Between the Panels

Little India

(Just over a month ago.)
“Hey, man. Why don’t you go up to Wembley Central today. See if you can get to know the area more, connect with the people, get some stories.”

I looked up at Cris from my computer. He and his wife and I had been in the thick of developing a cinematographic, social justice project to raise awareness for different issues and combat isolation in the area.

I’d been stuck answering emails all morning.
Hm. Let me think abou– yes.  

The best part about going out that day was the creative freedom. There was no stifling agenda. No time limit. Nobody was expecting me to produce a certain amount of money or reach a quota. My job was literally just finding interesting people to talk to.

After wandering into one of those ancient, cathedral-style churches (complete with the mossy dilapidated graveyard and everything,) a nice little old Nigerian lady invited me to have some coffee at an event they were hosting.

While I was standing around trying not to look uncomfortable, another chronologically advanced woman came up to me and proceeded to tell me her life story. I heard all about how she grew up in Barbados until her mother sent her away to England for a better life. She hated it at first but then decided she might as well make the best of it. She became a nurse, then a manager, then got married, had kids, her kids had kids. Now, retired and widowed, she ran her own little flower shop business.

After that, I passed by the abandoned hotel where an Indian pastor friend held his church services. (The only metaphorically and literally underground Christian church in London that I know of.) I arrived during the tail end of his service as he was praying for people. As soon as he saw me sitting there doing nothing, he waved me over and said, “Here. Pray for this lady. She’s got pain in her stomach.”

I prayed a little bit and BOOM. The lady got healed on the spot. No joke. Full-on miracle.

The pastor was like, “Sweet. Pray for this other person.”

Same thing. Boom. Pain a moment ago; now, no pain at all.

Afterwards I got to talking to another guy who told me about his childhood growing up in India and how his parents had placed him in a Christian school because they were academically better than Hindu schools at the time, despite the fact that his father was a radical Hindu. This guy converted to Christianity but kept it a secret for a whole ten years until his father found his Bible in the house. His father beat him and threatened to kill him, so he left home. Now he lives in London with his own family.

Later, I sauntered down Ealing Road.
Picture it: The Bollywood music, the smell of incense and burning oil, the lilt of Hindi being spoken up and down the streets. It’s why we affectionately call it Little India.

Top it off with the giant Hindu temple sitting just across the street from the little Baptist church and the Muslim mosque about a block away.

It’s why I love this city so much.

Super

So, a couple years ago, I watched a movie called Super, about a guy starved for justice who wants to become a hero. It’s a rubbish movie. Hilarious, but rubbish.

Anyhow, there’s this one scene where the protagonist is arguing with his sidekick in a garage. The sidekick is whining because she’s bored and feels there isn’t enough crime to fight. The main guy then explains how even in comic books the heroes aren’t fighting all the time. You only see the action in each panel. They have their “boring” moments that get cut out and left “in between” the panels, but even though you never see those moments, it’s understood that the characters still live them.

Despite being such a brain-numbing film, that scene nestled into my mind, and as I walked through Wembley Central that day, totally garnished in the ecstasy of adventure, it began to sprout an epiphany.

I began to wonder if days like this should be a regular thing — if we should strive to make every day a “panel” day. We naturally tend to idolise these sorts of moments. We share the videos on Facebook… post the pictures on Instagram… hear other people tell their stories and think, “Wow. If only my life were as amazing as that person’s life always seems to be.”

But not every moment has to be a highlight. We have our valleys and trenches. The dips that get lost in anonymity. Those are the scenes we just stuff in between the panels. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just think the issue is having an expectation for our entire life to be made up of panel moments, or feeling like we need to display our life as one long highlight reel.

Sure. Of course every moment is valuable, but what I think I’m figuring out is I need to learn to appreciate and love both types individually.

We’ll always have our panel moments. The ones we deem “worthy” of talking about or uploading to YouTube. Parading across the cognitive social red carpet to receive the flashes of admiration or awe from peers and strangers. Not that they have to be lived for that reason, of course. Maybe you’d only ever talk about them in the company of good friends telling fun stories and reminiscing old times. Or perhaps on a stage to inspire the upcoming generation.

And of course we’ll have our in-between-the-panel moments. The ones we don’t even bother thinking about when somebody asks, “What have you been up to these last few months?”

But that’s okay. There’s a healthy balance. I’m all for diving into the extravagance of life, but I want to learn to appreciate the “dull” moments too. All the best stories are great just as much for what they don’t show as for what they do. It’s the exhausting mountain of hours that the author spends behind the scenes that make the characters so rich on the page or screen.

The Reel

November drizzled some particularly bleak moments into the mix of the work I’m doing and my continual effort to make London home, but the good far outweighs the bad. Here’s how my life might look in comic book form:

One panel might show us spending heaps of time continuing to develop the Creative Arts internship for next year. Another panel might have us working on starting a free cafe. Another might show me attending refugee home placement meetings, translating for the counseling school, preaching at the aforementioned Indian church, serving in a homeless shelter, or helping out with the English course.

