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Street Art, Sweat, and Excessive Consumption: 12 Hours in Dubai

My time in Cape Town has come to an end. Instead of heading straight home to Memphis (very pricey) I’m taking myself on a three week tour of the world (also pricey, but a bit more scenic).

First stop: Dubai.

If you know me, you know that I am not a fan of chilly weather. In my (southern) opinion, a degree below sixty necessitates blankets. Thus, despite my love for Cape Town and my new friends, I was thrilled to be fleeing the Southern Hemisphere. So thrilled that I did not even Google Dubai’s weather before landing. “It’s going to be super hot,” my internship director warned me. “I love hot weather!” replied my ignorant self.

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I was not prepared.

Reason told me I was walking through an exciting, bustling new city. My pores told me I was playing hopscotch in an oven. Though fully aware that the “sweat results in lasting weight loss” myth was debunked years ago, I knowingly clung to this lie like a fearful toddler clinging to a pool noodle.

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THAT SAID, Dubai is awesome. A major bonus was that my name, Adira, is Arabic. I’ve never had my name pronounced correctly so many times in one day! Stepping into the land from where my name comes was nothing short of special.

I spent my first few hours in town wandering through the historic district, Al Bastakiya. This neighborhood is filled with one of my favorite city features: street art. Being a common tourist, I photographed most of the pieces I came across. Here are my two favorites:

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After exploring Al Bastikiya, I made my way to the Deira Old Souk Abra Station. I crossed Dubai Creek via a traditional wooden boat called an abra. I then headed downtown, towards the Dubai Marina. Here, I found the ostentatious sky-scrapers that have put Dubai on the map.

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Dubai’s skyline is stimulating, but (no surprise here) I was more impressed with the area’s street art.

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I stood staring at this piece for a solid 10-12 minutes. The small lake that can now be found at the bottom of the stairs? That’s my sweat.

Around 2pm, I decided that the heat was too much. So, I called a taxi to the world’s biggest mall, the Mall of the Emirates. If I had to describe that place in one word, it would be excess. Gross excess. This mall contains 2 McDonald’s franchises and 3 KFC’s. In terms of market, their clothing stores range from Forever 21 to Tom Ford. Mall of the Emirates is also home to tailors, banks,  pharmacies, a cinema, and an indoor skiing resort. Having just departed from Cape Town’s prisons and townships, I was a little perturbed by this glittering glorification of excessive consumption. Still, it was better than the heat fun.

All in all, despite its somewhat garish exterior, Dubai is rife with history, alluring art and culture, and delicious food. According to me, the city is definitely worth a trip.

…in the winter.

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“Speaking in Tongues,” Modern Science, and the Failure of the Western Church

 

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This summer, a year after finding my faith, I am working as a prison missionary in Cape Town, South Africa (click here to read more about this decision). My time in this country has brought about immense growth; naturally, much of this growth has been spiritual.

I believed in miracles and spiritual gifts before arriving in South Africa, but my somewhat-shaky belief in such was based solely on Scripture and hearsay. I wish I could say that I never desire evidence of the divine. Unfortunately, my pre-law heart craves it. Fortunately, an abundance of miracles and supernatural distributions of spiritual gifts have occurred before my eyes this summer. A few of these have been quite personal. On the last Sunday of June, while visiting one of South Africa’s many Pentecostal churches, I received the gift of tongues.


What is the gift of tongues?

Considering the widespread misunderstandings of this gift, it is best to begin this explanation with an exploration of the phenomenon’s medical term, “glossolalia.” Merriam-Webster defines tongue-speaking, termed “glossolalia,” as “profuse and often emotionally charged speech that mimics coherent speech but is usually unintelligible to the listener and that is uttered in some states of religious ecstasy.”

The experience of glossolalia remains fairly consistent between the gifted. In an interview with the New York Times, a subject in a famed neurological study of glossolalia (discussed later in this post) explained:

”You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. ”You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”

Glossolalia is nothing new. As we will see later, this gift is discussed throughout Scripture. Ancient accounts of tongue-speaking in early Church communities have also been found. Celsus, a second-century Greek philosopher who heavily opposed the spread of the early Church, was baffled by the mysterious tongues. In The True Word, Celsus asserts that members of the early Church frequently released “incomprehensible, incoherent, and utterly obscure utterances, the meaning of which no intelligent person could discover” (Contra Celsum 403).

