Posted in Choices, Love, Misfit, Missionary, Rejection, Serving

The Chips Will Fall

It’s hard to live out our convictions in an increasingly hostile world – and I’m not only talking about the hostility we see on the news or internet. In our personal, day-to-day lives it’s not uncommon to come face-to-face with intense rejection any time we choose to go against the grain of what is “the norm.” In this atmosphere, it’s difficult to know what “the norm” is at any given point in time; it feels as if we are walking on eggshells trying to keep everyone happy. The problem resulting from working as hard as we do not to rock the boat is the incessant gnawing in our souls of not living authentically before the world (see 1 John 2:10).

I’ve written about this subject many times approaching it from many different angles and why the tempation to please people holds us as it does instead of living truthfully, continues to evade me. One simply has to experience the pain of rejection once to learn the lesson: living for the approval of others will ultimately drain us of our of joy and energy. However, instead of learning this lesson, we work harder to fit in, to make sure everyone knows we are just like them – and this further complicates extricating ourselves from the complicated world of peer pressure.

When I was a teenager, I thought peer pressure was something that would fade away as an adult – was I wrong! Peer pressure (I know that’s the old fashioned term) grows from a trickling stream in our childhood into a raging river in adulthood. Unfortunately for many, fearing rejection prevent us from daring to live out loud. The importance of living authentically is often put off until later in life when one finally tires of the unreliable opinions of their peers.

The pressures of living authentically differ radically from living to please others. When I chose to live truthfully before the world, it did (and does) create waves. It has taken time for me to allow the “chips to fall” where they may – but the truth of the matter is that I am not living to make anyone besides God happy. I’m not even living to please myself because like my peers, my emotions and opinions are unreliable and can change from one moment to the next. The only unchanging opinion belongs to God; He is consistent, reliable, loving, patient, kind, and always has my best interests at heart and this puts Him in a category all by Himself.

I will face pressure no matter which way I choose, but I’d rather live in the Truth I’ve found than in the shadows of fearing rejection.

As a misfit, see my entry Musings of a Misfit Missionary for a bit of background, I understand the pain of being misunderstood and rejected. I’ve been told that I’m selfish, short-sighted, irresponsible, and “the worst parent” in the world (the full account of “the worst parent” comment is told in our book, No Retreat – No Regrets which will be re-released this year). It’s very hard to face those kinds of words without giving in to the opinions of those hurling them at me, but I’m thankful to have had the overwhelming grace to stay the course and continue living the truth of what God has called me to be: a misfit missionary.

Living truthfully doesn’t give me license to live ugly and confrontational towards those who don’t understand. On the contrary, it gives me license to love more, give more, and serve more. It may be that living the truth in love might give those who don’t understand a greater understanding of the love of a Father Whose interests for them far outweigh the opinions and ultimate rejection of their peers.

Imagine this: there’s Someone Who really cares, really wants the best for you, and died for you to make it happen. That’s the kind of person Whose opinion has won me over.

Jeremiah 31:3 NASB I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

Posted in Choices, Harvest, Healing, Love, Uncategorized

The Dance

Worship
No on knows what’s behind these lifted hands.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post; we’ve been in the middle of a move and if you’ve ever moved you know what I’m talking about. Thankfully, the house we moved to is a short distance from where we were, making the actual transporting of our things a bit easier. I still need to hang curtains for the few curtains I had are too short to fit the windows – I’m wondering how long I can bear leaving my few bedsheets on the windows.

I’m forever explaining myself away.

Why I’ve not posted a blog.

Why my husband and I choose to keep pursuing overseas missions.

Why, why, why do I feel indebted to explain everything away to everyone?

Romans 13:8 NASB “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

Inside I feel, as I suppose many of us do, the need to be understood and accepted. I easily concur with the above verse from Romans; the only debt I have to others is to love them. However, I want others to love and accept me and my natural tendency is to explain things away to gain approval.

What a waste of energy because the opinions people have of us can change as swiftly as the direction of the wind.

