Celebrating the Evil Day of Halloween

The other day I read an article about a group of Christians who didn’t want to celebrate Halloween. So they created the obvious solution; rip off the idea, pull a Christian play on words, and use it for Godly purposes.

And so, like every cheesy Christian t-shirt that looked like a soda ad but was really a Bible verse—Jesusween was born.

Truly. I am not making this up. Jesusween is apparently a time to evangelize to those who are out trick or treating. To be clear, I’m not against some of the ideas behind Jesusween. I work at a missions agency—I believe sharing the reason for the hope within us is incredibly important. However, I strongly debate the need to call that “Jesusween” especially when you could just call it, um, I don’t know…having a conversation?

So when I saw a blog post at a local paper asking Christians whether or not they thought celebrating Halloween was evil, I decided to add my two cents as Christian who wore the costumes, ate the candy, and lived to tell about it.

Here you have it. It is literally worth 2 cents. Before taxes.

“While I think that Christians have the absolute right to abstain from celebrating Halloween, or whatever activity they’ve concluded does not edify their faith or further their walk with God, I think there is danger in judging or requiring other people to live according to one’s own convictions.

At the end of the day most of our celebrations and traditions have roots in some sort of past pagan ritual—including Christmas trees, the money in our pocket, and the name for God’s holy day, “Sunday.”

The point is that the origins of a tradition cannot make that thing inherently evil—especially when its been long obscured by time, culture and intention.

So while the connections made between Halloween and evil may be seemly obvious to some, we need to be aware that invisible evils, like a judgemental or legalistic spirit, may be more dangerous to our faith or the spiritual growth of others.

May we all strive for the same end (to be like Jesus), but have the grace to understand that everyone begins that journey from a different starting point. Jesus did not come to condemn but to save; even Christians who liked to dress up and get a little free candy.”

Eat Dirt and Die

I’m not a fundraiser, and I’m definitely not a salesman. When our sports teams would have hoagie sales, I dreaded asking people to buy them. The thought of it made me so nervous I would sometimes throw up. I NEVER went door to door.

I’d rather eat dirt.

So I find it ironic that my job now requires me to ask people for money.

Sometimes I feel like a deadbeat, hitting up my already extremely generous group of friends.

But there is one huge difference for me. When I was selling subs, it was to support my cheerleading squad or soccer team. It was supporting me.

Now, when I ask for money, it’s not just about a new set of pom-poms. Instead, it goes toward something bigger, like providing medical care in a third-world country, or educational opportunities to war orphans.

I’m still pretty uncomfortable asking people for money, but I do it anyway, because I believe what is accomplished is more important than my comfort. Each time, I’ve been amazed at the people who get involved and give. Normally, I cry at least once in the process. Several times I’ve been left speechless.

Recently, a non-profit called Practical Compassion asked me to travel to Haiti in November. They have a child sponsorship program and are currently building a school (click to watch the video)  and they need to get their story out. I love this organization, do this for a living, and wanted to help. So I said yes!

Most everyone knows the poverty in Haiti has only been exacerbated by the earthquake last year.

If it weren’t for the work of Practical Compassion some children would literally eat be forced to eat dirt, many would die.

The plan is to travel with the organization’s founder (my pastor) and a few other members from my church to help consult on a marketing and communications strategy for the organization to expand its life-saving ministries, recruit volunteers and, as a result, save more children’s lives.

Practical Compassion asked that I raise $1100 to cover the cost of my trip. I am planning to contribute $400 my own funds because I am so passionate about this cause.

However, (here comes the uncomfortable part)… I need to raise $700 by November.

Would you consider helping me?

Children in West Africa during my visit in 2010

Donations are tax deductible which, as we all know, helps prevent bone loss and tooth decay.

To get involved make checks out to Practical Compassion (memo Leah Farr) and mail to 2633 Mill Road, Mechanicsburg PA 17055.

I promise one day I’ll use this blog to blog and not just always ask for money. Until then…THANKS FOR JOINING IN!

