The Mom Voice and Shopping Carts

I had to laugh today when someone mentioned that the local grocery store had new shopping carts. I found myself smiling, thinking I need to go and experience using a clean, smooth-driving shopping cart. Using these shopping carts can be a hazardous to your health: they are sticky, smelly, and otherwise unhygienic. I feel as if I have to disinfect myself when using them and use my “mom voice” with my daughter when she tries to touch it, “Don’t touch that, you have no idea what is on it.”

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This may not seem important, and it really isn’t, but we in Blantyre have become accustomed to filthy shopping carts that turn left when you want to turn right and turn right when you want to turn left. There have been times when the cart I’m using simply stops moving in the middle of a shop and I, the unfortunate shopper, am stuck with a cart that I end up having to pull, instead of push, to the checkout.

From checkout, I then proceed with great difficulty with the sticky cart-that-needs-a-front-end-alignment turning this way and that, to the car. Finally, after loading groceries, the temptation is great to shout at the cart and leave it, just like everyone else does, in the parking area – but that is not meant to be. No, I have heard teachings on the importance of returning the cart and I can’t bear the guilt of leaving the cart. So, I once again fight with my nemesis and return it, often to the quizzical looks of others who also despise the carts at the store, to its proper place.

By the time I return to the car, that I have on occasion unintentionally scratched with the misaligned cart, I’ve broken into a full sweat and count shopping for that day as my cardio workout. The problem is that more often than not, I have to frequent several places to filling my grocery list for the week and this process repeats itself two or three times before I get home. Then, I have to unpack everything and take myself, and daughter, through a decontamination process after our encounter with the sticky cart.

It’s obvious I’m no fan of grocery shopping and perhaps you can understand why now that you know of my problem with grocery carts. The truth of the matter is, despite my utter disdain for the carts here, that shopping carts aren’t a big deal in life; they’re really little details. However, those little details can create a very big deal if left unattended. Just knowing that the store’s carts were as bad as they were, made me avoid shopping there – but now upon hearing that there are new carts I may (emphasis on may) not avoid that shop next week.

A rock in the shoe, a shopping cart that turns badly, or no power to print your document, all are inconvenient, but none are deadly. These little things are conveniences that are meaningful, but do we allow them to mean more than they should? I am guilty, on more than one occasion, allowing what’s really a small thing to have a greater impact on my life than it should and I find myself in a “kerfuffle” (I like that word) for nothing.

My mother was pretty amazing and I didn’t realize how amazing she was until I was grown. She graduated into God’s glory in 2008 and I miss her dearly; one of the things I miss most is her way of making what seems complicated, to be simple. One saying of hers that has stuck with me has helped me deal with the unimportant things of life: “If you’re going to be upset, be upset about something that really matters – and there are a lot of things that don’t matter.”

Today I choose peace, I choose to shake the rock from my shoe, avoid the bad shopping cart, and find a way to teach without my printout. The emotional energy invested in being upset has no payout besides elevated blood pressure and heartburn, so why bother?

John 14:27 NLT “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

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Suck It Up, Buttercup

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Here I am, starting all over again. I’m a mom of 4 (my youngest is 9), a grandmother of 1 (soon to be 2) and I’m still keeping the pace of a much younger me when we began planting churches in our early 20s. There’s a lot that goes into moving from country to country, sometimes continent to continent, to plant churches. Yes, it is very exciting to see a something born from nothing; our church here in Blantyre, Malawi, is barely a year old and I see the shadows of a great church forming from the humblest of beginnings.

Our “facility” is not really a facility. When we first started meeting, we met at our home on the front porch. Later, we rented a place to pitch our tent at a local school. Once God miraculously provided us with a piece of land, it was truly miraculous; we moved the tent to our land and began to settle. While we have yet to see any real development on the property, you can see the outlines of the foundation for a security wall fence and underneath our tent there are regular church activities taking place. The church is growing not only numerically but also spiritually; I can sense some roots going down and people growing stronger in their faith. For me to be even a small part in this eternal miracle is a great honor; I don’t take it lightly that God would allow me to see this happen over and over again when many never see a new church born this way ever in their lifetimes.