In our church here in Bujumbura, we have a lovely lady named Mama Christine Makamba who is one of our cell leaders. To get by, she farms; she works hard and shares her harvest with poorer single mothers who attend her home cell group. When they arrive at her home for meeting, she has a meal prepared for them and spends time listening to them, praying for their needs, and trying to help them find a way to feed their young children.

This past Sunday, as usual, Mama Makamba and I chatted about her group, about certain ones we want to help, and as she talked I marveled at her smile. Her joy is almost tangible when talking about her ladies and the change in the lives of her members. Her frustration also rises to the surface when she feels she’s not breaking through and making a difference.

What most people don’t know about Mama Makamba is that she is 67 years old (she won’t mind me saying so), has had 10 children and was a pastor’s wife in one of our churches. Her husband died about 10 years ago from complications of a stroke he had a few years prior. Two of her 10 children were poisoned and died and she has had to face the harsh realities of life as a widow in Africa. I can’t imagine what she has had to endure.

And yet, she has the strength to smile and the strength to love. She believes in paying that debt of love.

On Sunday, Mama Makamba is the only older person in our worship team. Everyone else is much younger but they all sing with her without regard to her age, and I think this is because she loves them all and it shows. She leads them in joy and love – and when she dances something moves in the heavenlies.

No one, besides God, knows the price she has had to pay, the price any of us have paid to get to where we are and there’s no explaining away the work of God in each of us because His grace meets us all where we need to be met. No one else, besides ourselves, can “get” what He has done in and for us and that gives us reason for joy.

I’ve decided, instead of explaining, to follow Mama Makamba’s example and dance – God knows why I’m dancing and He is the best Partner.

Zephaniah 3:17 NKJ “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

 

 

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Destiny, Dreams, God's call, Missions, Obedience, The Call of God

No Fine Print

The notion of living and working overseas can be thrilling – and it is thrilling. There’s nothing like living in a foreign land and seeing God start something from nothing. I’ve seen churches planted, leaders trained, schools established, children fed, many miracles too numerous to recount, and as the years have gone by, I’ve watched my own family grow and change.

When I first stepped off the plane in 1987, I imagined my life would turn out one way: that we would see miracles and our work would take off like the Space Shuttle from Cape Canaveral. While dreaming for an amazing takeoff was what we had hoped for, it wasn’t what we experienced.

No one told me that it would take years to learn languages and culture.

No one told me that it would take years to see 14 churches planted.

No one told me that this call would require me to surrender everything I had.

Little of what I experienced was part of the actual plan I had formulated in my head.

blueprint-964629_1920

It seems that this life that we have chosen, that many have chosen before us, never comes with any “fine print” to read. There is no full disclosure, no rigid job description, nor is there any guarantee of what this world would consider to be success. The only promise we have is that God will be with us.

I’ve been reading of the exodus of Israel from Egypt the past few days during my morning devotions and I’ve noticed there’s a common thread woven among those who accept “God assignments.” Moses was originally sent on a mission to deliver God’s people from Egypt, his original assignment was to deliver God’s people from Pharoah’s rule (Acts 7:35). There was nothing in the fine print of the original call that said he would, subsequent to delivering God’s people, have to not only lead them beyond the exodus but into a relationship with God as He gave instructions for the tabernacle and all associated sacrifices and procedures. Moses simply began with what he knew and then the doors of God’s will kept opening before him – and he walked through them one by one.

While he was far from perfect, the one thing that qualified Moses is the same thing that qualifies anyone who dares to say “yes” when God calls: fierce obedience. This kind of obedience moved Moses to leaving life as he knew it behind and into a walk of the unknown. He saw God work miracles, part waters, and speak with Him face-to-face as a friend (Exodus 33:11). He also experienced many trials: leading an unruly people, separation from his wife and children, jealousy, strife, and even attempted takeovers. The only expectation Moses had from God was that God’s presence accompany them – he knew that if God was with him and the people, they would make it to whatever destination God had in mind.

Exodus 33:14,15 NKJV My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. Then he said to Him, ‘If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.'”

