God called us to plant churches and I can safely say that church planting is not for sissies. It certainly is an adventure; I can never say to my husband that life with him is boring. Planting a church as a foreigner in a foreign culture is quite the experience that is deserving of much more attention than I will give it today. Suffice to say; you never know what will happen from one day to the next when planting churches, especially if you are planting in the developing world.
Our newest church plant is in Blantyre, Malawi, where we now live. How do you plant a church from scratch with no one but your own family in attendance for Sunday service? By talking with people everywhere you go about Jesus, inviting them to church and one day you find yourself with a congregation of people – however, it always starts with the first one who comes to meeting and it grows from there.
Our little congregation was initially meeting in a tent on a piece of rented land at a local school. Then, last month (December 2016) we moved to our own property in town. It was a lot of work getting the land ready to the point of pitching the tent. I’ve learned, having planted a few churches this way, that there’s a lot that goes into moving onto a previously undeveloped piece of land. The good news is that the day finally came when we were able to move. What a day of rejoicing it was for us, seeing the tent go up on our own property made our hearts sing!
That was the beginning of a complicated story that brings us up to today.
The rains, which we have been praying for due to prevailing drought conditions in the country, came hard and heavy at the same time that we were moving. The wind blew, the mud was deep, but our team kept working on site. One day we learned that a city water pipe had been broken by one of our workers, another day, one of the workers came close to having his foot sliced off by the brick machine (he’s ok now), it seemed every day a new complication arose.
Then there was a hailstorm last week so violent that it blew our tent down. We woke to news last Wednesday morning that it was down. Not only was it down but it also retained significant damage in the storm requiring a good deal of repair before we could put it back up. We don’t have electricity on site so we had to get a generator onto the property for the repairman to run his electric sewing machine (that we also had to have transported to the site) to mend it properly. It took two full days to completely fix the damage done by the storm.
Not only was our tent torn and blown over in the storm, but a retainer wall we have been building to help manage the erosion on the property was damaged as well. The adage, “When it rains, it pours,” certainly was true last week!
This is a season of fasting and prayer for us and we had scheduled prayer meetings throughout the week, what could we do? No shelter, no relief from the sun or the rain – it was painfully obvious that there was nothing we could do on our own about the weather. The storm happened and we stood, literally, in a lake of mud on top of a ripped tent. It was a mess and it was tempting to say, “Had we known, had we known…”
Psalm 109:4b NIV “…but I am a man of prayer.”
What did we do? We met for prayer anyway without tent, without shelter; it’s a time of fasting and prayer, we couldn’t simply cancel all of our meetings. While it was hot and sunny, we got a bit of sunburn; we thanked God for a reprieve in the weather so repairs and work could be done. Thankfully, after a few days, the tent went back up, amidst mud, sand, onlookers wondering when we would give up – but retreat is not, is never, an option.
As you read this, it may seem that we aren’t struggling emotionally through all of the seen and unforeseen complications we are facing. Yes, our faith is high, but we don’t always feel as if our faith is running high. What we have learned in the years we’ve served God is that as we go up one mountain and get to the peak of that mountain, there’s a valley between ourselves and the next mountain. To get to the next mountaintop, we’ll have to traverse that valley first.
Those valleys are places none of us relish entering. Who wants to go through a valley? Everyone wants to go to the top of the mountain for at the top of the mountain, you can see clearly where you are and where you need to go. What you don’t have at the top of a mountain is what you need to survive: food, water, and shelter. A mountaintop is a bare place, while beautiful, is not a place where you can live and thrive – a journey into the valley needs to be made to get the food we need to ascend once again to the top.
Psalm 23:3-5 NLT “He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”
The dark places in the valley are where we develop strength for the journey and as we trust God in the dark places, He is honored. There’s nothing but blessing to be gained at the end of the trial and God promises us that His provision and protection will be with us.
It’s time to pray. It’s time to cross the valley, get what we need in that valley, and ascend to where we can see once again.