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.

Empty Boats

 

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Luke 5:2-6 NLT He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.’ And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear!”

I have felt unnoticed before; I’m sure there have been times you have felt that way, too. I imagine these fishermen in the above account felt a bit defeated, unnoticed, for all their effort as they worked all night long and catching nothing. Their work had no measurable outcome – but they had worked hard.

I’ve worked hard over seasons and seen nothing measurable resulting from it – all that testifies of my toil is the weariness enveloping me body and soul. This weariness has a cumulative effect as the more I work, the less it seems I have to show for it. For some reason, I keep trying because I believe that God’s Word is true. It just takes time for it to come into its season.

That doesn’t make the work any easier.

That doesn’t make me feel any more noticed.

What I have learned, and this is where the beauty of experience shines through, is that I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Someone is noticing my efforts. Some of those efforts are spot-on, and others are more self-centered. The times weariness overwhelms me is when my focus shifts to my shortcomings; I then easily forget that there’s Someone watching my efforts. During those times I am found taking extra time washing my nets, instead of casting my nets another time, for the disappointment becomes too heavy to bear.

Washing nets, focusing on myself and my disappointments, is easier to do than focusing on the hurting world around me. Those repeated disappointments, when I am not careful to focus on His goal and not my own, can make me feel rejected, unnoticed as it were. Dejected and exhausted, I find myself scrubbing and mending nets (licking my wounds) on the shore.

Until, that is, Jesus makes me aware fresh and new that He has noticed my empty boat. He has also noticed my efforts and He has gotten into my boat with me – and having Him with me changes everything.

“Now go out” is the call that comes to me in this new season of my life – and perhaps for you as well. It’s time to go out a little deeper; farther from the safety of shore where the only hope we have when storms arise is in Christ Himself.

When a fisherman spends more of his life on shore than in the water, his very value comes into question because fishermen are meant to fish. The kind of fish I’m after are out in the deep waters where waves and wind rise, but, I am born to fish (Matthew 4:19).

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The fish are not going to be found on the shore, they are there out deep in the water. There are some fish near the relative safety of shore, but the bigger schools of fish, the net-breaking, record-shattering ones are found where it’s deep.

Now go out.

 

 

Inconvenient Paths

Today’s entry is a forward of our monthly newsletter for Africa & Beyond. We have so much news to tell and so little time to tell it! I hope you enjoy. Please click the YouTube link below the entry for a short/not-so-short update on our news. Blessings, Lea

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Luke 1:78,79 TPT “The splendor light of heaven’s glorious sunrise is about to break upon us in holy visitation, all because the merciful heart of our God is so very tender. The word from heaven will come to us with dazzling light to shine upon those
who live in darkness, near death’s dark shadow. And he will illuminate the path that leads to the way of peace.”

Life is hard, but God’s heart for us is “very tender.” If we can have the faith to trust His tender heart for us, we can do anything He requires of us. Most of the time the directions He gives are things that will pull us away from what is comfortable or convenient. The amazing thing about God’s “inconvenient paths” is that they always lead us to peaceful destinations – even though our minds cannot grasp what He is doing in the moment.

Expansion

Mozambique, a land with a turbulent history that borders Malawi, is the newest country on our radar for church planting. Currently, we have a small group of believers who are waiting for temporary permission to meet while we wait for final permission to operate as a church which could take up to a year. While we wait, please keep our requests for temporary and final permission in your prayers. Once we have even temporary permission, we will be able to begin meeting.

Kinshasa, DRC is the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Currently, we have 3 churches in the eastern part of the DRC. Our sights have been set to plant a church in Kinshasa this year. This is particularly exciting for us as we have prayed to plant a church in Kinshasa for many years, we simply had no idea who was destined to lead a church so far away. Last year, our Senior Pastors Emmanuel and Jackie Nkunku in Bujumbura approached us saying they both felt led to return to Kinshasa, their home city, and plant a church. Until now, all of our churches have been planted in the Central/Eastern regions of the continent – it’s time to go west!

Growing Pains and Inconvenience

Obviously growing into new cities and nations is accompanied by some growing pains.  We have spent the past year praying and strategizing with our local leaders and close partners overseas on how to best to

not only get Pastors Emmanuel and Jackie from Bujumbura, Burundi to Kinshasa, DRC, but also to make sure the leadership in Bujumbura main church is secured. We were personally taken by surprise as we prayed through this issue when it became apparent to all who have helped guide us through this process that we were to be the ones to lead the main Bujumbura church. As you may/may not know, this church is the first church we planted in 1992; returning to pastor it was not something we had in mind. However, we are sure that this is the right thing to do – we are under a mandate from God to get to Burundi by June this year.

