Posted in Despair, Dreams, God's call, Kingdom, Misfit, Missionary

A Foreigner

I’ve been a missionary practically all of my adult life. I came to the field when I was in my early 20s and have been here for 32 years. So, I think it would be safe to say that I’m in this thing for the long haul. When I think about what else I could be doing with my life, I’m stumped, for I don’t know where else I could possibly go or what else I could possibly do! Where else would I, the misfit, fit? What other niche could I hope to fill elsewhere?

By no means has life here been a cakewalk, we’ve had our challenges just like everyone else all over the world. What has helped me keep steady on this course is knowing that everyone all over the world faces their own unique set of challenges. There’s no escaping the ups and downs of life; running away when things get tough won’t ensure easier passage to the next stage. Running away might bring you from the frying pan into the fire.

What causes us to run? To give up? To look for greener pastures? Wasn’t what we’re struggling with today a dream we had once upon a time?

The children we hoped and prayed for fall off the rails.

The dream job no longer holds the promise we thought it had.

The brand-new house holds, instead of joyful moments, stress-filled evenings of budgeting, painstaking work, and brainstorming of ways to pay all of the bills.

Or, in our case, the mission you dreamed of puts you in intractable situations day in and day out – making you wonder how you will ever make a difference.

Disappointment, dejection, and misunderstanding can lay such heavy burdens on our shoulders that we ultimately decide to throw away the dream to escape the load. We didn’t get out of “it” what we put in, and that stings. No one notices, no one seems to care, so why should we?

Perhaps the mistake we’ve often made isn’t found in what we are doing, but in our motivations. If we work with the thought that we “deserve” to be treated in a certain way or “should” be recognized for all of our efforts, we are sure to be disappointed. In this world’s system, for example, it’s expected for one to be rewarded in the here and now. When someone retires from a long-term job, a pension is offered, parties are thrown, and there’s usually some kind of gift presented to the retiree.

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What happens, however, when that company holding their life insurance goes under or they lose other benefits? (I recently read an article about this happening in the news.) The disappointment that comes in a moment like that could be overwhelming – what about all the years of service, were they for nothing?

In God’s Kingdom, our mindset needs to change from that that we see in the world. People outside of the Kingdom work for the here and now, while we of the Kingdom work for what we will find waiting for us in eternity. Understanding why we work helps us keep a firm grip on our reality – that this world is not our home and the recognition for what we do won’t necessarily come in this life.

I’m a foreigner here in Burundi where I live and serve. I have loved this country for decades; there is an unexplainable draw that this land has on me. My “foreign-ness” is on open display daily; obviously, I wasn’t born in Burundi and it’s commonplace for me to be called, “Mnyamuhanga” (foreigner) many times during the day while I am out. While I don’t feel like a foreigner, I know that to the people who don’t know me – I am.

Mnyamuhanga, foreigner, this term is often used in a derogatory way that could, if I allowed it, discourage me. I certainly don’t get much emotional reinforcement in being a foreigner here, but I’m not in this country for emotional reinforcement. I’m here because of a calling that I can’t explain, because of a love that I can’t fathom, and because of a message that has changed me forever. My motivation for being here doesn’t have to do with how I feel, it has to do with eternity. I know Someone Who has changed me and Whose love for me supersedes everything else that matters in life. It’s now my turn to serve the world around me with that same unchanging love, even if to them I’m mnyamuhanga.

The emptiness we feel from day-to-day when we’re not recognized for what we do fades when we see Jesus represented in those around us. It’s for their joy that I work, for their joy that I serve, and when the time comes for this earthly to be changed into heavenly, I’ll have my reward.

2 Corinthians 1:24 NASB “…(we) are workers with you for your joy.”

Posted in Despair, Destiny, Endurance, Faith, Family, God's call, Missions, Perspective, Rewards, Sacrifice, Thanksgiving, The Call of God

Always

I’m happy.

The fact that I can say that despite all of things that need attention around me makes my head spin. I have so many frying pans in the fire that I’m running out of firewood! Spreading myself thin has taken on a new meaning in the past few years. By no means is this a complaint – I wouldn’t live a life other than the one I am now living – but if I’m not careful I can quickly slip into feeling overwhelmed, sad, and helpless wondering about what I left behind in the wake of answering the call that lies before me.

I tried a few times in my lifetime to fit into the normal mold of what a Christian mother/wife/leader (whatever I am) is supposed to look like. The popular Bible studies and books meant to “better” my life all lined my bookshelves; they didn’t just line my bookshelves, I read them all and I learned, oh did I learn, that I am an enigma among my peers. This has caused me great frustration over the years; I would find myself wondering (and sometimes still do find myself wondering) what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be just like everyone else and be satisfied with what normal people are satisfied with?