That being said, I do get “relocation fatigue” from time to time. Honestly, it’s not easy picking up and starting from the beginning every few years when the church we’ve planted and raised becomes mature enough for us to go and start another one. As the excitement and honeymoon phase of the church plant gives way to the bare knuckles work of growing the church, I begin wondering how much longer I have to enjoy where I find myself working. If I’m not careful, I can pull myself away to keep from feeling too hurt when it is time to hand over the work to the national sons and daughters God gives us to take over. We are, after all, missionaries, and our job is to work ourselves out of a job, right?

That reality doesn’t make leaving when the work is done any easier. Indeed, that knowledge helps us as we set things in order but when you pour your life into a work and then have to leave it – it leaves a mark. Those marks, those scars, are the marks we bear as a result of growing spiritual children. It’s a process that mimics growing our natural children. My first three children are now grown and I bear the familiar marks of motherhood: dark circles under my eyes, graying hair, a few wrinkles, stretch marks, and lots of dental work! Now that they are grown and on their own, I am overwhelmingly proud – but they’ve left me, and that has also left a scar. That scar is not a physical one, but one that I bear in my heart. It’s an ache that doesn’t go away, but accompanying the ache is a great pride that they are productive adults on their own that love God and their families. Releasing our churches is like watching our grown children navigate the world – it gives us great reason for joy as well as great reason for tears.

We are still in the season of heavy plowing and pushing away great piles of dirt to lay deep foundations that will hold this church, hopefully, for many generations to come. Yet, somewhere in the deeper recedes of my soul I find myself wondering if, after a lifetime of farewells, I have the stamina to keep saying goodbye. Goodbye to family, friends, and churches – but what is the alternative when so many are waiting to hear hello?

“It’s time to shake it off, then, have a cup of coffee, and suck it up buttercup,” I say to myself. I’ve learned when it feels like I can’t take another step, I simply put my foot out and step again. That’s when life becomes truly powerful because there’s none of my power left.

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NKJ “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

So suck it up buttercup and take that step. You know you can’t do it alone, that’s why now by His grace you can. Someone is waiting for you to say hello.

Buzzwords, Buildings, Tents, and Rain

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Sometimes finding water for baptism is complicated, but we always find a way.

Organic

Relevant

Postmodern

Emergent

 Missional

 Journey

 Resonate

 Authentic

That’s a pretty long list of words but they may “resonate” with you as you read them. You may recognise them as the hip lingo used today as we struggle to keep in step with the “relevant” crowds of today. The list of buzzwords of generations past no longer holds our attention: orthodoxy, fundamental, evangelical, and so on. Today’s crowd equates those words with an older, non-relatable faith that doesn’t resound with today’s more educated and sophisticated crowds.

I’ve read blogs and articles on the evolution of Christian language; some critical of the new lingo and others suggesting the expansion of vocabulary is simply the church’s attempt to define Christianity in a clearer, and more concise way. I’m not qualified to make judgments on the hearts of those expanding their vocabularies to suit the times we are living in, I only know that the Gospel demands clarity.

The Gospel is as simple as the world is complex.

Some of the buzzwords we hear today point to our desire for things to return to a simpler time – a time when things were clear and easy to understand. We have a need to be accepted and understood. We know that the message we have within us has the power to transform this fallen and broken world. We know that our hearts are pure in our desires to bring this wonderful message to those who have yet to hear.

At the same time, there is a line that must be drawn between bringing the message with words that are understood by the hearer and speaking words that please the hearer. We’re not called to be accepted, for the world cannot accept or understand the wonder of this faith that has commanded the loyalty of our very souls. Jesus Himself understood that and spoke clearly – without diluting His message.

