Just a Starfish

The past weeks here in Bujumbura, Burundi have had me (and all of us living here) spinning in circles. We have faced flooding, an ambiguous covid19 situation and now elections are set to take place on May 20th. Each of these issues have presented their own set of pressures that have proved to be demanding, even in the most optomistic of lights.

Our city borders Lake Tanganyika, one of the longest and deepest lakes in the world. It is more like a sea than it is a lake in that it has tides, rough and smooth water and it is slightly salty due to it only having one river outlet. The rains this year have been extremely heavy in this region so all of the water from the countries surrounding the lake, and there are many, dumps into Tanganyika. Water levels have risen exponentially causing the lake, and rivers that feed into the lake, to rise and break their banks. The beaches have disappeared under water, homes and villages nearby the lake have been inundated without much relief in sight. Thankfully, in the past week, the rains have finally started to taper off and the waiting game for the waters to recede has begun.

The tens of thousands who have been flooded out of their homes now live in absolute squallor, in makeshift camps under conditions that no human being should have to live in, waiting for someone, anyone to bring relief. Children run around in the dirt and mud, women try to cook with whatever cooking fuel they have and the men work to build shelters out of grass, plastic and any other materials they can find. There is no potable water, no toilet facilities and no food – their situation is dire. We were able to raise some money to bring care packages to 200 families last week but this little amount proved to be far from what is needed. As we were distributing the relief, it was painfully apparent that in less than a week the food would be gone and they would once again need assistance.

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While we were handing out the packages, even though covid19 has infected Burundi, there was no observing of social distancing or washing hands. How can people be expected to distance when their children are hungry and they fear being left out? How can people wash their hands when there’s no clean water? I didn’t realize that we ourselves had put ourselves at higher risk of infection until arriving on site – I simply said a prayer and carried on.

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Next week, on the 20th, as Burundi goes to the polls, there is an underlying fear of outbreaks of violence that this country/region is known for. Fear is a powerful emotion that can cause people to react violently even when there is no cause. Tempers can flare easily when a large number of people are afraid, people can react violently when they feel they are in danger. Our recourse? Dropping to our knees in prayer for these people, this nation and region that has long been the target of painful uprising and death.

This afternoon, as we do every Thursday afternoon, we have an outreach to the area surrounding our church in Bujumbura. Most of the time it is easy to step out and participate as we talk to people of the hope that is in us, that brings us to serve this nation. However, the past few weeks have been a faith-walk for me, rather than the usual exciting time of outreach. I find myself pushing hard to keep up and move forward while so much is whirling around me.

At times like this, when life presses so hard that you feel the water has gone over your head, it’s tempting to wonder (like I have) if your usefulness in your work is done or even give up. What is the use of working in the face of an ocean of need when all I have is an eyedropper to address it?

While I can’t do everything, I can do something and the small something that I can do means a lot to the one or two I have been able to reach. Many of you likely have read the story where a young child was on a seashore that was covered in starfish that had washed ashore. The child was busy throwing starfish back into the water, one at a time. A man walked up to the child and asked if the child thought he could clear the beach of all the starfish? Did it really matter? To which the child replied, it matters to this one, the one he was holding in his hand.

The needs of this world are so vast, so complex that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to meet even a fraction of them. But to the one or two I work for, it will matter. Lives matter, all lives big or small, young or old, black or white – and what I’m responsible for is doing what I can. It may just be one starfish – but to that one it might just make an eternity’s difference.

Psalm 66:12 “You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

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You may wonder, since covid19 is all around the world, why we are able to distribute aid and carry on working. In Burundi we have not been in lockdown during this pandemic. Our borders are closed as is our airport. Handwashing is encouraged and somehow people are trying when they can to socially distance themselves. Ours is a unique place in the world, please pray for us!

The God Who Leads

We’re continuing with hearing from one of my favorite people, Mary Johnson. Enjoy today’s post on God’s leading.

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I can never Thank God enough.

How can I begin to thank God for His mercy, His grace, His love?

How great is our God. He alone is worthy of all praise, honor and glory.

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”   Revelation 5:13 (NIV)

When I think back on all His goodness it brings tears to my eyes.  Where there seems to be no way, He knows how to make a way.

There may be times when you feel all alone but God has said we are never alone.

10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)

So I say to Him thank You Father.  When you can’t seem to see your way, Jesus has said I am the way. He makes streams in the desert.

19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

I find myself looking at all the wonderful things God has created. He made it all for us to enjoy and to remind us He is near. When you feel like life is pulling you in different directions just know He is near, leading us to Him. All this time has been about our drawing near to Him; not about the loneliness or inadequacies or not knowing which way to turn.