My day as Repunzel

Three hours on. Three hours off.

That is the type of electricity we get here in Mitrovitza, the second-largest city in Kosovo. Nights in the apartment remind me of the underground church as we sit, huddled by a flashlight talking about our dreams for this country and the school we plan to build here. I had brought a headlamp for hiking. Who knew it would get more use inside than out!

SIDE NOTE: During the frequent and ill-timed outages (why do I always need to be in the shower?!) my roommate Cherith and I were amazed to discover she was sleeping on glow-in-the-dark sheets. Electricity or not, any country with that kind of bedtime fun is a-okay in my book.

As we drove

The window from a castle tower in Kosovo

through Mitrovitca yesterday,  a plume of grayish-green smoke rising from the power company smoke stack reminded me that while the electric plant may not produce the needed power to light the city, they are certainly working very hard on destroying the environment. I’ve been sneezing since I got here and have some strange bumps on my tongue. It might be pollution. But, this is also a mining town…perhaps I have the black lung?

Rumor has it that Serbs put something in the drinking water upstream. The government actually went around using loudspeakers to tell people not to drink the water, but I used it to brush my teeth. I’m an amateur when it comes to safety in foreign countries. Woopsies. Perhaps that is why my tongue feels like I’ve been licking sandpaper?

It makes me wonder how often those rascally Serbs get blamed for things they didn’t do—or take credit for things they didn’t. I am reading a book called “Kosovo: Everything you need to know” and as I suspected, there are always two sides to every story. Unfortunately, Kosovo’s is a bloody one that reaches back for hundreds of years in hate breed by violence.

I want to look up more about the history, but the power is out and I’m waiting for our group to come back and let me out of the house. Doors here lock inside and outside with a key, so once the door is locked there is no way out. They locked the front door before they left and now I’m stuck.

I’ve considered jumping from the balcony, but I’m not really liking my chances. Frankly, I thought that the power would come on 30 minutes ago so I could make a phone call for help. But alas. I’ve got nothing.

No lights, no phone, no “how to speak Albanian” handbook to help me talk to the man in the apartment below.

I feel a little like Repunzel. Except, I guess I’m a little more agitated because I know there is no prince in this story.

I’m gonna blame the Serbs on this one. Hopefully next time, they’ll leave me a spare key. Or turn the power back on.

Maybe I can use the glow-in-the-dark sheets to signal for help?

Christening Kosovo…Leah Farr Style

I am finding already I was ill-prepared for my trip to Kosovo…which I’ve learned that they call Kovova.

First order of business: Track down country’s true name.

After a brief stop for a Bulvarian pretzel in Germany, we landed in the Bulkans this morning near a beautiful snow-capped mountain range. My first assumption was that I’ve now seen the Alps; but only because I know of no other mountain ranges and therefore I have blanketed the “Alps” title on any peaks I see around here, until I am told otherwise. (PS. Don’t tell me otherwise. That just helped me cross off an item on my bucket list).

I think sleep deprivation much be hitting for a few reasons. One: a billboard I just saw of a newborn baby reminded me of a chicken nugget instead.

From 10,000 feet, and from the ground, Kosovo is unlike any place I’ve ever seen. Flying into the capital city of Pristina, the land is lush, dotted with long rectangular patches of green farm land. Matching green smoke pours out of a tower at the city’s electric plant and covered the air in a cartoon-ish colored smog.

Unemployment in Kosovo is around 45 percent so I’ve seen a lot of groups (gangs?) of young man wandering about with tough looks on their faces. When you see them, its hard not to wonder if they were  boys who lost fathers in the war. Many men were taken out into the street and killed by the “Christian” Serbs in the area, and there is a strong sentiment against Christianity here for obvious reasons.

As we drove through the country toward the north where tensions still run high between the mostly segregated Serbs and Albanias–who warred with each other heavily between 1998-1999–I couldn’t help but feel the sadness for the people we passed, knowing that they had all lived through a war, and probably seen death in a very first-hand way.

