Thanksgiving Communion

Entering into this Thanksgiving week, I am reflecting on my Thanksgiving feast two years ago with the Word Made Flesh Romania community.  The shopping had taken a couple of days, with no car and carrying potatoes, vegetables, bread and more from the market.  We substituted local ingredients for things we couldn’t buy in Romania and cooked in an oven that didn’t have a temperature gauge (adventures in cooking!).  The tables in the community center were pushed together, turned into one big banqueting table.

While not a Romanian holiday, my friends were very willing to come celebrate and enjoy the spread.  A gathering of Romanians, Scots, and North Americans, breaking bread together with intentionality that pushes beyond barriers of this world and points to the Kingdom of God.  For me there was a sacredness to this meal.

Growing up in the Quaker church, physical communion was not something that I practiced regularly inside the church walls.  I have come to find my practice of communion often happens around a table with friends, family, and sometimes strangers – eating, drinking, and being mindful of God’s presence in our midst.  In Judaism, Passover and other practices are used to help people remember the coming Messiah.  This Thanksgiving communion meal in Romania helps me remember the Messiah who has come and invites us to a banqueting table – a table where all people are welcome regardless of social status, ethnic heritage, gender, culture, politics, and more.

As you gather for your Thanksgiving meal this week, may your time of breaking bread be a reminder of the Messiah who came so that all people could be saved.  And, may this reminder help us to continually pursue making space at our own table for all of those Christ invited to eat and drink at His.

Tami’s New Job!

Dear Community,

I am thrilled to share with you that on June 3, 2013 I will begin a new job as the Director of Staff Development at Word Made Flesh!  Word Made Flesh is an international non-profit committed to serving Jesus among the most vulnerable of world’s poor.

I served with WMF in Romania during the fall of 2011.  This experience made a deep impression on me and led me to seek further involvement in the organization.  WMF is working with woman and children exploited in the commercial sex trade, children living on the streets, former child soldiers, people living in poverty, and more.  I see hope in the work that God is doing through the mission of WMF as we seek reconciliation and freedom for our friends.

I get to share this experience with the community around me…people like you!  An organization such as WMF relies on the combined efforts of many people and a lot of prayer to keep things in motion.  We can’t do this work alone.  I would love to share in this mission with you!

Part of my responsibility as WMF staff is to raise $15,000 each year for the organization. I invite you to take a look at the information below to learn more about WMF.  To find out about ways to get involve with the organization or give financially, read this brochure- Tami’s New Job – or email me at tami.ankeny@wordmadeflesh.com.  Please let me know if you have questions or want to hear more.  I am happy to get together with you!

Peace to you, friends, and thank you for you support and prayers.

The Job:

As I step into the new role, Director of Staff Development, my work will focus on recruiting and preparing people for service, supporting them in their experience, as well as, being involved with local community engagement and building support for the organization.  This position provides an avenue for me to introduce people to WMF and help them find ways to be involved, giving them the chance to experience the mission of WMF for themselves.  I cannot wait to help people explore God’s call on their life and facilitate opportunities to build beautiful relationships with our friends who are poor.

The Organization:

Founded in 1991, WMF is a non-profit organization existing to serve Jesus among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. Currently, WMF has established communities in Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa. From its beginning WMF has been committed to “building community among those who lack sustainable access to resources and availability to opportunity.”  This flows out of a common unity of obedience to Jesus’ call to care for the “least of these”, the vulnerable, the outcast and forgotten. Tangibly this looks like education, community centers, training, hot meals and showers, and more – each community focuses on specific needs for their location. I encourage you to explore wordmadeflesh.org to learn more about the history, vision, and philosophy of the organization.

The Need:

Being a part of WMF offers the opportunity for me to raise funds for the organization.  As a non-profit we rely on the financial support of our friends and advocates to run our programs and organization.  My personal responsibility is to raise $15,000 each year for WMF.  As I venture into this new adventure, would you consider joining the journey?  Your financial support is an integral part of our mission to “serve Jesus among the poorest of the poor.”  As I seek ways to make this fundraising sustainable long-term I am looking for 75 people to commit to giving $200 a year.  This can be given annually, bi-annually, monthly…you choose!  Please read through this document –Tami’s New Job – for specific information on how to donate financially to WMF and find other ways to get involved.

