Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Happens In India...Must Be shouted From the Rooftops!

Greetings Everyone! Thank you so much for support our team and families in your prayers, assistance and through your on-going encouragement as we served on special assignment in NE India. There is more to share than can possibly be shared and an abundance of blessings for which to give thanks. Though the volume of information is great, I must share a few highlights to give you at least a taste of what the Lord did in us and through us on our visit.

Our Team experienced some trials – Our veteran member Nancy - was injured on our first day in country and soldiered on for several more days before having to return a bit early to ensure her injuries could be repaired before any major damage was done. Nevertheless, she made sure that several projects close to her heart including a special project to distribute new shoes via the ministry Samaritan’s Feet, were in place before her departure.

Chris Simanek, a great friend and brother in the Lord gets highest accolades in his selfless willingness to assist Nancy in returning to the US. While in India, actually his second trip there, Chris managed to locate and encourage some friends who are conducting some wonderful ministry there, met with a child he is sponsoring, encouraged the child’s family and many of their neighbors, and gave a testimony that warmed many hearts among the men in the community and opened some significant doors for ministry that might have otherwise remained much more difficult to open.

Katie and Karen were the Dynamic Duo of the team, and took the ministry project community by storm. No Bug, Bomb or nasty Bathroom in their path could stop their momentum or quench their enthusiasm as they ministered to moms, children and everyone else they encountered. Their joy and enthusiasm was viral and blessed the children of the project and the ministry staff who serve them day after day during our entire time in NE India. It was not possible for them to fail in sharing the love of the Lord in all of their dealings during our stay!

Though we were blessed to see the Lord work in many ways while there, I was especially blessed by the opportunity we had to minister to the fathers. I had inquired about teaching opportunities that might be available once we arrived. I felt an unshakeable and unrelenting conviction that the Lord had something in store using a time of teaching as the platform. I was struck by the need to connect to fathers once we arrived at the project and began asking more pointed questions regarding how we might reach out. The Compassion Team and Hope Church leaders were very eager to assist and put the word out that we would have a teaching time for dads concerning alcohol use and gambling – two major problems among men who work in the Tea Plantations. We started with a handful in attendance. Nevertheless, as we shared, the word spread and we ended up with over 60 and a request for another session later that week. We were able to have another session two days later where we made even further headway and we’re looking into ways we can incorporate some more targeted assistance and encouragement in the areas of substance abuse recovery and parenting skills into our next team.

I would be very remiss in not mentioning the amazing Compassion Team, their US and Indian logistic staffs and Team leaders, the translators, the Compassion Ground Ministry Experts, the Hope Church Leaders and the Ministry volunteers in place at the project sites. These brothers and sisters set the bar in terms of excellence, dedication and devotion to duty. They were literally tireless in their efforts to serve us and the people to whom they are called to minister. They suffered and sacrificed to allow us to not only serve but enjoy our time in Inida in comfort, style and relative ease. These folks are truly the “Crème de la crème’! Bless them and those like them! Way too few of them around!!

As our time wound down, we discovered that we had made many new friends and identified some promising prospects for ministry in the future. Thank you all for standing with us in prayer. I was truly blessed in my first Grace Church International mission and look forward to other International trips in the future. I, my teammates and others who cheered us on are also extremely excited to inject the same level of enthusiasm and focus into our missions efforts here at home. In fact, I was struck by how similar some of the challenges are between cultures – problems of relationships, family and work. The heartbreak of loss, betrayals and disappointments. The hurdles of cyclic poverty and generational discouragement. The grinding battle of disease and health concerns. I believe that our efforts in other nations help provide clarity to serve in our own backyard, and that service here compels us to share all that we know in other places for God's glory. The Lord has given us much to do. I pray you, our friends, will continue to lift us up in prayer as we press on in His service “Here, there and everywhere”! Blessings on you all!

Your Friend and Servant,

Sam Jackson

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

“Say It Loud! I’m…?” Some thoughts on Cultural Identity and Labels

After returning home from a mission trip to India, familiar sights and sounds flooded my senses and the US Customs official’s greeting soothed my soul: “Welcome Home”. Indeed, there’s no place like home, and it’s especially satisfying after returning from a long journey abroad. This was definitely the case when my daughters greeted me today! The welcome I received from them today must be a lot like the experience one receives when arriving at Heaven’s Gates! How sweet it is! Nevertheless, I often find that my times abroad have an interesting spin as an African-American. In other countries, observers sometimes look at my face and pigment in a more refined way, and can often identify characteristics not limited to one continent. On this last visit to India, one friend pulled me aside and after wrestling with his curiosity directly asked me “Where are you from? I know you’re from America, but I see many people in your face and actions. Where are your people from?” It was actually a very insightful question. Where are my people from? It’s a very important question in a world where many people know who their ancestors are back to many generations and where one’s birth language and name connote a history, a culture and a heritage that definitively informs you of who you are, where you come from and how you view the world and the people in it.

