Posted in Choices, Control, Courage, Faith, Finishing, Ministry, Missionary, Missions, Sacrifice, Sorrow, The Call of God, Vision

The Giving Up

Psalm 45:10 LB“I advise you…not to fret about your parents in your homeland far away.”

Living far from my homeland, where my children, grandchildren, and extended family live, has been a walk of faith. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I had what it takes to carry this kind of load, the “not to fret” kind of load.

I’ve been told when talking of living overseas all these years, “Oh, you’re used to it.” Indeed, I am used to this way of living on many levels. I can speak several foreign languages, live without A/C or power, shop for groceries like a pro in the markets, and even drive in foreign nations (it’s wise to take an antacid before trying to drive here).

However, I digress, there’s something that one never “gets used to” and that is the giving up to go. The giving up has less to do with giving up things and more to do with giving up being with loved ones. Each time I say goodbye I wonder how long it will be until the next hello. Will we meet again on earth or in heaven? Will my grandchildren know me? Will I matter to them?

In fact, with the passage of time, I have come to find that the giving up becomes increasingly poingnant as time goes by because the longer I live, the more I’ve missed in the lives of those I left behind.

My mother passed away when I was in Malawi in 2008. I had been speaking with her on the phone throughout her final illness and she kept saying, “I’ll get through this.” Sadly, she didn’t get through it here; instead she got through to her heavenly home. I remember flying home for her memorial service, having to surrender what I missed of her later years to my Heavenly Father. That lesson of losing a loved one while far away on a mission is not taught in any curriculum anywhere. There’s no homework, course study, or internship that could have possibly walked me through that time, it was all part of the giving up to go – the offering that is made not of money or possessions but of sacrifice.

Last year when we had our most recent trip to the USA, we spent time with our son and his family who had just had their second child, a beautiful girl (their first is an amazing boy). The few days we had together were a highlight – I now understand what all the hype is about concerning grandchildren. The day we were to leave, I felt a wave of emotion of the kind I’ve never experienced before when I held those two precious little ones before climbing into the car. There was no way to hold back the flood of tears that spilled over onto my cheeks. I imagine no one knew what to do with me as I’m not usually given to tears. Yet, there I stood, much to my chagrin, crying ugly tears as I gave up to go.

The morning we left, my thirdborn son, together with my daughter and son-in-law who are now here serving with us, was helping us put the final touches on our packing. He’s a man in his own right, but as I looked at him past his beard and 6-foot stature, I saw the face of a little boy mischeviously peeking around the corner of the living room to watch Jurassic Park when we had told him he was too small to watch such a scary movie. I cried again leaving him behind that morning, alone but not alone.

Some hours later, we stepped onto our return flight to Africa. There was a strange heaviness in my steps that hadn’t been there before; the ugly tears were still flowing as we waited for the plane to take off. In years past, as a young missionary, I had my children with me and the excitement of the mission overtook any overwhelming sadness. We were headed for adventure! Now, having lived a little while and having felt the painful lessons of loss, my sacrifice became increasingly real. The question that arose in my mind in tandem with the hum of the jet engines almost taunted me, “Is He worth giving all of them up to go?”

I found myself stepping off a plane onto the tarmac at the airport here in Bujumbura a few months ago; the mountains vaguely visible through the haze of the dry season. The warm breeze blew past my face and the tears, still flowing, fell to the ground. This land where we started our work planting churches had called us back and there I was, standing in the heat holding my youngest daughter’s hand tightly. Memories of years past played in my mind of the victories and defeats we had faced all for a dream to see a church planted when everyone else thought it impossible.

I wonder how many have had the chance to offer a sacrifice and how many have held on instead of letting go? How many people are waiting around the world for those among us to give up so they, too, can go with us to our Heavenly home when He calls? Perhaps I’ve not given the best offering or had talent to woo the thousands, but I’ve given what I have had to give and will keep giving even when it feels there’s nothing left so others might also go.

And those tears? He has counted each one and bottled them, waiting for the Day when all tears will be wiped away and sorrow will be gone. Until then, He is welcome to have all my tears, my offerings, my sacrifices – as unfit as they are for Him – because He gave His all for me so all of me has become His.

Psalm 58:6 NKJ“You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?”

Posted in Comfort, Death, Loss, Love, Ministry, The Unexpected, Why

Leave Your Shoes At The Door

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Two weeks ago, we received the very sad news that a young woman, a niece of one of our church members, had died suddenly. Until very recently, she had been a healthy young mother of 3 young children all under the age of 8. When this news came to us, immediately our hearts hurt for the family – especially for the young children who had lost their mother.

After Sunday service, a day or two after hearing the news, we went with other church members to the “kilio” (wake) where friends and family had gathered. According to custom, men sat outside in chairs that had been quickly set up under a makeshift tent. Women and children filed into a small front room from which all furniture had been removed. There were woven bamboo mats lining the floor where everyone sat. Most of the senior ladies sat closer to the bereaved, while those who weren’t so close as well as children sat along the opposite side of the room.

