No Reputation


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

Returning Sent Ones: In Their Own Words

A unique look at the trauma faced by missionaries entering and exiting cultures.

Broken Missiology

Image-1The following is an excerpt from The Upstream Collective‘s ebook, Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning “Home” and How Churches Can Help. Used with permission.

Furlough. Evacuation. Resignation. Illness. Retirement.

That’€™s a short list of reasons Larry and Sarah Jenkins* returned from overseas.

I have known them for eight years. I have learned enough for a lifetime. If there i€™s anyone I could write a biography on, it would be this couple. If there i€™s anyone I could place at a table with sent ones, it’€™s them. So I’m going to help you get as close to that reality as possible. Here, in their own words, are their many experiences as returning sent ones.


Over the course of Larry and Sarah’s 26 years in Africa (stretched over 40 years of coming and going), they survived multiple furloughs. Though necessary times of cultural rest, furloughs also brought on…

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Potato Chip Sandwiches


Things don’t get done quickly or conveniently here in Malawi. When something actually is accomplished in one go, you find yourself wide-eyed and amazed, wondering what you will do with all the time you have saved. We live for days like that.

The list of pending business around here is quite long; we spend hours going to the bank, paying bills, and checking on an application to approve our church’s site plan for building that has been waiting approval for a few months now. When one initially moves overseas to a situation like ours, it can take some time to grow accustomed to the change of pace. I remember the first few years we worked abroad; we wondered how we would ever get anything done. There’s always another signature, another stamp, another fee…no wonder so many fall to paying bribes. We decided long ago that we couldn’t follow the crowd and pay bribes; it has made us an enigma among many but we sleep peacefully at night knowing we are working on the up and up.

This doesn’t mean we don’t get frustrated – we certainly do! There was a time, years ago, we believe that our commitment to not paying bribes played a central role in us not getting approval for our church to operate. It was time-consuming (we worked on getting approval for years) and expensive with many trips, applications, fees, and even living in the country for a time. The sting of ending our efforts, the embarrassment we felt over leaving, made our situation all the more uncomfortable and demoralizing.

We are now used to taking our time. One of the most notorious places you will ever waste time in here in Africa is the bank. To open an account at the bank, you will need a list of documents that will fill a large binder. It can take a few days to gather all the proper documentation, but, once you have it all together, you then have to fill out a 6-8 page application. There are many questions on these applications that will stump even the most avid application-filler! I’ve needed counsel almost every time when filling the applications. I usually don’t take less than two days in filling said applications; I will customarily take at least 2 blank copies to prepare for the inevitable errors that I will make in my attempts at filling in the needed blank spaces.

Once you have an account at the bank, you would think that things would be a bit easier but, alas, going to the bank is not meant to be convenient. From long lines, few tellers, money that requires time to count (the current rate of exchange for the Malawi Kwacha to USD is roughly 700 MWK/$1 USD), there’s rarely an occasion when going to the bank is easy. So when asked, “What did you do today?” and I answer, “I went to the bank.” People here immediately know what frustration I must’ve faced and will often nod with understanding.

My young daughter, Andreya who I call Dee, has also grown accustomed to our errands around town. Another skill we have developed in our service here is making time for our family when there’s no time. Yesterday, for example, we had to run a few errands after school was out for the day and we took Dee with us on our route of “getting things done.” We’ve learned to be together on these errands that can, without planning, simply be time-consuming and rob us of family time. Our journeys yesterday took us to pay the Internet bill and by the pharmacy. Dee, knowing that such things can take time, took her bag, homework, and baby doll with her to pass the time efficiently.


Jamie, my husband, and I were chatting away as we pulled out from the pharmacy and heard some crunching coming from the back seat. I asked Dee, “What are you eating?” Before she could reply, Jamie looked back and saw she had brought a sandwich with her– and not just any sandwich: it was a potato chip sandwich.

“I knew I’d be hungry so I brought a sandwich.” She said in her sweet little voice and I was immediately disarmed. I had the usual list of motherly reasons why a potato chip sandwich wasn’t the best choice du jour – but that voice and reply finished me off. In any case, if I were honest, I wish I had thought of bringing a potato chip sandwich along as well.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in patience has been to value the potato chip sandwiches of life. The sweetest moments won’t come with the approval of plans or building of facilities. They come often in the unplanned, unguarded moments when we drink in the beauty of those who God has given to us.