I’ve long dreamt of a home of our own to settle down in. My husband and I have tried a couple of times to “settle down” and do what we thought was expected/needed from us. I lived in a house in the USA for just over 2 years that I loved. I thought this was to be the place where my grandchildren would visit me and I would finally be able to “nest.” I kept it well; I loved it so – but the tug for what waited for me on the other side of the horizon called my name every morning and evening.  I planted a garden and a hedge and it was beautiful but there came a time when a choice had to be made and we drove away from that home for the last time. We once again said goodbye and boarded a plane, looking for the place that kept calling our names from the other side of the world.

I’ve dreamt of being a normal mother and grandmother. Well, I know I’d never be normal in the classic sense of the word, but I have dreamt of being accessible, nearby, to see my grown children have children and watch their families grow. I pictured myself wearing bright red lipstick, driving with my grandchildren to buy toys and ice cream and feeling their little arms around my neck and telling them how much I love them. Seeing them through Snapchat, Instagram, and Facetime does little to soothe the ache that fills my chest whenever their names are uttered. Then, they resume living and I hear our names called from far and I have to answer.

On a far less serious note, I’ve dreamt of having a dishwasher, a SUPERMARKET with lunch meat, hairspray, shampoo, soap, and Ziplock bags, and a nice salon where I can get my hair done – ice cream would be amazing too.

In the distance, however, a people calls our names and where they are, I can’t find any of these things but what I do find in doing God’s will brings me deep joy that I can’t explain.

I suppose today’s blog is my Thanksgiving blog and I have so much for which to be thankful – and at the same time I find myself wishing that the traditional Thanksgiving turkey would be on our table tomorrow. I wish for the day to be surrounded by all those who are far, to hear a loud football game playing on TV for my husband, to pray a Thanksgiving prayer and tell each one how much I love them.

But a traditional Thanksgiving is not in the cards for us this year. We don’t have a turkey, no stuffing, no eggnog, no gravy, and no football game (although I’m quite sure my youngest son will find a way to send his dad a link to view the game). What is in the cards for our Thanksgiving is a day with those who are here with us. We will have, of all things, homemade enchiladas with salad and a cake for dessert. With those family members and friends we have here we will give thanks, thanks for all we have and for the opportunity to answer the call. Yes, I thank God for the opportunity to say yes, to obey Him, to grow enough in courage and faith to answer when He called.

The call took away so much of what we would consider “dear:” family, friends, culture, language, finance, and more. Things that you don’t think you would miss like toothpaste and your preferred brands of shampoo suddenly become a big deal when every day you are reminded of all that you have left to answer Heaven’s charge.

While all of this could sound bleak to one who’s never answered their call, those of us who have heard our names calling us from lands afar, “count it all joy.” (James 1:2-4)

Psalm 119:2 LB “Happy are all who search for God and always do His will.”

 

 

Posted in Despair, Judgment, Kindness, Kingdom, Mercy, Missions

The Roosters

It was early, the sun had not yet risen but the roosters had already begun announcing the dawn’s arrival. The usual clanging of pots used for gathering water could be heard both far and near as the ladies of the village prepared themselves to collect water. On most days, everyone had to make multiple trips to the river to draw water, unless it rained in which case rain water was gathered in every available receptacle. On those days there was an almost audible collective sigh breathed as at least on that day their arms wouldn’t ache from having to draw and carry water home from the river several kilometers away.

The children woke slowly to the sound of their mother’s pots, husbands prepared themselves to work their fields of maize, squash, and other locally consumed vegetables. Everyone hoped this year’s rains would bring better times; the past years had brought sporadic rain. Sometimes the rains were too heavy, others too light. Either way, the community suffered through months of hunger. In decades past, the rains had been reliable and food plentiful, but that was no longer the case. The months of drought before harvest were now called the “season of hunger.” It seemed the hunger was lasting longer and longer every year.

Families began to move from the safety of the village to the larger cities in hope of finding work that would pay to purchase food to feed their families. The migration to urban areas did little to assuage hunger, rather, it heightened it as populations mushroomed and there wasn’t enough work in the city for all its new inhabitants. Mothers who hoped their children would go to school and do better found themselves with problems far different from what they had encountered in the villages. Their children began to wander the streets searching for food only to be pulled into prostitution or human trafficking.

