Posted in Grief, Hope, Kingdom, Loss, Missions, Motives, Serving, Sorrow, Success, The Call of God

All Over The World

This past week a cyclone hit the coast of Africa mostly affecting Mozambique and Zimbabwe. So far, according to reports, approximately 126 people (some reports say higher) have died as a direct result of the storm. In Nigeria, 120 people have died in recent attacks in local villages. There have been shootings in New Zealand leaving 50 dead and an Ethiopian Airlines plane went down last week killing all 157 on board. This short list of news is a only a small fraction of what goes unreported every day. Estimates vary, but there are about 151,600 people that die daily and most of those deaths go unreported in the news. 70,000 of these deaths occur in nations that are closed to the Gospel.

All over the world, people are crying.

Normally, my blogs are a bit quirky with a snippet of sarcasm and dry humor so I apologize if my departure from my usual self seems, at first, to be gloomy. It’s not my intention to leave anyone depressed today and I truly hope you don’t feel hopeless by the time I finish my little diatribe.

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As this world’s media picks and chooses what stories to cover and what stories to shelve, but the truth remains that thousands of families have spent the past several hours and days mourning for lost loved ones. Death is no respecter of persons and all of us will one day shuffle off this mortal coil in exchange for that which is eternal; what we do with our time here before we have that final meeting is what really is of value.

I won’t pretend to be educated enough to address the issues that others put under the microscope and take their limited time to rant on over social media. I find it sad that many of us choose to spend the limited time we have on this earth arguing with others on a platform where those you are sparring with are most likely going to remain unknown to you. It’s amazing how vicious some people have become with the advent of social media.

Romans 12:21 NKJ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Some justify their vitriol and even invoke God’s name when they do so, but as I know God, He still loves the world and all the people in it (John 3:16). In fact, the only time Jesus is seen weeping in scripture is when He looked over a city (Luke 19:41). He wasn’t crying over the buildings or land, He was crying for the people; some of those in that city He knew were the ones that would take part in His crucifixion. I don’t know how many of us would now have heart to do the same over our own cities where at times we face brutal criticism and attack for the cross that we bear and represent. Oh, that I might represent that cross well!

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This hopeless hour we find ourselves in could very possibly be the greatest opportunity the church worldwide has ever known. As a lifetime missionary, experience has taught me that when people are most vulnerable is when they are most open to the Gospel that brings love and hope.

Last week, we held an outreach into a local area here in Bujumbura, Burundi called Buterere. About 20 years ago this area was little more than a trash dump and rice fields. After the war here in the mid-late 1990s, people who had been displaced by the war moved to this area. It was a horrible situation; there was little to no sanitation, no running water, nothing to serve the people. 20 years later I found myself again in Buterere surrounded by a growing community that is slowly finding its way. The surroundings are still very basic and due to its low-lying situation, it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. At the outreach, we held disease prevention classes teaching on topics like malaria prevention and basic hygiene. At the end of the teaching we distributed, to 200 families, mosquito nets, basins, soap, and a book by Joyce Meyers called, “Tell Them I Love Them.” We gave an opportunity for people to receive Christ and 45 people raised their hands. The reports coming back to us in the past few days have been full of words of appreciation and thanks for showing what God’s love is really all about.

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Will all of those 45 follow through with their decisions? We will do our best to follow up on them and encourage them but the large majority probably won’t – but who follows through and who doesn’t isn’t what motivates me to reach out to them. What motivates me is God’s love for them and we do what we can do in any given situation so that some may come to know Him (1 Cor. 9:22). While we work to encourage those making commitments, the results aren’t my responsibility and truth be told, if I was moved by results or popular opinion I would have resigned from my position many years ago.

So how do we, then, speak out? How do we behave honestly, yet lovingly, in this upside down world?

Ephesians 4:14-16 NKJ that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

God loves the world and the motivating factor for what He does is love. I believe it’s only out of His love for the world that it hasn’t already fallen off its axis! We can say the right things but with the wrong motivation; the right thing said for the wrong reason is the wrong thing. God doesn’t need to have His reputation defended for His reputation is intact no matter what people think. Jesus understood this:

John 2:24,25 NKJ “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”

I hope today in some small way in my little world in Bujumbura, Burundi I am advancing the Kingdom of God by speaking the truth, not to justify who I am, but out of love for those who need to hear the truth. I can make what I say and do sound and appear righteous, but if my motivation is not loving the people, then I am only looking to raise my own righteous profile and not God’s.

