Posted in Courage, Destiny, Faithfulness, God's call, Missions

Bullseye

I’ve been spending the past few weeks revising our book, “No Retreat-No Regrets.” It was first published in 2010, but the original publisher went out of business a few years ago. So, knowing that the book needed revising anyway, I have set myself to cleaning up the manuscript and adding a bit more information. The book is our attempt to walk with you through the years of our service here in Africa. It’s quite an emotional journey remembering these times; some of them were easier than others but none of them would have been possible without God’s grace.

A thread I see that has, at least by me, been unintentionally woven through the book is the value of consistency, or faithfulness. In the glorious moments of setting out into a new venture, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. For us overseas missionaries that hype often comes when we make the choice to enter the field and first get on the field. It’s a trying time in and of itself to get here so upon arrival we are expecting things to flow to a certain extent, to be a bit easier than the process was to get to our destination. Truth be told, things only get increasingly challenging the more we step into the destiny God has for us.

This doesn’t mean we never have great times, no, not at all! It just means we face uphill battles to get the work done. I imagine this happens for many reasons: a battle wages for the souls of men and women, anyone willing to sow their own lives for the sake of others automatically has a “bullseye” painted on his/her back. Another reason would be for God to get the glory for anything that gets done, as it would be easy to sit back and get a bit proud when the work begins to grow.

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Growing any work, at home or abroad, requires one and the same thing: consistency/faithfulness.

Psalm 37:3 NASB “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”

The word “cultivate” speaks of a time-consuming process. Crops are not planted and harvested in a day – they take seasons. Some crops can be harvested in a few months and others after a few years. The process takes time, time to tend the field, clear it of weeds and stones, fertilize the ground, and finally plant the seed. In time, the right time, the plants begin to grow – but it’s not harvest time yet.

Cultivation takes time, ask any farmer!

How many times have I missed out on what God was doing because I uprooted my crops before their time because of impatience or boredom? If I am honest with myself, it’s been quite a few! Thankfully, God isn’t limited by my failures and uses them to point me in His direction. I’m now learning to be mindful, concentrate, and cultivate faithfulness in what He has sent me to do – there will come a day when the harvest will have to be brought in and I want to be here to see it.

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Our book will be out on KDP (Amazon) soon, I’ll be sure to put a link here in the blog. Until then, I’m typing, backspacing, deleting, and retyping.

Posted in Courage, Cross, Endurance, Faith, Perspective, Regret, Resurrection

Unlikely Candidates

When I held my firstborn for the first time, I was overwhelmed. I was afraid to lift him for fear of doing something wrong but after the nurse deposited him in my room she was gone and he began to cry. What else to do? I lifted him into my arms and began to learn how to comfort a crying baby, it had to be done.

Things changed quickly that day; before having children I really didn’t know what it meant to take charge and do what was needed at any given moment. When diapers needed changing, baths needed taking, and crying needed soothing, I was there and did what I had to do. In the years that followed I had 3 more children and each time the ability to do what had to be done was there. It didn’t matter how messy or how late I had to stay up, I just did it because it had to be done.

All these years later as my youngest is now 11 and has outgrown many of those younger-years issues, I am still amazed at what I was able to do, for in reality I am far from brave or strong.

I wonder about Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus. He was a family man, a father of 2 young sons (Mark 15:21) on a journey but was caught in the middle of the mess in Jerusalem at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Luke 23:26 NASB “When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.”

Under the circumstances, Simon did what he had to do. I imagine in retrospect, when he learned of the resurrection of Jesus, his feelings of being chosen to carry the cross were much different than they were when he had the cross placed on him in the first place. Like many of us when we face the unexpected, he may have thought it unfair that he had to bear the burden, he was only on a trip, this wasn’t part of the plan!

Relationships, jobs, volunteering, ministry, and just about everything we do in life will be full of unexpected, unfair, and seemingly impossible complications that will arise and need tending to. Many times, at this juncture, unlike Simon of Cyrene who had no choice but to take the cross as he was forced to, we choose to back away from the challenge because it wasn’t part of the original plan. How much have we deprived ourselves from? Could it be possible that we were chosen in that difficult situation to carry something for Jesus?

After Jesus was crucified, His body needed to be buried. I doubt anyone made plans for it as his 12 disciples abandoned Him. There remained a task that needed to be done and the most unlikely of candidates chose to muster his courage: Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible says in John 19:38, 39 that he was a disciple “in secret” for fear of the Jews. We always equate secrecy with weakness. This apparently wasn’t so in this Joseph’s case for at the moment when someone was needed, he did what had to be done.

