Journeying Towards Home

Last week, I got the chance to go to Sri Lanka. Just to set the stage, I’ll give you a little history lesson on this island nation.

Over the last 100 years, the people of Sri Lanka have been forced to endure tragedy after tragedy. During the colonial days, the empire transported thousands of people from Tamil Nadu, India, to northeast Sri Lanka to work the plantations and do other menial, manual labor jobs. These people were displaced from their homes and forced to work as servants. After India and Sri Lanka gained their independence, the Tamil people, who were living in Sri Lanka, were free to go ‘home.’ But by this point, decades had passed and most of them had never even laid eyes on the land they were told was their ‘home.’ They had no roots where they were, but they had no remembrance of the land of their fathers. They were a people without a place to call home. After about 35 years, Tamil Rebels and the Sinhalese (The native people of Sri Lanka) began to clash. A bloody, 30 year civil war ensued. Thousands upon thousands of peaceful Tamils were forcefully conscripted into the LTT (The Tamil Rebels) and forced to fight on the front lines. The Tamil Tigers were infamous for taking control of villages and telling them that they had come to “set them free.” But they ruled by terror. Men who refused to fight were forced to watch as their wives were raped and their houses were burned.

IGL was the only organization other than the UN that went into the LTT territory. Samuel Stevens, the President of IGL, personally traveled to the war zone many, many times. In the refugee camps, the fire of revival was spreading. The believers were moving among their own people to provide relief and hope. IGL was enabling them to do that. Sam told me that every time he went to the camps, they baptized hundreds of people. To them, Sam represented the only group of people in the world who cared about their suffering. Everyone of them I met referred to him as ‘Anand,’ which is an affectionate way of saying, ‘Big Brother.’

Because of his influence, the hope of the Gospel was transforming the nation, even in the midst of one of the bloodiest and most hopeless times of their history.

And then in 2004, the tsunami hit.

The whole eastern coast of the island was picked up and carried out to sea. Thousands of people were never seen again. Thousands more were found buried in the sand, wrapped in barbwire, or floating in the water. The devastation was so widespread that for months, nobody knew just how far the disaster zone went. Because the civil war wasn’t really over yet, relief workers couldn’t get in to help.

Because IGL was already at work in the refugee camps, they were perfectly situated to provide relief. They already had a reputation and a way into these remote villages that were the most severely affected.

During my trip, we visited a village that had been completely wiped out. The only building in the whole village that had survived was the church, which just happened to be built on a little hill. The tsunami hit on a Sunday morning, so guess where the believers were? The whole congregation sat and watched helplessly as their village was torn apart and washed into the sea.

For the second time in their history, the Tamil people faced the harsh reality of having no earthly place to call home.  

As I journeyed my way across Sri Lanka, the word “Home” bounced around inside my head. What would it be like not to know where that was?

When I got on the plane to fly back to India, the thought, I’m going home, passed through my mind.

The longer I have spent away from my home in Texas, the more clear it has become that Texas is not my home- not really. When I think about home, I no longer think of a house or a physical place. The first thing that comes to my mind are people. Home is where the people I love are. The part of me that thinks of the little trailer house, situated at the end of a little dirt road, somewhere in central Texas as home, is the part of me that loves my family. That’s a love that will always tie me to that place. But now there’s a part of me that is in love with the beautiful people of South India. Somewhere in my heart, I know that I will always feel homesick for these mountains.

The more I love people from all corners of this world, the more I tear my heart into pieces. As I fall in love with people, I drop little pieces of myself into them. As I love, I pour myself out.

But beyond all of the people and places that I will come to think of as ‘home’ during my time on earth, I know that I have an eternal home in a place I have never seen. The only thing that makes tearing my heart into pieces over the people of different countries worth it is the knowledge that someday, we will all go home together. That is the day I can not wait for. That is the day I’m longing for with all the broken pieces of my heart.