Jesus has been drawing me closer to Him. There my refuge would be. In Him would be my peace, my joy, my help- my victory!

So I can say, “There You were Jesus leading and guiding me every step of the way. You were there all the time. Thank You.”

Psalm 23 (NIV)

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Mary Johnson

 

 

 

 

Can You Hear Him?

Today’s blog is brought to us by the amazing Mary Johnson. Enjoy!

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Recently my daughter and I watched a movie about a husband and wife who were stranded on a mountain during the snowy icy cold winter.  The husband and wife argued and blamed each other for their plight. Suddenly, there was an airplane flying overhead but they were so busy arguing they did not see or hear the airplane. By the time they paused from arguing they heard the sound of the airplane, but it was too late. The airplane crew was already in the motion and did not hear them yelling for help.

The same is true of us; we will not be able to hear our Father’s voice if we are arguing and in strife.  All we will hear is our own voice taking up our own cause.

John 10:3-4, (NLT) says,

“3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.”

Jesus is right there trying to impart life to us-to reveal and show us there is a different and better way to handle problems. The Bible says that wisdom cries out.  Proverbs 1:20-23 conveys that Wisdom raises her voice in the markets. She cries out in the public square. We will not be able to hear wisdom if we are busy defending ourselves. God wants to lead us in the way of peace. His word says, “2Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 (NKJV).These words have come to my rescue, when I wanted to defend myself.  But Love said let it go, I am here for you.  1 Corinthians 13:4 says, Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud.

Wisdom cries out to us, we must keep our ears tuned to hear our Father’s voice. “Your own ears will hear him.  Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go, whether to the right or to the left.”  Isaiah 30: 21 (NLT) God’s voice always leads us to victory, even if in the moment it may not seem so. His way brings peace to our soul.  Choose to listen for His voice and follow Him.

Mary Johnson

 

 

 

The Pen

One of the hardest things to do when you’re told what to do, is to do it.

My youngest daughter, Andreya, is 12 years old. She has been doing internet school with Northstar Christian Academy for three years now; she’s an excellent student and a quick learner. There are times when I watch her work that I wonder, what was I doing at her age? I think we had the four-color Bic© pens (red, blue, green and black) that were marks of being uber-cool back in the day. When those went out of style, I remember distinctly a folder called the Trapper Keeper© that only the coolest of the cool kids had in their lockers.

Needless to say I was not one of those cool kids.

Coming from an Finnish immigrant family background, we thrived on frugal living and rarely wasted precious resources on multi-color pens and fancy folders. At the time, being a first-generation Finn, I appreciated both sides of the coin. I knew Mom and Dad hated waste and thus, I managed to hide my brown-bag lunches of Finnish Rye bread with cucumbers and ham (a delicacy for me today) from the cool kids metal lunchboxes with their thermoses filled with Spaghetti-Os©. How I envied those those Spaghetti-Os©!

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Since lunch was the shortest period of the day, I usually managed to hide my lunch and remain generally unscathed from the mocking of any of my peers. It was my simple #2 pencil, blue pen and plain paper folder that got me into trouble. Why couldn’t I fit in and carry the newest and shiniest?

One evening, after a meal of thoroughly Finnish fare, I gathered the courage to ask for the coveted Bic© pen and Trapper Keeper© folder. Prepared for the worst, I steeled my nerves for the expected lecture of why we can’t buy such things. Instead, I was met with gentle explanations of why, in the middle of the school year, we just couldn’t afford to purchase new school suplies. Everything that was listed in the supply list had already been purchased, we couldn’t do anything this year…but…maybe next year.

While I was disappointed, I left the table without as much as a word knowing any pleading would then be met with sternness as my parents were “old school.” Once they said their mind, that was it and I knew it.

On the bus as I made my way to school the next day, with my plain supplies in tow, I envied all of the other kids with their brightly-colored backpacks, lunch boxes and multi-colored pens. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks when my friend Barbara once again asked why my things were so “old fashioned.” I changed the subject.

The weeks rocked on and by the second half of the year, due to the many problems these pens and folders were causing among the students, the school came out with a new set of guidelines requiring students to return to plain pens, pencils and folders. Suddenly, I was in the “in crowd” without even trying. The day this was announced in school, a collective, and painful, sigh was heard throughout the campus.