John 5:41 TLB Jesus speaking, “Your approval or disapproval means nothing to me…”

Rejection is painful and we would do well to remember that while we know God doesn’t reject us – many in this world will. Fear of rejection by our peers will cause us to do many things: change the way we speak, change the way we dress, change our ideas of what is right and wrong, and even change the messages we deliver.

For most of us, there was time when we remember how clear things were for us in our faith: those early days when we first accepted Christ or those times when God bailed us out miraculously and we saw clearly. As time would have it and life ebbs and flows, slowly the clarity with which we understood our faith was dulled. This desensitization often takes place over time, gradually, as if invisibly – then we wake one day to the realization that we’ve lost the fervor of our initial, simple faith in Jesus.

I am thankful that here in Malawi I’m reminded, almost daily; of how simple we need to keep things. At our church property, we have no electricity or running water nor do we have any kind of facility to speak of. All we have on site is a tent with a dirt floor and a makeshift platform. On the weekends, if we want more than acapella music, we have to bring the musical equipment, speakers, amplifier, wires, and the generator to the property. We can’t leave it stored there due to the insecurity of the area, especially at nighttime. While it all sounds simple enough, and it is, it’s quite labor-intensive just to get the service going. We do well to have visitor’s letters and offering envelopes let alone lights and sound effects. We are satisfied if the sound is at a level that won’t blow our ears off (that in and of itself is a feat of major proportions). At the end of the day, when we have managed to pull of a full day of activities, we return home exhausted but happy.

Do we need a building? Definitely. We are praying for God to bring the finances to get going on our facility before the next rainy season. The rains were so fierce this past year that one morning, after a storm, we woke to news that the tent had come down. Several days were spent getting that tent back up in time for weekend services but what to do about midweek activities? We just met outside – it was as simple as that. We can’t wait for a building for the church to meet for the church is not a building or sound effects, the church is made of people.

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Praying without a building or even a tent after the storm; the solution? Sunglasses!

This simplicity with which we do church astonishes some, refreshes others, and causes yet others to mock us. As exciting as it sounds and is, planting churches from the ground up is dirty work – literally! Initially when the church is launched, of course it’s exhilarating. The thought of being part of something that has an eternal lifespan carries a certain euphoria with it, until the excitement wears off and there’s no one else but the two of us to take care of the growing congregation. Everything from counseling, visiting, leading services, speaking, even leading songs (that’s the hard one for us) lies within our scope of responsibility.

Some might think we’re careless in the way we plant churches; that we should be more prepared to undertake the task. I understand the sentiment! We have had the luxury of enjoying the presence of colleagues during various stages of our church plants and it is wonderful when it happens. However, if we wait to have an entire team coordinated and ready to plant a church – very few churches will be planted. The cost of church planting is high: it requires great sacrifice from those involved. Sacrifice of finance, personal time, and even reputation for not many people consider meeting in dingy rented buildings or under tents worthy of the effort.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

So how much have buzzwords, the bells and whistles, accolades and crowds of wealthy congregants effected how we do church? Perhaps the correct question would be: should buzzwords, bells and whistles, accolades, and crowds of wealthy congregants effect how we do church?

When the buildings get built, and they do for this is God’s work and He has never failed us, and those buildings stand where once there were piles of dirt and stones, who will be those who were brave enough to walk with us to see the miracles happen? To see God build something from nothing? Often it’s the least likely candidates that God uses, but they are the ones who accompanied us when there was nothing, except the real church: the precious people who God gave us.

I’ve learned to keep it simple. To remember these days we are in now, the beginning days when everything needs to be done and there’s nothing to work with but the two hands we have. All of the distractions (make no mistake, I enjoy the bells and whistles) that we pour ourselves into when they are available to us: lights, sound, musicians, offices, chairs, a PowerPoint presentation to go with our catchy sermons, can be our downfall when they pull us away from the simplicity that is this: God is good and He wants the best for us and He can give the best because He is the best. If those bells and whistles make His voice sound dim, if they become more important than ministering to the people, then we’ve missed the point.