Piles of rubble line many of the roads leading me to play movie reels in my mind. Was it a house abandoned in the war? Was it a bomb that leveled the area? Is it neglect or poverty? Is that grave over there a cemetery for those who were killed in genocide? The story I’m weaving in my head isn’t hard to be overwhelming or true.

About 600 yards from me, there is a bridge that has become an international symbol for the division in the country; it splits the country by a small creek, and marks where Albanians live in the south, and Serbs live in the north. We were told as Americans we would probably be okay to cross the bridge, but if an Albania crossed that creek, there would be severe consequences. It’s odd to me that such a division of hate is right outside my window. I’m rethinking any plans to go for random walks…afraid I might cross into the North accidentally and end up like some high profile America news story about the dumb girl who went into a forbidden area and was forced to work in labor camps until Ex-President Clinton could pull a humanitarian  visit and convince them I’m not a spy–Which frankly won’t be easy with the backpack of camera gear, wires, and recorders I’m carrying around.

We got to Nadine’s house where we are staying with 5 other women, this afternoon. But the lack of sleep, odd foods (including soda that tasted like a asprin melting on your tongue), and stress of travel had me responding in the most appropriate way. I got to Nadine’s, introduced myself, and then christened her toilet Farr style. Nothing like puking in a new country. I really love that I could have a map that would read “I puked here” with push pins in about 15 countries around the world.

I guess it’s really a gift. Hopefully one that I only give to Kosovo once.

Welp off to dinner. Tomorrow we begin the real adventures!

Thinking about thinking.

My dad stole a quote somewhere along the way that he’s used throughout my life.

“Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.”

In my family we call these sayings “dadisms” for the frequency they were used, and the great irritation we felt when we heard them. Especially because we knew it meant that we were NOT getting help on the due-tomorrow-science-fair-project we had so dutifully procrastinated on.

All these years later, however, I have to admit that there is good wisdom here for all of us.

Certainly, we’ve all felt the pressure of someone else’s emergency. As a people pleaser, I often react quickly when there is a seemingly urgent need “placed” on my shoulders.

But lately I’ve been thinking about the faults in this type of knee-jerk response.

Do you think or do you just respond?

My boss, Neil, is a fantastic thinker. Watching him attack a problem often feels like witnessing a small miracle. The guy can turn worst-case scenarios into win-wins with such ease, you hardly know what hit you. He doesn’t get caught up in drama or stress. He just thinks. And most of the time he ends up solving the problem causing the problem.

I’ve benefited greatly from his leadership. And I’ve learned from him that without good thinking, real problems don’t usually get solved.

Too often we hear the proverbial shout of “fire” from a co-worker, a family member, a friend, and we rush to find the nearest extinguisher. We spend our days as reactionaries, jumping from one task to another, relieving pressure points.

We feel busy (perhaps overwhelmed). But are we really producing meaningful work? The kind of work that changes entire structures and processes? The kind of work that prevents “fires” from occurring in the future? Or has a response plan already in place for when they do?

I want to learn to identify root problems so my contributions bring clarity to the bigger picture, not fuel to the next fire.

QUESTION: Where could big picture thinking/problem solving benefit you in your professional or personal life? What most frequently holds you back from doing it?

Why I’m awesome. (And why I’m really not).

If you walked by my desk this week you would have thought me unstable. I couldn’t stop crying. Two days ago I even wept. I’m talking about the “shoulders shaking, gasping for air” kind of cry that comes from your very core and emerges as weird noises in your throat.

I reigned it in after a few seconds. But it was a close call.

I’m normally seen as “one of the guys” at the office. So the crying was really cramping my style.

The problem for me started with this idea: I believe I’m an awesome writer. I believe that what I do matters. And I believe that others will know that to be true through my eloquent and effective (not to mention interesting) communication style.

