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I’ve been flying (literally) under the radar these past few weeks. We are traveling; giving reports and connecting with churches, friends and partners of the work in Africa. While it may sound glamorous, all of the traveling, it’s actually quite arduous. We travel in economy everywhere we go (we have been bumped up to business class twice that I can remember in our 33 years of traveling overseas) and do our best to keep costs down. This translates into lots of “making do” and cheaper meals on the go which will often give me lots of fodder for blogging.
There’s always something good that comes out of our inconvenience.
Our current route has already taken us through Belgium, the UK, Florida and now Texas. It’s a real honor to see people who we’ve connected with over the years; some have been supporting us since the year we began this amazing journey in 1987. How have we gotten this far? It’s got to be a God thing because alone we wouldn’t have made it past our first 6 months in Africa.
I’m certainly not the best, or even mediocre, theologian, expository speaker or writer that can give a more precise explanation for the wonders we have experienced. Perhaps if I had the right charisma or gifting that would naturally draw people, that could possibly explain some of what we have seen over the years – but I am hopelessly ordinary. There’s nothing about my personality that would make me stand out in a crowd, that would merit the attention of more than one or two people, those two being my husband and (maybe) one of my children.
I would describe myself as an introvert. Yes, an introvert. For those reading who know me now, you might find yourself chuckling because I can, under the right circumstances, wax loquacious. My verbose tendencies are mostly learned; perhaps I’ve learned the lesson too well. Nevertheless, even with my not-so-newfound long-winded tendencies, I am far and away from those who have become rich and famous through their communication skills.
Indeed, the past 33 years of seeing what we’ve seen can only be explained by the Unexplainable One Himself – it’s been a God thing, and He has been so good in caring for us every single day. As I see it, we’ve been given a task and as long as we have stayed committed, God has graced us to take part in the adventure of a lifetime.
My understanding of how God has brought us this far might run cross-grain to those who have to have an explanation for everything. Together with my learned speaking skills, I have learned to be comfortable with being out of the know, for there are some things that are just “too wonderful,” He’s just too good for me to understand.
Job 42:3 NIV “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not undersand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
While I might overcommunicate from time to time or keep my husband and children waiting for me as I talk with friends, I’ve learned there are just some things I need to keep my mouth shut about because they are just too wonderful. They go above my pay grade – and I’m OK with that.
So we’ll just keep doing what we are doing: planting churches, opening schools and feeding programs, working in local prisons and starting leadership academies and whatever else we’re graced to do knowing that God understands how He will get the job done. We simply have to keep ourselves on point and our eyes fixed to the task at hand because the intricacies of how to get it done are just too wonderful, and He will keep on being good.
Between the two of us, those two being my husband Jamie and I, I am most certainly the most pessimistic. Jamie gets out of bed with an optimism that can’t be fabricated. He is naturally outgoing, social, and energetic. However, he says that in his younger years he was negative and sullen, almost to the point of depression. Only because I know Jamie can’t lie, do I believe him; he is so very different now to what he describes himself as being in his teens.
My family comes from Finland where people tend to be kindly pessimistic. I say kindly because Finns are perhaps among the nicest people (no bias intended) on earth. I’ve only had occasion to visit twice, and hope to visit more than once more in my lifetime, but while visiting I did notice a general tendency to prepare for worst-case-scenarios. My own family leans in this “prepare for the worst” direction and when visiting Finland, I wondered if my own pessimism might not only be a personal quirk but also a cutural tendency.
I’ve often justified the dark cloud that has sometimes hung over my head as “being realistic.” The problem with my version of being realistic is that it often collides with Kingdom principles of believing the best, hoping for the best, and enduring all things (1 Cor. 13:7). The sense gained from reading 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter” of the Bible, is one of optimism, hope, and joy. While I was only seven when I received Christ, I was already pickled with pessimism – I had the ability to drain joy and expectation out of nearly every experience.
Somehow I knew, even at such a young age, God had better in store for me. I began looking for joy and hope for it seemed to me that joy and hope had much more to offer than negativity. It didn’t take long for me to discover how good it is to trust God in the face of those worst case scenarios. I learned the worst case could be turned around to be the best case.
Romans 8:28 NKJ “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Everything, the good, bad, and ugly, all come together in perfect sync when we are pursuing God’s Kingdom. This doesn’t mean that we should expect to live in some utopia free of trouble, nor does it mean that we should expect to live defeated, free of blessing. The truth lies not somewhere in between but above these two extremes.