 

 

 

 

Dream On, Little One

 

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I photographed this little boy this past Sunday. He is one of millions in Malawi – may they dream and live for better times.

I remember daydreaming in math class and being rudely interrupted from my reverie by my 3rd grade teacher.

“Lea! Stop daydreaming and pay attention!”

In my defense, she wasn’t the easiest teacher to listen to at the time when I was an easily distracted age of 9. I don’t remember what I was daydreaming about, but it certainly was more interesting than the droning on of Mrs. Parker and math. My daydreaming in math class continued for a couple of years and there was a consequence. I ended up having to go to summer school for math in 5th grade – my teachers attributed my falling behind to my daydreaming. I couldn’t help it that math wasn’t as interesting as daydreaming about being a princess over a huge kingdom where I could order as many pizzas as I liked.

I learned my lesson and began paying attention in math class, but I still wanted those unlimited pizzas!

Growing up, my daydreams gave way to other, more grown-up dreams. I dreamt of doing something for God with my life, going to be a missionary in Africa and doing whatever I could to help people, children specifically. Maybe I would be a nurse? Doctor? Those were removed from my list quickly as the sight of blood and other undesirable chores that nurses or doctors have to do changed my mind.

Years later, all grown up, I find myself as a missionary in Africa working in church planting and community outreach, mostly to women and children. I hadn’t dreamt of half of what I have gone through – but I have lived my dream.

This weekend at church was a busy one; I taught an early Sunday morning class, we had our regular service, and afterwards we had a baptism service. It may not sound busy, but believe me, these weekends keep us on our toes. I smiled this morning as I thought about the weekend, there were so many lovely moments: from having a nearly full class with almost perfect attendance to hearing my husband preach a great message (he is my favorite preacher), and finally watching people get baptised.

Then, I remembered the little children I watched playing around the periphery of our church tent where we meet (yes, our church is definitely no frills). I watched them cartwheeling, playing, and caught one of them looking off into the distance as if to daydream. I wondered what that little one dreamt of.

Here in Malawi, most children have their dreams snuffed out before they even have a chance to dream. For most of them, their dreams consist of not going to bed hungry or hurting or alone. They dream of not being abused or of their parents not dying and leaving them orphans. Their dreams are simple ones that those of us who have food security, families that love us, and have at least had the luxury to dream, cannot understand.

I can’t fathom being hungry for my entire life. Here in this part of Africa, 46% of our children under 5 suffer from stunting, which is a prevailing hunger that prevents proper growth in children. When I look at our children whenever we meet, most of them come from the poorer communities around our church, I realize just how serious the situation really is. Children are visibly smaller than they should be, and my heart aches knowing that many won’t reach adulthood and for those who do, chances are they won’t be able to have sufficient education to afford them the luxury of dreaming for a better life.

We run a feeding program in Lilongwe, Malawi, about 5 hours away from Blantyre. We have seen an amazing difference in the children who have been eating at the site regularly. A few years ago, a medical team from Joyce Meyers Ministries (who has been helping us feed in Lilongwe since 2007) came to hold medical checks in various places throughout the country. Their findings were, among those they surveyed, that ours were the most nutritionally secure children in Malawi.

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In a country where 45% of the population is under 16, you can understand that the scope of the problem is greater than 1 feeding program can handle. While we can’t reach them all, we can reach some. We are working on opening a feeding outreach in Blantrye, financing another feeding program of course has been a great hindrance but also the red tape involved has prevented us from receiving some food aid that has been promised to us. We continue to pray for solutions; this is proving a challenge, as the country itself is not producing enough to feed its own population.

So we reach those we can, feed those we can, and bring education (our newest outreach) where we can. But I can’t help but feel for the little ones who have yet to dream, for those playing around the church this past weekend. For that little one standing alone, I pray we find a way for him to dream on.

