Collins Family/Ministry Update- June

Friends and Family,

Thanks for all the prayer and encouragement we have received from many of you over the last few months. We finally feel like we are in sort of a groove (ableit a low-level energy one at times) with this whole baby thing, and I know we wouldn’t have been here without those of you who sent meals or gift cards during those first weeks after Eowyn was born.

Speaking of little Eowyn, she officially turned 2 months old this past week! She continues to grow and is starting to do interactive things like stare back and even an occasional smile if you do something funny enough. Steph is a great mom (especially for not waking me up most weeknights when the baby is fussy), and I enjoy getting to hold Eowyn each night after work.

We have really enjoyed the last few weeks volunteering as English conversation partners for Bhutanese ESL classes with Mission Adelante in Kansas City, KS. Each week, we meet over there and get to practice informal conversations with these Nepali-speaking refugees from the country of Bhutan. Most of them are Hindu and many of those in our class are older men and women (think 40-60). Many of them are not able to get jobs because of their lack of formal education and the harsh demands of factory-type jobs they could get here, and this can be discouraging for these older adults who feel they cannot provide leadership and stability for their families in this strange new land. So we love to see the joy on their faces as they learn English each week and gain confidence to do simple things like go to the supermarket. Steph brings Eowyn along and the Bhutanese women all love looking at her. I am paired up with 4 men and enjoy learning about their families. The lessons they are taught contain simple English vocab and sentences, and each lesson contains a short “story” made up of those words. Each of these stories is based on the Bible (this last week they learned about the wisemen following the star to baby Jesus and giving him gifts). If you live in the Kansas City area and are interested in learning more about Mission Adelante’s ministry to the Latino and Bhutanese communities, visit http://www.missionadelante.org/.

We just heard back this week about the initial paperwork we turned in for doing church planting in New York City area among unreached people groups there. We are now getting references in and will likely be going to New York sometime in August for a church planter assessment/interview. Continue to pray for us that everything will move along according to God’s timetable and that he would give us a heart burden for the people and the area he wants us to work in. Also be in prayer for us in the next few months as Josh is still working fulltime at the VA but Steph is now at home taking care of the baby. We are trying to stay out of debt and be ready to move when/if God opens the door, while still having time to volunteer at things like Mission Adelante and be involved with our church.

In July, I (Josh) will be helping with a soccer camp that our church Redeemer Fellowship is hosting for kids living in midtown Kansas City the last 2 weeks of July. This is a great opportunity for kids (many of which come from single parent homes in our area) to connect with caring adults, especially for the young men. Please pray for that, and if you live around Kansas City and are interested in helping, let me know and I can connect you with the people who are in charge.

Ok, I’ve rambled on yet again. Thanks for your prayers and continued interest in our lives.

Love in Christ,

Josh, Stephanie, and Eowyn Collins

PS-if you would like to join this monthly update list to pray for us, leave a comment for me and I will add you for July.

1 John Fridays- No Green Lantern Here

Begin 1 John and your mind should jump to other Biblical passages, namely John 1 and Genesis 1.  “That which was from the beginning…” mirrors the opening phrases of Genesis “In the beginning, God created…” and of John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the Word.”  In Genesis the focus is on the God who speaks, calling out creation each day and exercising creative kingship over the universe.  In John’s Gospel, the focus is not on the God who speaks as much as the God who IS speech, the Word (logos) who was before God and who is God.  Now in this first letter of John, the focus is not on the Word’s Speaker or the Word Spoken directly, but on the the Word experienced by John and the apostles.  The Word is not impersonal or merely some kind of cosmic energy or the good side of the Force…but rather is heard, has been seen by “our eyes” (not the eyes of the mind, mind you, or the great “eye of faith”, but real round human eyes), was touched by their hands as they walked the shores of Galilee and through the crowded streets of pilgrim-populated Jerusalem.  Here (as opposed to the Gospel where John takes 14 verses to bring the Word out of eternal glory into a real tabernacle of human flesh) John orients us to the reality of the Word.  Yes, the Word is life, but this is not to be thought of as a kind of impersonal spiritual power that can be tapped into (perhaps with secret “knowledge”?) as we pursue our own spiritual perfections.  The Word isn’t a sacred Green Lantern for a quick spiritual recharge to escape and fight this evil material world on our way to demigod status.