Before my sister went back to Texas, she wrote me a letter that said, “He has set eternity within our hearts. We will never find a place in this world that will truly satisfy us, because we were created for another one. And along the way, we can rest in His love and presence and let grace be our motivation to glorify Him. Because He deserves it all.” First of all, I just want to say that she is wise beyond her years and I thank God every day for the friend He has given me in her. These words have been settling into my heart and transforming the way I look at my life.

I’ve come to realize that there is no permanent destination to reach on this side of heaven. There is no place to ever stop and say, “Now, I’ve arrived.” As long as I keep breathing, I will always be on my way home. My hope and prayer is that along the way, I will point as many people as I can in the same direction. Hopefully, the pieces of my heart that I scatter all over this world will act as roadmaps for the people I love. Because I know that I will eventually have to leave these people behind, I want to use this time to make sure that they, too, know the way home. There’s a song by MercyMe that says, “I hope you stare just long enough to see- the heart that’s beating here inside of me. Beyond all of the things you may think you know- I’m just a kid tryin to make it home- that’s it. No more no less. I just want to go home- Nothing more and nothing less.”

That’s my hope; that you would look into my life just long enough to see the hope that I’ve found in Jesus. And hopefully join me on this journey towards Home.

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More Than I Hoped For

 Last Monday, I was scheduled to hit the road for a few days. Although the trip got put off until Tuesday, I realized that I wasn’t going to be there the day that Venmathi was supposed to leave the hostel. This, combined with the fact that I knew she didn’t have a bible to take with her, was making me panic a little bit. I prayed hard all week that something would delay her departure by just a few days so that I could at least get her a bible before she faced the world of Hinduism as a new Christian. 

 On Tuesday morning, I got in the car, not really knowing where I was headed. At the end of that day, I had become the first white person to ever step foot in a couple of small villages on the border of Tamil Nadu. That evening, I found myself in Kerala;Tamil Nadu’s neighbor to the west. I would be under-emphasizing if I said that it was breathtaking. We climbed the misty mountains that seemed to fade into the clouds to visit the Maranatha Children’s home in Spice Valley. The mountains seemed to be alive in every sense of the word. I was in awe of the fragrant spice gardens, the lush rain forest, and the perfectly cultivated tea plantations. At Maranatha, the pastor’s son gave me a tour of their spice garden. They grow cardamon, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, and lots of fruits too. While we were walking, I started asking him questions. His story was so interesting that I sat him down and did a proper interview. This young man, at the age of 24 had already planted two churches, led over 2 dozen Muslims to Christ, been beaten by their Muslim friends, spent a week in the hospital recovering, and then gone on to start an underground church for converted Muslims in that city (The city will remain unnamed for his safety.) He told me that his dream was for the children in their children’s home to grow up to be the next Abraham Lincolns and Albert Einsteins. As always, I am humbled by the faith and dedication of the Indian Christians. They know what it means to lose everything for the sake of the Gospel and find themselves in Jesus. 

 Upon my return the Salem, I was anxious to see if my prayers for Venmathi had been answered. On Friday morning, I nervously walked into the bible study room at the hostel. There she was, still where I had prayed she would be a day after she was supposed to leave. 
 “Venmathi! You’re still here!!” She threw her arms around me, which turned into a group hug from all 25 of the the girls, with me in the middle. 
 “Yes, sister. My application to be a day scholar (This means to keep attending the community college, but live at home) was denied. My parents want me to finish college. So, they agreed to let me stay at the hostel. I’m not going home anymore!”

 I was completely overwhelmed and amazed once more at seeing my prayers answered. God went over and beyond what I had asked. He knew all along that Venmathi wasn’t leaving. But He was building my faith by making me release her into His hands. 
 See, I have been in control the whole time. I am not going to desert you or Venmathi even for one second. 

 I had already seen God do more incredible and impossible things in one week than I had even dared hope for, but He wasn’t done yet. That night, two more girls surrendered their lives to Him. And once more, I fell to my knees in thankful worship.
 I think that’s God’s purpose in all of this- Keep falling to your knees. And I will keep lifting you up. Keep bowing down. And I will keep filling you up.