All of us long to see the extreme blessings we read about or hear of, we want to see the dead raised and miraculous provision, but dare we live in the way required to see the seas part? Are we really that radical?

Posted in Beginnings, Choices, Christmas, Destiny, Joy, Missionary, Missions

A Little Fixer Upper

I do miss driving around and looking at Christmas light displays this time of year. There used to be a big tree in the area I lived in (Lantana, Florida) sponsored by The National Enquirer that drew many to our community each year to enjoy. I was in 7th grade the last time I saw the tree on display; unfortunately, there’s not been a tree on display there for many years since the property sold. Some of my favorite middle school memories come from the time when going home after school, I’d stop and walk through the property (no entry fees in those days) and because it was still daylight when I went, it would often be deserted and I got to enjoy the tree and all the accompanying decorations without interruption. Of course the lights were only visible when visiting at nighttime but my then 12-year-old-self figured it was better to be alone and take my time looking at the displays rather than fight crowds of people and fail to get close enough to see anything.

Fast forward a bunch of years and I still miss seeing the lights. We have a little fake tree here in Bujumbura that we were able to purchase at a local store. It may be a bit along the lines of a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree but after we put our few decorations on the tree and hung the single strand of lights that we had, it looked pretty. We moved about 6 months ago from Malawi to Burundi and due to the move, most replaceable items were left behind. What’s funny about replaceable items is that while they are replaceable, it will take time to replace them! I figure some years will pass by before my little tree’s bare spots are filled with decorations. At the same time, the beauty of my simple tree doesn’t get past me: it’s all we need.

In reality, no one needs a Christmas tree, decorations, lights, presents, and eggnog. In fact, we would do well to scale down on our “need” for these things and remember why the 25th of December is even highlighted on the calendar: to celebrate the beginning of a shift in history, the birth of Christ. History shifted for me personally when the Christmas story became my story –and my life changed.

I often wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t made the choices I had made over the years. First, to follow Jesus and then quite a few years later I met and married my husband and together we chose Africa. We chose to raise our family here, we have chosen to continue living here, and we have chosen over and over again to move and work for the mission to reach people everywhere with that same message that their histories, too, can be changed.

I suppose had I chosen differently I might have had a more physically comfortable life. Money, or more correctly the lack thereof, possibly wouldn’t have been such a point of stress. Maybe I would have had my family all around me and seen my grandchildren grow, or maybe I wouldn’t as kids have a way of growing up and moving on in their time. It would’ve been easier to get shoes, clothes, groceries, schooling for my children, and have more reliable electricity and water. I would probably have had a dishwasher (for those who know me, you can hear me moaning when dishwashers are mentioned) and maybe I would even have had an electric garage door opener.

Instead I find myself starting over again here in Burundi where we moved and planted our first church many years ago. We’ve been away from this country for 18 years; when we flew into the airport last May the years we spent here all came flooding back into my thoughts. My heart was filled with thanksgiving – we have another opportunity to see God come through for us again here in the nation where we first began planting churches. Almost simultaneously as I felt the joy of returning, I felt the burden of the need. You see, there’s a lot of work for us to do and little money and man/woman power to do it, and sometimes I feel like my poor little Christmas tree that is in need of more decorations.

tree

While the tree may look like a “fixer upper,” there is more to it if you look at it closely. My tree speaks of hope when you see it for there are pictures of our youngest daughter in a few of the decorations. These speak of the future as she growing up and coming into her destiny. There are also memories of past joys as some of the ornaments on the tree that come from Zambia where we planted a church 17 years ago. The emptiness of my little tree also speaks hope to me for if the tree were full, maybe its representation to me would be a bit less meaningful this year. The bare spaces sit there waiting to be filled with memories of what God will do in days to come.

If I had chosen differently, my tree would have been so very different. Yes, it probably wouldn’t be so needy but neither would it be as beautiful, its branches decorated with future hope and past victories. It would have had better lights, trendier ornaments, and more presents underneath, but I wouldn’t have seen what I have seen and lived as I have lived and that would have been a loss for me.