The next time you get ready to unload the pre-prepared list of reasons why not to someone you love, remember the potato chip sandwich. The reasons why not aren’t quite as important as we may think and the moments of the sandwich may just pass by without our taking them in.

Psalm 90:12 VOICE Teach us to number our days so that we may truly live and achieve wisdom.”







No Forward, No Introduction


I get into trouble sometimes not so much because of what I do or don’t do, but more because of what I have said or maybe haven’t said. It would seem that my brain works slower than my mouth and my mouth always rises to the occasion and has a response whether or not a response is requested or required.

When I was 5 years old or so, our family was living in Brooklyn, New York. One day the phone rang and I answered it. My mom was “indisposed” in the restroom and wanted me to tell whoever it was on the line to call later. I did tell the person to call later but not before I told them that mama was in the restroom and was in there a long time. I continued divulging facts she certainly would have preferred to be kept quiet and said that she sometimes took a long time and I couldn’t tell when she would get out. In the background, I heard my mom calling out, “No! No! No! Stop!” But my mouth kept moving! I then politely told the caller to call back later and hung up. My life’s course was altered that day when mom emerged and my life flashed before my eyes! (A lot of it was spent talking…) I wasn’t allowed to answer the phone for a very long time after that incident.

From the time we learn how to speak, our words begin to shape the course of our lives. Initially, we can do little more than say, “yes” or “no” but our vocabularies quickly take shape and as they do, our lives follow our words.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is the standard conversation-opener between a visiting adult and child. Our answers to this and other questions like it begin to give direction to us and by the time we graduate high school many of us have already decided the field of study we will pursue later in life. It all began with the question, “What do you want to be?”

While it may seem that words are innocuous in and of themselves, their effect can cause anything from joy to panic. I saw this while living in Burundi – rumors would circulate from day to day regarding an invasion of the city by rebel forces. I can’t count how many times I went to bed knowing that the next day the entire city would be razed to the ground. While we did see a lot of violence in the city, rebel forces never overran it. The fighting would take place in different areas of the city from time to time, giving us a great deal of uncertainty, but we managed to survive.

Our God is a God of words. He is an Author, He has written and created many works over many a millennia. Genesis 1 & 2 tell us about His creation of the world and how He spoke, and the world just was. He had something in mind and said it, and it was.

Psalm 33:6 AMP “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all their host by the breath of His mouth.”

What I find most interesting about the Creation, as I’ve pondered it, is that when it came to creating mankind, a discussion took place. We weren’t created without God putting some thought into us:

Genesis 1:26 NKJ “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

The only part of creation when the Father said more than “let there be” was when He made mankind. There was purpose to our creation that wasn’t there for the rest of the world – and He made us to be like Him, in His image so we could represent Him. How powerful are God’s Words! And since we are created “in His image,” how powerful are our words? They are more powerful than we think.

Was it possible to see the words God spoke when He created our world? No, but we can see what His words created. In the same way, we can’t see our words, but we can see what they create, whether negatively in agreement with this world, or positively in agreement with God and His Word.

Hebrews 11:3 AMP “By faith we understand that the worlds [during successive ages] were framed (fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose) by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible.”

We have accepted Christ into our hearts by faith. We couldn’t see Him when we accepted Him, but that experience was real and is now evidenced by what He has done in our lives. He heals us, delivers us, gives us joy; and while we might not see Him with our eyes, we see what He does.

Our own words have not brought us much success when we say what we “feel.” Society tells us what to do and say to fit in and it still says we aren’t good enough. Friends might be well intentioned in their words but they still fail us. Popular words follow the latest and greatest trends and change every day. But God’s Word never changes.

Psalm 119:89 AMP “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven [stands firm as the heavens].”

God is still writing today; He is still writing books in heaven. And He is listening:

Malachi 3:16-18 AMP “Then those who feared the Lord talked often to one another; and the Lord listened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who reverenced and worshipfully feared the Lord and who thought on His name. And they shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in that day when I publicly recognize and openly declare them to be My jewels (My special possession, Me peculiar treasure). And I will spare them, as a man spares his own son who serves him. Then you shall return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him who serves God and him who does not serve Him.”

