Fun Maranao word for today: puasa = (PWAH-sah) = fasting. While I didn’t learn enough Maranao to make conversation during my 6 days in J-‘s village, I came to recognize this word pretty quickly. Ramadan brought hunger to the forefront of everyone’s mind, and everyone in the village I met was curious if I was fasting (and they all seemed surprised when I told them I was!). Since returning to Taytay, I’ve found I keep getting “puasa” confused with “puso” (the Tagalog word for “heart), which, as you’ll read below, is pretty ironic…
So I have written (extensively #longwindedtalkersmakelongwindedbloggers) about my experiences in Mindanao, but I think I need to share a bit more about my impressions, lessons and takeaways. Buckle up, it’s time for a ride on the honesty train!
About three days into my time in Mindanao, I realized that this brief experience was altogether new on a number of fronts. 1) This was my first full immersive experience in a foreign context (all previous international seasons of life have involved living with westerners in some way) and 2) this was my first missions/life experience were I was the only Believer in a Majority that is full of the very people my heart is most burdened towards. And I was starting to see that this all this new was just as hard as it was exciting.
Added to the newness-foundation is the fact that this week was my first time doing a Ramadan fast (note: I did drink water during my fast, which most devout worshippers would say made my fast pointless). I have Christian-fasted (that fake word hurts to write, but there are significant differences that I believe mandate the awkward specifier) many times; it’s been a pet-fascination of mine, learning what fasting in the Bible has looked like, studying why God would want us to fast, etc… As a matter of fact, I was inspired by a close missionary friend who is part of a team that requires each team member to take a weekly 24-hr period off (a mandated Sabbath of sorts), knowing that boundaries in ministry are almost impossible to maintain if you wait for a free minute to rest. And in this 24-Sabbath, team members are urged to fast. The idea of fasting on my day off at first seemed backward; “why would I choose not to eat on the day when I have the opportunity to go out and eat something fun as a way to relax?”. But this urging is based in the heart of encouraging team members to seek solace and refreshment where it is most truly found: in Jesus’ Presence. As I said, inspired by this friend, I have done this type of fasting give-or-take monthly, and the journey has been incredible. But I digress…
Ramadan fasting was a completely different world for me. Like many other parts of that faith, the Ramadan fast has a lot of particular rules and requirements that were foreign to the freedom-in-Christ that I’m used to (arguably, what an opportunity to swing the pendulum of modern Christianity back towards the rigorous discipline that many modern believers would argue is “going through the motions without having the right heart”. #findthebalance) I could talk about all the unique particulars I found interesting, but I mostly want to address the things I learned about myself while fasting with J-‘s family.
But maybe, first let’s take a peek behind the curtain. I imagine some/many of you are wondering why I decided to fast and cover my hair while staying in J-‘s village. Certainly I am not required to do either, and my doing so could be seen as a confusing mix of signals about my personal beliefs, but I decided to lay aside my liberty for a few Gospel reasons:
- I was a guest of the family and wanted to respect the normal patterns of their life (and the lives of their neighbors).
- While the practice of a woman covering her hair in this region is often a clear sign of that woman’s religious beliefs, it is also their cultural expression of modesty. While I don’t want to be confusing or contradictory in my speech or behavior about my faith, I also know that I, as a white single female, will already be in the spotlight and seen as somewhat of a spectacle. In an effort to be modest in a way that makes sense in their context (a Biblical principle), and with an intention of wanting to remove as many barriers between myself and those around me, I chose to cover up. I could not cover with the intention of being clear that I believe different than those around me, but that choice might reduce anything I say/do as impossible to recognize over the noise of my perceived immodesty. Being modest in a way that makes sense to them would “get me in the room” so to speak, allowing me to start friendships and conversations that would let me share more of my heart.
- Fasting with J-‘s family would give me a shared experience with them, creating a uniquely intimate memory.
- Fasting according to these rules would increase my affection for Christ.
- The laying down of my liberties in a heart for those around me is a reflection of Christ (Phil 2).
Neither an exhaustive nor an eloquent list, and if you’re confused or curious, I’d be HAPPY to chat with you individually about my current convictions and perspective. But, back to our regularly-schedule programming…
I wanted to share what I learned through my time with J-‘s family and the 4 days of fasting I did while living with them. These past months I had been working my way through John Piper’s “A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer”, reading a chapter each day I chose to fast, and I’ll share this quote:
“One of the reasons for fasting is to know what is in us… In fasting it will come out. You will see it. And you will have to deal with it or quickly smother it again.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. When you’re living in a tropical climate without AC and you’re not allowed to drink anything or eat anything from the start of sun-up to the end of sun-down (4am -6pm roughly for us), let’s just say energy and patience runs thin (out) by around 10am. You spend the day dreaming about what want (“ice cream”, “pizza”, “brownies”, “insert-the-most-delicious-food-you-can-think-of-here and add a tall glass-of-something-cold-and-wonderful”), but when the time comes to break your fast and you FINALLY get to answer that belly that’s been yelling at your for hours, you eat a few bites and find you’re full and still dissatisfied. I am learning to see this constant-dissatisfaction as a gift from our good God: our fickle hearts so often think we’ll be satiated with temporal things, but we aren’t made for them. And another note:
“The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower.”John Piper, “A Hunger for God”
While fasting with people in a faith centered on works, I really saw how that concept is true. Despite my best intentions, I knew that I did not give the patience, love, grace and courage I expected myself to extend to my friends that week, but I know God’s hand was in that. I was humbled to see, once again, that I can’t do what I’m called to, and that God’s amazing faithfulness more than fills in the gaps I leave in my wake.
From my prayer journal written moments before Taraweeh prayers:
“… I found myself getting short with J- and I cried out to You for strength. Thank You for giving it to me. And thank You for the testimony you are weaving through my actions here. This family keeps saying, ‘You really are just part of the family” and J- has said multiple times [when her family expressed concern about not having Western food for me] “Jessi is not picky.” She even told her family, “Jess is like the best person to bring somewhere. She is very flexible; she is ok with anything.” Your grace is smoothing out the rough edges; may Your glory come from all my efforts here.
I ask that You would keep my heart in check. You don’t require abstinence from food for specific hours to earn Your approval, forgiveness and eternal rewards/provision (1 Cor 8.8), but the fast You require asks more of my heart than merely my physical discipline (Is 58.6-12)…
This is where the true missionary work happens. This is my first time in full immersion; no outsiders, all foreign languages [locals in J-‘s village spoke a tribal language and a regional dialect, neither of which was Tagalog which I’ve been learning], all foreign food, all foreign customs. And I, as well as my companions, are all hungry, short-tempered and on edge. Fasting is, as You would have us do it, a dying to self and I’m seeing in a whole new way that cross-cultural living is dying to part of myself too.”
I really am not a huge John Piper fan (calm down, we can still be friends), and since this is probably the only book of his I’ll ever finish, I’ll end with one last quote:
“When you take your stand on the finished work of God in Christ, and begin to drink at the River of Life and eat the Bread of Heaven, and know that you have found the end of all your longings, you only get hungrier for God. The more satisfaction you experience from God, while still in this world, the greater your desire for the next. For, as C.S. Lewis said, ‘Our best havings are wantings.’”John Piper, “A Hunger for God”
My best Having will always be my most Wanting. I pray that He is your Having and Wanting, as well, and let’s keep praying that He would be Had and Wanted by those fasting all around the world this month.