No, the Word is Jesus.  One touched by hands, seen by eyes, heard, witnessed.

And the reason John reminds us of all this not to brag about his great experiences or remind us that we can no longer see Jesus like he could.  Because this Jesus was real, their proclamation to us now, those once removed (or 2000 years removed) gives us fellowship.  The connection between John and these readers is that they have shared in experiencing Jesus, the Word of Life.  One experienced directly, but now we share in it as we accept the apostolic proclamation of the Word of life to us.  And this fellowship goes deeper than readers-apostle, no, “our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” We may not touch Jesus as John did, but as we receive his word about the Word, we share fellowship with this manifested Life as well.

And by writing to remind us of such, our joy indeed should be filled.

Shooting the wounded- 1 John Fridays

It’s Friday, so time to jump into 1 John.  Some of these posts will be more textual, others more like riffs or tangents from my studies in this letter. Today is a little introduction, so I don’t know which category that fits in.

Last week I teased you with my concerns about the pastoral handling of a Biblical text like 1 John.  After all, most of us have been taught in pastoral or counseling training to love nuance and treat situations uniquely.  Then we run into some texts in Scripture that apparently have no use for nuance.  Everything is black/white, good/evil, love/hate.  The Johannine literature (1 John is no exception) is full of this, as well as are many Psalms (the Psalmist prays rescuing judgment for the good guys and punitive judgment for the wicked), many of Jesus’ parables (Wise man and the fool), and wisdom literature like Proverbs or James.  Ok, so maybe these types of polarized statements aren’t so strange to students of Scripture.

But, where we run into trouble in 1 John, is that many of the polarities are placed as test cases.  If X, then Y, not X, then not Y.  “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” or “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” Well, what about when I got mad at my spouse the other day (hypothetical of course) or what about someone who was abused by a family member and is struggling with strong feelings that aren’t warm and fuzzy love in reaction to that?  See, nuance would be nice, we think. At least it would make us feel better in most of these test questions.  After all, it would be easy to read through the polarities of 1 John and see ourselves on the negative side of most of those.  And of course it is easy for us to preach or teach this letter in such a way that our feelings of failure as followers of Jesus are shared by those within earshot.  Misery loves company.

But that doesn’t seem to be John’s goal in writing this letter (or transcribed sermon).  In fact, the love and attention he shows towards the audience (terms of affection and familiarity like “little children” are easy to find) makes us think he does not want them to come out of this hearing with the weight of failed Christianity hanging over them.  We don’t know much about the situation, but apparently a significant group had recently deserted this Christian community (2:19), were teaching false doctrine (2:26, the doctrinal tests of chapters 4-5), and apparently were causing these believers who stayed behind to have some doubts (1 John 5:13 assumes a congregation in need of re-assurance of their faith.)  There are a lot of polarized statements, but these are aimed at those who left, perhaps who are still seeing the faithful Christians at the marketplace or homes and are pressuring them to leave as well.  John’s readers may have been wondering, “Were those who left really wrong, or were we wrong to stay? Does the fact so many left undermine all we have now believed?  How can we even tell who the true followers of Jesus are when we have been taught 1 thing by John but a pretty convincing teacher has managed to persuade our friends, people we called “brother’ and “sister”?”

1 John is meant to be an answer of comfort and assurance to these questions. His tests are designed to assure those who stayed that this is the real deal, they are truly “Christian”, assured by one who saw and spoke with and touched the incarnate “Word of life”.  They can see these tests not as measures of their perfection, but as signposts of the change the Spirit of God is working in their lives.

So we should preach and teach 1 John accordingly.  It is not a text for raising more doubt for our people or scaring them out of what we might perceive as complacent Christianity (there are such texts…Hebrews or Mark’s Gospel, for example).  Rather it is a text to build up, to strengthen faith and provide assurance.  We should not hold John’s tests over their heads as pass/fail exams, but as hopeful signposts that change has happened.  Even in the hard cases mentioned above, perhaps hate has given way to thoughtful wrestling over the implications and applications of forgiveness and justice.