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This scenario has repeated itself time and again in Africa; the problems of intese poverty and insecurity plaguing the most vulnerable: women, children, and the elderly. The answer to the question of solving the problems of intense poverty and suffering we face here in Africa and other parts of the developing world is too complicated for one simple blog to answer.

Those of us working in these situations feel the weight of the suffering of those living in these situations daily. Some resort to begging on the streets of the larger cities, others will steal, and yet others will resort to prostituting themselves just for a piece of bread to feed their children. For those of us living in a situation where our next meal is sure, it is easy to pass over them and say, “Get a job.”  What can they do in situations like these in the developing world where there really aren’t many jobs at all? Where can they go? What can they do?

Today as we woke to the crowing of the roosters and we made our way downtown, beggars lined the streets, a thief tried to open our car door, and little children who ought to be in school stood by their mothers as they tried to earn a little money sweeping the streets. This is an everyday occurence here and it still moves me – to do more, try harder, and find help for the few that we can reach.

What difference does it make to help only a few instead of thousands? It makes a difference to them and those around them and perhaps among them will be found a leader who will in the future sometime be the catalyst for change. While the need swallows me daily, so does God’s grace. He gives strength when we have none and provision to touch those we can.

Posted in Contempt, Courage, Despair, Destiny, Dreams, Faithfulness, Forgiveness

From The Pit To The Palace

Apologies for the inactive link in the last post! The link is now working!

Today I’m connecting with our podcast, Africa & Beyond, so you can enjoy this amazing message that Jamie has been sharing with our church in Blantyre, Malawi.

It may seem life has settled into a pit or a prison – but be encouraged, there’s a palace in the future!

You can hear the message by clicking the link below.

https://leakpeters.podbean.com/e/from-the-pit-to-the-palace-1517497315/

Posted in Brokenness, Despair, Fasting, Grief, Poetry

The Keeper

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History was written on His face – not old – but ancient,

The lines told a tale older than time,

He was the Keeper.

 

Entering the room, lined with shelves that were stacked with volumes of books,

His calloused and beautiful hands gently caressed the bindings of those stories,

Eyes passing gently over each one, He knew them in detail.

He then stopped and I heard Him say, “Now, it’s time for you.”

Reaching a hand into a pocket on the front of His coat right next to His heart

He took out a book and in it

Was the story of me.

 

Pulling out a chair, He sat down

And rested this poorly written piece on a table and then opened to chapter one.

His attention was fixed on the pages as He started to turn

The book was worn and old, pages stained and sad.

“Who will read such a sad tale?” I called from the back of the room

“No one has wanted it, no one has cared.”

 

“I’m reading,” said the Keeper, “Come, let’s read together,

Take time to see what your book says.”

I sat with Him and we flipped through the pages one by one,

I felt ashamed He would read the words that were written there.

His tears began to flow freely and fell on the pages as we read –

But a smile crossed His face each time

My name was written there.

 

The print was faded, the letters had smeared

But He understood each word.

Lifting His head, His tears mingling with His smile,

The same beautiful hand that had touched

Those wonderfully written books on the shelf

Reached to wipe from my face

Tears from the hurts of lost time.

 

As the pages came to an end, there was no happy ending

No fairy tale magic or magic rescue,

There was only sadness and loss.

I dared to turn toward Him and asked,

“Why take all this time for me?

There’s no way to rewrite history!”

 

Eyes that read far deeper than times past

Reached into the darkness of my story and saw beyond my pain,

He drew me to His words as He spoke and said,

“But you are wrong dear one,” His voice as gentle as the morning sun,

“I am the Keeper and I’ve kept something for you.”

 

He then opened a drawer in his table and pulled from there

A new pen and inkwell –

And began again at chapter one.

On those pages of my book He wrote words fresh and new

The volume came to life on pages written in my heart.

 

Dipping His pen in red ink each time He wrote a phrase

The blood of the Keeper’s Son would never fade!

And as He wrote, He said “Without doubt,

I am the Author and I’m changing your story

I have a new plot in mind.

Won’t you stay here with Me a while?”

 

The stained pages blew away with one stroke of the pen

And when He was done I said,

“How wonderful! Will my story be together

With all those marvelous books on Your shelf?”

 

“No, My child,” said the Keeper, “This story is special – I will keep it with Me.”

And He returned the book to the front pocket in His coat

Close to His heart and said,

“Yours is My favorite to read,

Won’t you let it stay with Me?”

 

In the volumes of Your book, it is written of me.

 

Psalm 40:7,8

Hebrews 10:5-7

 

6 February 2013

 

 

 

 

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Courage, Despair, Why

The “Why”

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“Why?”

