International Ministries

New Easter Clothes...

April 1, 2013 Journal
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New Easter Clothes...

I haven’t had a “new Easter outfit” for decades.  The last one I remember was in my 20’s—and I sewed it—a navy blue dress and jacket.  I hadn’t even thought about anything new for this year’s Easter…and then some friends came to stay with me for the week-end.  They flew in from Uganda, where they’re involved in significant ministries with the most vulnerable populations of Africa.  They live and work in difficult situations, and I was thankful that I could provide them with comfortable and lovely accommodation (see previous journal about the “new home” that God gave me.)  My friends needed good R & R—and their first priority was shopping!  We headed into Amsterdam on Saturday and I left them off on a shopping street while I had a meeting about an upcoming conference where I’ll be speaking.  I finished my meeting early, and was wandering around a department store, waiting for them, when I found a lovely matching aqua sweater and shirt—on sale!  I decided I really did need a new spring outfit, and bought it.  After the 3 of us met up, we headed downstairs, and walking through the accessories department I found the perfect scarf for the new sweater set…but decided it was too expensive, and that I had a necklace at home which would work just fine. (Hang in there with me, men...there is a point to this!) 

 On Easter Sunday morning, as the 3 of us were getting ready for church, I was thinking that the scarf would have made the outfit perfect, and was regretting my decision to not get it.  Just at that moment, my friends came into my room, handed me a bag, and said, “Happy Easter!”  At some point during our shopping, they had diverted my attention, and had bought the scarf!  Tears came to my eyes at their kindness and generosity, the wonderful surprise!  I thanked God for friends such as these!  The scarf, originally given up, will now not just be a piece of clothing, but a memory of friendship and caring. 

 And so we all went to Easter Sunday services in new spring clothes.  For the first time in weeks, it was gloriously sunny here in Holland—and as we walked into the church while the brass quintet played triumphantly, my joy was overwhelming.  The cross in front of the church, which had been shrouded in black, was now covered in flowers.  It, too, was wearing “new clothes”!  The pipe organ played a lively introduction to “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”, and I so desperately wanted to sing those words, but all I could do was cry.  Jesus has risen!  Hopelessness has been overcome!  We celebrate life’s greatest surprise!

 And then the pastor started to preach his sermon.  It was focused on the cross, and helped us to understand that not only does the cross represent a New Life, but also a Resurrected Life.  Because of the cross, we can look squarely at ugliness and pain and disappointment—not deny them, or turn away from them—but straight at them, and know that there can be Hope, there can be Resurrection—a New and Surprising outcome that only God can bring about . 

 As I sat there in the pew, I thought about 3 days before:  I was in a Thai sex club, giving out beautiful little Easter gifts, with messages of Jesus’ Hope.  Sitting in front of me was an 11-year-old child, the daughter of one of the women.  Her mother works here in Holland and the daughter lives with her grandmother in Thailand, but had come during the Thai summer holidays to visit.  She sat in the waiting room, with all the women, bored, playing a game on an iPad, while her mother waited for customers.  I am dismayed thinking about what this vulnerable child sees and hears.  I’m terrified that prostitution in this family will continue through the generations.  I feel helpless, and hopeless. 

 Helplessness and hopelessness are human conditions that give us 2 choices:  ignore the suffering around us that bring them on; or face the suffering and pain, trusting that Jesus is with us.  We are not alone. 

 Jesus sent me to be with that mother and daughter that day, to keep them in my prayers and endeavor to stay in contact with them.  Jesus continues to send many people into places of darkness, like that Thai brothel, not with promises of glorious outcome, but with confidence that he goes with us.  And the experience of the cross teaches me that ultimately, Jesus wins! 

 The desolation of death and then the victory of resurrection:  both were necessary.  My friends and I continued to celebrate on Easter Sunday—a sumptuous brunch in a lovely restaurant and Henri Nouwen videos at home.  We enjoyed each other’s company, and then on Monday, returned to our work with vulnerable and desperate people.  This Easter, I not only have new clothes—but ever so much better—I celebrate a re-newed cloak of strength to continue looking sadness in the face with more confidence than ever of Jesus’ resurrection presence and activity.

Thank you for your support and encouragement to me as we continue the journey together!