Happy Easter!

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. Matthew 28:6

“Happy Easter, Habibti!”

My friends warmly greeted me in the hall this morning on our way to the Easter breakfast at school. They spoke the words ‘Happy Easter’ with slow and deliberate pronunciation. Maybe it’s like the way I say, “Eid Mubarak,” to them during Muslim holy days, trying to get the syllables in the correct order.

We ate and chatted with teachers, administration, office and maintenance staffs around a full spread of Arab and other breakfast cuisines today. A breakfast on our last day of school before we take our annual Holy Week holiday from school. A breakfast to celebrate the holiest of Christian holidays. Our staff, from a dozen countries–Christians, Muslims, Hindus–all saying, “Happy Easter.”

The Easter mural on the whiteboard, drawn by our Muslim art teacher.

 

Initial Observations

Denise and I have been in Bahrain for 3 weeks as I write this. So here are my initial observations as we begin our ministry here:

  • Bahrain is a nation of many nations.  In my first 4 days here I personally met individuals from 18 different nations.
  • The American Mission Hospital is deeply respected by the people and the leaders of Bahrain as a place of healing and hope.
  • We have experienced warm and genuine hospitality from everyone we have met.
  • We experienced a warm thank you and send-off for Chaplain Appu and Lali Varghese for their 12 years of faithful service at the American Mission Hospital.
  • There is a spiritual vitality in this place.  The worship at the English Language Congregation is beautiful and inspiring.  There is a commitment and a heart to love the people of Bahrain with the love of Jesus.
  • The food is delicious, and we are invited to many homes where we are experiencing hospitality and amazing meals.
  • It has been a challenge to get to know and remember the names of a large number of hospital staff members, congregants, and teachers and students.

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Chaplain Keith

The Journey

We are now in Bahrain!

It was an interesting journey to arrive here.  Our flights were all delayed or canceled along the way, beginning in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where we had a two-hour delay.  This resulted in missing our connection in Chicago.  We were booked on three separate flights out of Chicago. After about a two-hour delay because the cabin of the airplane wouldn’t warm up due to the  faulty external electrical system, we made it to our connection in Washington, D.C.  When we got on that plane, though, we were delayed on the tarmac because of smoke coming out of a vent.  After awhile we were cleared to fly.

When we landed in Kuwait it was determined that there was an oil leak in one of the engines and the plane was grounded.  United Airlines only has one flight a day into Kuwait, and they had no flights the next day (Christmas Day), so we were stranded.  Since there were so many of us who needed an alternate flight, some were able to get onto a flight and some were given a hotel room.  We did not get to the hotel until 1:30 AM and had to return to the airport at 4:30 AM to try and get on a Gulf Air flight to Bahrain.

In this beautiful hotel in Kuwait City we had time for an amazing meal with nine fellow travelers and a shower and then back to the airport.  It turned out that all the morning flights had no room for us, and we didn’t leave Kuwait until 6:30 PM  Christmas day, 24 hours later than our original flight time.

I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then to wind up sleeping in a stable and then have  a baby.  We had nothing to complain about.

christmasbunch

The good news is, we arrived in Bahrain at the same time as Maria coming from Seattle.  We were warmly welcomed at the airport by Jim Harrison, pastor at the English Language Congregation, and his son, Jonathon, and Appu Varghese, retiring chaplain at the American Mission Hospital.

When we arrived the country was decorated for National Day with many beautiful lights on the trees and buildings.

We have begun to settle down in our new apartment, and I am looking forward to beginning my work at the American Mission Hospital.

More soon. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from our first few days.

Across the Water

Denise and I will be going “across the water” to Bahrain on Monday, December 23.  We will arrive two hours before the Christmas Eve Service on December 24 and will, if all our flight connections are on time, worship our Lord with our brothers and sisters in Bahrain!

This has been an amazing eight months since Chaplain Appu Varghese spoke at American Reformed Church asking if anyone might hear the call of God to come and serve in Bahrain.  “If God is calling, you cannot say no!” he said.  We said “yes” and our yes to God’s call is coming true!  It has been an amazing journey.

Katie and Maria will be coming with us to see this new place God has called us to.  We are deeply grateful and humbled by all your love and support we have received during this process.  Thank you.

