In Review

blogpost-assimilateorgohomeAssimilate or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith

by D.L. Mayfield (HarperOne, 2016) 207 pps.

In Assimilate or Go Home, D.L. Mayfield recounts her college-age desires to go to the mission field and save all of the lost souls to Jesus Christ. She describes her Christian college classes which focus on missions and how she earnestly engages with the assigned readings, professors, and classmates. She volunteers to teach English as a second language to Somali Bantu refugees who recently arrived in Portland, Oregon. As she begins to spend time with them she experiences internal dissonance and external resistance from the people she was “ministering to.” Eventually, this dissonance leads her away from missions, per se, to a life of living with, alongside the people she was initially planning to convert.

 
The book is organized by essays which highlight Mayfield’s journey from a naïve, eager would-be overseas missionary to a wiser, experienced Christian who lives in a poor, multicultural neighborhood. Many of the essays were previously published but are gathered here for an effective memoir.

 
In the essay “Vacation Bible Schools” Mayfield describes taking some of the refugee children to a week-long program popular in many evangelical churches. The theme for the VBS was “The Serengeti” with suggestions to decorate the church rooms with African-themed images.

 
Mayfield took a van full of children and “they stared in silent amazement at all the large cutouts of giraffes and elephants decorating the stage.” As she directed her children to a drinking fountain she overheard a small child exclaim, “Oh! They brought us kids from the Serengeti!” She realized that the church children thought the refugee children were props:

I wanted to self-righteously shake my finger and rant about “othering” people, but I was supposed to be the exemplary volunteer. . . . I glared at everyone around me. I felt smug, secure in my own saintliness as I bustled around my group of exotics, the only diverse kids in the large, pale bunch. I drove all the kids home, but decided not to bring them the next night.

Yet, as Mayfield reflected later on this experience she realized that her refugee friends were sort of a prop for her own life. “When I finally started to believe the opposite, to see them as complex, flesh-and-blood people, everything got much harder … And my view of myself was irrevocably changed.”

 
Mayfield is a skilled writer, bringing the reader into her life while revealing her thoughts, questions, and struggles.

 
I first read this book last fall, shortly after it was published. I began re-reading in early January before the inauguration and before the executive order banning refugees from seven predominately-Muslim countries was issued. In response to the ban, Mayfield posted on her blog, “Ten ways to support refugees.” This list is very helpful with practical suggestions.

Prayer for peace (and those who work for peace)

Global Peace

Creator God we praise and bless your holy name. We bless your handiwork as seen in the beauty of the season. You are truly the Divine Artist.

We thank you for your mercifulness and kindness toward us and toward all of  the world. We thank you for your patience and love–they are truly new every morning. You are God above all other gods.

We confess that we take your mercy and grace for granted. We presume on your love, forgetting that your love is a gift freely offered and given by you and there is nothing we can do to earn your love. Forgive us for insisting on our own way and attempting to control you–we forget that you are God of the universe. Forgive us for assuming that we know better than you do, for thinking we are more wise than you.

Merciful God, we receive your forgiveness and lovingkindness with humbled hearts. Thank you for your mercy and grace.

And now, Loving God, we ask you to intervene on behalf of the men, women and children around the world who are suffering. We ask that you pour out your Spirit to bring about justice as well as your peace.

We pray especially for the peacemakers around the world. We ask that you give them stamina and encouragement in the long, difficult process toward peace. Give each of them open and clear hearts and minds as they continue to work for peace. And God, we bring before you the extremists who want to destroy peace for whatever reason. We ask that you grip their hearts with love and compassion rather than power and revenge.

We also pray for the peacemakers in North America. We pray especially for those who work with warring gangs, with children who have guns, with parents who have lost hope. Oh God our parent, we ask that you stir us up, rouse us from our complacency so we will care that our children and youth are dying in this country. Help us to grieve over the loss of lives of anonymous youth. Give us a glimpse of your grief.

And God, not only do we pray for peacemakers, we pray for peace itself. Please bring peace to this world. Please answer our prayers.