In between the panels… endless emails to answer. Wandering around the streets at night waiting for life to shower me with meaning and purpose. Binge-watching anime TV shows with my Chilean friend. #addictedtoattackontitan

It’s all about how you choose to look at it, right?

The Credits

I’ll be leaving the UK soon to spend Christmas back home in one of my homes this year. That’s also a whole miracle story in itself.

Thanks again from my heart to all you who are believing in me and supporting me in my still-new life over here.

Keep being awesome.

Peace.

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The Palpitating Heart of Diversity – A London Update

Those First Impressions

If London’s streets are her veins, then diversity is the blood that flows through them.

I had already known London was one of the most international cities in the world; but I didn’t expect that in one single day I could easily feel like I’d wandered through at least three different countries. As I traverse the streets, I seriously think English is the language I hear least of all. I’ve actually probably used almost as much Spanish as English since arriving.

I had also already known London would be gorgeous, of course, with the typical touristy eye-catchers (which I haven’t actually even seen yet,) but I hadn’t suspected I’d find as much (or more) beauty in the hidden spots — the places she doesn’t post all over Instagram or Pinterest. It’s the type of beauty that she self-consciously tucks away in her deserted alleyways for fear nobody would find it attractive.
You have to really get to know her to discover it.

A Glimpse

I hit the ground running when I arrived, and I only really paused when the jetlag caught up and tackled me to the ground.

I propelled myself into pretty much every opportunity I could squeeze into. Being the new guy, I’ve been getting tossed between the different ministries and projects quite a bit, but I think I’m learning the rhythm of it all now. So far, it’s been a medley of everything from joining an official borough meeting to discuss refugee relief and care, to hosting an Argentine barbecue for a lovely old-people church, to acting as assistant cameraman for the most posh British summer party I’ve ever been to.

All right, fine — the only posh British summer party I’ve ever been to.

People here at the base are spectacular. Everybody runs on a fiery passion driven by the intrepidity for progress, change, and improvement of the world in general.
Some of them are heading up trafficking awareness events in the city; others are holding influential meetings within Parliament. The list goes on.

Love After First Sight

Call me the naive foreigner, but I’ll admit I was surprised to find aspects of London much darker than I’d anticipated — like the fact that the city does actually have a red light district, for example. Or perhaps the instance from last week, when I met a pastor from Asia who leads a literal underground church here, because the women who go there would be beaten at home if their husbands found out they were attending Christian services.

Nevertheless, life is perpetually blossoming. I’m continually encountering unsung heroes thriving in the face of apathy and enmity; and though it may not have necessarily been love at first sight, the more I get to know this city, the more fond of her I become. It’s only a harvest of delight when I pass through a park and hear kids yelling at each other in a language I can’t understand, or when I’m engulfed in the smell of garum masala as I walk by the street shops.

Keep an eye out for my updates on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll try not to be too elusive.
And of course don’t ever hesitate to reach out or chat. I may be on the other side of the world now for some of you, but let’s not be strangers, yeah?

Thanks again for caring, and thanks for the part you all play in this.

Peace.

An Update on the Quest – Here’s to a Final Day

They say that for Third Culture Kids and frequent travelers, your home is where your toothbrush is; and for most of us in those categories, it seems our toothbrushes tend to hang out a lot in our backpacks.

If that’s the truth, though, I may have to leave a second toothbrush here in Montana, just for safekeeping.

Fewer than two days until the official due date; and by due date, I mean departure date. This Saturday, July 8th, I’ll drive up into Canada and fly out from Calgary over the ocean to England. All told, from the moment I take my first step out the front door here in the States to the moment I take my last somewhere in London, it shall have probably been around a measly 45 hours of travel or so. C’est la vie.

This being my last week, I’ve been scrambling to prepare all the things I procrastinated to the last minute (yes — I should know better.) I have, however, also wrung my days dry with making the best of an adventure that life in Montana has to offer.  Thanks to great friends with brilliant ideas, I didn’t leave in June like I had originally planned and ended up being able to have one of the most spectacular 4th of July celebrations ever, complete with mid-summer snowball fights and a mountaintop view of the fireworks that night.

With how busy I’d been, it wasn’t until these last few days that I’d realised how sad I felt about leaving again. I’ve come and gone plenty often, but it’s been a while since I’ve left a solid homeland so conclusively for so long. It’ll be a fresh start to a brand new life this time. It’s exhilarating and invigorating, but believe me I do also know I’m leaving a really good thing.

I definitely don’t want to pass up thanking all of you who are supporting me in going over there — those I know about and those I don’t know about. Not only are you literally enabling me to go and being a part of something significant, but it’s also a sublimely special feeling to know I have so many people who believe in me personally. You guys are awesome, and shoving all clichés aside, this really does make us all a part of accomplishing something meaningful together.
So thank you again. I appreciate it magnificently.

(If you’re interested in supporting me with the work I’ll be doing in England, or if you’d like to give a one-time donation, just click here for the proper info.)

Expect to hear an update from me sometime shortly after I arrive in Europe and get situated. I honestly can’t say I know what lifestyle to expect (I doubt I’ll be living alone in a dark castle writing novels, as some of my family members have postulated…at least not yet.) I only know six people in all of England and I have no clue how the first few days or weeks will unfold, but my expectations are open and my hopes are high. I’ll do my best to keep you all updated on things once I’ve begun the work and gotten into the rhythm of it all.