Hebrews 6:9a NASB “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you…”
There are always better things that God has in store for us; sometimes those better things come after we have walked down the paths of dark shadows (Ps. 23) but even in the dark shadows there are tables prepared for us to sustain us in the valley.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 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— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
The darkness we feel that closes in on us is an attempt to snuff out the treasure we carry, but the darkness actually serves the purpose of reminding us that the glory belongs to God and not us. We’re pressed, perplexed, persucuted, and struck but none of these things can destroy us as long as we remember and are convinced of the fact that we carry the treasure.
What lies ahead is better.
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.
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.
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.
The price is high, missions is costly in every way. On our most recent podcast I share about the price we have to pay when it comes to being obedient to the call.
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.
Stepping off the plane for the first time in Burundi, I seriously wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. I stood with my husband and children on the airport tarmac after our plane landed. It was warm, the sun was hot, and there was no one waiting for us. There was no air conditioning in the airport terminal, I remember being thankful for the breeze that blew through the baggage collection area. With my left hand, I held tightly to my 5 year old son’s little hand and balanced my 1 1/2 year old daughter on my right hip. We were all tired of living out of suitcases; we had spent nearly a year in France studying French prior to our arrival that day in Burundi. From France, we flew to Nairobi, Kenya and, after a short time, made our way to Burundi where the adventure of our lifetime was about to begin.
Time and again I’ve relived that same scenario; going somewhere where I’ve not been before to start a church from nothing. Where would we start? We never knew until we got there. Who would work with us? We would find them. When would we leave? When the time was right.
It took us 9 years of hard work to see the church grow to a place of maturity where we were able to leave to go plant a new church in a new nation and start the whole process all over again. Now, 18 years and a number of churches later, I have learned a few things about stepping out in faith into the unknown – and I’m still learning! In our affirmation-driven society where many in Christian circles have rarely seen the raw faith that’s required to face the world head-on for the cause of the Kingdom, they find they are ill-prepared for the reality that awaits them when they do step out. Often, they fall victim to discouragement, even despair, when the enemy meets them head-on (believe me when I say that he will seek you out the moment you say “yes” to the Kingdom’s call).
In Acts 14, we read the account of Paul ministering on a journey that had taken him through several cities. In one of the cities, Lystra, a man was healed (Acts 14:10) and the crowds went nearly crazy over the great miracle they had seen: a man who was born crippled, was healed and walked. It was amazing! Paul and his partner, Barnabas, could hardly restrain the people from making sacrifices to them, calling them gods. One would think that this great miracle would open great opportunities to the city; however, that was not what happened. Shortly after this miraculous occurrence, the same people who Paul ministered to were “stirred up” (Acts 14:19) to stone Paul. He was left for dead but, in another miracle, got up and went on to another city called Derbe where many received the Gospel and a large number of disciples were made. Later on, Paul returned to Lystra and other cities where he had preached, encouraging believers along his way.
In reading this account, I was taken by the fact that first Paul was almost worshipped as a god and then he was stoned by the same ones who wanted to worship him the day before. The emotions he felt must have been extreme. In studying Paul’s life, I’ve noticed he was someone who didn’t require a lot of maintenance; he worked to support himself by making tents and never is he seen in the scriptures asking for expensive gifts. His main focus was the Kingdom’s advance in the earth and he wouldn’t let himself get sidetracked by the peripheral things of this life.
Nevertheless, Paul was human and I am sure at this time, and many others, he must have felt conflicted, even tempted to be depressed over the rejection – but he doesn’t even make mention of any anguish over this ordeal in the scriptures. He was simply concerned to build the Kingdom, grow the churches he planted, and be faithful to his call. Affirmation would come later in abundance simply by hearing the words, “well done.” However, until that time, he fought the fight of faith and kept his faith.
Our service to people isn’t based on their merits or their appreciation of our call to serve God. I’ve found that if I can keep this front and center in my own life, I’m not easily disappointed. However, the moment I let my focus on the Kingdom fade, that’s the moment I fall into discouragement. Whether there are people to meet me at the airport or not, I’m moving forward. Whether someone thanks me or not, my eyes are fixed on the prize. Whether what I do looks successful or not, I’m already a success in my Father’s eyes, for His approval already rests on me.
“Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the Kingdom of God established.” Paul W. Harrison
What am I doing here?