Since the manifestation of this gift usually follows a baptism in the Holy Spirit, sudden and widespread spikes in glossolalia often accompany Christian revivals. The most notable account of a mass inheritance of glossolalia stems from the 1906 Azusa Street Revival. That said, a quick Google search will reveal that evidence of this gift has been documented throughout the centuries.


Despite my youthful penchant for low-budget “religious” horror films, receiving this gift was never on my bucket list. My younger, unbelieving self certainly never desired — or even believed in — the gift of tongues. Though I attended church most Sundays throughout my unbelieving days, secular media remained my only source of knowledge about “tongues.” Even after coming to faith, I primarily learned about this gift through the testimonies of a good friends.

One of these friends surrendered her life to Jesus at age twelve. She is the type of labeled “super spiritual” by believers and unbelievers alike. She frequently hears His Voice clearly, prays incessantly, and has gifts that cannot be denied or explained by even the most vehement of atheists. As a new believer possessing little knowledge of spiritual gifts, I found her and her experiences encouraging, yet intimidating. As a result of my ignorance, I erroneously deemed her gifts — namely, the gift of tongues — unattainable.

It is a shame that I — a lifetime church goer — believed that this gift was the stuff of movies even after coming to faith. And worse, when conversations with other believers forced me to acknowledge the reality of this gift, I clung to the false notion of it being unattainable! By the grace of God, I now have this gift; however, many are still under the spell of the aforementioned lies. For this reason, it is important that believers and unbelievers alike understand what ancient Scripture and modern science say about this gift.


What does Scripture say?

The western Church’s neglection of glossolalia is confusing, considering its importance within Scripture. The origin of the gift of tongues traces back to the day of Pentecost, which occurred during the early aftermath of the Resurrection. According to Jesus’ disciples, before ascending to Heaven, He told them that his Spirit — the Holy Spirit — would come to them in the following days.

On the Spirit, He said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues” (Mark 16:16-17). Sure enough, fifty days after Jesus rose, the Spirit came down and glossolalia appeared. This moment is documented in Acts 2:1-4, which reads:

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

The subsequent spread of this gift is documented in Acts 19:6. This portion of Scripture centers around a baptism carried out by the Apostle Paul. This passage reads:

“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spoke in tongues, and prophesied.”

The same strange occurrence — baptism in the Holy Spirit followed by the appearance of glossolalia — has been reported year after year, worldwide.

Many may wonder what purpose is served by this gift. The answer is found in 1st Corinthians 14:2.

“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.”

This ancient claim is consistent with our modern understanding of tongues. Glossolalia manifests in a non-human language. Thus, neither the speaker nor witnesses can make sense of the utterances (sans those who receive translations through the Spirit; i.e. the gift of interpretation). In essence, glossolalia occurs when the Holy Spirit — which dwells within the believer — prays to the Father through the believer. 

Why is this necessary?

Humans rarely know what they need. At any moment, we may be suffering from undetected illnesses or teetering along the edge of an unforeseen disaster. Sometimes, we simply do not have the words for our dismay — or our elation. Fortunately, the Most High knows all. Thus, through heavenly, incomprehensible tongues, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf. 

Naysayers will claim that this is religious nonsense. Understandable. I thought the same. Obviously, I thought, those who claim to speak in tongues just speak gibberish.

Wrong. To the surprise of many, scientists have disproved such claims. 


What does science say?

Neurologists and psychiatrists have been studying glossolalia for decades. In 2006, University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist Andrew Newberg and his colleagues collected neuroimages from five tongue-speaking subjects. The subjects were injected with a radioactive tracer, which allowed the team to study the subjects’ brain activity during standard, English-speaking worship. The subjects were then instructed to worship in tongues as the researchers conducted the same test a second time.

The results revealed that frontal lobe activity essentially disappeared as the subjects spoke in tongues. In his conclusion, Newberg remarked that “the part of the brain that normally makes them feel in control has been essentially shut down.”

According to my leftover, deserted pre-medical notebooks the National Institute of Health, the frontal lobe is responsible for motor function and language. Thus, if these tongue-speakers were truly uttering man-made gibberish, the frontal lobe would have been kicked into high gear. 