While there is a bit life behind me, there is still work to do, there are still places to see, churches to plant, and adventures left to live. Whatever it takes from me, wherever it takes me, and whoever it takes me to, I choose again to let my history change as He holds my days in His hands.

Merry Christmas everyone, wherever you are!

Luke 2:8-10 MEV “And in the same area there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And then an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very afraid. But the angel said to them, ‘Listen! Do not fear. For I bring you good news of great joy, which will be to all people.’”

 

Posted in Choices, Missions, New Year, Thankful, Thanksgiving

Of Power Cuts and Enchiladas

The power is off again.

Does this surprise me? Of course not!

But I can hope for power, can’t I?

I’ve endured, since 1987, many weeks and months of electrical blackouts. Living in Africa it’s part of the deal; there will be many opportunities for us to go without power. Some years ago our family lived 3 months straight without electricity, I call this period of time in my life a “bad hair quarter.”

bird-1153208_1920

I complained quite a bit in those days until one day while wrapping up things after a Sunday morning service I commented to someone in the congregation that the power had been off for some weeks. Their reply to my insensitive remark was, “Oh, we never have power at home.”

newest-combined-map
The darker sections of the map designate areas with less power. Click here for more information.

A large part of the world’s population, about 1 billion, does not have access to electricity. I’m sure I’m not smart enough to grasp the reason why so many go without power; I simply have learned to be thankful for the power that I’m blessed to have, even when it goes off periodically.

I know Thanksgiving has passed, but I keep thinking of how shallow I allow my thinking to become from time to time in light of the suffering of those who have less than I do. On Thanksgiving day, our power was cut (I’m so thankful for my gas stove). We had invited our Burundian friends over to celebrate with us and took time to explain to them what the day was all about: giving thanks for all of our blessings together with family and friends. Family from the States called and it was one of the best Thanksgivings we’ve had overseas.

**On a side note to make this story interesting, we couldn’t find a turkey so we opted to make enchiladas instead. No, nothing was store bought, nothing came in a package – it all came from raw ingredients. That’s the whole enchilada (pun intended)!**

The power stayed off for nearly 5 days after Thanksgiving. Due to the fact that we don’t have a backup generator or solar system to help us during power cuts, we lost everything we had in the refrigerator and freezer; an expensive cut for sure. When power was restored, I gave thanks for having a clean refrigerator and freezer.

Knowing full well that the power might cut again quickly after being restored, I decided not to be in a hurry to restock the kitchen. Then last night about 10:00 pm, the power went off yet again. We do have a small battery backup that lasts some hours but the fans turned off around 4:00 this morning. Temperatures began to rise and sweat ran down my temples; my first thought was how glad I was to have waited to get groceries.

Even as I write this post, I’m using my battery power hoping that somehow this power outage won’t be as long as the last!

Checking my attitude at the door, I gave thanks for the running water (which is also known to be cut from time to time) and a roof that doesn’t leak. We’re at the onset of the rainy season and life could be a whole lot more miserable if I didn’t have a roof for shelter.

My husband is a preacher and he’s never afraid to address tough issues. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “No matter how bad you have it, there’s always someone who is worse off than you are.” It’s so true; the things we complain over rarely (if ever) are worthy of the energy we put into them by complaining.

I pray this coming year to have my eyes open to not only the blessings that I have but also to really see those who go without – and to do, give, and make whatever difference I can.

It may be little, it may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s my offering.

Still, a little power couldn’t hurt…

 

 

Posted in Choices, Control, Courage, Faith, Finishing, Ministry, Missionary, Missions, Sacrifice, Sorrow, The Call of God, Vision

The Giving Up

Psalm 45:10 LB“I advise you…not to fret about your parents in your homeland far away.”

Living far from my homeland, where my children, grandchildren, and extended family live, has been a walk of faith. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I had what it takes to carry this kind of load, the “not to fret” kind of load.