While we think what we say is not important, God is listening. Not only are our words powerful either positively or negatively, God pays attention to our words and is recording them. What are we saying to one another? What kind of book is written of my words? It indicates here in Malachi that as we who fear the Lord speak to one another, God records it and not only that – our words distinguish us from those who don’t serve Him.

As this world’s condition grows increasingly worse, the opportunity for God’s people grows greater as we display and declare how great and how sure our Father’s promises are. In the face of the world’s disappointing condition, here we are, secure, strong, and moving forward.

Psalm 37:25 NLT “Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.”

How can we possibly believe this statement from Psalms? What if the dollar crashes? What if health care goes south? What if war breaks out?

Which words are more powerful? Certainly not the promises we hear over the news or from political figures around the world. I’ve chosen to trust God’s Words over those of the world that have disappointed me every time.

Some have said to me that they would love to read the Bible if they could only understand it. To this, I answer, “How much of what goes on in this world do we really understand?”

  • Do we understand the stock market fully? Yet we follow it and appreciate what we do understand.
  • Do we understand space and all of the galaxies out there? Yet we look at them through expensive telescopes.
  • Do we understand politics fully? Yet we follow it nonetheless.
  • Do we understand math or grammar? I thought I would throw that in for all of you who are numerically and grammatically challenged.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 NKJ “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

God Himself Authored this Book – He needs no forward, no introduction, He doesn’t need other “intellectuals” to back His writing. He backs it Himself, and His authority is enough.

If you want to hear God’s Words that He used while breathing the world into existence then you must go to His Word. Nothing else compares even remotely.

There are many good books that give us lessons from great examples and mentors such as: Luis Pasteur, William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, the list goes on. However, there is only one book with heavenly mentors – and that’s the Bible.

God put His entire weight of authority behind the writings of these men and women found in the Bible. If Jesus saw it fit to speak their words, shouldn’t we?

Nothing can stamp out God’s Word. People might try to ban the Bible, burn them, outlaw them, but when history as we know it has ended, there His Word will be going on; eternal, alive, active, and still speaking! Imagine, in eternity, the familiar verse we have taken for granted, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” Still speaking and working; how much of that “simple” verse do we take for granted?



It Won’t Come Easily


Loss. It’s a subject that no one likes to think about or even talk about; our silent hope is that we’ll learn as we go when we experience it. Everyone handles loss differently and not everyone agrees on the “right” way to walk through a season of grief. How can anything be “right” when grieving?

Usually, when the word “loss” is mentioned, we immediately think of the grief we feel when a loved one has passed away. To know the grief experienced when losing a loved one can only be understood by going through it – and that is an experience few, if any, of us will escape in this lifetime.

As I’ve been pondering loss in my lifetime, my thoughts have been moved to areas not usually associated with loss. Grief occurs when we lose something or someone that we had grown to love, correct? We can therefore say that grief isn’t limited to losing loved ones; its scope is much farther reaching than that. We can be grieved when we lose visions, hopes, and dreams.

The mission field has taught me a great deal about loss; I’ve learned to breathe in and enjoy every moment as we have them for we have no assurance what tomorrow may bring. We comfort ourselves by saying that we have the assurance of God’s presence – for it is all we need – but the truth of how much we believe that statement will come only when tested. Those tests don’t come easily; we are tested by loss of dreams for the future, loss of financial support, loss of emotional support, loss of family and friends that are left behind.

For obvious reasons, our family has always had an affinity for missionary stories. We have our heroes: David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, and most recently, Adoniram Judson. Judson, together with his wife, was the first missionary from the States to Burma. (You can read more about his story by clicking here.) They endured loss after loss, yet persevered to see – not thousands, no, not even hundreds – come to the Lord in their first 5 years of service. Not a single soul came to the Lord during that time; in their 6th year, 2 came to the Lord, and the progress continued thus for many years. Even though their “progress” was slow, their dedication was steadfast. They put themselves in the impossible position of going somewhere that was nearly impossible to leave – they chose to stick it out before they knew what they would face.