Newberg also found that activity in the parietal region increased. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), this region “[receives] information about temperature, taste, touch, and movement from the rest of the body.” In other words, the parietal lobe is tasked with determining a being’s relation — and reaction — to their surroundings. Newberg claims that these results “make sense,” considering glossolalia “involves relinquishing control while gaining a ‘very intense experience of how the self relates to God’ (Holden). 


I, and many others gifted with glossolalia, continue to testify that tongues flow without any efforts of our own. The testimonies have remained consistent throughout history and match the ancient biblical descriptions.

Research has shown that the motor and language centers show little activity, while sensory centers are heightened.

Yet, its validity is continually ignored and attacked. Moreover, as a result of the Western Church’s tendency to shy away from the supernatural (despite the supernatural nature of the Gospel itself), naysayers — such as my younger self — often harbor little, if any, knowledge of the phenomenon.

It comes as no surprise that unbelievers deny its validity. This is predicted in 1 Corinthians 14:23, which reads: “So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”

If you do not believe in the Holy Spirit, believing in tongues is out of the question. I cannot blame unbelievers for attacking attempting to explain away glossolalia. 

Unfortunately, the distortion of glossolalia is not merely the work of those who do not follow Christ. I would argue that most Western churches are complicit in the spread of misinformation surrounding tongues. I have heard tongues spoken — and spoken of — in every South African church I have visited. My studies have shown that glossolalia is widely celebrated in many corners of the world. Y’all, it is even one of the main theological teachings of Hillsong, Justin Bieber’s church (lol). Yet, of the countless and varied American churches I’ve visited, I have heard tongues spoken and/or mentioned a whopping zero times.

Members of the Church — most of whom claim to believe Scripture to be the Word of God — do themselves and their brethren a great disservice when they deny, minimize, or ignore the power of tongues. As seen in the aforementioned Scriptural explanations of tongues and its purposes, this gift is wholly powerful. The practice of tongues also confronts unbelievers. People can reject God, but they have been unable to explain this manifestation. Frankly, I wish that I had been confronted by the truth of glossolalia when I was steeped in doubt. 

The Western Church’s tendency to avoid the supernatural reveals a hole in the Church’s application of Scripture. This mistake robs believers of the healing that is made possible through communion with the Holy Spirit. 

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” (1st Corinthians 12:27-31)

I urge the Church to abandon timidity, step out in faith, and embrace this gift. 


References

Carey, Benedict. “A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Nov. 2006. Web.

Origenes, and Henry Chadwick. Contra Celsum. Cambridge: Cambridge U, 2003. Print.

The Holy Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. Print.

“Tongues on the Mind.” Science AAAS. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 11 July 2013. Web.

Why Am I Working in Prisons…in South Africa?

As many of you know, I am spending this summer interning at a South African prison ministry. My schedule consists of group prayer, bible studies, counseling sessions, court visits, tutoring sessions, street ministry, and more.

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Some of you must be wondering what my problem is. Why would I, a seemingly rational human being, choose to spend my free months 8,000+ miles from home, in prisons, during South Africa’s winter? Why would I move to the “rape capital of the world” and proceed to work with the exact criminals who have earned the city its foreboding nickname?

When I first came to faith, my old understandings of justice, forgiveness, and redemption were obliterated. I had always been irritated by society’s condemnation of “criminals,” but my new understanding transformed this previously mild irritation into fuel.

Am I naive? My mother and many others have would say yes (hi, Mom <3). Maybe — but you’ll have to take that up with the Man Upstairs. I had no intentions of spending my summer doing this work. In fact, I had no intentions or plans at all.

So, how did we get here?

My fascination with the criminal justice system arose long before I came to faith. I was first introduced to the field of criminal justice in eighth grade, while attending the Georgetown Summer Law Institute. My interest in this broken system grew steadily throughout high school, but was immediately abandoned upon enrollment at university. When I first arrived on campus, I ventured onto the pre-medical track.

Many who know me now find my pre-medical past quite comical. However, at the time, this was serious business. Back home in Memphis, one must enter special gatherings prepared for war. The enemy’s ammunition = The Questions. This pre-packaged set of questions will likely remain fixed until Jesus returns.

