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 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.

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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.

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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 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 Church planting, Destiny, Dreams, Endurance, Goals, Missions, Travel, What Did You Do

What Did You Do Today?

Today I went to the bank.

Is that all you did? Couldn’t you just deposit your money from your bank app on your phone, go by the ATM and withdraw whatever cash you need? Couldn’t you just have done an online bill pay or money transfer? What is it that you do out there in Africa, waste your time?

I’m a missionary in Africa (currently Burundi) and have been serving in missions since 1987. I’m supposed to “produce”results (at least this is the unspoken rule), tangible results, that I can then write in glowing reports to justify my service overseas. Living in an exotic location such as ours does have its amazing perks: we have wonderful coffee every day for pennies (no drive-thru here), we see/hear hippos regularly because we live near Lake Tanganyika, and we get to enjoy the rich culture of the people we serve. The scenery is breathtaking, the food we eat, I cook everything from scratch, is good for us (not sure how good it tastes but…that’s another blog…), and the simplicity of life away from the distractions we find in the West allows us to focus on the work we’ve been sent to do.

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Often, I’m asked something like the following: “When are you going to _________?”Those asking such questions are referring to whatever outreach/project we’ve discussed in a newsletter or other form of communication. We might have discussed it months or even years ago – but nothing has happened and why not?

The answer to this question is seen in something as simple as going to the bank. While life has changed here, dramatically, since we first arrived in 1987, the time that is consumed to get something done has not. Having access to cash from our accounts in our home countries is not as simple as it is back home. Years ago, to get money, we would have to write checks and if the bank cashing the check wasn’t willing to give value to our checks right away, we would have to wait to get the money until the check cleared our account in the USA. That process took 6 weeks and even longer; thankfully, we usually found favor with the bank and they would cash them for us almost immediately. The other obstacle we found back in those days was not only having access to the money but making sure that before we wrote a check that there would be enough money in the account to cover any check we had to write. We didn’t have internet, cell phones, or email in those days. In fact, if you had access to a fax machine back then you were considered to be living on the cutting edge.

Today, thankfully with the advent of cell phones and internet service here, we are able to see what is in our accounts, provided the internet server isn’t down or the power isn’t off. Once we have been able to see what we have in our account, we can electronically wire funds to our account here. Thankfully we already went through the process of opening an account which is material for another blog. *Note to self: please read past blogs to get reminders of all those subjects I’ve said that are worthy of their own blog.*

Once we have sent the wire, providing the codes given to us by the banks are correct, money should appear in our accounts relatively quickly, as in a day or two. Once we get news that the funds have arrived, we can go down to the bank, write a check and withdraw the dollars from our account, go and change the dollars into local currency. Often, however, that simple process doesn’t work as intended. There are delays of the bank’s network being down and unable to process our transaction so we have to return in the afternoon or the next day (turning the 1-day process into a 2-day process). There are also delays of work hours. The banks in the country follow strange working hours and there are no ATMs that we can use to withdraw money during off hours.

The other issue we face, the gorilla in the room, is funding. Fund raising is difficult and often void of result – therefore projects get done at a slower pace than we hope. Because we trust God for all of it, we know He will provide in His timing and we rest in that fact. To travel back to our countries of origin to raise support itself costs money in plane tickets, hotels, food, and other necessary costs that coincide with that kind of trip. Not only are the costs of travel an issue but the work itself we leave behind must be considered as well – who will care for things in our absence? Especially in the situation we find ourselves in now where the church we have come to serve and its outreaches are in need of much attention; better leave the thoughts of travel to the side for a bit.

It can tempt me to bow my head in discouragement but where would that lead? What would that solve? Those beautiful souls we are here for are worth every bit of frustration and delay.

So today, if you’re wondering what I did, I went to the bank.

1 Corinthians 7:7-11 NKJ But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

 

 

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, Choices, Church planting, Destiny, Endurance, Father, Missions, Obedience, Purpose, Travel

Again

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I couldn’t find scissors to help me open the tightly sealed box. I tried, in vain, to force it open with my hands as sweat began to run down the sides of my face. “Why did I pack this so well?” Finally, I found a kitchen knife and began slicing the packing tape open around the edges of the cardboard; the unpacking of our lives had begun. Again.

The boxes I was unpacking had gone overland from Malawi, where we had moved from, to Burundi. They were brought to us by two of our Malawian pastors who had taken on the assignment of bringing these boxes by bus. It was a 4-day ordeal just one-way for them to undertake but they passed through all the borders practically without incident to Burundi. As we said our goodbyes the same day that they had arrived, it was as if a movie of all of the work that had been done in Malawi over the years was played as a movie in my mind. The churches that had been planted, the children that had been fed, the leaders that had been trained, all passed before me as I looked into the faces of these dear ones who were about to leave. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I remembered what we had been allowed to take part in – and then it was time for them to go.

Then we were left alone to start again.

The box was dusty, but intact, and as I started the process of unloading everything the magnitude of what we had done (again) struck me. Time after time I have found myself in this same situation of starting over and trusting God for the next step. However, knowing we have done this many times before doesn’t make any new step I take easier. In fact, I have learned with each new step comes new challenges and without faith, I could easily be scared out of it! What has kept me going, this time as in every time before, is knowing we had heard His Word spoken to us to go to Burundi and He wasn’t about to let go of us.

Isaiah 8:11 ERB “The Lord spoke to me, like a firm grasp of the hand.”

This move has been a challenge (they all are in their own way) but we have seen God walk with us daily and address everything that has come our way from acquiring resident visas to finding a house to finding the best market in town. Without hearing His voice and knowing His hand is tightly holding onto ours, we would never have been able to see Him at work over all these years.

I’m so glad we chose to listen, I’m so glad He’s holding our hands.

 

 

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, 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.