Later on that evening, at another fully-Finnish dinner complete with short, Scandinavian glasses filled with milk, I explained what had happened to my parents. I clearly didn’t think things through for upon hearing this news, they proceeded to carry on about the importance of keeping things simple for what felt like (to my 10 year old ears) an eternity. My ears only perked up when they praised me for not resisting their decision months earlier to not purchase the envied supplies.

Looking at my daughter now studying for her Science test on Ecosystems, I value the simplicity our life here in Africa gives us. She sometimes bucks the system and wishes for McDonald’s© fries and going to Claire’s© to buy tween jewelry, but she generally goes with the flow.

Thanks, Äiti and Isä (Mom and Dad) for keeping it simple. In today’s life of quarantines and closed airports, it has meant more to me than I could have ever known.

I didn’t need the pens or folders anyway.

P.S. – Andreya got a 100% on her Science test.

Processing The Why

My need to know sometimes gets me into trouble. I want to know why things (both good and bad) happen so I can either repeat them if they are good or avoid them if they are bad. If a situation is unexplainable, I find that to be untenable and, if I’m not careful, will spend far too much energy trying to figure out and stew over the “whys” of life.

There are some things that are beyond my knowledge. For me, that threshold is limited compared to others who have more experience, training, education and understanding. However, even those who understand more will still come to the limits of their abilities at one point or another in their lifetimes.

How can we successfully process the why?

We’ve recently returned from a trip stateside to take part in our son’s wedding. The wedding was beautiful, a perfect reflection of the happy couple. Tears were shed, we danced, ate cake, wore our best clothes and then got on a plane and said goodbye.

The trip back home from Florida, USA, to Bujumbura, Burundi was a long one. As with most missionaries, the major consideration we face when purchasing plane tickets home is price. Usually these lower priced tickets will bring you “over the river and through the woods.” There may/may not be layovers and of course we are always in economy. I do hope someday to graduate to flying at least in economy plus or more but for now we are settled into flying economy.

Flying economy for a trip a long as the one we just took requires serious patience to pass the 18 or so hours of flying time to get back home. Overnight layovers in airports and delays on our most recent trip began to take their toll and the “whys” flooded my mind once again as I stared at the small TV screen mounted on the seat in front of me. Hot tears flowed down my cheeks as I felt the sting of leaving our three older kids and their families on the other side of the world.

Why am I not allowed to see my family grow?

Why have I been required to miss so many important milestones in their lives?

Why am I not like other grandmothers who can help care for their grandchildren?

Why have I been called to spend a lifetime away?

Why, why why? Why am I slotted to be the strong one when I didn’t feel very strong?

Then, in those seemingly innumerable hours on the plane, my heart scolded me as I knew the answer to all the whys: I am impossibly tied to the will of God and for me, that has called me to live overseas in Africa. There’s nothing else that satisfies my heart and soul like living the dream God has given to us in Africa. Why it is this way is something that is “too wonderful” for me to understand.

Psalm 139:6 “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

The only time this call pains me is when I question it; it is in my surrender that I find peace and blessing. Blessing to attend weddings, blessing to talk via FaceTime (back 35 years ago there weren’t even phones where we first landed), blessing to have the love and support of our families. In those weak moments when I don’t know why I’ve been chosen for such a sacrifice, I simply surrender. I now understand that there are some things beyond my understanding – and that is OK.

There have been times over the years when we have had opportunity to be Stateside for extended periods and each time we were away from the land of our call, the pain we felt while away was greater than the pain of the “why.” God’s call, His will, His intent for our lives is what gives joy and fulfillment that satisfies the why if we allow it to – especially when we don’t understand why.

John 13:7 “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

Why Trouble Her?

 

Mark 14:6 “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

I read this morning the above verse in the account of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. If you read the entire account, Mark 14:1-9, it seems that the atmosphere at the time of her offering was charged with negativity and judgment. You know the kind that takes place obviously, but supposed to be secret? Whispering, murmuring around the room under their breath, the disciples whispering, supposing no one else is taking notice but their discontent at the situation taking place before them provoked them to overt offense, it seems almost immediately.

“Why not sell it?” The disciples queried.

“Why not give the proceeds to the poor?” A noble gesture, they reasoned must be more acceptable to God instead of this waste of expensive perfume.

No matter that the perfume was the giver’s possession to use as she felt – why did the disciples feel justified to tell her how to offer her gift? Was it not hers to give how she felt led to give it? Obviously she got something right as to this day, even today as I write about her, her offering stands tall in scripture.

She must have had something right in her heart when she offered to anoint His feet with this perfume.

