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part 1: surprises.

It generally takes me a good while to process things that happen in my life. Thus, camp and VBS have been at the top of my thoughts quite a lot, recently.

This trip was particularly special for me--it was my first real trip with Mongolians and put my language skills to the test.

From the first days of preperation, you would have looked at us and hoped we would even made it to our destination, much less arrive, survive and thrive. But, like most things in Mongolia, predictions are impossible and the level of success would present itself in a surprise ending.

Surprise! not only did everything work out fine, but it was one of the most wonderful trips I have ever [EVER] been on.

In case you didn't know, around April Erin and I decided we really wanted to have a joint youth camp. We mentioned it to our youth and they were overcome with joy about even the thought of this. We knew then that somehow we had to make it work.

Along with camp, my church decided they wanted to go on to another city to do a VBS with a church member of ours that just moved to start a church. I was apprehensive but they were excited and that was contagious.

Going to the countryside has a lot of understood implications...if you're Mongolian. However, I am not. So, some things were quite a surprise for me.

I was fully aware that we would be eating Mongolian food in a non-stop fashion. I have become quite ok with that--I really enjoy Mongolian food, on the whole. We had fresh milk, fresh yogurt and even fresh meat. I didn't know how fresh it would be--or how much of it we would eat--but it was all so fresh and delicious.

The chefs for the trip told me we would need to buy 2 whole goats to feed everyone for a week. That seemed fairly normal, considering their love for meat. However, whole is the key word to take note of here. Much like most people in the world, Mongolians eat all of the animal--intestines and all [and use poop for the fire].

A few weeks ago someone brought the intestines from an animal to my church and they cooked it in the guard's house. I didn't quite enjoy the smell and was terrified to eat stomach but my Mongolian friends thought it delicacy status, so, I tried it. I didn't hate it, but I also didn't want a whole bowl of it. I heard that this was what you eat when you go to the countryside so I was mentally preparing my mouth.

On the first evening of camp, they had already killed the first goat and it was time to cook the intestines. They started putting pieces on a stick and roasting them--like marshmallows. I couldn't believe it. After I finished laughing hysterically and thought "This is SO Mongolia" I decided it was worth a try. Talk about delicious!

From then on out, I ate it all. Stomach, lower intestine, upper intestine, liver, kidney, you name it, I ate it AND liked it.

photo credit: Erin

photo credit: one of my youth

Along with the food surprises came the really beautiful surprises--more like blessings.

The three churches have never done a lot of stuff together. There has been talk of doing things together and even some smaller things but a camp in the countryside for nearly a week had never been done with all three groups.

It could have very well been all things disastrous. Instead, it was all things beautiful.

The youth got along really well. They played soccer, volleyball, frisbee, screaming ninjas. They swam together in their underwear. They had small groups together, they worshiped together. It was a lot of togetherness and they handled it with grace and joy.

Surprise, blessing, mess, controlled chaos, fun, life--call it what you will, I enjoyed every second and counted all as a gift. I would gladly take all 55 Mongolians on another camp excursion tomorrow.

Because of the nature of this trip and my reflections, these stories will manifest themselves in a 3 part blog series. Which, for those of you who actually like to read my blog, that should be nice, because I haven't written much substance in a while.

So, part 1: surprises.
part 2: separation [which I can never spell]
part 3: riches.

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The Prayer of the Empty Water Jar

Jesus, I come into the warmth of your presence
knowing that you are
the very emptiness of God.

I come before you
holding the water jar of my life.

Your eyes meet mine
and I know what I'd rather not know.

I came to be filled
but I am already full.

I am too full
This is my sickness

I am full of things
that crowd out
your healing presence.

A holy knowing steals inside my heart
and I see a painful truth.

I don't need more
I need less
I am too full.

I am full of things that block out
your golden grace.

I am smothered by gods of my own creation
I am lost in the forest of my false self
I am full of my own opinions and narrow attitudes
full of fear, resentments, control
full of self-pity, and arrogance.

Slowly this terrible truth
pierces my heart
I am so full there is no room for you.

Contemplatively, and with compassion
you ask me to reach into my water jar.

One by one, Jesus, you enable me
to lift out the things
that are a hindrance to my wholeness.

I take each one to my heart and