1.) How’s school?

(There’s only one correct answer to this question. Honesty is not key.)

2.) Do you have a significant other?

(I answer “no,” and must then answer supplemental questions about my inability to find “a nice young man up North.”)

3.) What is your major?

(THE KICKER. Preferably, the value of your major is self-explanatory. If the “real-world use” of your major is dubious, you must then face the dreaded follow-up question: “What are you planning to do with that?”)

My attraction to the pre-medical label is obvious. This title enabled me to saunter in and out of gatherings with ease. The “pre-med” life was the good life…until it wasn’t. Like many students, I numbly walked along a well-worn road, hoping that my work would eventually “pay off.” About halfway through my sophomore year, I became bothered by my apathy towards my subject materials. I worked hard, but I did not care. After almost two years of witnessing the hunger that many of my friends harbored for their studies, I finally entered onto a quest for that same hunger.

I quickly dropped pre-med, signed up for a myriad of history, sociology, and Africana studies courses, and applied for research fellowships. Despite my refusal to acknowledge Him, the Lord blessed me with a spot within the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. As a Mellon fellow, I spent the summer of 2016 researching the evolution of the black American criminal image. It was during this time that He confronted me. Unable to continue questioning His existence, I was thrust into a new life. (The story of my conversion story is published here.)

Of course, my newfound faith created a massive shift in my worldview, which naturally affected my research direction. Though I did not yet know how my faith would converge with my long-standing interest in criminal justice, He obviously did. My God’s grace, I was selected for the January 2017 Mellon Mays Conference, which was held in Cape Town, South Africa. While discussing my research with other students at the conference, one Fellow (and dear friend) suggested I look further into prison conversion. I jotted this down and told myself to look into it upon my return home.

During the last days of the conference, a deep affection for the city arose. I’ll never forget this — when my flight took off, I prayed for a reason to return.

When I returned home (before departing for my semester away in Rome), I began researching prison conversion more thoroughly. This interest grew, leading to many late nights of research. I had this red-hot new interest, but I was not sure how to pursue it. My semester roaming around studying in Europe certainly distracted me from my usual summer internship hustle. Add to that the fact that I was unsure of what I even wanted. In the end, I left it to God.

He didn’t disappoint.

My heart’s desire revealed itself during a conversation with my friend Amanda. While discussing our summer plans, I mindlessly said, “I wish I could find a prison ministry or something like that.” That was news to the both of us. A few days later, she excitedly told me about a prison ministry run by her family friends. “And I’m pretty sure it’s in Cape Town!” she announced.

Many emails, a hour-long interview, and many flights later, I joined Hope Prison Ministry’s team.

I’m sorry to say that the title of this post is misleading. I cannot answer the “why” of my being here. Sure, the internship is in one of my favorite cities, fits my interests, and looks nice on a resume — but all of that can only scratch the surface of The Why. Through no actual efforts of my own, my summer fell perfectly into place. Without God, my ability to land this position makes no sense. I am here because He put me here. That is clear. Moreover, His reason is undoubtedly grander than any earthly explanation I can muster.

I do not know The Why — and that is fine. The stops are unknown, but I am sure of the destination. The tank is full and I have good company; so, for now, I am content simply enjoying the ride.

Prison Ministry Update and a Visit to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

As some of you may know, I have been spending the past few weeks ministering within Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, which is located within the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. I recently relocated to a quaint town north of the city and will be spending the next few days in fellowship with inmates locked within this smaller correctional facility. After my time at this prison is up, I will pack up and move to the South African winelands. Once there, I will work with male inmates in that town’s maximum security prison. 

Before heading out of Cape Town earlier this week, I had a chance to wander around the highly-praised Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The garden and its many conservatories are situated along the foot of the iconic Table Mountain. Kirstenbosch  is famous for its collection of endangered species. This is all good and well. I would go into more details, but unfortunately, I do not really care (if I’ve learned anything from prison ministry, it is that honesty is key). That said, I had a ball climbing trees, snapping photos,  and napping  lounging in the grass. Here are some of my favorite shots:

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The eastern side of Table Mountain.

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This felt very Narnia-esque.

 

 

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Me being extra.

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Strelitzia reginae or “Bird of Paradise.”