I heard a preacher once say that, “God will offend your mind to reveal what is in your heart.” I’ve found that to be true in my own life on many occasions. In the case of offering, why does it bother me, who has given me the right to dictate how or what someone should give their gifts to the Lord? I might not give in the same manner as others do, however, they don’t give as I do. Ought not we celebrate the diversity we have in the family of God rather than tearing it down at every chance we get?

While the outward reasonings of the disciples might have appeared to be noble, if you go on to read the account that takes place directly after this anointing, you’ll find Judas speaking with religious leaders – getting his money in exchange for the life of the Son of God.

It seems to me Jesus had already caught Judas on other occasions taking money inappropriately from their money (Judas was their treasurer see John 12:16). It might have been this last act was too much for Judas to bear. Perhaps he felt “ripped off” when he realized Jesus wasn’t going to bestow great riches and honor on the disciples; it might be that he felt he needed an “out” in order to get what he could while “the getting was good.”

Whatever Judas’ reasoning was, it was false, and it led to his demise (Judas hung himself see Matt. 27:1-10).

Judas’ fear of missing out on what he thought was his “due,” cost him his life. Imagine what his life could have been had his desire for money not overtaken him? He could have been part of a church that “turned the world upside down” (see Acts 17:6). Instead, his drive for his “due,” to get what was owed him for his service, drove him away from an amazing possibility.

Money can always be replaced, but it’s impossible to replace our lives that are intended to be lived for the Kingdom.

So, why trouble her? The offering is hers to give.

Behind the Times

I’m a bit behind the times I know. I could use the excuse of living overseas but with the advent of the internet, that excuse really can’t get me too far. At the touch of a key on my wireless keyboard, I have the world and endless search engines at my fingertips (literally). I can study just about any subject in any field, read news from the farthest corner of the earth (not to mention space news from NASA and beyond) and almost correctly diagnose any ailment (much to the chagrin of physicians worldwide). No, I have no excuse to remain disconnected from the rest of the world, except for the times that the power goes out and then I digress, I have an excuse, albeit a temporary one.

Yet, I somehow missed one of the past “things” that made the rounds online and in books called the “Enneagram.” The Enneagram is simply another method to discover different personalities. On the Enneagram, I came to discover that I am a 2w1 personality. This makes me someone who feels deeply and can read emotions and situations with surprising clarity. Twos (as we are known) are helpers and at their core, they want to be recognized for helping, they actively seek love and approval of others by what they do.

The spiritual journey a Two has to take is one of giving beyond investment expecting a return to giving simply without expectation of anything in return; that’s what we call true love.

This is perhaps why I relate with Leah of the Bible. Not only do we (almost) share a name, but we seem to share some of the same characteristics making me wonder if Leah of the book of Genesis was a Two on the Enneagram.

Leah was married, underhandedly by her father, to Jacob. Jacob expected his love, Rachel, to be the one under the wedding veil but was disappointed when his father-in-law gave him Leah instead. As the story goes, Jacob did manage to marry Rachel, but was bound first to Leah, who knew she was unloved.

As time went by and Leah began to bear children, she named them accordingly:

1. Gen. 29:32 – Reuben was born and Leah said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”

2. Gen. 29:33 – Simeon was born and Leah said, “Because the Lord heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.”

3. Gen. 29:34 – Levi was born and Leah said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”

Each time, Leah’s disappointment in being “unloved” was further cemented into her conscience. Jacob must have made his utter contempt towards her clear in his treatment of her (this is another subject for another day) and Leah, due to the time and culture, was bound to continue serving. She hoped her actions would sway the love of her husband towards her, but it was to no avail.

The fourth time Leah, again I’m quite sure she was my fellow Two, learned a lesson vital to the spiritual growth of a Two, she learned to love and trust without expecting love from anyone – except the Lord.

Gen. 29:35 “‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ Therefore she called his name Judah.”

What helped Leah cope through the rest of her life feeling unloved and rejected by her husband? How did Leah manage to juggle the responsibilities of her household when everyone knew no matter what she did, Rachel would be her husband’s real love?

She learned there was only One Whose love was unfailing and whatever she did for Him wouldn’t go unrecognized. She simply learned to praise the Lord.

There are a few times in scripture we read of Leah stumbling again into her past patterns of seeking approval (much like we all do even though we know better). But those times were few; I imagine each time she stumbled the pain she felt reminded her to return to the One Whose love never fails, never has strings attached to it.

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For more on The Enneagram, I recommend:

https://www.amazon.com/Road-Back-You-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/dp/0830846190

Pursuits

Our guest blogger, Mary Johnson, is back today with another powerful word for us. Enjoy!