Matthew 25:40 AMP The King will answer and say to them, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it for Me.’”

 

 

You Get What You Pay For

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In my opinion, I am a cheapskate; I believe I am circumspect in how I spend money. However, it may be that my husband Jamie has a different opinion on the matter altogether. It’s funny how two people who have been married for nearly 33 years with as much in common as we have, can value things as differently as we do. Jamie doesn’t care at all about shopping; he could care less if he ever saw the inside of another shopping center or mall for the rest of his life. It’s very difficult, to put it mildly, to get him to shop for clothes and shoes. When I succeed in getting him to try on some clothes or shoes, the expression on his face is one of exquisite pain. You can probably imagine the next thing that happens – he peppers me with questions and commentary:

Jamie: “Is this on sale?”

Me: “Yes, dear.”

Jamie: “What’s the price?”

Me: “It’s 35% off.”

Jamie: “Isn’t there anything cheaper?”

Me: “This is the best price.”

Jamie: “This doesn’t feel right.”

Me: “You look great!”

Jamie: “There’s nothing in black?”

Me: “No, but this is dark blue and everything you have is black.”

Jamie: “Can’t we come back another time?”

Me: “NO WE CAN’T COME BACK ANOTHER TIME!”

I, on the other hand, enjoy getting out to go shopping. Since I live in Malawi, where shopping as we know it Stateside is non-existent, I enjoy shopping on the rare occasion I get to go. I enjoy the process of finding the best price for what I’m looking for. I don’t see the point of paying full price for anything (and am not of the budget to do so anyway), as there’s always a sale somewhere. If it’s not on sale, I am not interested – I’ll find a substitute somewhere else.

So you can understand the problems we have when it comes time to do any kind of shopping, there’s an immediate conflict of interests. He’s interested in getting out as soon as possible and I’m interested in staying in and finding what I want for a good price. Christmas, birthday, anniversary, or any kind of shopping – it’s a challenge! It’s too painful to watch Jamie endure more shopping than he has to; his usual position is head buried in his hands, lying on a bench somewhere. Our solution? I keep him away from shopping as much as possible and have learned to enjoy going alone so his life (and mine) can be stress-free!

There’s always a price to be paid. Much like going shopping for things we need, we pay according to how we value the item, experience, or relationship. When purchasing groceries or other items, budgeting our money is wisdom. Yet when we are working on intangible, spiritual things, the same logic doesn’t apply.

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Thomas Paine

I have had the privilege of being a missionary and church planter’s wife for 30 years. I didn’t know, when we first started out in missions, what life would look like in years to come. I was a young wife and mother just trying to get from one day to the next, one meal to the next, one homework assignment to the next with my kids. In the middle of my trying to figure my roles out, we planted our first church. There was no one to teach children’s church, no one to oversee feeding the hungry, no one to counsel young women with HIV – except me. I didn’t consciously begin doing all those things, they simply came upon me and I knew they needed to get done so I did them. At night when my children would go to bed after dinner and sleep after a day at school in a clean bed with parents who love them, I would lie awake and wonder what was happening to the children in the refugee camps or the young women in the hospital with no one to watch them. What about them?

I began to value them, value who they were, and who they could grow up to be, and who they might raise. I began to look at them with the same eyes I look at my own family with and paid the price to do what we could to help better their lives. I’m sure that many have done more, have done better than I – but no one has valued those God has given us more than we have.

How much value do we assign to those who cross our paths? Do we serve them as “cheaply” as possible? Looking for some kind of sale so we don’t have to invest so much of our time or of our emotional, and spiritual energy? How much do we invest in our relationship with God Who spent everything He had for us to have a relationship with Him? Is all we want out of our faith a cheap drive-thru version of a deeper 7-course experience?