The choices we make on the front end of a journey have lasting repercussions that will inevitably result in loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of experiences, loss of relationships, and the question we have to answer before knowing what will meet us on the other side of our choices is this: can we rise to the level of our choices?

Of course alone, we can’t possibly manage the losses ahead of us, but the unseen “secret sauce” we have that others don’t is God’s presence.

Exodus 33:12-14 ESV Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you say to me, “Bring up this people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’  And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.’”

Moses is not one we think of when the word “loss” is mentioned. However, he lost a great deal in his lifetime: his family (when raised in Pharaoh’s household), his identity when he fled Egypt, all he had was his relationship with God as he stood leading millions of Israelites in the wilderness. He refused to move forward without that relationship intact.

It is inevitable that we will face loss as we move forward in the will of God, either through death or other circumstance. It will be painful, it won’t come easily, but there’s a way through the pain if indeed we believe His presence is all we need. With His presence, we can walk through that wilderness, like Moses did, and find our paths to our Promised Land.

Open your heart; don’t allow any kind of loss to rob you of a relationship with the only One Who can fill the emptiness you’re facing. It’s never too late to begin again.



Made to Order


I’m the first to admit I’m not much of a foodie. It’s very difficult to impress me at a restaurant or with a fancy dessert. Although I don’t consider myself a very good cook, I know I can usually cook better food at home. My husband has grown used to my peculiarities and can usually predict what I will/will not order when we are out.

There is this one place that did impress me in Texas some years ago that I must give props to. Dear friends, Paul and Perrianne Brownback, who pastor The Abbey Church in Azle, Texas took my husband and I to a well-known steak restaurant in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Those who know me know that to impress me with a steak is nearly within the realm of the impossible. I generally don’t eat steaks, not because I’m a vegetarian, but because I simply have had very few really good steaks in my life. Upon their insistence that the steak at this restaurant had a 5-star rating, and to my husband’s great surprise, I ordered a steak, cooked in between well-done and medium well, knowing it would be like every other disappointing steak I’d ever eaten. Mentally I was already tearing the steak down: it was going to be too chewy, overdone, underdone, flavorless, or otherwise undesirable.

We have known the Brownbacks for all the years we have been missionaries (since 1987). Their church has been a faithful supporter of the work and we try to connect with them whenever we can and this time at the restaurant was a great opportunity to play catch up. I forgot about mentally destroying the steak and enjoyed the company. After some minutes, the waiter brought bread and some other condiments to go with the bread. While munching on the appetizers, we laughed over old memories and seriously contemplated our futures. It was a great time, and then…the steak arrived in all of its sizzling, 5-star glory.

I knew this steak was different from the moment it was set in front of me. It smelled amazing! It was cooked to perfection: right in between well-done and medium well. It wasn’t dry, chewy, or tasteless. The waiter graciously explained that there were different sauces available to me, but I was oblivious. You see if I enjoy a steak, I don’t want any sauce on it to ruin the flavor. I want to taste the steak, not the steak sauce. The rest of the evening’s meal was eclipsed by this piece of amazingness! Yes, I remember the steak from the Dallas/Fort Worth area – it was a steak worth every bite.

Today, the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, I find myself wondering how well am I doing with what I am offering to those around me who need something to fill their emptiness? Is what I offer much like the bland, tough, undesirable steaks found in so many restaurants? Why would they bother with that kind of steak when they already have tough and flavorless available to them in their day-to-day lives?

Many have already tested what’s available on menus we have offered and have been let down. It’s been too tough, too lonely, or simply too complicated for them to enjoy the experience.

Matthew 11:29,30 NLT “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

God’s Word, on the other hand, is unlike any other menu. His is “made to order” for each and every person we meet. What He gives is tender and easy to bear; it is made to suit the one who is hearing it. The Chef is skilled enough to meet the needs of the most finicky of customers! Some need strength, others need encouragement, others need a shoulder to cry on, and still others need a combination of ingredients. It’s all there in the menu that God has prepared: it’s “a la carte” and can fit every taste. Even the pickiest palate can be refreshed by the amazing offerings that God prepares to perfection in His 5-star establishment.

How are we doing at offering His menu to the world? How well do we rate? Are ours the stars shining or are God’s stars the ones shining? When we try to make God fit our ideas of “excellent” service, we are immediately downgraded. Those serving in His Kingdom have learned the only way to bring in those looking for a certain item on a menu is by representing the Owner.