It’s a question all of us have, at one time or another, asked ourselves. As I wrote yesterday in my now-famous Bollywood entry (no, not really so famous, just famous in my mind), I’ve wondered over the years what am I doing here serving as a missionary? What is it that keeps me here serving and working?
I don’t come from a family of ministers nor do I have any natural talents that this world would think could help out on the foreign field. One might think that to qualify for this work endless degrees and pedigrees would be necessary. While those things aren’t wrong (I do have a couple of degrees) they aren’t what qualified me to serve in Africa. All I needed to do was say, “yes” the day that God called. Personally, I didn’t find answering the call difficult; I found explaining the call of church planting to others difficult.
So, on occasion like Saul of the Old Testament, I find myself running after donkeys (1 Sam. 10:2 – Saul was looking for his father’s donkeys, but he was meant to be king.). Little rabbit trails meant to appear important but actually distract me from my main purpose: to extend the Kingdom of God among those I serve. There have been times when I’ve taken detours looking for donkeys that appear more important than planting churches. This is not a glorious calling nor does it naturally garner a lot of support as planting churches doesn’t seem to be as necessary as establishing larger community outreaches. Isn’t it enough to pray over a lesson, over a student, over a patient? Aren’t there enough churches?
Church planting is our call and I’ve given up apologizing for it. While some are called to open hospitals and universities, our grace lies with the planting of local churches that have always been found among the poorest of the cities we find ourselves in. God’s given us a vision to see 1,000+ churches planted on the continent and perhaps even beyond. We believe that God’s arm in the earth is extended to the world through the local church. We love starting churches from scratch that grow by reaching out into surrounding communities with activities that address the felt needs of those around us. In Malawi, where we are at this time, those types of activities include community health teaching, football games for youth, adult literacy classes, to name a few. The needs faced here differ from those found abroad – but to touch people and gain their trust, we need to speak to areas where they feel a need and this is exactly what we work for.
Once we have established ourselves in communities, the rest falls into place naturally. Not only are churches born but from the churches come the “classic” outreaches we so long to see: schools, adult education, leadership academies, etc. The difference we see in working this way is the spiritual covering and growth that comes with the churches provide a solid foundation for all that comes afterwards. If the foundation is not solid, how can hope for churches and outreaches that will live beyond us?
What makes this kind of mission difficult is the time that it takes to see these things come to pass. We are now many years into planting churches (we moved to Africa in 1987 and planted our first church in 1992) and are just now beginning to see an acceleration in growth.
Yes, I’ve been guilty of chasing donkeys – things that I think would “enhance” or in some way speed up the process of what we’re doing. The problem was, however, in chasing those donkeys I got sidetracked and my progress was hindered.
Let the donkeys take care of themselves in whatever you’re doing. As Samuel said to Saul, “the donkeys you’re looking for have been found” (1 Sam. 10:2), meaning, those issues you’re pursuing will take care of themselves, they’re not meant for your time and attention.
Remember, you’re meant to be a king.
Living in Africa has gotten me accustomed to following lots of procedures. I have learned that there is a procedure to everything. For example, as foreigners, we (my husband, daughter Andreya and myself) simply couldn’t arrive and live here without following due process. It would be amazing to just hop on a plane and fly to the continent and serve the people. However, that just isn’t the case. To live here, we are required to have a visa. We had to apply for this visa prior to our arrival in the country. We were required to provide many documents upon application for our visa – and then we waited. While waiting, we were given temporary visas that we renewed monthly until our visas were approved. The whole process took some months and was nerve-wracking! Thankfully, our visas were approved and we were given a 2-year temporary work permit. Next year, the process begins again as we will request a renewal of our visas – processes and procedures never end here. We will always need a visa.
Without following due process, we wouldn’t have been allowed to step off the plane when we came to establish a work here in Malawi. Once when we were planning a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we were assured after communicating with our pastor in DRC that it was possible (as it was at the time in many other countries) to get an entry visa to the DRC at the airport. We felt well assured and decided to follow what instructions we had been given and got on a plane bound for the DRC.
What we encountered at the airport after landing in the DRC was nothing less than chaos. Coming from Malawi, it was impossible for us to have gotten a visa in Malawi for the DRC because there was no consulate or embassy for the DRC in the entire nation of Malawi. We did our best to explain what we had been told, that we would be allowed to get a visa at the airport upon arrival. Our pastor who was receiving us at the airport was also doing his best to inform the officials that he had been told we could obtain our visas at the airport.