In 2 Samuel 24 there’s an account of King David, God’s choice to rule the nation of Israel, and his sin in having a census done. God did not want the Kings of Israel to do a census, to see how much strength they had on their own, for He wanted His people to trust in Him and not their own strength. When David performed the census, it was a cheap substitute and shortcut for trusting a faultless God.

Once King David repented of his sin and judgment had been pronounced, he was instructed to build an altar at the threshing floor of a man named Araunah. When the King approached Araunah to purchase this piece of property, Araunah immediately offered it to him for free together with things that would be needed for offering the sacrifice that God required.

King David’s cheap thinking changed during this process of judgment over his sin. He refused the generous offer of Araunah. Myself, I don’t know if my reaction would have been so noble! I would’ve probably thought, “Praise God, He has provided!” rejoicing that I would save money instead of spending. Instead of thinking cheaply as I most likely would have done, the King declared boldly:

2 Samuel 24:24a NKJ “Then the king said to Araunah, ‘No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing…’”

Offerings and sacrifices really aren’t doing anything for us if they are cheap or free. There are no “roll back” deals on our offerings to God, nor are there any “buy 1 get 1 free” deals in what we give to Him. An offering isn’t an offering, nor is a sacrifice a sacrifice until it has cost us something. What happens when we choose to pay the price instead of looking to get something for nothing?

2 Samuel 24:25 NKJ “And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.”

It turns out that the old adage we have heard is true – you get what you pay for.

 

Deeply Personal

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This past Saturday evening, as I entered our church tent for prayer there was a young girl, maybe 15 or 16 years old, sitting alone among the chairs. She sat alone quietly, head down trying to keep her eyes from connecting with anyone. As is the custom here in Malawi (and many parts of Africa), I walked around greeting those who were there with a handshake and smile saying, “Mwaswera bwanji?” (Translated “How are you this afternoon?”) This young girl barely had the courage to look at me as she extended her small hand to mine. I looked at her and realized she had severe burn scars across her face and was obviously developmentally disabled. Her clothes were old and unwashed but her eyes open and her smile, ever so slight, broke my heart into pieces. I watched her kneel and pray with all her heart and later, I watched her leave.

The next morning, when I arrived early to teach a class, she entered quietly, a bit late, as she’s not one of my students, but I didn’t say anything as she gingerly took the same seat she had at prayer the day before with her eyes downcast. Her clothes were the same ones she had worn on Saturday and her hands were wound tightly together. I struggled to pull my eyes away from her and teach the students in the class.

I saw her – I knew her story most likely went something like countless ones I had heard before. She had probably been burned in a senseless accident or as punishment or out of plain cruelty. She had such a look of shame in her eyes I knew that it was likely she was or was being abused in some way wherever she was living – but where could someone like her go? Before I knew it, she slipped away after service and I made a mental note to find out more about her so we could find a way to help her.

Later that morning, as service ended and I was saying goodbye to some ladies, I picked up a painfully small baby boy from his young mother’s arms. His smile was contagious and I cuddled him; he wasn’t at all put off by my obvious foreigner status, being “Muzungu” (a white person). Many children in the poorer areas, where many of our church members come from, aren’t accustomed to interacting with a “Muzungu” so when this baby smiled I had to cuddle him. I asked how old he was and was told he was 5 months old; holding him I knew he was underweight. He was too small, too hungry; we have to find a way to get some nourishment to help him.

I saw him and his mother (she’s only 16 years old); I already knew that the “husband” had disallowed his new wife to attend a weekend encounter retreat with us. He told her if she went to the retreat, he would leave her so she stayed home. I know the likely outcome, without an intervention by God, will be heartache when at some point in time he beats her and leaves her for another woman.