Loving God, we thank you that you are a God who listens to your people and acts on behalf of those requests. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear as you move in this world and in our lives. Amen.

Pinning our hopes on you, little baby (a Christmas Eve prayer)

blog post--12-24-12baby photo

We bless you, our God,
mighty sovereign power,
gentle caring mother.
You do not forget your children.

We bless you, our God,
for your great gifts to us:
creation–fragile and fascinating,
Scripture–revealing your truth.

And you bless us . . .
with your forgiving love,
with the vision of your kingdom,
shedding light in our darkness.

Bless us and disturb us God
with that vision of your kingdom,
and as we voice our hopes to you now,
may they strengthen us,
reassure us
and move us . . .

We pray for those caught up in wars around the world;
soldiers, refugees and those who hold fast
to the reasons for the fighting . . .

(Silence)

We pray for the homeless
–excluded from what the rest of us are doing,
cold, struggling to keep a hold of who they are . . .

(Silence)

We pray for those who are ill,
coping with pain, fearing the worst,
and for health professionals who plan for the future . . .

(Silence)

We pray for those people struggling in relationships,
especially at this “family time,”
when the cracks are kept just below the surface . . .

(Silence)

And for the deepest hopes of our hearts, we pray now . . .

(Silence)

Into the mess of this world a fragile child will come
yelling in the night for his mother,
needing milk and clean linen . . .

We pin our hopes on you, little baby,
our God
–pushed out into the world,
through pain and into poverty.

Our God is with us and our hope is reborn.

Amen.

–from Cloth for the Cradle:Worship resources and readings for Advent, Christmas & Epiphany, Iona Community, Wild Goose Worship Group, 2000.

A peek into spiritual direction

Spiritual direction by Kevin Driedger

I enter the room for spiritual direction. My director, J. is there, lighting a candle and smiling as she greets me. I meet with her about every four-six weeks, depending on our schedules. Meeting with a spiritual companion is one of my spiritual disciplines, which are things I regularly do to deepen my relationship with God. With a spiritual companion I have someone who listens compassionately as I discern God’s presence and movement in my life.

We sit in chairs facing one another, near the windows looking out onto a meadow, and together we wait in silence, in prayer.

“I don’t know what to talk about today,” I say.

J. nods.

“I’ve been working on some writing projects ….” My voice trails off.

She attentively waits.

“And I’m writing some stuff for my blog but I think I have offended some people.”

J. raises her eyebrows and asks, “Really?”

And in this moment I see that I have no idea if someone was offended.  God reveals to me that I am very fearful of rejection and criticism—I am afraid of offending someone who will in turn reject me. And I see my fear as something God wants to heal and transform in me.

“I’m afraid and I feel very bound up by fear,” I say.

“Well, how do you pray about your fear?” she asks.

“I often pray, ‘Perfect love casts out all fear,’” I say. “But I don’t know if I believe this is true because I feel so afraid.”

“Do you want to talk to Jesus about your fear right now?” J. asks.

I nod yes and she leads me in a guided meditation where I offer my fear to Jesus but also ask him to help my unbelief. I use a lot of tissues during this prayer time.

We conclude the guided prayer and I feel some relief, some resolution, but I know this is a lifetime struggle for me.

J. says to me, “The opposite of fear is freedom that comes from faith. I suggest a breath prayer like, ‘Set me free Lord, set me free.’ I think if you focus on this prayer for the next several months you will begin to experience some inner freedom.”

I agree with her and tell her I will begin using the prayer this very day. She doesn’t often suggest a specific prayer or assign “homework” but because I trust her—her wisdom, experience, and faith–I do as she suggests. We sit in a comfortable silence until I say, “Thank you—even though I didn’t have anything to talk about today, God certainly had a plan!”

We laugh together then she closes our time with prayer. My spiritual director shares her time, presence, and wisdom and through our sessions together I have a greater awareness of God’s healing, transforming movement in my life. We set our next meeting, I pay her, hug her, and leave the room knowing that I have encountered God during this time of spiritual companionship.