Discovering New Ways to Travel

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I travel…

A climbing adventure in Idaho with my dad

I grew up in rural Idaho.  My life consisted of school, sports, church, and farming.  My family’s travels
were camping adventures and long road trips to see extended family.  Even though we often traveled to the same places, I appreciated that my parents always found new things for us to experience – a new beach to explore, new rivers to fish, new roads to drive, new sports complexes to visit (thanks Dad!).  In the reality of a life that was very simple and removed from much of the world, I found a love for travel and adventures.

For college I traveled 2,045 miles away from home, moving to what felt like a new culture within the same country.  During college I had my first experience of international travel when I visited family working in Haiti.  My experience in Haiti opened my eyes to a world I had only seen in pictures and did not quite believe existed until I saw it in person.

Being surrounded by the sight of slums, unknown smells, music that made my heart dance, unsafe conditions, a language I could not understand, and people who fed me the most delicious food when they had little to feed their own families gave me an incredible sense that I knew little about the world God created.  I yearned to see more, to know more, and to be a part of it all!

Because of that trip to Haiti, I made a commitment to travel outside of the U.S. every two years.  I have had some incredible experiences abroad with trips consisting of things like backpacking Europe with my brother, working in a children’s home in India, and being welcomed into community in Romania serving among the poorest of the poor.  I have marveled at cathedrals, climbed among castle ruins, and watched World Cup games in a Scottish pub with the locals.  I have celebrated weddings and births with people I don’t really know, cried on the streets of Mumbai as I watched kids begging for food they would probably never be allowed to eat, and learned that I can connect with people in any country through play and laughter.

Streets of a temple court in India

I travel because it challenges me to recognize there is a world beyond my own.  I travel because I am reminded that there are different ways of doing things and those ways work, too.  I travel because I find people and culture fascinating and I want to better understand them.  I travel because I crave adventure and new places and incredible food.  I travel because I want to serve people, to show Christ’s love to all I come in contact with.  I travel to gain perspective and expand my worldview.  I travel because I am continually reminded of how wide, long, high and deep the love of God is when I interact with God’s creation all over the world.

So lately, I’ve been thinking about traveling…and about how my idea of traveling isn’t in my near future…and that traveling might have to look differently for me during this stage of my life.

I’ve been wondering about what traveling looks like for me within my local community, in my current circumstances. How can I “travel” and place myself in situations to better understand people, gain perspective, and serve people?  If I travel because it challenges me to recognize a world beyond my own then I can experience that by traveling about 12 blocks from my house, into a part of town a lot of people wouldn’t choose to hang out in.  I started helping at a homework club for kids on Monday nights, which places me in a setting where I don’t always understand the language being spoken around me.  I travel outside the comfort of my own worldview each time I sit with people and listen to their stories, knowing I may not agree with them on everything yet undoubtedly recognizing God’s movement in their lives.

So, I’ve been discovering ways to travel at home.  Travel that can bring the same challenge, growth, expansion, perspective, and adventure that happens when I leave the U.S.  Travel that takes me into the lives of people I may not naturally come in contact with in my present setting unless I intentionally place myself there.  I’m being challenged to look at the needs of people closest to me and to work to meet those needs.  And, I am being reminded of how wide, long, high and deep the love of God is.

What does travel look like in your life?

Home and Hope

I’ve been home in Oregon for about 48 hours. I am trying to s-l-o-w-l-y enter into life here, spending time journaling, chatting with close friends, and avoiding responsibility for a few days.

It is so difficult to put into words the mix of emotions I feel but I think we have all experienced it. The sadness of leaving a place and people but the excitement for home and family. The gratitude and joy for what has been learned but questions of how/if it will “stick”. The curiosity to know what will happen in the lives of people we say goodbye to and the eagerness to know how people’s lives have changed while we’ve been away. We’ve all been their, right? Joy and sadness at the same time. Even with this mix of emotions my heart is full. My cup runs over.

My last week in Galati was filled with activities and time with friends: making (and eating) a Thanksgiving feast with the staff, coffee date with friends, a girls night, Texas hold ‘em, a national holiday and festivities, riding the Kamikaze and learning the full-contact sport of getting on a carnival ride in Romania, beautiful singing, notes, and prayers from the children and staff. I love that my time in Romania ended so relationally and full!

While I still have much processing to do I recognize that this experience has given me a deeper sense of who God is and who I am. At the same time, new questions have emerged about God and myself. However, I feel like I have a stronger footing with which to be able to ask the questions and sit with them. I also recognize a sense of hope in my spirit that is bigger than the questions.

“The theological virtue of Hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves (Richard Rohr).”

