pretty awesome. The 10:30 p.m. arrival was a blessing in disguise, for though Dave had worried quite a bit about catching the tube before it shut down for the day, the absence of other people made it incredibly easy to figure everything out and get in and out!

Stamford Bridge

trophies at Stamford Bridge

Had it just been the two of us, we would have headed straight to bed, but teens are always hungry, so we went to Burger King for our first meal in the UK—lame, but there aren’t too many places open at 1 in the morning!

Victoria and Albert Museum

This was hanging at the entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum–SO beautiful!

Today we were simply tourists, exploring the Tower of London and then splitting up for some of us to get coffee and visit the Victoria and Albert Museum and others to tour Stamford Bridge (it’s the name of Chelsea Football Club’s stadium—“football” being “soccer” (or the REAL football J).

We allowed the kids a short rest at the hotel before heading off to dinner and then Picadilly Circus. We had to explain that it wasn’t actually a circus but a shopping district, disappointing some and energizing others.

I love this group of kids. They’re fun and kind to each other. They keep up and are traffic-savvy—which, as the chaperone who generally brings up the rear, I REALLY appreciate. I’m enjoying getting to know each of them during the day and then checking in on them at the end of the day.

street art

As my group left the museum to get coffee, we see these street artists making these incredible sand sculptures!

Picadilly Circus

The end of the day!

Tomorrow we will do more touring—seeing Big Ben, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square. But two key points in the busyness of tomorrow will be our tour of Westminster Abbey and attending Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. As we look ahead to our time in Scotland and, later, reflect on our time here, Dave and I are hoping that the Abbey tour (as well as the Reformation tour we’ll go on in Edinburgh) and the service give the students a good feel for the spiritual history of the United Kingdom and the state of the UK church right now.

Scotland, days 6-7

This is the art piece Meghan created for the church while Dave preached.

This is the art piece Meghan created for the church while Dave preached.

We spent Saturday on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. This cobbled street is the main thoroughfare of Old Town, with Edinburgh Castle at the top end (literally the highest point of the city), and the Palace of Holyrood House at the bottom. In between is enough history and beauty to choke a T-Rex.

This would generally make me happy, but, though I am fascinated by Edinburgh, it makes me feel melancholy. It has such a rich history of faith, with the fiery Reformation leader John Knox, the missionary-explorer David Livingstone (educated at the University of Edinburgh), and the martyrdom of the Covenanters (who refused to say the king was the head of the church) and so many other stories of Christians who made wonderful discoveries in science and math, who initiated incredible progress in education, social reform, and medicine. (Antiseptics, anesthesia, public schooling, social reform, etc.)

But the glory is all gone, and the church in Scotland is dying, with only 1-2% of the population confessing themselves to be Christ followers. Some former cathedrals are now nightclubs, and witchcraft is on the rise. Nearly every believer we’ve met has told us, “Please pray for us. Pray for the church in Scotland.”

We learned much of Edinburgh’s wonderful history on the Reformation Tour, led by Paul James-Griffiths of the Edinburgh City Mission. Dressed in a burlap robe, carrying a wooden staff, he told us how the heads of the Covenanters were stuck on the walls of Edinburgh. With our feet standing on the cobbles, and the stone churches rising high around us, it wasn’t difficult to imagine we were back in that time. And even though it was really, really bitter, with intermittent snow and sleet, no one complained of the cold till much later in the tour—when we were talking about a less dark period in the history.

We finished the tour in the basement of the church where we’d started, and Paul talked to us about the current state of the Church in Scotland. It’s dismal, and though he has seen some recent spiritual interest, he said, “We are not yet desperate enough.”

May we be desperate to pray for the Church in Scotland, in the U.S., in the entire world.

We finished the day with a trip to Edinburgh Castle, with its convoluted history. I tried really hard to follow the family trees of all the monarchs, but I finally gave up and simply enjoyed the individual stories without having to fix each one into the big picture. The story that sticks with me most is that of Saint Margaret (1045-1093), the Queen of Scotland who so loved Christ and wanted to follow His example that she often left the castle to care for the poorest people in Edinburgh, feeding them and washing their feet.

This morning (Sunday) we led the church service at Elim Church in Livingston, and it was wonderful. Dave and I always have so much fun watching the Holy Spirit orchestrate these things. Three of our students testified of the transformation Christ has worked in their lives; our worship team played and sang two songs; four students gave a dramatic reading of Scripture; and while Dave preached, Meghan created a beautiful piece of art that illustrated the message and passage of Scripture. Dave spoke on Luke 7:36-50, the story of the sinful woman anointing Christ’s feet, and though I organized the dramatic Scripture reading to include that, and Meghan was inspired by the story, nothing else was really “driven” by it. But it all worked together beautifully to focus on our great need for Christ and His great love for us. We ended the service by repeating one of the songs, and the words “There’s no place I’d rather be than here in Your love” jumped out at me. I told Dave later: “That’s exactly the song I can imagine the woman in the story singing.”

We mingled with the church members following the service and heard several stories of their lives transformed by Christ. Many, though, are in marriages or families in which they are the only believer. I felt driven to pray for them but also blessed beyond belief for my own marriage and the faith heritage of both our families.

The afternoon was spent with host families, and then we returned to the church for the youth service. Many of these youth consider the youth group to be their sole lifeline. The church is the one place they learn about Christ, are encouraged in their faith, and can fellowship with other believers. They are the extreme minority in their schools.

Tomorrow we begin the day by sharing cardboard testimonies at Deans Community Secondary School during their morning assembly time. Please pray.

Thanks,

Jen