Hello

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Immersion. That’s a word you don’t hear often.

In the context of missions, it is the best way to learn language, culture, and the discipline required to acquire both. While becoming fluent evades some, the simple effort to communicate in the local language is appreciated by those we live with. I don’t remember ever being berated in Africa for saying something incorrectly; I’ve always been met with smiles and appreciation for the little effort made to learn to say “hello.”

I had never, in all of my days, thought that I would speak more than 2 languages: English and Finnish (my parents are from Finland and I grew up speaking Finnish at home). I also didn’t know how speaking 2 languages from the get-go would help me learn 5 more languages. My mind was already accustomed to working between 2 languages; adding another 1 or even 5 wouldn’t be impossible.  Yes, you read that correctly: 5 more languages. I studied all of them but became fluent in 3 of the 5. Since our return to Burundi last month, I’ve been working on my Kirundi that I studied in 1991 when we first moved here to plant a church. In 2000 we moved away and as a result, I lost the bit of Kirundi I had learned. However, now that we are back, I’m finding myself speaking more in Kirundi than ever before – I’ve been immersed! Just give me another year to practice and I’ll not only be slightly conversational, I will speak fluently.

Learning the culture of any people group comes from learning language, for culture is deeply intertwined in language. Just think of how differently English is spoken in different places around the world! Years ago in Zambia, my husband was preaching in our church on a Sunday morning. He attempted to tell a joke, which often backfires here as what we may think is funny, often falls flat.  What is funny to us from the USA is often incomprehensible here in Africa. The same holds true for African humor versus Western humor. We often don’t see what’s funny to the other! However, on this particular Sunday, Jamie (my husband) was rewarded with not only a laugh from the crowd but an addendum to the joke. The joke went like this as he said:

“It has been said that the British invented English, but it’s the Americans who perfected it.”

From the crowd, we heard the following:

“And the Zambians ruined it!”

Roars of unexpected laughter filled the place – I’ll never forget it. Why was it so funny? Well, you’d have to hear Zambians speak English to appreciate how funny it was.

Culture and language, they go hand in hand and if we can’t learn to pick up on their cues we risk being effective wherever in the world we find ourselves.

Becoming fluent in language and culture came (and is still coming after nearly 31 years of learning) through being immersed, there is no shortcut, no second option. It’s the only way to leap over the barrier that separates me from those I’m serving and it’s a barrier that must be overcome. Living among the people we serve and being forced, as it were, to communicate with them and learn the ebbs and flows of the culture is enabling me to communicate through a filter they will understand. It’s an extremely frustrating season for anyone serving in a culture foreign to their own – but it’s what we came here for. We didn’t come to bring American language and culture to Africa. We came to Africa to bring Kingdom culture to those we touch. The onus to change how we communicate is on us, not on those around us (see Acts 17:16-21 when Paul was ministering at Athens).

The same principle holds true in Kingdom culture and language. The more we immerse ourselves in the culture and language of the Kingdom of God, the more fluent and comfortable we will become. His cultural cues become increasingly engrained in us as we spend time studying His language, His Word. The more effort we put into learning His ways and language, the more we will get out of our relationship with Him. As time passes we find ourselves needing less interpretation of what He is trying to tell us – because we’re familiar with His voice, His language, His culture.

I arrived early this morning for another bit of Kingdom culture immersion as I sat down to read my Bible, pray, and spend time with God, my Father, who is also the King of the Kingdom I serve. I began as I do every morning when I sit down with Him:

“Hello, Dad.”

He was quick to respond:

“Hello daughter, I’ve been waiting for you.”

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Again

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I couldn’t find scissors to help me open the tightly sealed box. I tried, in vain, to force it open with my hands as sweat began to run down the sides of my face. “Why did I pack this so well?” Finally, I found a kitchen knife and began slicing the packing tape open around the edges of the cardboard; the unpacking of our lives had begun. Again.

The boxes I was unpacking had gone overland from Malawi, where we had moved from, to Burundi. They were brought to us by two of our Malawian pastors who had taken on the assignment of bringing these boxes by bus. It was a 4-day ordeal just one-way for them to undertake but they passed through all the borders practically without incident to Burundi. As we said our goodbyes the same day that they had arrived, it was as if a movie of all of the work that had been done in Malawi over the years was played as a movie in my mind. The churches that had been planted, the children that had been fed, the leaders that had been trained, all passed before me as I looked into the faces of these dear ones who were about to leave. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I remembered what we had been allowed to take part in – and then it was time for them to go.