Thank you again for your faithfulness and support throughout this journey. I look forward to seeing and talking to many of you very soon!

Traveling

Last week I traveled to Budapest, Hungary to visit my friends Kim and Will.  If it’s not on your list of places to visit, I highly recommend that you jot it down.  What a fantastic place!

I love adventures so things like confusing public transportation, night trains, border crossings, and foreign languages just keep things exciting.  There was some suspicion about whether I was really me or not at the border.  Apparently I look much different in my smiling passport picture than when I’ve been woken up at 4 a.m.  But once the border policemen (yes, it took more than one) asked me to smile they recognized that it was, in fact, me.

It was lovely to have a few days to relax with friends, walk around an incredibly beautiful city, reflect on my time in Romania, and think about the future.  This is my friend Kim and I on our outing to explore a local castle:

One of the things that surprised me the most during my time in Budapest was how easily I was drawn back into what felt normal to me.  Budapest actually felt a little Portland-esque and I had access to much more than I do in Galati.  After a couple of days of indulging I began to recognize the difficulty of maintaining the simplicity of my life in Galati that I have come to enjoy and appreciate.  When presented with options galore choosing that simplicity becomes much more of a discipline.

Budapest gave me some thinking to do in the short time before I board the plane to go home.  Home, like Budapest, means access, busyness, and things at my fingertips.  Seeking to live differently in a world of so much can be exhausting but so can trying to keep up with it all.

Upon returning to Galati, the reality hit me that my time here is winding down.  This is my last full week in Galati.  Friday, the second, I fly out of Bucharest and home to Portland.  Please pray that I will be able to stay present during my final days here – present to the kids, present in conversation with the staff, present in my processing.  Thanks for traveling with me.

Joy

Last week a friend of mine asked in an email, “what is bringing you joy these days?”  It was a good question for me to think about and I want to share some of my responses to her and a few others that have happened since:

One of the boys that I have helped tutor in math at the center brought me a flower at work.  He handed it to me with a huge smile on his sweet face.  I don’t have favorites among the kids but if I did… :).

A new girl at the center placed first in a math competition at school!  She has an incredible heart and mind.  As I walk by her building to the bus stop after work she is generally there to give me a huge hug.  Her smile and consistently happy attitude remind me that I have little to complain about.

The staff at the center has brought me much joy during my time here.  They amaze me as I watch them be the hands and feet of Christ to their community.  We celebrated some birthdays together last week and a few of us are planning on cooking a Thanksgiving feast!

Last week after church I took a detour on the way home, walking along a tree-lined street with leaves all over the sidewalk.  As I walked I kicked the crunchy leaves with my feet.  For about 30 seconds I felt a sense of peace and ease for the first time in a long while.  There was no one speaking in a language I didn’t understand, no dogs were barking at me, the air smelled clean, by kicking the leaves I was acting as I would at home (not something I probably would have done here had there been people around).  It gave me a glimpse that even here, someplace so different than what I was used to, I could feel at home.

During a Bible lesson one day with the kids I was asked to pray before we started.  The staff person told the kids I would pray in English.  One of the girls raised her hand at this point and asked if God would understand the prayer if it wasn’t in Romania.  What a fantastic question from a curious mind who is trying to understand God and the world around her!  It was fun to listen as the staff responded to her.

There is a group of young boys that plays outside my apartment window.  On Saturday afternoons the dirty lot becomes their playground.  They make guns out of leftover Styrofoam insulation and grab sticks to use for swords.  I love to watch as the “battle” unfolds.  I can see the whole thing from my window – kids hiding behind cars, two boys from opposing sides sneaking around and then finally finding each other, screams as someone jumps out and scares another.  It’s a highlight of Saturdays.  These boys remind me of my nephews, using their imaginations to create a game that only they know the rules of.

I met a few of the boys last week, finally getting up enough nerve to try out some Romanian with them.  The also know a bit of English from school so we scrape together conversation.  The boys now greet me with a big “hello!” when I come home from work.

This past Sunday I had an opportunity to attend two different churches.  First we headed to the main Orthodox cathedral in the city.  The Orthodox Church is very much a part of the Romanian culture, seen as the state religion.  The cathedral is incredibly beautiful and ornate inside and out.  There are no seats inside – people stand or kneel during the service.  The priests and a choir sing everything during the service.  The priests were presenting the liturgy when we arrived. I could have stood there for hours just looking up at the painted ceiling and listening to the singing of scripture and liturgy.