I’ve been told when talking of living overseas all these years, “Oh, you’re used to it.” Indeed, I am used to this way of living on many levels. I can speak several foreign languages, live without A/C or power, shop for groceries like a pro in the markets, and even drive in foreign nations (it’s wise to take an antacid before trying to drive here).

However, I digress, there’s something that one never “gets used to” and that is the giving up to go. The giving up has less to do with giving up things and more to do with giving up being with loved ones. Each time I say goodbye I wonder how long it will be until the next hello. Will we meet again on earth or in heaven? Will my grandchildren know me? Will I matter to them?

In fact, with the passage of time, I have come to find that the giving up becomes increasingly poingnant as time goes by because the longer I live, the more I’ve missed in the lives of those I left behind.

My mother passed away when I was in Malawi in 2008. I had been speaking with her on the phone throughout her final illness and she kept saying, “I’ll get through this.” Sadly, she didn’t get through it here; instead she got through to her heavenly home. I remember flying home for her memorial service, having to surrender what I missed of her later years to my Heavenly Father. That lesson of losing a loved one while far away on a mission is not taught in any curriculum anywhere. There’s no homework, course study, or internship that could have possibly walked me through that time, it was all part of the giving up to go – the offering that is made not of money or possessions but of sacrifice.

Last year when we had our most recent trip to the USA, we spent time with our son and his family who had just had their second child, a beautiful girl (their first is an amazing boy). The few days we had together were a highlight – I now understand what all the hype is about concerning grandchildren. The day we were to leave, I felt a wave of emotion of the kind I’ve never experienced before when I held those two precious little ones before climbing into the car. There was no way to hold back the flood of tears that spilled over onto my cheeks. I imagine no one knew what to do with me as I’m not usually given to tears. Yet, there I stood, much to my chagrin, crying ugly tears as I gave up to go.

The morning we left, my thirdborn son, together with my daughter and son-in-law who are now here serving with us, was helping us put the final touches on our packing. He’s a man in his own right, but as I looked at him past his beard and 6-foot stature, I saw the face of a little boy mischeviously peeking around the corner of the living room to watch Jurassic Park when we had told him he was too small to watch such a scary movie. I cried again leaving him behind that morning, alone but not alone.

Some hours later, we stepped onto our return flight to Africa. There was a strange heaviness in my steps that hadn’t been there before; the ugly tears were still flowing as we waited for the plane to take off. In years past, as a young missionary, I had my children with me and the excitement of the mission overtook any overwhelming sadness. We were headed for adventure! Now, having lived a little while and having felt the painful lessons of loss, my sacrifice became increasingly real. The question that arose in my mind in tandem with the hum of the jet engines almost taunted me, “Is He worth giving all of them up to go?”

I found myself stepping off a plane onto the tarmac at the airport here in Bujumbura a few months ago; the mountains vaguely visible through the haze of the dry season. The warm breeze blew past my face and the tears, still flowing, fell to the ground. This land where we started our work planting churches had called us back and there I was, standing in the heat holding my youngest daughter’s hand tightly. Memories of years past played in my mind of the victories and defeats we had faced all for a dream to see a church planted when everyone else thought it impossible.

I wonder how many have had the chance to offer a sacrifice and how many have held on instead of letting go? How many people are waiting around the world for those among us to give up so they, too, can go with us to our Heavenly home when He calls? Perhaps I’ve not given the best offering or had talent to woo the thousands, but I’ve given what I have had to give and will keep giving even when it feels there’s nothing left so others might also go.

And those tears? He has counted each one and bottled them, waiting for the Day when all tears will be wiped away and sorrow will be gone. Until then, He is welcome to have all my tears, my offerings, my sacrifices – as unfit as they are for Him – because He gave His all for me so all of me has become His.

Psalm 58:6 NKJ“You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?”

Posted in Choices, Courage, Destiny, Kingdom, Missions, Obedience, Rescue

It Was Good

When we landed in Africa back in 1987, the wonder of our surroundings took our breath away. The setting was picturesque: where we were to live was set on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika with the mountains of Tanzania on the other side of the lake seen as a dim outline on the horizon. The afternoon we arrived, full of jet lag, I was sure that since I was in Africa my morning coffee was going to be an amazing event since Africa is known for its coffee.

