Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Dr. Helen Zorgdrager preached at Pilgrims last week.  Helen is a good friend and has stepped into the role of pastoral counselor for me from time to time these past few months.

Many months ago I was invited by a friend to attend a conference on human trafficking.  I wasn't sure how much I would understand, but I gladly accepted.  My friend didn't show, and within the first few minutes it was made abundantly clear that this would not be a conference one could sit through silently.  They made it very clear that everyone would talk and participate - and I would go first.  In broken Ukrainian, and very afraid, I introduced myself and fought for words to explain why. Was attending the conference.  A few people later, a woman introduced herself and in a very heavy accent said, "Mene svate Helen" and I knew that I was not alone!  She invited me to her class and I found that my dear friend Illya was one of her students.  Illya and I attended her lecture together.

Helen is a professor in the ecumenical studies program at the Catholic University, and a Protestant pastor from the Netherlands.  She is great fun and her kids are all about my age.

Ad she preached about Andrew.  It was a great sermon and very uplifting, but right near the end, it really hit home.  She talked about the idea that Andrew saw things through eyes that saw the Kingdom.  He saw through Messiah believing eyes.  He saw a boy's meager meal and be saw a Kingdom banquet feast.  He saw a poor, wandering carpenter and he saw the Messiah.

Helen called us to see our current situation through Messiah believing eyes.

And how these three months have been tough.  I put my back out a little over a week ago and had to cancel my vacation plans.  It broke my heart to give up my free time and the joy of southern Spain with good friends.  I am so thankful to have been at Pilgrims student worship on Thursday.  I was so thankful to be reminded of the Kingdom.

Our small community sees the world through Kingdom eyes.  We have suffered tragedy after tragedy - and yet when we stand and sing praise to God, our whole hearts cry out.  We have had so many first time visitors since the accident - and many of them keep coming back.  There is something so compelling about this small group with such big faith.  They are the reason I can get out of bed and face another day of paperwork and legal issues.  And in the midst of tragedy and heartache - God is still present with us.  God is comforting us.

And tonight in the service of commissioning for eight new colleagues in mission Bishop McLee said,
"If fear shows up on your journey, you show fear who you are journeying with."  His mother always told him, "troubles don't last always."

And as Helen talked about Andrew, the younger brother of Peter, I found myself identifying so much with Andrew.  Never the most faithful, the smartest, or really the best at anything - Andrew was the second sibling and brought his own gifts and graces.

When Bishop Vaxby asked me to step into the role of Interim Director of the student center, I offered up a few names of better options.  He shared with me that the community had requested me and he shared words that I will never forget. "Don't try and be big enough, or strong enough.  You just be Michael and that will be enough."

I think like all young adults in ministry, I struggle with the idea of whether I want to stay in ministry long term or not.  I can't imagine doing anything else, but everything else seems somehow easier.  And in these last few months I have seen anger and hatred like I had never seen before, and sometimes I wonder if I will make it another day.  But I have also felt such tremendous love.  I have felt encouraged and blessed.  The warmth of a thousand prayers and the warmth of an arm around my waist.  The whispered prayers of my mother's morning post and the whispers of kindness and gentleness from beloved friends into my weary mind.

And in end there is only the reminder that God is good and faithful. God has called me to this work, and God continues to call and tug on my heart. We either grow or we die. We either follow or we fall. God is good. God is love. Amen.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Three Months

Yesterday marked three months since the accident that changed our world.

Illya's mom came to Pilgrims student worship service on Thursday.  She introduced herself to our community and she apologized that she hadn't come sooner.  She said, "Illya always dreamed that I would one day come to Pilgrims and see this wonderful community.  I'm so sorry that I never came with him while I had the chance."

Illya's mom worshiped with us, and shared with the community her son loved so much.

And we face the reality of moving forward in the face of pain.  It is hard to look at pictures of the past, because they are filled with faces of those we have loved and lost.  It is hard to ask people to move forward into a new day until all have grieved fully.

Each person grieves differently.  I remember when my great grandmother died, I was so angry at my mother because she wasn't crying at the funeral.  I was seven or eight or even younger - but I had been to enough funerals to know that tears were mandatory.  As an adult, I understand how grateful my mother had been for her grandmother's life and that she had passed away peacefully after a very long life.  Each person grieves differently, perceives the situation differently, and processes in his or her own time.

I look on in wonder at the ways God has sustained our communities here in Ukraine.  It continues to amaze me to see the way that leaders have emerged and stepped up to lead.  God continues to bless these ministries in spite of all of our weaknesses.  Love and time heal all things.  Our wounds are slowly healing, and we continue to feel God's presence during this difficult time.