The second church we visited was a small Baptist church located in the “valley” by the community center.  The valley is a more impoverished area of the city.  The church is located in an old bar.  They had six simple wood benches set up and a handful of people.  The differences in the two churches were drastic.

Part way through the service at the Baptist church a few children (some from the center) came in.  They ended up sitting next to my friends and I.  I don’t know what was said during church because I wasn’t listening – the kids were a little distracting.  I had a sense that what they needed was someone to sit there a love them.  So, I experienced God through the smiles, hugs, and interaction with the children sitting around me as we drew pictures, looked through Bibles, and practiced the ol’ “slide the tip of your thumb off” trick.

These are a few of the things that have brought me joy recently and are good reminders for me.  It would be easy to allow myself to be overwhelmed and frustrated by circumstances here and not notice the ways that God is moving.  I’m grateful for a community who checks in on me and asks me questions like this.

Simplicity and Suffering

He sleeps in a doorway under a thin plaid blanket, his padding nothing more than cold concrete.  I pass him in the morning when I run down to the Danube River.  I don’t know what his face looks like as he always has his back to me, his head under cover.  He has a small grocery bag by his head…his earthly possessions I assume. 

As I try to stay in my warm bed for a few extra minutes, I envision the man sleeping on the concrete and am reminded that I don’t have to get up and go out into the cold.  As I begin my run, I grumble about my tired legs and fight the desire to turn around and go home.  I can choose home if I want unlike so many people.  As I run in the rain during a race in Bucharest, I am so tired of being wet and cold.  All I think of is the man in Galati sleeping all night in the rain.  This remembrance and awareness brings new light to my circumstances. 

This man has been my teacher.  We have never talked but his consistent presence speaks volumes to me.  As I run by I pray for him, thinking all the while what a contradiction this feels like.  I’m praying to a God who reminds us time and again to care for the poor, while this man sleeps in the doorway and I have the luxury of choosing to get up early to run, putting on my special running clothes and shoes, and then heading home to a shower and food.  I run past him because I am not sure how to help.

I don’t know the answers to the hard circumstances I see people experiencing in Romania and around the world.  But I want to know.  I want to learn what it means to actively live out God’s concern for the poor and oppressed.  So, I allow the man to teach me and for God to change my heart.

As I experience life in Romania and listen to what I can learn from my teacher sleeping in the doorway, I am becoming more and more aware of my life of luxury and plenty.  Things that most people in the world will never have access to I have at my fingertips.  I enjoy a comfortable, stable life and seek to live simply but that simplicity is just scratching the surface.  Even my life in Romania feels luxurious compared to what I see around me.

While there are structural changes that need to happen in order for this man and others to experience even a fraction of the wealth so many of us have, I believe that our personal lifestyle is the most important place to begin.  In Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ron Sider writes, “Appropriate personal lifestyles are crucial to symbolize, validate, and facilitate our concern for the hungry.”  I know for me it is sometimes hard to really see how my personal lifestyle choices are influencing the fight for justice and freedom of the oppressed.  But I strongly believe that they do.

Two of the lifestyle celebrations that Word Made Flesh embraces are simplicity and suffering.  I celebrate these lifestyles because in choosing simplicity, in choosing suffering I seek to practice what I believe to be right.  It is symbolic of what I know others are experiencing and helps me to share, even just a little, in that experience.  I choose simplicity and suffering out of respect for humankind, out of love for my neighbor.

I’m not saying that I do this perfectly – that I don’t want the cute boots I saw in the store window last week, that I don’t want to consume as much food as I want, that I don’t want a beautiful, comfortable house to live in, or to spend my money my way.  But I recognize the need for me to be ever so careful with these luxuries because the more I fill my life with them and everything else I want the less I think about my friends who are poor, fighting to stay warm, fed, and alive.  As Walter Brueggemann says in The Prophetic Imagination, “it is difficult to keep a revolution of freedom and justice under way when there is satiation.”  Like with the post-Thanksgiving meal feeling, with satiation I become numb and sleepy, less likely to be feisty and a part of any revolution.

As I continue life here in Romania and think about returning to life in the U.S. I ask myself a lot of questions.  How do I live my life in a way that respects the poor and validates their lives?  Will I dare to measure my living standards by the needs of the poor rather than the lifestyles in my culture?  Will I dare to say no to consuming things and people?  Will I dare to trust that God will supply what I need?  I am hopeful that these things will become the new normal as I continue to practice and celebrate the lifestyles of simplicity and suffering.

“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’”
2 Corinthians 8: 12-15