|After twelve hours of travel, the Boyds and Byerses arrived in Rio de Janiero. And so did all of our luggage!|
Our family's eleventh Let's Start Talking mission project is underway! We have safely arrived in Natal, Brazil where we will spend the next six weeks offering free English conversation practice using the book of Luke from the Bible as our text. We arrived Tuesday afternoon in time to do some grocery shopping and unpacking before meeting with our first readers Wednesday afternoon.
Josh, Kinley, Knox, and I make up half of our eight-person team with Josh's sister, Kelsey, and her family making up the rest. The four adults will have up to fifteen readers each, and we'll meet with each of them for one-on-one English conversation practice. Kinley will have seven or eight readers of her, and she'll spend the rest of her time helping with childcare since Knox, Finn, and Landry will need some supervision while the adults are with readers.
And for the first time this year, Knox will get to have readers! When Kinley was nine years old, we went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a Let's Start Talking mission project. She had her first readers that year, and since Knox is now nine, he gets to begin sharing Jesus with others this year.
In Malasia in 2010, Kinley met with her very first readers.
Knox met with his first reader, Lucia, yesterday.
I'm so proud of Knox and Kinley for wanting to share Jesus's love with others, and I'm grateful to the very patient Malaysians and Brazilians who have been willing to let my children practice on them. Studying English with an American can be intimidating, and it takes extra humility to be willing to learn from a nine-year-old!
I;m excited to start sharing my faith as well, and yesterday I met with three readers. One of them had been my reader in 2014 while the other two were men I hadn't met before. As Let's Start Talking workers, we come to each mission site ready to have deep conversations with people we've never met before. We know that our new friends will only share their true feelings and thoughts with us if we're willing to be open and honest as well. We are prepared to talk about specific ways that we have seen Christ at work in our lives, but we're also ready to acknowledge personal doubts and struggles. I've prepared to myself to talk about difficult times in my life like my parents' divorce, my miscarriage, and my daddy's death to illustrate the ways God had cared for me even then. I've even prepared myself to have to talk about the incredibly uncomfortable topic of American politics and the 2016 election. But I still wan't prepared for the conversations I had with two of my readers yesterday.
My first session of the day was with a returning reader who had already completed the Luke book and is now studying in the book of John. We read a lesson together which tells about the woman that was caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Jesus. Her accusers reminded Jesus that the law said this woman was to be stoned to death for her sins, and then they asked Jesus what should be done. They were intentionally trying to trick him, but Jesus was wiser than they expected. He famously replied, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Since no one on the planet is sinless, all of the accusers left. Jesus showed mercy to the woman and forgave her sins.
At the end of the lesson, I asked my reader to rethink this story with a present-day setting. I asked him who would be dragged before Jesus today if the story were re-imagined. I don't know what I expected him to say - a lying politician? A greedy billionaire? An unscrupulous policeman? But I certainly didn't expect him to say the mass murderer responsible for the recent shooting at an Orlando nightclub.
Wow. As you can imagine, I was a little stunned. The horror in Orlando occurred just before we left the US. I was in complete it's-time-to-pack-for-six-weeks-and-prepare-our-house-to-be-unoccupied-for-the-summer mode, and so I hadn't watched the news a single time in more than a week. Beyond reading a few posts on Facebook, I knew precious few details. I only knew the basics of the terrible crime, but that was enough to know that the shooter was not the person I'd imagine receiving forgiveness from Jesus without even asking for it. So it took me a moment to process what my reader was implying. My reader was suggesting that our precious Savior would show mercy to this monster. Whoa. That gave me food for thought.
And that wasn't the only time yesterday that I was asked about Orlando. As soon as I sat down with my second reader of the day, even before the typical pleasantries, he said, "First let me ask you this. I think many Christians and churches in the US don't like gay people. How do you feel about what happened in Orlando?"
I sat there knowing that I needed to respond quickly but not sure how to express my true feelings in the basic English that my new friend was sure to understand. My feelings are so complex! They're a mix of disbelief and helplessness and grief and shock and confusion and discouragement and paralysis and worry and embarrassment and so many other feelings that to try to reduce them to the basic English that my reader could understand seemed impossible! So, after a brief pause, I simply said, "Sad. Really, really sad."
I don't know what he expected me to say, but evidently, I had passed his test. We continued with our session and even found common ground in our love of Madonna. (He squealed with delight at all of my pictures from her concert in January! Who says the Material Girl can't be a pathway to the love and mercy of Jesus??!!)
All of my training, years of experience with Let's Start Talking, and preparedness didn't prepare me for talking about Orlando. Thankfully, God gave me the words to say to respond to my readers in a way that seemed reasonable, if simplistic, to them.