Here’s to a final full day in Montana. To a pursuit and cultivation of beauty. To moving audaciously forward in new things. To the efforts in making a significant impact in our nooks of the world.

And to the hopeful anticipation of yummy European pastries.

Peace.

The Quest – Announcing the New Adventure

You know that feeling you get when you’re sitting in your car at the grocery store parking lot, asking God what to do with your life, and suddenly He slaps you upside the head and writes it out in the sky in Times New Roman with clouds and rainbows and flying angel babies?

Yeah, me neither. That’s never happened to me.

However, I do know what it feels like to delve, to pursue, to really exert the time and effort to get to know Him and sync up with His passions. That feeling, you know? Gradually, getting an idea of where I fit into particular things He’s doing in the world and what He’s calling me to.

On my end, though, these past two months served me quite a concentrated dose of that process. Though it burned a bit on the way down, the grossly summarised result of that, then, is that for once I actually now know what I’m going to do with my life. I mean, what my next big step in life is.

Oh, all right. Sure. I’ll share it with you.

Ready?

Queue dramatic music. 

Pause for effect. 

 

I’m moving to England.

 

Drops the mic. 

Image result for drops the mic minion

Yes, true story. I’ll be gathering up my life (all one and a half backpacks of it) and making the quick little hop over to London to begin my new life as a professional chocolate-taster’s apprentice.
No, wait. Wrong story.
Missionary. I’m going to be a missionary.

In a way I could sort of say that going through the Discipleship Training School in Norway last year was part of what got me hooked on the idea of working in full-time missions. Over these past six months or so of contemplating my next big step, I knew I at least wasn’t anywhere near done traveling and living abroad; and I started feeling more certain about being in missions and doing volunteer work somewhere in the world. One of the biggest problems was honing in on a location. (I mean, really — when you’re only given the option of every single country in the world, how are you expected to easily make a decision?)
I guess you’re not. For me, it involved a lot of time and a heap of prayer.

I’ve only been to London once, for about seven hours.

Some might say that doesn’t really count.
This time, though, I’ll be going long-term.

Youth With a Mission has a base in London called Urban Key. They’re all about social justice and making a difference by impacting people’s lives in the city for the better; and they have a huge focus on influencing the societal sphere of arts and media. As if there could be a better combination, eh?
I’ll be joining on as staff, which for the most part means my full-time job will be involved in the mercy ministries (working with refugees and people living on the streets,) and church networking. They’ve also asked me to help develop their new creative arts and media internship, Fusion,

I’m looking for people now who would like to give to the work or become long-term supporters for me.
I’ll be there entirely on a volunteer basis, so I’ll be in charge of raising my own support for all my fees and expenses. Basically you’re the ones who can be part in enabling the vision for me. So it’s entirely up to you and how you feel prompted to join in; and I’d love for you to believe with me in what we’re accomplishing over there.  Please consider it, because nothing is too small and no effort will go unappreciated.

If you’re keen, here’s a quick scoop on the easiest ways to give.

1. You can give to me directly using this link.

Though, if you’re interested in receiving a charitable donation tax-deductible receipt, you can either

2. Click here.

Or,

3. Mail a check to

YWAM Tyler
PO Box 3000
Garden Valley, TX
75571-3000

(however, please DO NOT put my name anywhere on the check because it will muddle things up on their taxes. Instead make it out to YWAM and just put my name on a separate little note in the envelope to say it’s for me at Urban Key; this is quite important)

 4. In addition,
if you want to donate directly with a card or set up an Automatic Withdrawal with your account (which is convenient for me because there is no extra processing fee,) send an email to this address: mckenzie.blair@ywamtyler.org.

In each of these cases, you’ll receive your tax-deductible receipt after each donation.

And of course you can also use any other various options:
Venmo
Facebook
Beaver pelts and exotic spices, if that’s how you roll.

My mailing address in the States is

PO Box 1374
Bigfork, MT
59911

And my address in London will be

98 Park View
Wembley HA9 6JX
London, UK

It’d also be splendid if every now and then you could have a little chat with the Lord about me. That’s just a whimsical way of saying please support me in prayer. But seriously, I’m fully convinced it makes a difference; so I would certainly appreciate it.

From now on, I’ll be primarily using this blog to give my updates on life, ministry, work, and travel; but of course I’ll still also keep sharing my profoundly esoteric ruminations and deep cogitations on life, as always. If you’d like to keep up with all of it, go ahead and subscribe, or perhaps even comment below with your email address and I can send my updates there.

I finally got my visa this last Friday, which means now it’s only a matter of a handful of weeks before I leave. I’ll be looking at tickets in the next couple days and aiming for around the last week of June or so. I’ll announce my departure date as soon as I know it.

Please contact me if you want to know more. I’d actually love to talk about it. Maybe shoot me a text or give me a call if you want to hang out. After all, I need to make the best of my last little bit of Montana summer before I go.

Peace.