When we finally returned home after a long weekend and I had a moment, I stepped out for a prayer walk. The sun was bright and a cool breeze was blowing and I thought it was a perfect afternoon to walk and pray. My mind wasn’t far from the young girl and her baby and as I prayed, I came upon another young mother with a baby on her back. She was standing on a corner, looking as if she was getting off a bus that usually passes by there; she had a very large bundle of sugarcane that she was lifting to her head. She was trembling as she lifted the bundle and no one passing by helped her so I did my best to help steady her load and tie a blanket around her to secure the baby. Of course I couldn’t tie the blanket as well as she could but she gave me a bit of instruction. I stumbled but finally got it, apologizing to her in Chichewa (the local language) that I wasn’t much help and she said, “Osadandaula.” Translated, “Don’t worry.” Knowing the language gives me immediate entrance but it also allows me to hear what people are saying and I heard the comments and snickers of the passers-by as the “Muzungu” helped this lady. It was obvious the “Muzungu” wasn’t at all able to tie the blanket well. I apologized again to her, hoping I hadn’t embarrassed her too much, as I handed her an umbrella she had been carrying and her sizeable purse. Again, her voice quietly said, “Osadandaula” and we both went our way.

I saw her and her baby and wondered about her story – I knew hers was like millions of other women on the continent. She likely had a small business or went to her field to cut sugarcane to sell. No one went with her to help her so she put her baby on her back and went to get her sugar cane alone. It may be she faced a beating if she didn’t go and my heart broke for her as I continued to walk and pray.

In this world of great pain and need, what can be done to bring meaningful change? On the African continent alone, there are hundreds of millions of stories like these; it feels like an impossible situation. I am assaulted daily with feelings of despair when I see hungry children, abused women, and hopelessness in the eyes of the vulnerable.

Are we exempt from doing anything because whatever we do won’t be enough to touch vast swaths of the population?

I’m drawn to think of my daughter who was premature and abandoned as an infant. She was left in a small hospital and then rescued by a local organization working with children in crisis. When we saw her, she was 7 lbs. and 3 months old, we fell in love with her and she came home. 9 years later, I can’t imagine life without our “bonus” baby who came 15 years after our last biological child was born.

Our daughter, just a little number among the 1,000,000+ orphans in Malawi (click here for more information), had been left in a strange house among many other children in the same situation: alone in this world. It may not appear that rescuing her made much of an impact on the population of orphans in the nation – but it made a difference to her (and us). Her life has been radically changed and she has hope for a future – and our lives are immeasurably richer. You can see that this is deeply personal to me.

I wonder if everyone, everywhere opened their eyes and really saw those around them and did the little bit that they could, what would the impact be? Perhaps it’s impossible to change the whole world and solve every problem, but for those few whose lives are touched – it would be worth every effort.

Today, I’m looking for someone whose life I can touch; no matter how small it may be – it’s time for a change.

James 1:26,27 MSG “Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”

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No Reputation

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Our church planting team in Lilongwe, Malawi, November 2005.

In November 2006 we moved to Malawi with our family to plant a new church in Lilongwe, Malawi. Why Lilongwe? We aren’t sure except we had a peace to move to that city. We knew no one, had nowhere to live, we only had the assurance that we were supposed to be in Lilongwe to plant a church.

At the time, we had 4 other churches in Africa: 2 in Burundi, 1 in DRC, and another in Zambia. The Lilongwe plant made 5 churches total for us. This work wasn’t new to me; I had been a missionary/church planter/relief worker since 1984 but the wonder of seeing a church born hadn’t left me. What a miracle to see something that will effect eternity be born – that still makes me stop and smile. Why would God choose us? Who are we? I’m still not sure, but I’m glad we are here, I’m glad we obeyed.

It may sound a bit romantic, planting a church where there was none before. It may also sound a bit foolish, what guarantees would there be of a successful church plant? What would we do if no one wanted to join our intrepid band of church planters, i.e., our family? Those thoughts have never played much of a role in my mind. I have always been convinced of the fact that if God sent me somewhere, He would make the work successful – the onus for success is on Him. Learning to think like this has been a journey as in our success-driven world today it’s easy to allow ourselves to fall into the trap of performance-driven agendas rather than God-agendas.