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines—as well as upon works!” John Newton

Nothing I’ve written has ever gone viral or been popular, but on the off-chance someone reads this little piece and it gives them a bit of hope for this lost and dying world – it’s a win. If it makes someone upset, well, take a number and the staff (me) will attend to your complaint at its earliest convenience.

Rant over. Time for coffee.

Posted in Dreams, Hope, Missions, Provision

Dream On, Little One

 

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I photographed this little boy this past Sunday. He is one of millions in Malawi – may they dream and live for better times.

I remember daydreaming in math class and being rudely interrupted from my reverie by my 3rd grade teacher.

“Lea! Stop daydreaming and pay attention!”

In my defense, she wasn’t the easiest teacher to listen to at the time when I was an easily distracted age of 9. I don’t remember what I was daydreaming about, but it certainly was more interesting than the droning on of Mrs. Parker and math. My daydreaming in math class continued for a couple of years and there was a consequence. I ended up having to go to summer school for math in 5th grade – my teachers attributed my falling behind to my daydreaming. I couldn’t help it that math wasn’t as interesting as daydreaming about being a princess over a huge kingdom where I could order as many pizzas as I liked.

I learned my lesson and began paying attention in math class, but I still wanted those unlimited pizzas!

Growing up, my daydreams gave way to other, more grown-up dreams. I dreamt of doing something for God with my life, going to be a missionary in Africa and doing whatever I could to help people, children specifically. Maybe I would be a nurse? Doctor? Those were removed from my list quickly as the sight of blood and other undesirable chores that nurses or doctors have to do changed my mind.

Years later, all grown up, I find myself as a missionary in Africa working in church planting and community outreach, mostly to women and children. I hadn’t dreamt of half of what I have gone through – but I have lived my dream.

This weekend at church was a busy one; I taught an early Sunday morning class, we had our regular service, and afterwards we had a baptism service. It may not sound busy, but believe me, these weekends keep us on our toes. I smiled this morning as I thought about the weekend, there were so many lovely moments: from having a nearly full class with almost perfect attendance to hearing my husband preach a great message (he is my favorite preacher), and finally watching people get baptised.

Then, I remembered the little children I watched playing around the periphery of our church tent where we meet (yes, our church is definitely no frills). I watched them cartwheeling, playing, and caught one of them looking off into the distance as if to daydream. I wondered what that little one dreamt of.

Here in Malawi, most children have their dreams snuffed out before they even have a chance to dream. For most of them, their dreams consist of not going to bed hungry or hurting or alone. They dream of not being abused or of their parents not dying and leaving them orphans. Their dreams are simple ones that those of us who have food security, families that love us, and have at least had the luxury to dream, cannot understand.

I can’t fathom being hungry for my entire life. Here in this part of Africa, 46% of our children under 5 suffer from stunting, which is a prevailing hunger that prevents proper growth in children. When I look at our children whenever we meet, most of them come from the poorer communities around our church, I realize just how serious the situation really is. Children are visibly smaller than they should be, and my heart aches knowing that many won’t reach adulthood and for those who do, chances are they won’t be able to have sufficient education to afford them the luxury of dreaming for a better life.

We run a feeding program in Lilongwe, Malawi, about 5 hours away from Blantyre. We have seen an amazing difference in the children who have been eating at the site regularly. A few years ago, a medical team from Joyce Meyers Ministries (who has been helping us feed in Lilongwe since 2007) came to hold medical checks in various places throughout the country. Their findings were, among those they surveyed, that ours were the most nutritionally secure children in Malawi.

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In a country where 45% of the population is under 16, you can understand that the scope of the problem is greater than 1 feeding program can handle. While we can’t reach them all, we can reach some. We are working on opening a feeding outreach in Blantrye, financing another feeding program of course has been a great hindrance but also the red tape involved has prevented us from receiving some food aid that has been promised to us. We continue to pray for solutions; this is proving a challenge, as the country itself is not producing enough to feed its own population.

So we reach those we can, feed those we can, and bring education (our newest outreach) where we can. But I can’t help but feel for the little ones who have yet to dream, for those playing around the church this past weekend. For that little one standing alone, I pray we find a way for him to dream on.

Matthew 25:40 AMP The King will answer and say to them, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it for Me.’”

 

 

Posted in Change, Faith, Hope

Marked by the Unremarkable

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I have been spending time lately thinking about our lives here in Africa. Maybe it’s my age; I find myself being increasingly introspective. Most of my adult life has now been spent here serving the people of this continent. What we have experienced, what we have felt, those we have met and grown to love, have all changed our understanding of how our lives were meant to be spent.