It’s the question of the ages that has gone largely unanswered: Why do bad things happen?

The past months, our world has been inundated with bad news; catastrophe after catastrophe, loss after loss, and without much explanation. We struggle to get behind the reasons for the trouble; if we could know “the why” perhaps, we reason, we could come to terms with the outcomes we are facing.

Working in Central Africa years ago in Burundi during the time of civil war, I had my first real wrangling with trying to answer that question. The violence, which began in the country’s interior, had caused a migration of thousands to the capital city, Bujumbura, where we were living and pastoring our first church. Within a few weeks of the escalation of fighting, makeshift displaced persons camps were set up in the city. Initially, those in the camps were the elderly, women, and children who had fled the violence. Of course, as the weeks and months went by, those having less than noble characters hid themselves among the innocent making their plight in the camps even worse.

Hunger gripped the city and those fleeing the violence felt it more than most. As it is with most of these types of situations, the NGOs and worldwide community took a long time to respond and it was up to the local community to react – and spring into action we did. The ladies of the church and I, there were only a few of us at the time, decided to pool our resources and cook whatever we could find for the children. At first, we thought our outreach would last only a few weeks as we hoped along with everyone else in the country that things would “cool off” and life would return to normal. Little did we know that this situation would rock on for years to come.

God blessed and we found ourselves suddenly feeding hundreds and thousands of hungry mouths. We worked to bring children’s church lessons to the children as well as finding ways to provide medical care when needed. It’s easy in these situations to get swallowed by the need and allow the pressures of the situation take a front and center position in life. After some time of being witness firsthand to the anguish felt by mothers who watched their children suffer the effects of the war, I found myself pulled into the whirlpool of “why?”

“Why, God, is this allowed to happen?” Became the mantra of my prayers, and it went largely unanswered for a long period of time.

The stress of having to find the answer to that question produced an anger in my heart that I couldn’t immediately shake. It pushed me at first to work harder, which caused me to nearly neglect my own family and health. I became exhausted and felt as if I was the “only one” who cared if the children lived or died. I went to meeting after meeting of NGOs, who by that time had tried to involve themselves in the relief effort going on in the country, and felt I was unheard by those who apparently “knew more” about the situation even though all they did was dictate how to work from their air-conditioned offices surrounded by private security. Meanwhile, the rest of us on the ground scrambled to bring what help we could to the children.

One morning, I went to the local market to purchase some food supplies and while there I saw, for the first time, stacks and stacks of food clearly marked “not for resale – for distribution only” for sale. Incensed, I reported it to the organizations responsible, but there was no change. Those items continued to be for sale in the market and no one took notice. I was disillusioned and disappointed by those saying they wanted to help but only seemed to profit from the pain of the people. It seemed no matter how hard I worked, it wasn’t enough to mean much, adding further complication to my “why?”

Once I grew tired of being angry, tired of asking why and not understanding, I surrendered to God and changed my question from “why?” to “how can I help without being swallowed?” For I came to the understanding that the answers to the “why’s” were so far-reaching that it went beyond my ability to explain:

Why do people hate one another to the point of killing those they hate and their children?

Why won’t more people help?

Why are the poor marginalized?

The answers to those questions lie within the hearts of those committing hate motivated atrocities; there’s no understanding that can be applied to hate. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and if we aren’t careful, we, too, can be “rightfully” infected with a hate for what we cannot understand and, in the end, does that make us any better than they are?

The only answer I have found for hate is love. Loving more, loving extravagantly, loving when it is easy, and when it is hard for love is an easy load to carry. Jesus never asked us to take up something we can’t bear, for He bore it all for us and what He calls us to carry is light in comparison to what this world would lay on our shoulders:

Matthew 11:29-30 NKJ “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

As time has gone on, I have learned to keep reaching out, keep caring, keep loving people even though I can’t understand the motivations behind their situations. I only carry in me a better way to live – through the love of God.

Galatians 5:6 NLT For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus…. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.”

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Posted in Brokenness, Change, Despair, Family, Ministry, Missions

Deeply Personal

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This past Saturday evening, as I entered our church tent for prayer there was a young girl, maybe 15 or 16 years old, sitting alone among the chairs. She sat alone quietly, head down trying to keep her eyes from connecting with anyone. As is the custom here in Malawi (and many parts of Africa), I walked around greeting those who were there with a handshake and smile saying, “Mwaswera bwanji?” (Translated “How are you this afternoon?”) This young girl barely had the courage to look at me as she extended her small hand to mine. I looked at her and realized she had severe burn scars across her face and was obviously developmentally disabled. Her clothes were old and unwashed but her eyes open and her smile, ever so slight, broke my heart into pieces. I watched her kneel and pray with all her heart and later, I watched her leave.