Don’t be mistaken, I have had those seasons that didn’t turn out as I thought they would, those, “What was that all about?” seasons. You know, you have had them too I’m sure. When those times roll around, the best thing to do is look up and say, “Take over Lord, I sure don’t know what’s going on!” It may be that some of those experiences we have to leave in the Lord’s hands and move forward – what’s the option? Living in regret? When we’ve done our all – that’s all we can do, then, we move forward in faith and let the thoughts of “what will everyone think” fall away.

“Nobody who ever gave their best regretted it.” George Halas

Jesus didn’t waste His life trying to build His reputation; He spent His life building His Father’s reputation (Phil. 2:5,6). He knew where He stood with His Father, but for some reason, He thought we were worth emptying Himself of His identity so we could take on His. How can I possibly think I have amounted to anything on my own when my redemption cost the life of the Son of God?

He also knew that people were as unpredictable as the wind – their opinions change from one day to the next. Usually, it seems, favor for Jesus will follow the winds of what feels good (healing, prosperity, popularity) but the moment a challenge is made, when people have to stand up for the unpopular, and a line is drawn, opinions about Him change.

John 2:23-25 ESV Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

This verse was written at a time that came on the heels of the miracle at the wedding in Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine, and the cleansing of the temple of moneychangers and those selling animals there for profit. He knew that those who praised His miracle at the wedding would be the same ones bitterly complaining over His acts at the temple. The same holds true today: people will quickly praise you for doing things that require no change on their part, as with those at the wedding. When Jesus changed the water into wine, people were amazed and pleased! No one spent money, everyone had a good time – nothing was required of them. However, when He found people using the temple incorrectly, He drove them out. I wonder what rumors were circulating around the city the next day.

They say, whoever they are, that with age comes wisdom. Wisdom, as I understand it, is correctly applying truth to our lives and it only makes sense that we gain some wisdom as the years go by. If the story of the temple cleansing were to take place today, we, the followers of Christ, would form a committee and find a way to persuade everyone to leave without offending anyone – which is impossible and would result in nothing getting done for the sake of pleasing people.

Godly wisdom operates on another plane that oftentimes goes cross grain with our hopes and dreams for popularity and a “good reputation.” Jesus was, and is, a figure Whose love is amazing and calls us to live lives of “no reputation” just as He did.

None of our church plants have been a result of church splits; they were birthed in prayer from nothing. They all began obscurely, without much ado. We walked the streets, visited homes, ran classes, hosted weekend encounter retreats, started feeding programs and, in time, released these churches to our national pastors so we could go and plant more.

Yes, there is a kind of romance to seeing a new church born from nothing – and now, years later when we go to visit the churches in Lilongwe (and elsewhere) our hearts melt when we see familiar faces who began the journey with us. This coming weekend, April 30th another church will be born in the suburbs of the city and our hearts are full with excitement for church #12 to be born. I realized we had done our job when I said to my husband earlier today that he should go for the weekend (we’re only 5 hours away by car from Lilongwe) and he replied, “No, they don’t need me.” Yes, the local pastors and leaders can get the job done, they really don’t need us there and this is what we have worked for – not being needed.

That’s a bit of an uncomfortable place to be – not being needed. We are welcomed and wanted, but that’s different from being needed. When my children started leaving the nest, I found it difficult not to be needed. Wanted, yes, but they no longer needed me to survive. They had sprouted wings and were flying – I wasn’t about to clip them!

Of all the places we have served, we’ve never been privileged to see the full development of the work. After we leave, buildings, other church plants, and other activities begin. To be honest, I sometimes wish I were the one allowed to stay and see the fruit and growth – but that’s not what has been on our journey thus far – maybe someday though! The reputation belongs to the Lord and not to us. We’ve built for others to enjoy after us.

So, bring it on, I’ll give my best. What matters most is succeeding at what He has called us to do and not worry about reputation. God’s opinion, after all, is what matters.

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” Dwight Moody