You might be thinking, “Sam, this is a curious topic considering you just came back from a mission trip to India and certainly have many things to report about what you observed.” True enough. Nevertheless, a friend’s question in a Facebook discussion regarding an article addressing racial labels and questioning the appropriate identity for the descendants of slaves in the US triggered my memory of the conversation with my friend in India and just wouldn’t go away. I understood his curiosity and his question caused me to think considerably about the way I describe who I am and where I come from. I also knew that any of the labels we typically use to describe the descendants of African Slaves in the US would be woefully deficient in answering his question satisfactorily. So, I set out to give an abridged history of “the Black Experience” in the US, focusing on what I know of my family history on my father’s side, which can be traced on paper back to a Mississippi slave owner born in the 1780’s. I concluded with the explanation that the people who share a similar heritage have been known by a number of labels over time, the latest of which is “African American”.

In my own lifetime, as the descendant of African slaves, I have been described by a number of labels which have resulted from attempts to create a meaningful identity for me and others who share my heritage. I heard the “N-word”. I’ve been called, “that colored boy”. I have checked the box marked “Negro” and said it loud, “I’m Black and I’m Proud!” I’ve also willingly used the term “African-American” with all of the intellectual processing that helped to establish it. Which one is best? I have no idea. Personally, I feel the term “Black” rolls easily off of the tongue, works great in song lyrics and just has more linguistic strength. Nevertheless, it still isn’t perfect, and doesn’t necessarily make logical sense in describing very light-skinned people of African descent like my mom, who in the eyes of many from outside our family’s context, would not have been easily identifiable as “Black” by a mere visual observation of her physical features alone.

In my evaluation, the persistent wrestling with terminology reflects the complex and painful history that is Black America. We tend to forget that once upon a time in our nation’s history slaves were intentionally and systematically stripped of their names, languages, cultural origins and any directly identifiable ties to the African continent. We also forget that steps were implemented to ensure those origins could never again be regained. The only lasting obvious connection is found in the physical features that remain present in the faces of Black Americans. In his book “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America” Eugene Robinson postulates that what was once a monolithic Black American culture has now morphed into at least 4 distinct cultures which share a common origin traceable at one point or another to Africa, but having divergent views of the world today and the way each these groups process their places in it.

For those reasons, I’m not tied to any of these labels too tightly. I now check the box that says “African-American” and as late as last month, I’ve even responded positively to a dear older friend of an earlier generation who with no malice or intent to injure, referred to me as “colored”. Inside in my heart of hearts, I’m usually saying it loud, “I’m Black and I’m Proud!” Ultimately, I see myself as a human being and a child of God - a Christian committed to the service of Jesus Christ, seeking to be a peace with all people as much as it has to do with me. It is my greatest hope that others will be able to see Christ in me, and that in the words of the apostle Paul people will know that I desire to champion: “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Those are all attributes and labels I pray will be applied and that I pray will stick. Until next time…


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Over Yonder!

I will never forget the times during my growing up years when my parents informed my grandparents of our permanent changes of station or one of my father’s combat deployments. The response we’d invariably hear was, “Lord they sending that boy over yonder again!” As a vocational Christian worker, I have had several opportunities to minister in a variety of places in the United States and internationally as well. Those of you who check-in on my Blog and other postings may have noticed a significant slow down in production over the last several weeks. One of the major reasons for my less than prolific prose is that I have been preparing to go “Over Yonder” once more for the purpose of ministry.

If the Lord wills, as of this writing, later today, 9 February, 4 other members of Grace Church Racine and I will have the wonderful opportunity to experience the beauty, wonder and majesty of the vast country of India for an almost two-week period of ministry. We will visit some well-renowned sites and enjoy India’s splendor as well as having the privilege of being of service in some of the places where the needs are great and the opportunity for ministry is abundant. Perhaps the greatest blessing is that we will have the opportunity to work side by side with Indian brothers and sisters as we minister and continue building a partnership whose foundation has been laid by a major Christian relief organization. Our team will get to learn first-hand how our partners in ministry deal with very difficult ministry circumstances while maintaining hope, courage and an unwavering commitment to represent Jesus in all that they do.

Working together with people who are united in purpose and passionate about meeting the deepest need of others though the cultures and home locations may be miles apart, provides a powerful example of the unity the Lord desires to see in His people. The Bible tells us that, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).

I am eager to experience a bit of that oneness over the next week and a half. Pray that our team and our ministry friends will be filled with the joy and peace that comes from walking with and knowing Jesus. Pray that our smiles will not diminish even as our energy may dwindle. Pray that when we reach out over these next days, even in our travel, the love of Jesus will shine through.

You may not hear from me for a little while as our internet capabilities will be spotty at best. Nevertheless, do keep me in your prayers and thoughts. I know I’ll have much to share upon returning and the “presses” will be glowing hot as I attempt to covey what the Lord has done! Keep the light on for us. I look forward to connecting again when we’re back from “Over Yonder”! Until next time…