The next morning, when I arrived early to teach a class, she entered quietly, a bit late, as she’s not one of my students, but I didn’t say anything as she gingerly took the same seat she had at prayer the day before with her eyes downcast. Her clothes were the same ones she had worn on Saturday and her hands were wound tightly together. I struggled to pull my eyes away from her and teach the students in the class.

I saw her – I knew her story most likely went something like countless ones I had heard before. She had probably been burned in a senseless accident or as punishment or out of plain cruelty. She had such a look of shame in her eyes I knew that it was likely she was or was being abused in some way wherever she was living – but where could someone like her go? Before I knew it, she slipped away after service and I made a mental note to find out more about her so we could find a way to help her.

Later that morning, as service ended and I was saying goodbye to some ladies, I picked up a painfully small baby boy from his young mother’s arms. His smile was contagious and I cuddled him; he wasn’t at all put off by my obvious foreigner status, being “Muzungu” (a white person). Many children in the poorer areas, where many of our church members come from, aren’t accustomed to interacting with a “Muzungu” so when this baby smiled I had to cuddle him. I asked how old he was and was told he was 5 months old; holding him I knew he was underweight. He was too small, too hungry; we have to find a way to get some nourishment to help him.

I saw him and his mother (she’s only 16 years old); I already knew that the “husband” had disallowed his new wife to attend a weekend encounter retreat with us. He told her if she went to the retreat, he would leave her so she stayed home. I know the likely outcome, without an intervention by God, will be heartache when at some point in time he beats her and leaves her for another woman.

When we finally returned home after a long weekend and I had a moment, I stepped out for a prayer walk. The sun was bright and a cool breeze was blowing and I thought it was a perfect afternoon to walk and pray. My mind wasn’t far from the young girl and her baby and as I prayed, I came upon another young mother with a baby on her back. She was standing on a corner, looking as if she was getting off a bus that usually passes by there; she had a very large bundle of sugarcane that she was lifting to her head. She was trembling as she lifted the bundle and no one passing by helped her so I did my best to help steady her load and tie a blanket around her to secure the baby. Of course I couldn’t tie the blanket as well as she could but she gave me a bit of instruction. I stumbled but finally got it, apologizing to her in Chichewa (the local language) that I wasn’t much help and she said, “Osadandaula.” Translated, “Don’t worry.” Knowing the language gives me immediate entrance but it also allows me to hear what people are saying and I heard the comments and snickers of the passers-by as the “Muzungu” helped this lady. It was obvious the “Muzungu” wasn’t at all able to tie the blanket well. I apologized again to her, hoping I hadn’t embarrassed her too much, as I handed her an umbrella she had been carrying and her sizeable purse. Again, her voice quietly said, “Osadandaula” and we both went our way.

I saw her and her baby and wondered about her story – I knew hers was like millions of other women on the continent. She likely had a small business or went to her field to cut sugarcane to sell. No one went with her to help her so she put her baby on her back and went to get her sugar cane alone. It may be she faced a beating if she didn’t go and my heart broke for her as I continued to walk and pray.

In this world of great pain and need, what can be done to bring meaningful change? On the African continent alone, there are hundreds of millions of stories like these; it feels like an impossible situation. I am assaulted daily with feelings of despair when I see hungry children, abused women, and hopelessness in the eyes of the vulnerable.

Are we exempt from doing anything because whatever we do won’t be enough to touch vast swaths of the population?

I’m drawn to think of my daughter who was premature and abandoned as an infant. She was left in a small hospital and then rescued by a local organization working with children in crisis. When we saw her, she was 7 lbs. and 3 months old, we fell in love with her and she came home. 9 years later, I can’t imagine life without our “bonus” baby who came 15 years after our last biological child was born.

Our daughter, just a little number among the 1,000,000+ orphans in Malawi (click here for more information), had been left in a strange house among many other children in the same situation: alone in this world. It may not appear that rescuing her made much of an impact on the population of orphans in the nation – but it made a difference to her (and us). Her life has been radically changed and she has hope for a future – and our lives are immeasurably richer. You can see that this is deeply personal to me.

I wonder if everyone, everywhere opened their eyes and really saw those around them and did the little bit that they could, what would the impact be? Perhaps it’s impossible to change the whole world and solve every problem, but for those few whose lives are touched – it would be worth every effort.

Today, I’m looking for someone whose life I can touch; no matter how small it may be – it’s time for a change.

James 1:26,27 MSG “Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”

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