Then we were left alone to start again.

The box was dusty, but intact, and as I started the process of unloading everything the magnitude of what we had done (again) struck me. Time after time I have found myself in this same situation of starting over and trusting God for the next step. However, knowing we have done this many times before doesn’t make any new step I take easier. In fact, I have learned with each new step comes new challenges and without faith, I could easily be scared out of it! What has kept me going, this time as in every time before, is knowing we had heard His Word spoken to us to go to Burundi and He wasn’t about to let go of us.

Isaiah 8:11 ERB “The Lord spoke to me, like a firm grasp of the hand.”

This move has been a challenge (they all are in their own way) but we have seen God walk with us daily and address everything that has come our way from acquiring resident visas to finding a house to finding the best market in town. Without hearing His voice and knowing His hand is tightly holding onto ours, we would never have been able to see Him at work over all these years.

I’m so glad we chose to listen, I’m so glad He’s holding our hands.

 

 

Making the Mile

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What was I thinking? Who was I to join the junior high track team? At the time I was 12 years old and had never run a mile; I had never even thought of running a half mile.  Yet there I was, in the hot Florida afternoon sun running around a sandy football field wiping the sweat from my face to keep it from stinging my eyes. Day after day I pursued the goal of finishing a mile and day after day I failed.

I was the one who started multiple projects that I never finished. There are tens, possibly hundreds, of half-finished crafts floating around in the USA of things I had started but never completed. Cross stitch, rug hooking, paint by numbers, and more were projects I started with good intentions but after realizing the effort required to finish, I laid them to the side. I wanted amazing results with little effort or patience.

What was different about making the mile? I am not sure what the impetus was to get me to make that mile but whatever it was I had determined that running the mile wasn’t going to evade me. Evade me it did for some time but the day finally did come that I crossed the mile marker. While I never managed to become an Olympic runner or even place in a race at a track meet (that’s another story for another day), running the mile, to me, was equivalent to wearing a gold medal.

Numbers 13:20 NASB “How is the land? Is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit…”

Moses had gone through quite a bit by the time Numbers 13 was written, to get Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He had seen the people through plagues, the Red Sea, and had food and water miraculously provided for millions in a wilderness. It is as if he had been hand feeding them for years; I imagine he was ready for the people to begin bearing some of the burdens themselves.

When the people arrived to the border, spies were sent to check out the new land the nation was to possess and Moses said, “Make an effort…” In essence, he was telling those he was sending to try, work at it, and see what information they could bring back. He knew they would possibly face dangerous inhabitants or wild animals along the way and they would have to be courageous and sweat a little to complete the task. We know how the story pans out for all the spies, save two Joshua and Caleb, who went were against taking the land even though God had promised it to them reported that the land, while good, was overrun with giants – there would be no way to take it.

Were they used to having life handed to them on a silver platter? Had all the miracles spoiled them? Was their faith so shallow that they couldn’t see the God Who parted the Red Sea for them was the same God Who would wage and win the war for the land He had promised them?

They weren’t willing to put the effort in to what God had promised them and that is not how faith works. Faith to do the will of God requires effort on our part. Faith isn’t a 1-2-3 get-rich-quick scheme; faith is a way of life (Rom. 1:17) that gets us to where we need to go with what needs to go there with us.

Today many of us might be quick to criticize Israel’s doubt at this juncture, but if we were to look at ourselves honestly we would realize that we have often been guilty of the same. How many times has God delivered us? Helped us? Encouraged us? Provided for us? Why is this giant we are facing now so very different? If He delivered us before, surely, He will do it again.

We are required to put a little “sweat equity” into this walk of faith. Sometimes this journey is harrowing, fraught with impossibilities – but that’s where God comes in. He is ready to heal, provide, deliver, and open doors when we are ready to move forward with Him.

It’s time to make that mile, it’s time to sweat.

Living the Dream

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Maybe this comes with age and experience, of which I am now a possessor of a bit of both. How much age and experience? I won’t divulge exactly how much but certainly enough to get me into trouble, of which I have had a fair share.

As I write this, a new season has dawned on us and I find myself for the first time in longer than I can remember feeling anticipation for the days that lie ahead. Anyone who has worked for any length of time in a specific field deals more with the discipline of reaching for a dream than the joy of attaining it. I believe that the discipline of reaching towards something is simply faith made real. Faith is not only something that dwells in our hearts, faith is something that we do, it is what we live by – it’s what gives us our very breath (see Rom. 1:17).