God doesn’t franchise out His Word like restaurants do here on the earth. A franchise will resemble the brand but will take on the personality of the owner of franchise. There’s no fast food or instant fixes here – everything is done exactly to fit the needs of those ordering.

The Chef is never too busy for you; He will come to your table and listen to what you have to say and prepare something that will far exceed your expectations. Please, you’re welcome to take a seat; you’re the first person He is serving today.

He’s ready to take your order now.





Dream On


Have you ever felt like you’ve lost your dream, your purpose, that you have lost the thing that “makes you tick,” or, have you ever lost your ability to dream? There are few experiences as painful as losing your dreams and visions or your ability to dream. When we lose our dream, it can feel as if we’ve lost our very life’s breath. I’ve heard it said that if we’ve not found anything worth laying our lives down for, what are we living for?

Early on in life, I knew that Africa would play a big role in my history. When asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I never had the normal answer to offer: doctor, lawyer, teacher, businesswoman…no, my answer was “I want to be a missionary in Africa.” My answer would be met with a smile, pat on the back, and the words, “Aren’t you just so sweet?” No, the journey to Africa wouldn’t be an easy one, but it was that dream that gave purpose to everything else in my young life.

My vision for missions made me a kind of oddball from day 1 (a real misfit). At first, most thought it was a childish dream, but as the dream stuck, it was what served as my life’s map. It is what made me feel out of place with my peers and it is what made me feel comfortable in my own skin even though it seemed no one else knew what to do with me. The same purpose brought my husband and I together and ultimately had our feet land on the continent for the first time in 1985. The rest, as “they” say, is history; we’ve been inextricably linked to this continent.

Early on in our missionary career, when we were preparing to plant our first church, we set our eyes on going to Burundi. We had heard many horror stories of people working in that small nation – stories of loss and hardship. In our youthful zeal we packed our two young children and ourselves in a plane and flew to this strange land full of hopes and dreams.

Initially, the task of planting a church seemed straightforward: register the church with the government, secure work visas, and off we go. We quickly learned that is not the way things get done – the process was a long and arduous one fraught with sickness, resistance at every corner, and the usual financial strain missionaries face. The dream was nearly lost to us before it began but suddenly, miracle after miracle, we experienced healings, approvals, and somehow the finances were there and our first church plant began.

Time after time over the years, the dream was tested. From civil war to refusals for the church to be registered, there were times we were sure the dream had ended and dreaded what we would wake up to, yet here we are – we’re living the dream.

Did you ever thing you would be part of something like someone else’s dream? Most of us don’t think that anyone would be so interested in us that they would be willing to put everything on the line just for us. The good news is this: there is Someone Who gave His dream up, so that we could live and dream on.

Philippians 2:5-8 NKJ Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

Our dreams now pattern after those of Jesus Whose dreams appeared to die when He died – but when He rose, His dreams rose with Him:

Ephesians 2:4-6 NKJ But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”

Before we even knew that we were part of a dream, God made a way for those dreams to come true in Christ. The things that try to extinguish God’s dreams in us are little more than distractions because when the Dream came alive on the first Resurrection morning – He gave life to the rest of the dreams He would live through us in times to come.

Ephesians 2:7 NKJ  “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

What gives you a passion for living? If you’ve lost that passion, it’s time to dream again. God has a dream for you to make life so very much worth living.

It’s time to dream on, dear one, dream on.




Love Puts Us At Risk



That’s the $64,000.00 question whose answer has evaded those asking it generation after generation. Everyone wants to know “why” something happened in order to escape the pain of the experience. If we could know why, perhaps we could avoid the suffering.

Ours is a world that goes to great lengths to avoid pain; no one likes to experience pain. Why experience it when it can be avoided?

Some of life’s greatest experiences put us in the direct path of pain. Who wants to experience the death of loved ones or the pain of loved ones moving far away? If we fear pain to the point of avoiding its very appearance, we rob ourselves of the joy that accompanies living.