A Rich Legacy

When I joined the Reformed Church in America at Emmanuel Reformed in Paramount, California, I was an 18-year-old college freshmen, excited to be part of a church that encouraged me to think, as well as feel. I was never afraid to ask hard questions of my college and career pastor Rev. Jerry Sittser. I was challenged from the pulpit each week by Rev. Harold Korver to study and discuss scripture and its relevance. It was a rich time to grow as a new disciple of Jesus.

It was at that time that I began to hear about the work the RCA was doing in missions. Emmanuel had a rich relationship with missionaries in Chiapas, Mexico, and Ecuador and India, as well as Bahrain. I loved hearing what God was doing around the world. It was the first time in my life that I actively prayed for, supported, and even met amazing people of God who were doing his work around the world.

Now fast forward almost forty years, and I am humbled and grateful to God that he has called Keith and me to join in this rich history. We recently spent a week in Bahrain, and the legacy of the Reformed Church is permeated in the mission there.

Medical mission has deep roots in the RCA. American Mission Hospital in Bahrain was started by RCA missionary Samuel Zwemer over 100 years ago. Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore, India, now one of Asia’s foremost teaching hospitals, was started in 1918 by Ida Scudder, a third-generation RCA medical missionary.

That quote, taken from the RCA’s Medical Mission page, speaks volumes about what we experienced when we went to visit. The American Mission Hospital is respected in Bahrain. Men and women of different faiths and nationalities work together to bring healing in Christ’s name to people of all walks of life. While we were there, Appu introduced Keith to many of the people who work in many different departments all around the hospital and clinic.

I too was able to meet many of these doctors, nurses, receptionists, couriers, office and maintenance workers, and more.

Ida S. Scudder as a young woman 1899

One such introduction stands out to me. There were two doctors from India who met Appu, Keith and me in the hallway outside the hospital chapel. Keith had already had a chance to meet one of the doctors earlier. She excitedly introduced her colleague to Keith and me by saying these words, “These people are from Dr. Ida’s church.”

This was Dr. Ida S. Scudder they were referring to, the doctor–along with generations of her family–whom I had heard so much about as a young person. These two Indian doctors, now working in Bahrain, had studied medicine at the Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore founded by Dr. Ida.

Praise be to God that the Reformed Church in America (Dr. Ida’s church) has faithfully served in global missions for over 200 years. We were so proud and humbled at that moment to be members of the RCA.

This morning we worshiped with the people of Newkirk Reformed Church. Their women’s chorus sang these words, “Raised in His power, the weak become strong…”, and I was reminded yet again how humbled we are to be asked to join in this work. We can’t do it on our own, but God is good. God is faithful. And is there anything too difficult for God?

History and Hospitality

Denise and I had an amazing time in Bahrain, September 17-22. We kept feeling this deep sense of history and hospitality as we were introduced to this beautiful place.

In the desert in ancient times strangers depended on someone else’s hospitality for provision of food, shelter, and protection. When you were traveling through the desert and needed water, food and shelter, there was no place to go except to the inhabited towns and tents of those who dwelt in the land. Hospitality, the welcoming of the stranger, was deeply woven into the culture.

This sense of hospitality is still deeply woven into the culture of Bahrain. Denise and I were warmly welcomed by Appu and Lali. Our guest apartment was stocked with delicious food. Lali made our bed with her own special blanket. They personally introduced us to the staff of the American Mission Hospital that was started by Samuel Zwemer back in 1903 for provision of healing and shelter.
Enjoying Paper Dosa and Filter Coffee
Families from the American Mission Hospital and the English Language Congregation hosted us for our noon and evening meal every day while we were there. We experienced the food and culture of many different countries and customs of welcome.

Paul says to the Romans, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 NRSV). The world needs living examples of what this welcome, this hospitality, can look like. The American Mission Hospital offers such a living picture. This quote is on the wall outside the Samuel Zwemer Chapel at the American Mission Hospital: “The glory of medicine is not its scientific attainments, but, fundamentally, its outlook on all humanity as one family, with medicine as humanity’s universal servant.” -Paul W. Harrison, M.D. 1916

Medical care is a way the people of Bahrain are welcomed and served. The hospital’s mission statement says, “We are here to serve the people in Bahrain in the Spirit of Christ who went about doing good to all who came to him.” We are humbled to be called to serve in this place where this spirit of service has been deeply honored for over a hundred years.