Moving from that discipline of faith to actually enjoying what we are working for by faith before we see it’s fulfillment is where we will find longevity in whatever it is God has called us to do. Those moments when we see with our physical eyes the fulfillment of what God has promised us have, at least in my own life, taken time to come to pass. If we wait to rejoice until we have seen with our eyes what has been promised to us, seasons of drought could very well push us to give up on the dream.

Have you ever come to the place where you’re thinking of giving up on your dream? I have and it isn’t at all pleasant. I have found myself in those places most often when I’ve been disappointed that things didn’t turn out the way I thought they would.

Had I known it would turn out this way…

I wasn’t expecting this much resistance…

 No one understands or cares about what I had to give up …

 Slowly but surely, the temptation to give up, fueled by my own self-pity, takes a seat in the forefront of my thoughts until a crossroad is reached and I must decide if the dream is worth it or not. Will I fan the flames of despair in my dry desert or will I fan the flames of God’s gift, His dream, to me? The former is, at the onset, much easier to do but in the end leads only to more regret.

What would have happened if I hadn’t given up?

What would have happened if I had chosen to stay?

What would have happened if I had given the dream one more chance?

After a bit of time and experience, again I won’t admit to how much of either, I’ve learned that it’s not enough to simply tolerate reaching for the dream. The dream has to be cherished, guarded, and enjoyed! Hidden in the discipline of obedience one finds the deepest joy that life has to offer: a satisfaction that goes beyond the simple emotion of happiness when a goal is reached.

The dreams we carry have been entrusted to us by God and we have not only the responsibility but the honor of reaching for their fulfillment. Their success or failure doesn’t depend on our abilities but on His ability in us.

2 Corinthians 4:7 NKJ  “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”

The dream isn’t given for our own glory or acclaim; it’s for His glory and acclaim and He is well able to make it come true. Whether or not any of us are recognized on this earth for what we have done for the Kingdom is irrelevant – we’re reaching for the prize that has heaven as our home and what more could we ask for?

The dream is also a treasure that God has chosen to entrust us with; whatever your treasure is, cherish it! Fan the flames of your dream (2 Tim. 1:6) and see your passion for the treasure that it represents grow; don’t allow the work of the dream and the disappointments you face along the way to blur its figure into a mere shadow of what it once was.

I’ve been guilty of giving up, feeling sorry for myself, and wanting to give up on the dream – more times than I care to remember! Each time I’ve thrown in my towel and called it a day, the dream calls me back for I know there’s nothing else for me to do but live the dream.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot

 

 

Controlling the Chaos

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Today is Saturday, the 28th of April 2018. We have a little more than 3 weeks until we move to Bujumbura, Burundi from where we are now, Blantyre, Malawi. Books are randomly scattered all over the floor here in the office, we don’t have many chairs left to sit on, and I’m wondering how can I control the chaos! I need boxes, packing tape, a few more suitcases, and energy! Oh, how I need energy!

I find myself in the usual unusual territory of trusting God for each and every step. It’s a path I am supposed to be accustomed to but each and every time we embark on this journey of faith I have to relearn the steps of faith, for each lesson brings with it its own set of lessons. Every journey in faith is new, every journey of faith is meant to make us grow.

Growth is something I want, but the process that brings growth is what I don’t want. I want instant mashed potatoes growth; the kind that happens when I add some water and “poof,” I have grown! But that’s not the kind of growth that God brings – He brings the kind of growth that requires us to give Him control of everything; to have faith in His process and not our own.

We sing songs saying, “God take control” but the moment He tries to take over, we recoil. In our arsenal of excuses we have many Christian-esque sounding phrases that make our excuses sound spiritual:

“Oh, that’s not wisdom.” Yet we are told in Scripture that the way to wisdom is through foolishness:

1 Corinthians 3:18,19 NKJ  “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness;’” 

“I prayed and don’t feel right.” If we were to be led by feelings, we would change course several times a day, it’s faith that we live by, not feelings:

Romans 1:17 NKJ For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

“Giving everything away to bring the Gospel elsewhere, well, God doesn’t want me to be poor.” When will we understand that we, believers, are the richest people in the world? Wealth in the Kingdom is not measured by the things we possess but by the One Who possesses us:

Romans 11:33 NKJOh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”

How will God get the job done if we don’t start with the plans, funds, and popular support that our ambitions require? What I have learned is that God’s plans won’t unfold as I would have planned, nor will He fund them in the way that I would think, and they certainly won’t be popular even among some of those closest to me.