My hopes were dashed when in the kitchen later in the day, all the coffee that there was to be found on the shelf was a small tin of instant coffee. I was horrified but decided to give the questionable powder, made in neighboring Tanzania, a chance. As a first generation American of Finnish decent, the importance of coffee in our culture’s daily routine is impossible to deny – and the words  “instant coffee” aren’t words we Finns dare to utter, even in jest, when speaking of coffee.

Weeks turned into months and I was still bound to drinking the sullied concoction of coffee-flavored powder and hot water. What I had learned, out of necessity in a very short period of time, was how to make mayonnaise, bake bread, and cook a meal from almost nothing. What escaped me was real brewed coffee. As my borders expanded personally, I braved going to town and the market by myself and learned to speak the local language which helped in all of my bold exploits. Everything I learned wasn’t a result of my curiosity; it came purely out of necessity and the process of learning often left me in a puddle of tears – but I learned over and over that those hard processes were good for me.

Yet, in spite of all my learning, a good cup of coffee in the land of coffee seemed out of my reach. Until one day when I was walking in the market and saw a pile of strange pale colored beans on the ground (for all things in the market were lined up on the ground). I asked the lady selling the strange beans what they were and to my delight she said, “kahawa” (coffee). Without hesitation I scooped up two kilos (a bit over four pounds) and headed home with high hopes of fresh coffee in my mind.

raw-coffee-1780364_1920

I knew the coffee needed to be cleaned (obviously) and then roasted in our oven which was easy enough – but how was I to grind it? There was no store where I could buy a coffee grinder or anything like a coffee grinder; but I wasn’t ready to give up. I had seen the ladies in the villages grinding flour with large mortars and pestles, called a “kinu,” made of wood. Of course there were none that were ready-made to be found, I had to order one to be made. After what seemed to be months (which was really only a week or two) the elusive “kinu” was delivered to my doorstep.

It couldn’t be too hard to grind coffee, could it? Once I had my “kinu” I got to the serious business of grinding our coffee beans. The pounding was harder than I thought, it took a toll on my shoulders, but I eventually learned how to work with this contraption. The pestle (large stick that pounds into the mortar) was heavy and it worked best when allowed to fall through my hands and smash the beans. In time, I was able to grind a week’s worth of coffee in minutes without having sore shoulders afterwards.

leacook1987
I really have used a “kinu” many times and each cup of coffee made it worth the effort! PS – pls ignore the 80s hair and bad perm not to mention the SHOES!

2 Corinthians 1:8-10 LB “I think you ought to know dear brothers, about the hard time we went through…We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us…And He did help us and save us…”

It couldn’t be too hard, serving God, could it? Like grinding coffee, it seemed to me when I started out in my life of serving God that it would be simple enough to follow the Leader. Later on I came to understand that what appeared to be easy in the beginning turned out to be hard when the waves of opposition, misunderstanding, and lack met me, it seemed at every juncture. Those waves made it easy for me to want to quit.

Like you, I’ve wanted to quit on more than one occasion. Sometimes I’ve felt like quitting multiple times in a day and I imagine I’m not alone. But I’m still here, still moving forward, holding out hope against hope for a brighter tomorrow.  So what is it that keeps me going when giving up sorely tempts me to walk away? I can answer this question with a question: What is there to go back to? I’ve seen and experienced too much of God to give up on Him.

It is on the other side of my wanting to quit I find those miracles that I’ve prayed for, so the process of being in a place of wanting to quit but refusing to puts me in a place of Divine intervention, and that is an honor. God doesn’t have to step in and save me, He owes me nothing and I owe Him everything, but He always does what He does best: He comes to my rescue. This honor is offered to all but only few dare to walk far enough past the proverbial “line drawn in the sand” to receive it. So it was good when I found myself powerless to help because it placed me in a place of trusting God, hoping in and believing that His promises are true.