Jesus said that when we welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and take care of the sick, we are welcoming the very presence of Jesus who is giving us an entire kingdom that we may inherit and possess. (Matthew 25:31-46).

We experienced this taste of the kingdom in worship at the English Language Congregation. People from forty different nations came together to worship. We celebrated the Lord’s supper together. We caught a glimpse of Christ’s church in Revelation 5:9: “…every tribe and tongue gathered before the throne of the Lamb.”
Communion
As we go forward, we are grateful for the ministry that has gone on before us, for the rich history and hospitality of the American Mission Hospital and National Evangelical Church. We are humbled and grateful that we are being called to join in this work.

Food, Fellowship and New Friends

We have had an amazing week in Bahrain. We have only one more day here, and then we will head back to Iowa to finish raising support.

We have eaten too much delicious food, and we have relished even more in the rich fellowship we are having with new friends.

We will definitely be sharing more later.

You can see pictures of our trip on Flickr.

Crossing the Water

Back in March after reading Acts 16:6-9, I asked God how Paul could know so clearly what he was supposed to do.  Especially when I noticed that the word “come over” in verse 9 in the Greek means “cross over a body of water.”  Can I, like Paul, know your will that clearly?

The answer has been “yes” and “wait continually.”  My new supervisor for the Middle East, Duncan Hansen, told me, “Enjoy each mile marker along the way.”

A big mile marker arrives Monday.  Denise and I are flying to Bahrain to be introduced to our new home.  I will give devotions to the staff at the American Mission Hospital on three mornings. Go on hospital calls with Appu.  Meet with the Chief Medical Officer of the hospital, Dr. George Cheriyan. Spend time with the senior pastor at the English language congregation, Jim Harrison. Meet with the leaders of the English Language Congregation.   Denise and I will also spend time with Josh and Alison Perkins and tour the Al Raja school.  I will deliver the message in worship at the Friday morning service and at the Sunday evening service.

Appu wrote me and said that the Indian families were asking if Denise and I liked Indian food.  I responded that we had gone to Indian restaurants three different times while we were in Seattle  back in June, and we were looking forward to eating Indian food with our new friends.  We have lunch and and supper with a different family each day.  It is going to be good!

Denise and I thank our Iowa church family and all our friends and family members for their love and support during this time of transition. Their outpouring of love has been so appreciated and needed as we approach the mile markers ahead of us.

We look forward to sharing with you our experiences from our new home.

How Big is Bahrain?

We haven’t been to Bahrain yet. We know it is a small constitutional monarchy in the Arabian Gulf, an archipelago of 33 islands,  just east of Saudi Arabia.

Lately I’ve been thinking of that descriptor “small” and how it relates to my idea of a geographically small area. As a geography major, I’m always curious about things like that.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Bahrain is 3.5 times the size of Washington, D.C. I have seen this statistic in other sources, too. In fact, I’ve repeated it to other people who asked about the size.

The size of Bahrain was still something I couldn’t picture, though. I have been in Washington, D.C., twice. It seemed big to me because we got around by public transportation and walking, lots of walking. Some of you know what I’m talking about. You, too, have visited in the summer and walked the two miles between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials. To hear that Bahrain was 3.5 times the size of Washington didn’t make it seem small at all.

Knowing that one fact didn’t add to my understanding of  the size of Bahrain, so I decided to do some math and get a better idea about the relative size of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

First of all, I would like to suggest a correction for the World Factbook. Bahrain has a strong land reclamation program, and is growing in land area. Washington, D.C., is not really 100 square miles, as it was at the beginning. Some of the land was given back to Virginia in 1846, so our nation’s capital is officially 68.3 square miles (177 km2). Since Bahrain is 294 square miles (762 km2), it’s really more than 4 times the size of Washington, D.C.

Anyway, closer to home.

Again, the total land area of the Bahraini archipelago is 762 km2. Total land area of Sioux County in Northwest Iowa, where we live, is 1,990.6 km2. So, I discovered Bahrain would fit into Sioux County 2.5 times with a little room in the Iowa county to spare. That gives me a new understanding of what “small” means when I describe the Kingdom of Bahrain.

People around here can understand that because we drive in and out of Sioux County on a daily basis. That is going to be a big change for us.  In Bahrain, we’ll only be driving in, not out of Bahrain.

Sioux County with Bahrain Map