When we began our journey, we were young, full of energy and vision (we’re not as young but still have energy and vision) for the future. We knew we would “make a mark” on the world for our wonderful Lord! What we didn’t understand that this work would first make its mark on us.

Africa is a continent of great contradiction. Some of the most amazing sights in the world can be found here: from the pyramids of Egypt in North Africa, to Eastern Africa where one can see a snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and then all the way to Table Mountain in South Africa. I’ve had the great blessing to see 2 of 3 – one day I will see the pyramids of Egypt. There are great riches here: from diamond mines in the DRC to amazing wildlife in Kenya. Then, there is the other side of this beautiful place, the contradictory side where immeasurable pain and poverty hold most of the population. Here in Malawi where I now live, recently listed as the world’s poorest nation[1], most of the population lives on an equivalent of about .62 cents per day. Infant mortality due to malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases eclipses anything experienced in the developed world[2]. What possible effect could we have in the face of a tsunami of hopelessness?

If money were the solution to Africa’s problems then after many generations of social work and donor grants all over the continent, things should be well on the way to being resolved. From our perspective of having worked at length with relief efforts here, we understand that the challenges we face here are much deeper than what can be seen in the desperate eyes of the hungry child or in the empty eyes of the child soldier. The heart of Africa has been attacked and has ravaged generations of people – how can a person who was raised to steal in order to eat be expected to hope for better things for the next generation? The challenge for them remains the same: when and where will be their next meal?

Children have borne the greater part of this unimaginable burden and all the while we wonder why things continue the way they have here. It’s no secret; if you want to cripple a nation, cripple her children with poverty, lack of education, lack of proper medical care, and the basic necessities of life such as security and running water. Most children here face hunger, little or no education, difficulty in obtaining basic medical care, access to potable water, and are insecure, they are often the object of child trafficking being sold into slavery often by friends or family members.

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Bujumbura, Burundi

Another contradiction in Africa is the inner and outer beauty of her people in the face of such pain. Some years ago when we served in the DRC (formerly Zaire), we would spend almost every Sunday speaking at different churches. The settings were rarely comfortable and easily accessed. I remember one Sunday in particular when we went to a church that was situated on a high hill that was accessible only by foot. We left the car a good distance from the church and made our way to the dilapidated building where we were given a warm welcome of hugs, smiles, and the best seats the place had to offer. There were hours (yes, hours) of different choir numbers followed by several speakers, the last one being my husband who preached his heart out. All the while, I struggled with a toddler on my lap and agonized over the fact that I forgot to bring water. When the very long meetings were over, we were ushered into a simple room in a mud brick house where a table was set and we were fed a meal along the lines of what those preparing the meal would eat only very occasionally. This scenario has been repeated many times over in the 30 some years I’ve lived here and it always amazes me – out of their deep poverty, they always find something beautiful to offer me.

Now, sitting here in my living room after a long workday, I am confronted once again with the thought, “What do you possibly have to offer that can help here?” Daily I see firsthand much of what I’ve described in the paragraphs above. I’ve battled with these thoughts often through the years – but I have to believe that the same God whose first disciples “turned the world upside down” still has the power to do the same (see Acts 17:6). He can still turn the world on its ear if He can find someone that He can work through (see Ezekiel 22:30) so here I am. I don’t have what great organizations have to offer, but they don’t have what I have. I carry within me the One who can bring true hope to an apparently hopeless situation.

Many years ago I committed to serving, to doing what I could with my husband here and we have been through wonderful, difficult, joyous, and excruciating times. We have seen churches born, children fed, clothed, and educated and we have seen many times when finances were so tight that our ability to help was extremely limited. We have lived through civil war and then experienced the hope when peace treaties were signed. The common denominator throughout all of those times, good and not so good, was the fact that God’s grace carried us through.

And here we are. Older, I don’t know how much wiser, but still hoping against hope for miracles together with those who dare to believe with us that God can and will work again. Knowing how impossible our situation is, that we have nothing, gives me courage for God takes nothing and makes miracles from it. So, we have decided to give Him our nothing and watch Him work.

I’ve been marked, you see, by what initially seems unremarkable. Africa, with all of her pain and suffering, has marked me and made me believe that miracles do come when we have the courage just to believe.

Take courage, if it seems as if you have nothing, then you are in the perfect place where God can work. Once we have nothing else to turn to, it seems we remember Him and He, in His love and grace, turns toward us and makes something from nothing.

[1] http://gazettereview.com/2016/06/top-10-poorest-countries-world/

[2] http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/malawi-life-expectancy http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/epidemiology/profiles/neonatal_child/mwi.pdf