Psalm 16:6 ESV “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

Those lines we draw of wanting to quit bring us to what otherwise would have eluded us – a beautiful inheritance. In reality, the lines are pleasant lines if we can just see past what has gotten us there.

So it was good that I was doomed.

So it was good that I was helpless.

So it was good that I was powerless.

For the lines have now fallen for me in pleasant places.

 

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Comfort, Courage, Destiny, Familiarity, Family, Missions

Abnormally Normal

wintry-2068298_1920

“If you do not hope, you do not find out what is beyond your hopes.”                           Clement of Alexandria

I’ve hoped and dreamed and trusted for so many years for so many things – some have come to pass and some haven’t. Why have some come to pass and others haven’t? I don’t think I’m able to grasp the “why” of each circumstance, but I do know that I somehow still find in myself the grip of my going on with my dreaming, hoping, and trusting.

What if what I’ve dreamed of, hoped for, and trusted is on the way is just beyond this moment I’m in?

What is the alternative to dreaming, hoping and trusting?

I’ve heard it said that if you shoot for the moon, you might hit the stars. If you shoot for nothing, that is exactly what you will get. I think the chance of hitting a few stars is more appealing to me than achieving nothing at all!

As if our own internal struggles weren’t enough to tempt us to discouragement, there are those who have taken up the cause to help us “think things through logically.” Or to be “wise” in the way we approach things. Indeed, we are to live in wisdom, but not the wisdom that this world is accustomed to:

1 Corinthians 1:20,21, CEB “Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? In God’s wisdom, He determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching.”

Wisdom that comes from God will always run cross-grain to that what this world considers to be wise. Certainly my life doesn’t appear to have been lived wisely as far as this world’s wisdom is concerned. First of all, I didn’t get a degree that would promise me a lucrative career; imagine spending years studying Theology and Christian Social Ministry. It doesn’t bring in much money even though I earned my Master’s Degree – nevertheless I loved every bit of my studies. A part of me wishes I could go on further but time, location, and cost give me reason to pause!

Where I’m located (Burundi) also presents a problem as far as the wisdom of this world is concerned. I’m far from family, friends, and my home culture – I can’t tell you how painful it is to be far from our families but The Name is worth the living and giving of all of our lives (see Acts 5:41, that’s a blog for another day). To fit in, I’ve had to learn languages, cultural cues that make no sense to me, and face misunderstanding on every side. Why choose to be far away? Why choose such a road? How will you afford retirement (we have saved regularly but it’s far from what is projected that we would need later on in life, missions work is not lucrative)? How will you pay for all the things you say you’re going to do?

There are no easy answers to any of those questions as far as “normal” people are concerned and it’s painfully obvious that I’m not a normal person and I didn’t marry a normal person either. We are a terrific misfit couple and are comfortable in our “abnormal” normal (for us) life. This doesn’t mean we don’t struggle or feel anything, it simply means that the One Who pulls us to do what we do, hope for what we hope for, dream as we do, and trust when everything says “give up” is far more powerful than any opposition and hardship we face.

Who will step in and resuce me when things go upside down? Not anyone who has tried to convince me to do something more “reasonable” with my life – for they would find something unfortunate to say even if I lived “safely” according to what the world thinks is wise. The only One Who has the power to save, and has saved me each and every time I’ve needed it, stands by my side keeping watch over me and mine.

Psalm 11:1,4 LB “How dare you tell me, ‘Flee to the mountains for safety,’ when I am trusting in the Lord?…But the Lord is still in His holy temple; He still rules from heaven…”

He still rules and that is more than enough for me.

 

 

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Courage, Cross, God's call, Inadequacy, Kingdom, Leadership, Loss, Missions, Obedience, Popularity, Rejection, The Call of God

The Hashtag

hashtag-1120301_1920

In this new world of social media, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, Facebooking, Twittering, texting, and other forms virtual contact that I am surely not aware of, there has arisen an unlikely hero on our keyboards: the hashtag, aka #. I don’t even know how to punctuate that in a sentence!