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What have you been pursuing, or better yet what has been pursuing you? It is easy to get distracted in life. James 1:11 says, “For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.”

How do you keep what is meaningful, what is lasting, at the forefront of your life?  Life is to be lived by the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit. Pursuits of all kinds will not be able to pull us here and there when led by the Holy Spirit.

Occasionally when studying for a test I would see so many other things that seemed to be more appealing and alluring. Sometimes when reading our Bible, various things come to mind, including tasks that need completion. We can get distracted into pursuing other things that may have consequences. For instance, not studying for your test could affect the grade you will receive.

Life will be filled with God’s peace or lack of peace, depending on if we pursue His Word, or the busyness of life.

Mary Johnson

 

 

 

The Light of Love

I’m delighted once again to share a devotional with you from Mary Johnson, may it fill your day with light!

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Walk in the light of His love.  What is your tone, what does it sound like? Is it covered in the light of Jesus’ love? He provides that light for us.  You can say something to someone and your very tone can speak volumes. I believe Jesus spoke with authority, but it was laced with the light of His love.

John 8:12b “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

It gives you joy when you can speak truth to someone and they receive it, because they can feel where the love is coming from.  There are times when you can be misunderstood in what you are trying to convey. However, we in return have to be willing to examine ourselves to make sure we spend time with Jesus, so that the light of His love will shine through us to others. This will reflect in what we say and how we say it.

Proverbs 15:23 TPT “Everyone enjoys giving great advice. But how delightful it is to say the right thing at the right time!”

Mary Johnson

 

Wasted Time

The beginning of a New Year is when most of us will, at some level, come up with a fresh emphasis for the year. I’ve purposely held back from writing anything full of “newness” as I’m still working on what was supposed to have been fresh from New Years gone by. I find myself hesitant to reach for more when I feel what I hoped for in times past has been lost to time.

I woke on New Year’s Day morning feeling a bit sullen and wallowed in that mediocre mood all morning long. As we headed for church, we normally have some kind of church celebration every New Year, I tried to shake off my feelings of failure. Walking into the church building, I shelved my mediocrity, for the people were already lining up ready for the morning. Even in my foul mood my heart turned towards the people; I was unaware of what was about to unfold.

This year we handed the microphone over and let the people recount their testimonies, thanking God for what He had done in their lives. Sitting in my seat next to Jamie (husband unit), we laughed and cried as we listened as our people opened their lives before us. God really had accomplished more than I had been aware of – you really do have to get out of the forest to see the trees.

Everyone had something good to say, something good to thank God for: food and clothing, shelter, school fees for their children and health. Among their thanks for God’s provision, almost everyone gave thanks for our church and what God is doing in our church once again. We were especially touched by the testimony of one young lady who stood up and began to cry when she said, “I’m so thankful for our church and for God bringing our pastor back to us.”

I had no idea.

In that moment the year(s) of lost time rolled back and I understood in a new way how God can reach into the past and restore it. I understood that time, while I am limited by it, does not limit God.

Joel 2:24 ESV “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.”

The things that we bury in the ground and assume cannot be restored are the very things that God will bring back to life – for God resurrects the dead.

When Jesus surrendered His life to the cross, died and was buried, it seemed that the enemy had won. It seemed that those who had planned His death had the upper hand for how can someone who has died come back to life?

In Matthew 27:50-66, Jesus lays His life down and sandwiched in the middle of the story are the Priests and Pharisees looking to “secure” the grave because they reckoned Jesus’ disciples would steal His body away. Pilate tells them, “make it as secure as you can.”

I imagine during the three days that Jesus’ body was in the grave, the disciples had some choice words among themselves:

He’s died, so we’re as good as dead.

What have we done with our lives? Three wasted years!

Let’s flee to another nation!

What about our families? All is lost!

In the same way, I’ve often been guilty of feeling my years have been lost, that my time has gone for naught. What has it all been for anyway?

What the Priests and Pharisees did not take into account when they “secured” Jesus’ grave was that when God has a resurrection in mind – there will be a resurrection. It was with great flourish when in Matthew 28:2-4 the earth shook, an angel rolled the stone away and the soldiers guarding the tomb fell “as dead men” when Jesus walked out. The “wasted” years of the disciples walked out with Him and the early church began.

It’s through our “wasted” seasons that God works most in our lives to resurrect and return our hours, days, weeks, months and years to us. Imagine how the disciples agonized for days about the death of Jesus, only to have Him appear before them and say (in effect), “Let’s do this people, let’s win the world!”

So let’s rewind the tape, replay the recording and start all over again.

It’s January 2020, what’s new?