Like you, I have had my fair shake of painful experiences. I wish that I could have avoided those times, but there are moments in life when one can’t avoid pain. When my mother passed away in 2008, I wasn’t able to get back from Africa in time to see her before she died. In our last conversation we had just 3 days before her passing, she said to me on the phone, “I’ll get through this.” The next day she slipped into a coma and was gone 2 days later. How I regretted not seeing her one more time before she left us. The pain of her passing was bad enough, the pain of not being with her to say goodbye was another ache I wish I could’ve avoided.

When my brother Matthew was near death 3 years ago, I remembered missing being by mom’s bedside – I promised myself to be with him every minute I possibly could. I have lived away from my family for so long as a missionary in Africa, I wondered if I would even be needed. As Matthew’s home going drew ever closer, he made it known to me he was glad I was around. The most precious memory I have of those horrible days in the hospital was when he asked me, “You’re not leaving, are you?” My reply was, “No, I’m right here.” As painful as that experience was, I don’t regret going through it. I chose to be there and I’m so glad I did.

When war erupted in Burundi, we chose not to leave. Would we have been wrong for leaving? I don’t think so, but we chose to stay with the church members who we had grown to love. It was a 9-year season of painful experiences, watching the nation we had grown to love suffer in great pain. At the end of that season, we chose to move on to start all over again and plant another church. Leaving was very hard; it would have been easier if we hadn’t grown to love the people so much.

Love puts us at risk.

Now imagine Jesus. He willingly took the risk of loving us when we were unlovable. He, our Elder Brother (Romans 8:29) could have chosen not to risk rejection, misunderstanding, and death at the hands of those He came to save. Willingly, He put Himself in the path of unimaginable pain and sorrow – but He did so because He considered the outcome to be worth it.

When I ponder the fact that He thinks of me as worth His death, I am overcome with wonder. Wonder over how I could have been worth everything He went through, but He reckons I am worth it. He risked it all for me because He loves me.

I’ve heard it said the measure of pain we feel at the loss of someone we love is the measure of the love we have for them. Jesus felt great pain; His was a greater loss than we can imagine for not only did He experience physical death (Matthew 27:50), He experienced the absence of His Father’s presence Who had never been apart from Him until the moment He was crucified (Matthew 27:46). He experienced total and complete abandonment and rejection, a spiritual death, so that we wouldn’t have to. Because of Him, we have the opportunity to receive the forgiveness and acceptance of a Father Whose love is boundless. Now it is up to us, what will we choose, to become a part of the family or remain estranged? The choice is ours for He wants us to become willing members of the family – not forced servants.

The pattern Jesus set for us in His sacrifice gives meaning to the pains we experience in life. Every pain, every scar, has it’s meaning. It may be that those reasons aren’t going to be revealed in our lifetime – but they certainly will be revealed in the lifetimes of those who will follow us. As a family, we have been reading the biography of Adoniram Judson (I highly recommend this book, click here to preview) and we have cried tears in reading of his lifelong journey. Who knew that his son, Edward Judson, would be the one to pen the following:

“Suffering and success go together, if you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered, if you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”

This is the wonder of the God we serve: He takes our pain and uses it as stepping-stones for those who come after us to succeed. How He does that is His miracle, but it is the pattern He set in place with His Son. His suffering has allowed us to experience the ultimate success: becoming part of His family.  His pain became our success and now, in turn, we can do the same.




No Scar?


Hast thou no scar’

No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand’

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,

I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,


Hast thou no scar’

Hast thou no wound’

Yet I was wounded by the archers, spend,

Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent

By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:


Hast thou no wound’

No wound, no scar’

Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,

And, pierced are the feet that follow Me;

But thine are whole: can he have followed far

Who has no wounds nor scar’


Amy Carmichael, Missionary to India



Perfectly Imperfect


Perfect, everything has to be perfect:

Before the birthday party begins, everything needs to be perfectly set up…

Before I apply for a job, my resume has to be perfect…

Before I do anything, I have to get everything perfectly ready…

Perfectionism, it’s something that plagues most, if not all, of us in one way or another. From the time we are little children we are taught to keep trying to improve; we are given the impression that what we’ve done simply isn’t good enough.