Recently, I was asked by ABWE to go to Kosovo to write stories about a widow who wants to build a school for kids who grew up surrounded by war and genocide. It’s basically got Pulitzer Prize written all over it. All I needed was to raise about $2,500 to get over there.

I posted an article asking for financial help and smugly sat back.

Doing some awesome writing in Africa.

DONE and done, I thought. How could they not respond ?

And yet, days later, my support account was filled with little more than dusty bunnies and disappointment.

After some debate, I realized what was missing from the equation.

God.

I had misplaced my confidence in my skills…my really awesome skills…rather than in the One who is the great provider.

So I regrouped. I prayed. And I tried to let it go.

I guess I’m not going to get to Kosovo any time soon, I thought.

Then, the very next day I got a note. About $700 had come in to my account that morning.

A family member gave despite her husband being unemployed and having two small children at home.

Trust in Me.

My old intern made a donation even though she is in college and looking for a job.

I Am the Great Provider.

Another couple donated a generous amount even though they face incredible expenses in the next few months.

I am Enough.

Then, today, three more people asked if they could help be a part of this project.

I can’t stop getting misty.

Certainly a well-told story can’t hurt, but I see that only God can compel the heart. It is HIS awesome story that matters. And now He is writing a chapter filled with people’s amazing acts of generosity—a story that requires people who, despite (or because of) their circumstances, are willing to enter into a plot which is unfolding toward great love in a world that desperately needs it.

Leah Farr: Writing with words since 1986

 

At 4:40 today I was sitting in a meeting daydreaming about steak. Two minutes later, I was planning a trip to Kosovo.

You know. All in a day’s work.

Many of you know that I am a natural-born storyteller. I’ve been perfecting the art since childhood.

Leah (age 7) Mom, I just saw some deer! And they…were wearing backpacks! And…flying into the sunset!

Let’s just say, I have a penchant for being compelling. But thanks to a degree in journalism, I can honestly say I’ve gotten a lot more accurate.

Over the past 3 years, God has given me the opportunity to turn my storytelling skills into an outlet of inspiration.

Many of you know I work at ABWE, a Christian mission agency that brings practical relief (food, health care, education) and love (evangelism, discipleship, community) to thousands of people in nearly 60 countries. In 2009, I was asked by ABWE to go to West Africa to write about the need for medical care in a town called Mango. We were building a hospital in a desperately poor city with no doctors or surgeons. We needed to get people on board.

Almost 16 months later, I can tell you there is power in story-telling. The $3,000 price tag for my trip is miniscule when you compare it with the returns. God has used my stories to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the West African hospital. One woman who read my article gave $50,000. A series of emails that I wrote helped raise another $100,000.

Work is being done in the world that is saving lives and bringing people hope and healing—All because words and pictures bring people closer to a story they might not otherwise hear.

Reporting from the trenches in Africa

Now I’m focusing on telling another great story currently unfolding in Kosovo.

After only 11 months of marriage, and pregnant with their first child, Nadine Hennesey went to have lunch with her husband Ed. Instead, she found him dead. He was 29. Devastated, Nadine decided to dedicate her life to serving women and children who have suffered similar losses. A civil war in Kosovo in the 1990s caught her attention, and she soon moved there to bring hope to people like her and her infant daughter…orphans and widows.

Now, Nadine wants to build a school in Kosovo to help bring hope to the fatherless, to create a new generation of leaders, to bring character and integrity into a community destroyed by genocide. And she needs my help to tell the story.

Money permitting, I hope to leave April 16 for Kosovo to capture the heart of Nadine’s work, and bring back stories and symbols that will fuel the funding for this life-changing school. Pray for me! It is no easy task, but I am excited for the challenge. And excited for the reward of knowing that my pictures (and words) may be worth a couple million bucks—which will change the lives of these children forever.

I need about $2,400 for this trip. If you are interested in giving go here

 

Thank you for listening to my stories and passing them on. I love you all and can’t wait to share God’s story of hope for Kosovo children with the church, educators, and anyone who might be willing to listen.

Leah