1 John is meant to be an infirmary for Christians wounded in the battles of faith, perhaps by what looked like friendly fire even. Don’t use it as boot camp for whipping your church into shape or as a place to shoot the wounded.

1 John Fridays…

Well, to get myself back into this writing stuff,  I will be starting a weekly series of posts on 1 John (and 2nd and 3rd), which I studied some last year. (This year I’m going through Luke’s Gospel. I felt a lot better about my Greek when I was in 1 John, I will admit!)

So next week, look forward to an introductory discussion on how the message of 1 John can be abused.  After all, this letter is filled with polarities between good/evil, light/dark, love/hate.  John rarely has a phrase that “dies the death of 10,000 qualifications.” That makes it difficult for us, especially as pastors, to apply its message to the deeply nuanced situations of our own hearts and people. And of course, the irony there is that John (I’m using the traditional author’s name for shorthand) has a Pastor’s heart, clearly loves his people, and in fact seeks to encourage and strengthen their faith in this writing.  So how do we reconcile his absolutism with his intended pastoral concerns?  (And by extension, how can we appropriate it as well?)

May Monthly Update

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, it’s been a few months since we last updated you guys via email on our lives. Hopefully, many of you have kept up with us in person or on Facebook since then! We’ll do our best to make these a little more regular (monthly?) in the future. We were planning on writing sooner and then kept thinking, “Well, our daughter is going to be born sometime soon, so we could just wait until after that…” It’s amazing how creative people can be when they are procrastinating!

That said, on April 23, 2011 at 7:49 PM, we were overjoyed to welcome little Eowyn Ruth Collins into the world! She decided to show up 2 weeks early, so I (Josh) got to experience all the joys that Saturday morning of trying to get the hospital bags finally packed and the house somewhat cleaned up while we timed contractions and tried our best to keep Steph distracted! Somehow we made it to the hospital where they told us we were definitely having a baby that day, and about 6 hours later, little Eowyn arrived, weighing in at 6 lbs. 7 oz.

So now we’ve enjoyed our first sleep-deprived month with our amazing little daughter. We thank God for keeping her and Steph healthy and safe throughout the pregnancy and in the weeks since. It’s amazing when you look in the eyes of your little child and know that you could never earn such a moment like this and just basking in the grace God shows!

Please keep us in your prayers as we are making some major life decisions in these next few months. Since the pregnancy, we’ve realized that with Steph’s blood-clotting disorder, life overseas in the next years of life would be not only difficult but nearly impossible, especially during a pregnancy as Steph needed constant medication and doctor oversight. We still have a heart for the unreached people groups of the world and for doing cross-cultural missions. Because of that, we have now begun the process of application through the North American Mission Board and the Metro New York Baptist Association/Baptist convention of New York of doing cross-cultural church planting among immigrant peoples in New York City. Because of my background having served among the Bengali people of West Bengal, India in 2005, we are specifically looking at engaging Bangladeshi immigrants in New York City. There are still a lot of questions we are trying to figure out, as well as several months of application and assessment in our future. We hope to keep you all informed in the process, specifically so you can be praying for 2 things for us specifically: 1) that we would listen to God’s wisdom, both from His Word and from the people he has put into our lives and 2) that God would grant us his courage to take any risks he may call us to. Having originally planned to go with the International Mission Board, where fundraising is all taken care of through the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, it can be a daunting task to consider what it will take to move to one of the most expensive areas of the country and how we will be supported.

In the meantime, pray for us as we continue to adjust to life with Eowyn, specifically with Steph no longer working full time at the VA but now as a mom. We are excited to be volunteering each Tuesday this summer at Mission Adelante in Kansas City, KS, as ESL conversation partners for Bhutanese refugees living here. Pray for Josh’s work relationships, as many of his co-workers are Hindu and he has been trying to befriend them more and engage them in spiritual conversation about Jesus. Now that I’ve written such a lengthy letter, I know why I should be updating this monthly! Thank you for taking interest in our lives and for your continued prayers for us!

In Christ,

Josh, Stephanie, and Eowyn Collins

*If you would like to receive what will now be a “monthly” update email, just contact me through a comment or an email…