by - May 22, 2013

After my last post I joined my co-workers for a late dinner in the hotel before heading to the airport at midnight Dubai time.  Time becomes kind of a non-factor after a while, and the Dubai Airport is kind of amazing. Both understatements.  There were military guards throughout the airport wearing sage green uniforms, all built exactly the same as if genetically modified, and wearing red patent leather boots. I really wanted to take a picture of them, but also I really didn't want to get arrested. The ceilings and columns and lights and fountains are seriously beautiful.  They put on a good show.  We met three college grads from Texas in the customs line.  They were headed to Thailand for a graduation trip.  Brave kids.  I was hoping to get a little sleep on that 5 hour flight from Dubai to Colombo, and I ended up sleeping the whole time.  Except for about a 15 minute window where I opened my eyes for a second and realized the sun was about to rise.  Watching the sun rise from an airplane is awesome.  But really, watching the sunrise from anywhere is awesome. 

Then we landed in Sri Lanka.  Their airport looks a little different.

It reminded me a lot of the Addis Ababa airport.  I think I feel about Addis, like the cliche thought that we think of our first love fondly our whole life. (Unless your first love was a jerk, then it's not a good comparison.) Going to Ethiopia with Jess was the first time I knew for sure God was calling me to go, and what He did through that trip has strengthened me for each journey since.   We got checked into our hotel, and had a few hours to rest before having lunch with attendees, who by the weekend became friends. Thursday night we had a time of worship together and introductions.  All day Friday and Saturday we conducted the conference sessions.  Saturday afternoon the majority of us took an excursion into Colombo before having one final session and dinner on the beach together to close out the conference.  The hotel had a DJ set up on the beach as their Saturday night entertainment, and they played songs from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and what must have been Billy Ocean's greatest hits album.  Surreal moment #432 "Am I really having dinner on a beach in Sri Lanka listening to Hungry Eyes?"  On Sunday, one of my co-workers got on a plane to India to do another few days of trainings.  The three of us that remained went to a church service with some new friends, toured the orphanage they are building, the daycare they are running, and then went to the site of the newest Hope Center they are opening in the slums of Colombo.  I am not sure they ever sleep.

Our hotel.

Our friends.

Dwelling places.

Our excursion.

They have beautiful smiles, but they don't show them when a camera is pointed at them.

Slum area.

The first stacking chair in the new Hope Center.  Phil talks a lot about stacking chairs, keeping the cost as low as possible, and having seating for as many people as possible.

In counseling, and especially in the ministry I work for, we talk a lot about getting to the heart of the matter.  Here is the heart of the matter of this trip for me: "And my God will supply all of your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 4:19.   I remember thinking of this after leaving Ethiopia, how in a place where watering systems aren't available,  God sends the rain every day to water their crops to feed their people.  He meets their needs.  In Sri Lanka you see King Coconuts everywhere.  They are like big empty coconuts with sterilized water for drinking.  Literally, the water grows on trees.  They have turned their back on God, choosing to worship man made idols that offer no hope only rules, and yet The God who created them still supplies their needs by the fruit of the tree. His eye is on the sparrow, even while allowing them the consequences of their choices, and while He waits for them to be told of His grace.

 She is selling king coconuts.
I was constantly noticing the blank stares of the people on the roadsides with no life in their eyes in drastic contrast to the life in the eyes of those who have accepted Christ as their living water.  They are washed clean and the Hope they have found has brought them new life.  They cried out for it after years of war, and God heard their cry. He answered the prayers of the faithful and the repentant and He is on the move.  "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His." 2 Chronicles 16:9  We heard several share their testimony of how God has completely changed their lives since attending the widows conference our director helped conduct in February.  They talked about how they have prayed for ways to go beyond just meeting the physical needs, but to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of those in their war torn communities.  They are the ones doing the hard work, and we had the privilege of help being a part of how God is equipping them for that calling.  Because of who He is, they are not who they were. Me, too.  They shared with us the story of this woman, who is a war widow, and how she had acquired poison and was planning on taking her life and the lives of her two children.  The ladies working in the new Hope Center stopped by her home to just do a home visit not knowing what they would find. Through them, God supplied her needs with people who care, food for her table, listening ears, and now a church home.  I wonder what plans He has for her sons.

Faces of Hope.

Faith in God gives us Hope.  Choose wisely where you put your faith though, because there are many choices out there that don't lead to hope, but to despair. Years of despair.  Generations of despair.  And despair leads to blank stares.  But, Hope leads to determined vision, and that is what we saw in the faces of those at the conference.  Faith, Hope, great Love and a determined vision.  Sounds a lot like what I'm seeing in the pictures and reports coming out of Moore, as I returned home to the news of the tornado.  I heard about it just 20 minutes or so before I got on a nearly 17 hour flight home.  At the time, there were still a few friends that hadn't been heard from as I turned off my phone and boarded the plane.  As I prayed on the flight, a world headline came on the airplane screen announcing that 91 people had been lost.  What a still sad relief to learn it was so many less than that, and that my friends and family were affected, but safe.

I am so moved by how God is supplying their needs through one another as it is always done in Oklahoma.   Where God is given the praise, as the work is being done.  I'm seeing facebook posts of friends in Ponca loading up trucks, offering their homes and help, and I am reminded of just how much I love Oklahoma (and Ponca friends). I know many of you probably saw Harry Smith say to Brian Williams "If you are waiting on the government for help, you'll be waiting a long time, but these Baptist Men, they will get it done tomorrow." The Baptist Men are just one organization of the many churches who are helping and loving those affected. They are known in particular because of their Faith, Hope and great Love, lived out in times of devastation.  God has given them a great ministry of mercy and they honor Him well. Our God is an awesome God who hears us when we pray, gives us water when we are thirsty (either bottled or in a king coconut), and regardless of whether or not we thank Him because He is merciful.  In Sri Lanka most don't thank Him as they are praying to thousands of gods, and decorating for "lord Buddha's birthday" as their elderly are literally sitting on the side of the road among trash.  But God is watching for hearts that are looking for Him, and He moves mountains to get to them.  In Moore, thanking Him comes a little more naturally, because we live in a land that is blessed from being founded on faith...even as that faith is being more and more rejected in the land.  I pray faith grows in their hearts and minds in Who He truly is as they help carry the burdens of one another through this tragedy.  In the end only one thing remains, our relationship with God through Jesus Christ who brought Hope into this world.  Faith in Him, leads to assurance of Heaven (being in the presence of God instead of out of His presence) of which we hope for and peace in this life in the midst of all circumstances either war-torn, or tornado-torn.  God gives us strength and supplies to do the work at hand because He has given us a great love for one another. Love that expresses itself through compassion, service, sacrifice and joy.  

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers (blank stares), so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay (treasure = Hope through Christ, jars of clay= our lives) to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:4-9 (see Moore, OK and Sri Lanka)

Our last night in Sri Lanka, we rode in a Tuk Tuk to go eat Pizza Hut pizza, and we weren't wearing seat belts. 

My view from the Tuk Tuk.

Monday morning, which was Sunday evening here in CST, we flew back to Dubai for a 14 hour layover.  We were bone tired, but for $30 US dollars you can take a 4 hour tour of the city.  Had it been a 3 hour tour I would not have gone.

Dubai looks like a comic book city.

World's tallest building.

As we entered an old museum, the calls to prayer began ringing out over the city from the tower on the right.

Thank you again for your prayers for this trip, and for going along with me through pictures and this blog.   

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