Logistically, the work here in Blantyre, Malawi where we have been since 2016, is doing amazingly well. God blessed us with a quality couple, Pastors Chimwemwe and Mary Chihana, who are not novices and are anointed to lead this local church. Our plans for Blantyre remain the same: construction of facilities as God brings the funds in as well as opening a school in 2019. Mary has been studying the Montessori program and will be the lead teacher, she takes her final exams this month and will graduate in July this year as a qualified teacher. This Sunday, April 15th, we will be laying hands on this precious couple and commissioning them into the ministry of pastoring this church.

The pastors planting in Kinshasa will be moving in/around September; with our arrival in the country in June, there will be time to transition between their and our leadership. What remains for all of this to take place is for all of the necessary parts to move in unison: 2 households are moving (ours and the current pastors in Burundi),  the Chihanas to pastor the church in Blantyre, and in Lilongwe, our main pastors, Wilson and Yamikani Mvinya, will become the national overseers for the nation of Malawi and Mozambique. The financial burden is great, but God’s provision is greater – what God orders, He pays for. Thank you for standing with us in faith for everything to come together in this amazing and sudden season of expansion and growth.

Truly, a little one is becoming 1,000,

Pastor Jamie, Lea and Andreya

 

A Welcome In My Heart

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I would like to be known as someone who has given others the benefit of the doubt; to be someone who gives others the grace that I so deeply crave. Instead of being someone who doubts that incredible things can be done, I hope to be a cheerleader for others whose dreams are as crazy as mine.

The world is full of stories of those who have risen from incredibly difficult circumstances and gone on to do great things. The world is also full of those who would diminish the out-of-the-box plans of dreamers. How many dreamers have had their aspirations snuffed out by what’s reasonable, what’s expected, and what’s deemed feasible by those around them?

Matthew 12:20 NLT“He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle…”

When our hopes lie in the approval of those around us, we are certainly setting ourselves up for disappointment. Much has been said and written about the negative impact that society’s expectations places on us; I cannot hope to add more to what’s already been said by those whose qualifications far exceed my own.

Despite my own limitations, I am sure of one thing: while I cannot control the opinions or reactions of others, I can control my own.

As parents, my husband and I have tried to instill in our children a faith to believe for the unbelievable. Over the years, we have read books like Heaven’s Heroes by David Shibley and some of the series of Christian Heroes Then and Now by Janet and Geoff Benge to open our children’s hearts to believe that if God used ordinary people in the past, He can use them in their lifetimes to do amazing things. We believe that there are enough “naysayers” in life; we want to be their cheerleaders.

This doesn’t mean that their, or our, lives have been a cakewalk. On the contrary, I have often felt like that weakest reed and flickering candle in the scripture from Matthew above. The amazing thing about God is that He is cheering for us to reach beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.

In 2001 my husband came home from a conference in the USA (I remained behind in Africa with our children) and boldly announced to me that God had spoken to his heart that we were to plant 1,000 churches. I’d like to say that I latched onto that word and fell into complete step with him in that declaration. I did know enough to say, “Well, if that’s what God said, then, I’m OK with that.” In saying so, there was no enthusiasm to be found in my voice or demeanor. Instead, my mind was swimming with questions:

We only have one church we have planted, how can we plant 999 more?

Where will the money come from?

Where will the leaders come from?

And so on.

I found myself in the category of those naysayers not with open disagreement, but in thinking “How can we possibly?” when God clearly wanted me to remember that He makes the impossible possible.

Things went from bad to worse before we saw our next church planted. We were unable to plant a new church in the city we had set our sights on and left dejected. Two churches seemed impossible, let alone 1,000 – and it indeed was impossible. Until my eyes were opened in the next city we moved to where our church was approved in a matter of weeks and we quickly found ourselves surrounded by a new congregation.

Could it be that God had plans for us?

One day during family devotions, as we read from Heaven’s Heroes I listened as my husband read of David Livingstone’s trek across Africa. He faced lions, death, lack, and naysayers but he persisted because he saw something no one else did: God never fails and he was sure that God would not send him on a fruitless mission.

Hebrews 11:13 NLT “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it from a distance and welcomed it.”

My heart had closed itself to hope, and as long as my hope was lost, there was no room for faith in my heart to receive it. The vision needed a welcome in my heart and this only came when I closed down my own doubt and decided it would be better to receive the promise in faith – even if that meant I were to die before its fulfillment.

We are still 900+ churches away from 1,000 naturally speaking, but my heart has already welcomed each of them. How it will get done is the adventure I’m waiting to live. As we work and wait, we keep climbing, keep reaching, and keep opening our hearts in welcome for the vision.

In 2020 we hope to reach for those 1,000 churches and climb an impossible mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It is 19,300+ feet high and as I look at my own inability physically and financially to even think of it, I see the climb for 1,000 speaks to me more than anyone else. I’m welcoming the vision and will climb for it, 1,000 here we come!

Isaiah 60:22 NLT “The smallest family will become a thousand people, and the tiniest group will become a mighty nation. At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.”