Saturday, December 21, 2013

Desert Christmas

About a year ago, I was doing some shopping at the grocery store in the Avenues Mall, which is the largest mall in the country. It was December and I was just picking up some food items and looking through the clothing when I heard music. It was the mall background music, but I knew the song. It was a Christmas song! It was not just a generic, non-religious Christmas song, but it was "O Holy Night." I was totally blown away by this. I'm not sure if maybe the manager was a Christian or they just popped in any Christmas album they found for the background music of the mall, but it is interesting to see how Christmas still exists even in Kuwait.

Beyond this, many of the malls, including the Avenues, have some Christmas decorations. They sell fake trees and some ornaments. There will occasionally be Christmas music at malls and restaurants. The English department where I work also put up a large Christmas tree.

However, for the most part, the holidays do feel a bit different here than back home. For one thing, the weather is warmer. While it's not as hot in December as it is in the summer, it's still in the 50's and 60's, and there is certainly no snow on the ground anywhere.  I personally love that it's not cold, but it does take away from the authentic quality of Christmas.  Also, there are no Christmas decorations on houses. Even as I look out the window, I see a towering mosque surrounded by palms trees, a sign for McDonalds, and power lines in the distance. While some schools get two weeks off for Christmas, most educators and employees don't get any extra time off for Christmas. All I get is the day itself off, which is a courtesy to the Western teachers. It doesn't exactly scream Christmas.

Some of my friends here have a tough time being away from family who are back home during the season, and it can be especially painful for them. Please pray that the many Christians here that are away from their families would be comforted by Jesus.

For me, I really enjoy it because it's so different. I have my wife here who is my main family.  I also have my spiritual family, which are my close Christian friends who are together here with me.  My semester ends about a week after Christmas, so it signals a break. It also means that I get to travel. Additionally, there are many Christmas parties--life group Christmas dinner, life group leaders Christmas celebration, worship team Christmas dinner, and many more that will keep me very busy and overweight for the next two weeks.

I will also probably invite the people from my life group who are not traveling to my house on Christmas Eve and possibly have them spend the night (pending wife's approval), which is a Christmas tradition we started last year. We will open presents in the morning and then go to one of the church services at the Lighthouse.

While Christmas is certainly different in Kuwait, I'm grateful to God that the power of the birth of the Savior has reached even to a Muslim country, which is surprisingly close to where the original event happened.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Strategic Love

My wife and I were having dinner with a couple earlier this week, and we had a great time sharing a meal and catching up with each other.  It was a really enjoyable time, but because it was a work night, we had to pull ourselves away so we could get to bed on time.  As our friend was walking us out, he began to give me a little bit of a hard time about not hanging out as much as last year.  It was mostly joking around, but I still defended myself with all the different events that I have hosted or attended over the past several months.  However, he persisted that we used to hang out as a big group of friends every week last year, and my participation in these events has dwindled.  I refused to give up, explaining that I have done many things and even pointed out the events that he didn't attend.  While we left on good terms, I definitely thought about what he said. 

Loving one another.  This was the last theme of The Lighthouse Church and it is one of the distinguishing factors for Christians, because Jesus said that people will know that we are His disciples because we love one another.  The sermon series went through how we love unselfishly and without expecting anything in return.  We even went through the classic Good Samaritan parable.

While the sermon series was a good reminder of how we are to love generally, and I really enjoyed the encouragement and exhortation, I think that even more could be said on the subject of loving one another.  One of the ideas running through my mind is that we cannot love everyone.  If loving someone takes time and energy, then I am limited in the number of people I can love and in the amount of love I show someone.

Perhaps my friend is right, I haven't been loving the same people the same way as last year.  I think the reason is that there have been new people added to the church this school year, and I have been investing time in them.  That necessarily takes away time from loving other people.  Each moment I spent with one person is a moment I won't be spending with another.

Therefore, it stands to reason that we need to be strategic in who we love and spend time with.  We cannot love all people or at least love all people the same way.  So, how do we prioritize our loving one another?  That is a great question, and I don't have the perfect answer.

Of course, we need to love God first and our family second.  Beyond that, I guess it depends on a lot of things.  I make it my goal to try to spend time with the people in my small group and invest in them.  Additionally, I try to make a point to love and invest in people who are new to Kuwait in the church.  Finally, I try to love people who are partners with me in serving or who can give me wisdom and advice.

What do you think?  What is your strategy to love people?  I think if we don't have a plan of loving people, we will just gravitate towards what is natural, easy, and selfish. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Change is Good! Change is Bad!

Before I taught in Kuwait, I was a music teacher and band director at a secondary school in Pennsylvania. It was my first teaching job, and it was right after I finished university. Needless to say, I was totally full of idealism and empty on practical experience. I thought that I was going to turn that music program into something amazing overnight. I couldn't have been more wrong. While many of the mistakes were made by me, one of the major issues that I kept having to deal with was the concept of change. I had several parents that were part of the band booster club who were in the band when they were young and also had children who were in the band. They fiercely resisted any change because they remembered when they were in band, and they didn't want their memories or their children's experiences to be tarnished by changing the way it has 'historically been done.' I even had students resist me just because I had a different personality than the previous music director. It was a difficult three years, and one of the main things I learned is that change is hard.

However, I think the difficulty and level of resistance to change is in proportion to the amount of control or influence you have over the change, or if you have a good understanding of the change. I certainly didn't resist the changes I was making to my program as a music teacher, nor did the people who were were involved in the decision making process. Perhaps I could have handled the changes I made better if I included more people in the process.

The same is true for ministry. I mentioned in a previous post that the Lighthouse Jabriya started a new life group. This was because the previous group was getting too large to sustain all the members. However, I met some significant resistance from some people within the group, having to handle the situation carefully. Even though the reasons behind the change were explained, and people were given the options to choose the group they wanted to commit to (keeping in mind a large group gathering once a month or so), people still have had a hard time transitioning. Again, the people who accepted it the most either didn't have a long history with the group or they had some influence over the split. Those people who saw the benefits of intimacy in having two smaller groups accepted and even welcomed the change.

Our church is going through another major change right now, which is that we are changing the location of our Jabriya church service. As I've said before, we need to leave our location in Jabriya by the end of December because the main church at our location is adding another service at our time. By God's Providence, our church has found another villa in the neighboring district of Mishref.

I am personally excited about this change. I think I am looking forward to this change because I can clearly understand the reason behind the change and see the vision for all the benefits of this change. I know that we can't stay at Jabriya. There are several benefits of moving to this new location. We will most likely have the freedom to make the sanctuary and other rooms look/feel how we want. We will have a reception area after the service where people can connect better. The church can conduct leadership trainings, worship team practice, Christian education and life groups throughout the week. Our service will be able to grow more and it will be incentive to invite more people to church. Because I can see the vision of what it will become, I am excited about the change.

Of course, there will be difficulties. The new building needs renovating and cleaning before we can move in and make it our own. This place is more expensive than our last place and our members will need to give more sacrificially. There will be new issues with transportation and having people locate where it is. There will be opinions and disagreements in the decision making process, so there will be some "dying to self." There will be unexpected difficulties that haven't come up yet that we will need to deal with.

Even so, I am looking forward to this change because I get to be a part of what it will become and I can see the vision for it. It will be difficult for many people in the church and there will be a lot of hiccups. I think one of the solutions is to get as many people to understand the vision as possible and allow them to be a large part of what happens at our new location.

We ultimately need to lean on God, because He is truly the one that never changes. For our lives and our churches, change is absolutely necessary, but we can look to the One who doesn't change and trust that He knows what's best for us.