I understand the importance of making preparations (Luke 14:28), working to improve and do our best, but at the end of the day there’s no way to be perfect or to predict everything that will happen along our journeys in life. There’s never enough experience or money to do everything in our hearts when we start. We never have enough money to go to university, get married or have children. When we had our first child, I am sure everyone thought we were out of our minds. We had no money, no savings, no experience, but we wanted to start a family and we had NO IDEA how much it would cost to raise a family. How our oldest children have grown up and are now on their own astounds me. How did God manage that? Where did He get the money because we certainly didn’t see it in our bank account.

Thinking back to when we first left for Africa, I wonder how well we “counted the cost” of what the call would cost. No amount of preparation could have made us ready for the things we have faced over the years. We had 3 years of service on staff at our home church and had some Bible college under our belts (we both finished our Master’s Degrees later on) when we began our internship in Zaire (DRC). We spent 3 years serving under Ralph and Shirley Hagemeier, learning about missions service. It was the best 3-year investment of our lives; it set our course for the years to come.

Well-meaning organizations set certain guidelines for their missionaries to follow and fill before even being considered for overseas service. I understand the reasoning behind all the requirements, as cracks in our lives turn into large crevices under the pressure of the foreign field. There needs to be a time of preparation and internship for any kind of ministry position. As prepared as we felt once our 3 years with the Hagemeiers was finished, we still had no idea what we were going to face in the years to come. Had we known, I doubt we would’ve had the courage to run the race.

For a brief season in my life I worked in insurance and learned that there are “actuaries” who are professionals that try to figure out the costs involved in insuring people. It would appear that they’ve all fallen very short of counting how much it will cost to insure the health of millions. It may seem that they haven’t done well with their figures but truth be told, they didn’t have enough information to figure costs in the unstable insurance atmosphere that has settled in the USA in the past 20+ years. 20+ years ago, it would have been extremely difficult to envision today’s reality.

In the same way we prepare ourselves for life, but as we embark on this journey we have no way of knowing what will happen tomorrow, especially in the situation our world finds itself in today. Should this keep us from stepping out in faith? Not at all! On the contrary, knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed should be an impetus for us to dive in and trust God – He will definitely get all the glory since there’s no way for us to be prepared for the journey ahead.

James 4:13-16 NKJ Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

In some way, when we rely too much on our preparation and planning, we are returning to relying on ourselves rather than relying on God for the outcome. If the goings-on of this world can prove anything to us it is that we surely don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. In fact, James tells us that too much planning and preparation is actually evil. Why do we live in this life as if it is going to last forever? There are ages yet to come – this is not the end of existence, it’s only the beginning.

Ephesians 2:6,7 NLT For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”

I won’t get it perfect; I’m also learning not to be disappointed when things have an unexpected ending. In fact, most things don’t end up exactly as we had planned. When the winds of change come, when the unexpected arrives, or when disappointments head in our direction the only way to deal with them is head-on. Face it, learn, and grow – if we can only do that, we have accomplished a lot. We’ve learned how to be perfectly imperfect.

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

Grocery Stores and Land Mines


On the way home from work, late in the afternoon or early evening, you stop at the grocery store. You weren’t planning on standing in line for 30 minutes but you grin and bear it with all the other customers in line. Busying yourself on your smartphone, you update your Facebook status, “Standing in line at the store.” When it finally is your turn, there’s no one to help bag your groceries so you begin bagging – but you can’t get the bags open quickly and the groceries pile up. Half of what you’ve purchased isn’t bagged when the cashier announces your total that turns out to be more than you thought because you didn’t buy the brands that you assumed were on sale. You quickly swipe your debit card, but the reader doesn’t accept the card. You have no other choice, you pull out the credit card that you’ve been working hard to pay off and pay for your groceries. Then, your attention is once again turned to bagging and you frantically pack the rest of your things while the cashier works with the next customer. Of course it is raining as you head out to the car – and you still have to get home, make dinner, check the kids’ homework, fold the laundry, and by the way, your in-laws are coming over later on for dessert.

This scenario repeats itself millions of times over, daily, all over the world. Everyone is overworked, overtired, and can’t catch up. Life just moves too fast! Days off are spent catching up on paying bills, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, and shuttling the kids to/from various activities. I am out of breath just thinking of what this coming weekend holds for me.