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Every Living Thing: 10 Photos from Cape Town’s Famous World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary

During my January Cape Town trip, some friends and I stopped by the city’s World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park. This famed park — situated within a vast tropical garden —  is located in Hout Bay Valley, about 10 kilometers outside the city center. The park receives about 100,000 visitors annually, with good reason. The 400+ species residing within the garden push the attraction to the top spots on the bucket lists of animal lovers and photographers alike. Naturally, I took way too many photos while on site. Here are some of my favorites:

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World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park

Open 365 days a year

“Lay Down Your Life”: Rebirth, Rome, and Martyrdom

 

As some may know, I stumbled upon my faith this past summer. I say “stumbled upon” rather than “found” because I was not searching. I truly believed that I was content with my life — “spirituality” included.  As an A-student and campus leader with supportive friends and family, I had few complaints. I was raised in a Christian home and “believed”; however, in hindsight, like many other so-called “Christians,” I never truly understood nor cared. I prayed before bed and begrudgingly attended Sunday services, but the words remained just that — words. For most of my life, the testimonies documented within the Bible seemed far fetched. Disillusioned by the Word’s bold and seemingly impossible claims, I continually took the church’s teachings with a grain of salt. This all changed after Jesus brought His existence to my attention.

When I explain my conversion to my peers, I often quip that He “grabbed me by the neck.” By this, I mean that He revealed the validity and reality of the Gospel message in the most unexpected way. This shocking realization left me both dumbfounded and elated. The sacred moment of conversion differs for everyone — some have a vision, others come to an understanding after a near-death experience, and others just realize. My ongoing awakening — though relatively gentle in nature — has constituted the most unsettling, yet clarifying season of my life.

I will not expand upon the details surrounding my initial moment of realization. Though my younger, more skeptical self would balk at the suggestion that a college student could truly encounter the Divine, I stand firm in my belief that this was — and remains — nothing short of supernatural. Like most people who find themselves confronted by the Truth, I experienced a sudden and dramatic worldview shift. Everything I thought I understood (and everything I thought was important) was transfigured. Frankly, it felt as if a veil was lifted. Of course, this change forced me to lay aside my pride. Instead of looking to my understanding and desires, I began consulting Him. As a result, I have flooded with blessings.

Though my new faith has brought indescribable joy and understanding into my life, this shift complicated my study abroad choice. Due to my desire for scorching weather and white sand, I was set on spending the spring semester in either South Africa or Australia. But, for some reason, He continued to push me towards Rome. During numerable prayer sessions in the latter months of 2016, Rome popped into my head. Even after I finalized my spot at the University of Sydney, references to Rome steadily appeared multiple times per week.

I have never taken an Italian course and promised myself that I would stay out of the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, to me, to study in Rome made zero sense. Frustrated and confused, I consulted other believers. Almost every believer gave me the same advice:

 

“Lay down your life.”

 

This phrase comes straight from Jesus’ documented teachings, as written by the longest-living apostle, John. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (King James Version). This command — that one forego their desires and plans, in favor of following the call of God — is timeless and applies to every believer, regardless of the ever-changing nature of societal and cultural pressures. Due to society’s preoccupations with the facades of independence and freedom, choosing to lay down my own abroad plan in place of what I believed to be God’s plan was difficult. Fortunately, with the support of other believers, I took the leap and bought a round-trip ticket to Rome.

As I mentioned earlier, God is persistent. So, unsurprisingly, He has been training me to continually “lay down my life” ever since I landed in Rome. This was most apparent during our class’ visit to the Basilica of San Clemente. Much of the artwork within this church honors Roman martyrs of the early Christian church. As our tour guide explained, many of Rome’s earliest Christians were brutally slaughtered for spreading the Gospel.  

Though Christ’s command to “lay down your life” is usually explored and applied figuratively, the necessary death may not merely be a death of one’s former, sinful life. My time in Rome thus far has reminded me that following the Call can indeed necessitate physical death. Though my physical life is not in imminent danger, many sacrifices are expected once one decides to follow Christ. The petty fears I sometimes possess —  such as timidity about sharing my testimony or fear of missing out on “fun”  —  have been put into perspective through my study of the martyrs. As Matthew 16: 24-16 reads, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”