This little fact did not matter to the airport officials. They said, “You did not follow proper procedure.” We were summarily escorted to our seats on the plane and off we went, returning from whence we came. (Later on we learned that the higher-ranking official who had originally given our pastor the information we could come, arrived at the airport right after we left and reprimanded his colleagues for their conduct. While nice to hear, this didn’t do much to pay us back for those plane tickets!)
Now, whenever we plan to travel to the DRC, we make sure to get visas even though that means traveling to another country where the DRC has a consulate or embassy for some days to acquire a visa. This is an added cost but stepping off the plane with a visa in hand is the only way to go to the DRC.
In the same way when we travel we need to follow due process, there’s a process to the presence of God. The first step in experiencing His presence is wanting, or craving, His presence.
In the Old Testament, there was a time when the Ark of the Covenant was residing outside of Jerusalem. This Ark was a symbol of God’s presence among His people. King David had unsuccessfully tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem but was unsuccessful, and left the ark outside of the city. When saw the blessings that those who housed the ark were experiencing, he craved the presence of God. This is seen when he said:
2 Samuel 6:9 Rotherham “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?”
When David had first tried to bring the Ark to the city of Jerusalem, proper procedures weren’t followed. This resulted in a tragedy that kept he Ark from God’s people.
1 Chronicles 15:13 NLT “Because you (Levites) did not carry it at first, the Lord our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.”
The process to having His presence began with a craving for His presence. David wanted God’s presence, but failed at first to follow due process. Once he did follow the proper process, God’s presence filled the city of Jerusalem.
In the same way David craved God’s presence, he learned that God’s presence comes on His terms alone.
This is where we often get it wrong when it comes to the presence of God. We assume because He is an amazing Father that no matter what our attitudes are, what we do, where we go, we have that approval of His presence. Yes, it’s true that His presence is within us – but when we live outside of his processes and procedures (that are only there for our good), we gradually begin to limit His presence in our lives.
Please God, be present with me when I’m sick.
Please God, be present with me when I need a job.
Just don’t be so obviously present in my life when I’m with my friends who think that Your kind of life is strange.
Just don’t be so obviously present in my life when I’m using the credit card for purchases I can’t afford and keeping it from my spouse.
2 Corinthians 5:14 Message “Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.”
When we experience His love, we are moved so deeply that we cannot help but allow His way to be first and last in everything we do. From worship services on the weekend, work, family life, and more – He has the say-so in whatever we are doing.
That’s what it means to crave Him – He becomes all that is important.
Why does that matter? It matters because He knows the end before we do. He knows that your friends need Him even if presently they think His life is strange. Who else will show them but you? He knows that things will end badly if you continue secretly running up debt on your credit card. So what if you don’t have the trendiest outfits or electronic gadgets? He has the best in mind for you even though it feels like the opposite when things are rough.
He only wants the best – and He is the best, by far. Trust Him today.
Hebrews 12:1b NKJ “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Did you ever feel like you just wanted to quit? Throw in the towel? Give up? Let the chips fall where they may and walk away?
We’ve all been there, wanting to quit. Wanting to quit an exercise program because it’s too hard, wanting to quit a job because the pay is too low, wanting to quit school because it’s just not working. Perhaps the things you want to quit are bigger than exercise or jobs; you may be considering quitting in marriage or your relationship with God.
It’s become very easy to quit in our day and age and current culture. The problem if we quit before God gives us the green light is we can easily fall into a “quit mode” and never really finish anything because we lower our expectations.
Endurance (refusing to quit) is not a popular word; by default we think of difficult things when someone says, “endurance.” Where can we find the power to endure when it’s acceptable to quit when the going gets tough? We love our freedom, we love to have choices. Our culture of freedom to come and go as we please has unconsciously allowed us the option to quit serving God or obeying Him when He would have us patiently endure and expect that He will intervene on our behalf.
William Temple said, “We block Christ’s advance in our lives by failure of expectation.”
How can we not quit? How can we see ourselves as “more than conquerors” when we feel less than able?
“You are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus, in His strength. But the only way that will become a reality in your life is if you remove the quit option. When you do that – the real battle is already won.” Jentezen Franklin
The enemy of our faith would like nothing more than for us to quit and he works to fatigue us to the point of quitting. If we simply remove that “option” to quit, how could we possibly fail? Anyone can quit; I don’t want to be just anyone, do you?
I encourage you today to let go of the quit option and embrace the “more than conquerors” option.
Romans 8:37-39 NKJ “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”