Imagine if Jesus’ body hadn’t been buried in a tomb. In that time when someone was crucified in this situation, unless there was someone willing to bury the body, the dead were thrown onto garbage heaps outside the city where wild animals swiftly disposed of them. If this would have happened to Jesus, there would’ve been no empty tomb to testify of His resurrection, but Joseph of Arimathea did what needed to be done and in the scripture this “secret disciple” is called “righteous.”

Luke 28:50,51 NASB “…Joseph of Arimathea…a good and righteous man…who was waiting for the Kingdom of God.”

I wonder if the key to gathering the courage to do what we need to do at any given moment is found in the character of Joseph: being someone who is waiting for the Kingdom of God. I imagine Joseph followed the ministry of Christ and being a learned man knew the Scripture. As his heart was right in waiting for the Kingdom, he understood to some degree that Jesus was special and part of the plan of the Kingdom he was anxiously waiting for.

Whatever you’re facing today, you can do it, you have the strength in you to get the job done as you focus on God and putting His Kingdom first. You may not understand what is happening but God is with you to complete the task. At the end of the day you’ll be able to look back without regret knowing you did what you had to do. You carried the cross.

1 Samuel 10:7b NLT “…do what must be done, for God is with you.”

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.

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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.

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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

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“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 Change, Church planting, Courage, Endurance, Faith, Holy Spirit, Missions, Patience, Perspective, Serving, Unexplained, Unknown

So It Is

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There are so many lessons to learn when a big change takes place in life. Most of the time I can, with relative accuracy, predict what the 2 main lessons in such a change will be (since I’ve gone through this multiple times): faith and patience. Faith to trust God when the next step is ambiguous at best and patience to walk down a path that might make me take more time than I had hoped to reach my destination.

I mistakenly thought I would bounce back from a move like this one we have just taken (from Malawi to Burundi) quickly; perhaps I was a bit presumptuous in thinking so. It was easy for me to think, “I’ve seen it all.” when really I haven’t touched the tip of the iceberg in life experience. Yes, I’ve worked overseas since 1987, yes I have moved multiple times across countries and continents, and yes of course I have experienced quite a bit – but I’ve not experienced enough to say I know it all.

The past weeks have reminded me that not all changes we make in life are equal. There are many factors that can figure into our reactions during changes in our lives, I won’t even try to list them there are so many, it can be mind-boggling as we try to make adjustments along the way. Thankfully, there is one constant truth that I cling to every time we have had to make changes (big or small) and that is God, my Father, loves me and always does what’s best for me. If I can manage to keep that truth in focus, everything else eventually falls into place.

It seems, as I look back on the past few months, that God is always teaching me the same lesson in a different way: trust Him and His process. If I resist the process long enough, God will simply bring me around again to another set of circumstances to teach me the same lesson again. Better to learn it the first time!

I used to be under the impression that our lives are meant to be lived for God so we can do something for Him; kind of a merit-based faith! Don’t mistake me here, I believe we give all we have back to God: our time, energy, talents, and possessions. However, we don’t give it all to get His approval or His blessings, Jesus already did the work for us so we don’t have to strive any longer. We have been given God’s approval in Him – we are blessed! Anything I might do in my lifetime for God is simply an expression of love that I have for Him and that lets me off the hook of seeking after merit!

Since God is after the best for me, not what He can get from me as I have thought in times past, it would seem the best course of action would be to trust His processes over my own. Those processes don’t make sense to my mind most of the time, but my heart somehow understands what God’s Spirit is leading me to do.

John 3:8 NIV “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

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Living this way, by the Spirit, can be quite intimidating in the sense that most of the time those around us are likely to misunderstand what we are doing. In fact, it might even seem a bit “flighty” to those around us. It might appear to those observing us that we don’t know which direction we are taking, and in this life of the Spirit so it is. We don’t really know where we are going. All we know for certain is that God is good and He takes us to the places where we need to go in order for Him to work in us and through us. This life is a big puzzle that God majestically puts together from start to finish – we just don’t know where those pieces fit much of the time until we look back and can say, “Now I see.” 

We’re after a goal that only God knows how we can attain, so as He leads may we follow – even to the consternation of those around us. So it is, we often won’t be understood or embraced, but if we dare to let God’s Spirit blow through us, nothing can hold us back from seeing the pieces fall into place.

 

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

The Hashtag

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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):

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#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 Change, Courage, Destiny, Faith, Finishing, God's call, The Call of God

Making the Mile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Change, Choices, Church planting, Control, Courage, Excuses, Faith, God's Voice, Goodbye, Journey, Kingdom, Missions, Obedience

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?

 

 

Posted in Change, Church planting, Courage, Destiny, Dreams, Endurance, Faith, Harvest, Inconvenience, Missions, Vision

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.