For some reason that escapes me, God wants me involved in the unfolding of His great plan. This alone causes me to wonder about His all-encompassing love, wisdom, and power. Why would He, the Creator, want anyone, let alone me, when He has the ability to get everything done without any help? But He’s chosen to involve Himself in our very small lives because He loves us without measure. Shouldn’t I, then, accept what is assigned to me in the face of this amazing love? Since I am unable to grasp His understanding of it all, I choose today to sit in the passenger seat and go when and where He decides. His driving record is spotless and His reservoir of supply has no limit – I can’t argue with that now, can I?

 

 

A Foreign Feeling

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This is likely to be a very different entry today. We are going through a change as we are headed towards Bujumbura, Burundi in the coming weeks. This move is different in that it will be the first time we are returning to live in a region where we have planted a church before. We’re going to take the lead pastor role in the first church we planted as our pastor presently on the ground is going to venture out and plant a new church in Kinshasa, DRC. At the same time, we are branching out into Mozambique; it’s all very exciting. The thought of branching into new regions, planting new churches, and even returning to pastor our first church – these all have me on my knees.

In 1991, after serving in the DRC (back then it was Zaire) for 4 years, we moved to plant a church in Bujumbura. We spent 9 crazy years there planting, plowing, praying, and digging a church out of the ground from scratch. They were rough years, but I consider them to be some of the most important and formative years of my life. Without them I wouldn’t be here today doing what I am doing. We were so desperate to fill the hunger in our hearts to plant a church that we went to amazing lengths to get the job done. There wasn’t much we didn’t face: financial challenges, health challenges, civil war, pressure to leave from outside sources, it was a total labor of faith and through it all – our God was faithful.

During those years, while we did experience an abundance of hardships, we also experienced great peace and comfort. It was a supernatural time when we knew God was in control and wasn’t giving us a job that was beyond His ability in us to handle.  We felt like we were living in the book of Acts when the church grew and had peace despite the persecution it had gone through (Acts 9).

Nevertheless, when God released us to launch out again and plant more churches, I never looked back and yearned to return. Together with my husband, we pressed ahead and moved on with the challenge to dream of new lands where we planted new churches and repeated the process over several times. I watched churches grow from nothing and national leaders take their place; I also watched my own family grow and one-by-one leave the nest. (Side note: Thankfully, I have one more at home who keeps me young and stirs the pot every once in a while to keep life interesting.)

It therefore was a foreign feeling to me when it became clear that our next assignment was going to bring us back to Burundi. I had become so used to being the one who would go scratch something out of the ground that even considering a return made my head spin. As the dust in my mind and spirit settled and I prayed into the idea, my heart began to expand in a new way. The same burden and fire that first sent us there in 1991 began to burn fresh in my heart and I now find myself aching to return, aching to reach for what this new era in our lives is to bring.

This past week we’ve had a house sale, letting go once again of household items and paring things down to a minimum. I initially dreaded this part of the process as it can be an exhausting time; I had found things here in Malawi that I hoped not to replace for a long period of time, if ever. Yet, now as I watch the shelves, chairs, and fans leave my home I’m surprisingly unaffected emotionally. I do wish I could have held onto my coffee pot for an extra week or two but the coffee press (French press to my American readers) is getting the job done for my morning brew.

I am now impatient to see the dream of 1,000 churches planted on the continent and somehow this huge move that involves not only our family but several others is a key to the dream coming true. Whereas before it was only a dream, a hope for the future, I can now actually envision 1,000 churches. It may be that this move is more about changing my perception of the vision and not God’s, for His remains the same. He already sees things that don’t exist and declares that they do – I now need to do the same.

Romans 4:17 NKJ “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;”

There are pieces in the puzzle that God is putting into place that I, at my ground level, cannot see – but He can. The challenge now is for me to lift my eyes and look forward and above instead of down at the ground as I’ve been used to for so long. Church planting requires a lot of “dirty work” meaning everything that needs doing the church planter does. Most of the time we have planted churches, we have had little to no help. We arrive at the border or airport with no one to meet us, no one to help us get started. Our focus for the first few years is always, understandably, on the ground God put under our feet to plow it, plant it, and bring in harvest.

I’m looking forward and above to focus on the bigger picture now – it’s a new day, a new moment to seize, and a whole continent to win.

I can see it now.