On my keyboard, prior to its recent popularity, the hashtag sat mostly unused above the number 3. I would occasionally use it as a number sign but for the most part, I could’ve easily lived life without a hashtag. Until the advent of the #hashtag movement, this humble symbol went largely unnoticed.

I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind, what appeared to me at the time, the arbitrary use of the symbol until one day when I saw this posted beneath a meme (a picture or image with a piece of relevant text added to it):

thestruggleisreal

#thestruggleisreal

The meaning of the hashtag finally had dawned on the horizon of my understanding. The humble hashtag, when followed by a word or several words connected without spaces, is meant to connect people to the subject at hand and communicate a short truth such as #thestruggleisreal. I finally got it and I saw that hashtag (#thestruggleisreal) fall into place many times over the subsequent months and years.

The truth of the matter is that the struggle really is real, the hashtag has meaning. There are some things we’re going through that have no explanation, no easy way out, no shortcuts to their resolution. The only way to see them through is through the struggle, and that struggle is real. Bishop T.D. Jakes puts it so well in saying, “You have to pay full price.”

As a church planter I’ve experienced more than what I originally thought was my “fair share” of struggle. It seems as if every step forward is accompanied by troubles that go beyond the lines of my expertise. On a regular basis I find myself posing the same question, “Why the struggle?”

There’s a common thread weaving itself through the intertwined fingers of humanity; we’re all seeking an escape from the struggle. Try as we might, however, the struggle finds us and the fight goes on for as long as there are days we have left to live – neither is creation exempt from the struggle.

Romans 8:20-22 ESV “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

While in our day and age much is taught about the blessings of God (and rightfully so, we are blessed), little is said in comparison of the struggle we face in our futility. We struggle for the freedom we know is part of our Kingdom inheritance, we struggle in our journeying, we struggle for the answers to our prayers and come face-to-face with the reality of how real the struggle is.

Who knew?

On a warm afternoon in October 1991, I stepped off a plane with my young family and onto the tarmac at the airport in Bujumbura, Burundi. Heat rose from the runway in the distance and blurred the outlines of the trees and faraway mountains. My heart was full of hope for the future but the loneliness of our situation wasn’t lost on me. We’ve often joked about this in the past – but on the other side of our joking was the reality of our utter solitude as we began the work of planting our first church.

I can’t the number of times we’ve felt misunderstood by not only strangers but by those who are close to us. How can we go about explaining the fire in our hearts for Africa to others whose journeys are so very different from ours? What possesses us to choose this lifestyle, one so very foreign to our own? This is perhaps one of the most painful of the struggles we encounter (and we encounter it regularly). There is no logic to this call, what is worth this kind of sacrifice?

Over the years we’ve struggled with financial lack, insecurity in the countries we have lived in (not knowing from one day to the next what could happen), sickness, and leaving our children and grandchildren behind in the USA. As this cycle of struggle and loss repeats itself I find myself struggling less and looking forward more. I can’t move forward while at the same time looking back. Has my heart hardened? Am I now unaffected by the struggle? Not in the least. But I’ve learned that as real as the struggle is, the rewards of the struggle are much greater than any pain I’ll suffer in the here and now.

Philippians 3:8-10 ESV “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

I have little, in comparison to others, to offer God. While I’ve never gone to bed hungry or held any significant debt, my bank account alone gives testimony to my total reliance on God to meet my needs. I haven’t a great musical talent or prominent spiritual gift that can help propel me forward into the limelight. I don’t have the “pedigree” of coming from a family line of preachers. Neither do I possess any significant connection into the world of the rich and famous. What I do have to offer is this life God gave to me; He gave His all for me and I am now doing the same for Him.

And about that struggle, yes, #thestruggleisreal – but it’s only #temporary.

Posted in Bible reading, Choices, Church planting, Devotion, Goals, God's Word, Kingdom, Missions, Perspective, Serving, The Call of God

Hello

Screen Shot 2018-06-20 at 11.20.29 AM

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.”

________________________________________________