And then today, like all of you, I woke to the news of the terrible situation in Syria. On the news reports I hear of things that go beyond my understanding: chemical weapons, air strikes, international uproar, and my heart skips a beat. I stopped and looked at my 9-year-old daughter, thought of my grown children, my grandson, and their families in the US, our extended families, friends worldwide, and I wondered how long this world will be able to tolerate the state that it is in.

Romans 8:21b,22 NKJ “…creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”

My daughter, outside playing with her friends, is oblivious to the realities of the news we are now hearing. My heart aches for other children who are just like her but trapped in dangerous areas all around the world. From conflicts found here in Africa to the Middle East, children are caught in between the missiles and gunfire that are of grown-up making. Tears sting the backs of my eyes as I remember when we lived through civil war in Burundi; children who managed to live through those horrors grew up to be the walking wounded. Conflicts that end, even if they end today, live on in the memories of the children who somehow survived.

I whisper under my breath, “Dear God, watch the children…” Knowing that His heart aches for them too, aches for all of mankind more than we can imagine.

No, I’m not wise enough to offer any solutions or explanations to anything that is going on in the world. Like you, I am at a loss for words. What boggles my mind is how the world at large has become desensitized to the pain of those who are unable to defend themselves: women, children, and the elderly. Almost daily (yes even here in Africa) we see images on our TV screens of the craziness that has gripped our world. While I don’t know what the actual solution to everything is, I do know is that this kind of pain will not be ended by ranting and raving on social media or debates on which party is right. The kind of pain experienced by those caught in the crossfire of conflict can’t be addressed with our limited earthly understanding.

In Burundi when the conflict moved to our part of town, we opened our home to our church members whose homes were in the line of fire. In one day, we had 16 people living with us plus our own family of 5. I’ve made attempts over the years to describe what those days felt like – but I have failed to give an accurate account. There are so many memories of that time, but there’s one that comes to me today that I hadn’t thought of for years. One of our church members went to his home when there was a lull in the fighting to check on his elderly father, who had refused to leave, and found his body buried under piles of broken furniture. A senseless death during a senseless time and I wonder what was his death and all the deaths of the wars in the Great Lakes region for? Our hearts ache for those who are left behind; we pray that the scars of these wars don’t give rise to more bloodshed in future generations.

How can we possibly hope to bring a positive change to this world that lies in ruin spiritually, physically, and emotionally?

With all of the destruction and death we were witness to in Burundi, we were also witness to a great revival of the church (when I say “church” I mean all churches). Denominational lines were forgotten when people needed help, the Methodists helped the Baptists, the Pentecostals sought out the Presbyterians, it was a time of organic and genuine unity. No one cared what label the other wore, we all knew we were on the same team and we were united. When guns are firing, you have a tendency to forget about things like having your hair done (I’m sure I was a sight for most of those years) or if the person who needs your help is of the same denominational flavor as you.

Church meetings weren’t the normal flavor of, “hurry up let’s get this done.” There were times that just getting to church safely was cause for celebration. Land mines were laid in the streets as well as along footpaths; sometimes survival was a moment-by-moment reason to pray. When we gathered to pray or for service, we cried out to God – and He came. His presence was tangible and His comfort immeasurable. For some strange reason, we would all find a smile on our faces when we left meetings on those days – God was with us and we knew everything was going to be all right no matter how it ended.

So, back to the question at hand, how can we, ordinary people, bring change to this world? The answer is simple: spiritual problems require spiritual answers and the only way we can bring change is first of all through prayer. Not the saying grace kind of prayer we say thoughtlessly as we go to eat dinner. Purposeful prayer that is united in purpose (see Matthew 18:19) and full of faith can do amazing things (see Mark 11:23,24).

 The verse from 1 John 2:18a NKJ Little children, it is the last hour…” has been quoted for generation upon generation. It’s been the last hour for so long we wonder – when will it end? How long can the last hour last? It is the last hour for anyone who has yet to know of or hear about the wonder of the love of the Father. I’ve read that 151,600 people die every day ( – how many haven’t heard or seen God’s people tell them or show them how much they are loved?

As our attention today turns toward our homes and our own families, may our prayers also be directed to those who no longer have homes to return to or children to hold. We’ve got a lot of work to do, many prayers to pray, and a world yet to be changed.