I followed the line of ladies into the room designated for them and brought my 10-year-old daughter along with me, we all left our shoes at the front door as it is customary to remove shoes when attending a wake. It may sound strange that my daughter accompanied me, however, the church member who we were visiting whose niece had died, is our children’s church director.It was only natural for children from church to come and show their love and support for their leader who is very much loved. This wake was the first time my little girl had experienced anything of this kind and I wondered how she would react. My worries were soothed when I watched her follow her friends and remove her shoes as they did, and sit on the floor with all the other children. I told her it would be alright if she wanted to sit with me but she declined, she wanted to be with the other children. Her bare feet mingled with those of her friends and her eyes took in the setting. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is seen in the children and I saw it that day when in the rawest of settings, my little girl embodied the love of the Kingdom when she sat to comfort those who mourned.

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We all took turns, one by one, hugging family members; the inevitable flow of tears and sobs ebbed and flowed throughout our visit. The children even took their turn to give their condolences and theirs was perhaps the most appreciated by their teacher as she talked with each one and took in their hugs and love ever so deeply. I understood even more on that day the priority that children take in the Kingdom of God.

Luke 18:16 NKJ“But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; forof such is the kingdom of God.'”

Not many days after our visit, we drove to the graveyard and laid this young mother’s remains to rest. Present were her children, husband, and hundreds of friends and family. The weeping at the site is one sound I’ll never get used to and neither should I. The pain felt in those left behind is very real; if we ever become accustomed to the sound of death and the pain felt by those losing loved ones, how can we ever comfort them? We do know that life apart from the body is lived in God’s presence (2 Cor. 5:8), but there remains a real loss for those left behind. This is why we are told to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). This “ministry of presence” brings strength to those whose strength is depleted when death comes knocking as it does for everyone, even multiple times, during our lifetimes as loved ones leave us when eternity comes to call.

Still, it remains in my mind some days later, the picture of the children’s shoes outside the front door of the house on a warm Sunday afternoon. I can feel the warm breeze blowing through the front door, hear the weeping of children, and feel the sting of death – and there was my little girl in the middle taking part in the “ministry of presence.” 

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Posted in Church planting, Endurance, Faith, Faithfulness, Fasting, God's call, Kingdom, Ministry, Rejection

What About Lystra?

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

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Endurance, Faith, Journey, Ministry, Missions, Perspective, Questions, Rescue, Rest

Drop It

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My life has been spent carrying things. I have carried my babies, their bags, bits of furniture, luggage, cardboard boxes, not to mention the countless groceries I’ve carried from store to home. I’m that mom who would rather nearly break her arms carrying 25 grocery bags than having to return to the car more than once.

I didn’t even mention the times I’ve carried my children’s back packs, school books, PE supplies, and lunch boxes. My firstborn started going to school in 1991 in France and I’ve been carrying my kids’ school things ever since. I calculated that by the time my 4th child finishes school, I will have been carrying school supplies for 30 years. That’s a long time to be carrying things.

I want to get carrying things over with – but there seems to be no end to my burden bearing.

“Mom, can you carry my jacket?”

“Mom, can you bring my water bottle?”

“Mom, can you please carry my bag? I’m so tired!”

Here in Africa, my litany of complaints is really very petty in the face of what I see people here carrying each and every day. It doesn’t matter the whether they feel well or not for in Africa, carrying things is often the hinge that swings the doors of life to be open or closed.

Women have to haul water for their families daily as many, if not most of them, have no access to running water in their homes. Without water, life simply comes to a standstill. Someone has to fetch water for the children to drink, to wash dishes and clothes, to bathe, and to water thirsty crops. After hauling the water, there’s firewood, harvested crops, and food to haul. All the while, babies that are too small to be left alone are carried on their mothers’ backs.

When you see people here carrying their loads here, they’re bent low under the weight of their burdens. Every muscle in their bodies seem to tremble with each step with the effort they put out to move forward.

Indeed, my little burdens seem very insignificant.

Psalm 146:8b TLB “He lifts the burdens from those bent down beneath their loads.”

As those who labor strain under the weight of their loads, so many of us today are straining under the various loads we carry daily. We might not carry firewood or water, but the loads we carry are heavy nonetheless. The strain can be seen in our faces; it feels as if we can’t take another step but somehow, we manage to put another foot forward.

Some time ago, I helped a lady who was a pedestrian passing me by as I walked nearby our house. She had a baby on her back and was carrying a suitcase. She also had, if I remember correctly, a load on her head. She had dropped her umbrella and while many were passing her by, no one stopped to help her pick it up. When I saw she needed help, I picked the umbrella off the ground and gave it to her and also helped to better secure her baby’s blanket that was tightly wrapped around her. She quietly said, “Dzikomo” (translated “Thank You” in the local language of Chichewa) and I smiled at her. Then, she was gone on her way.

I have this picture in my mind; we’re like this lady trembling under the strain of the load she was carrying with no one to help. We’re all alone, no one is bothering to notice that we’re about to buckle under the heavy weight that we’re carrying.

People in this world will disappoint us and we often further disappoint ourselves when we expect others to understand us or want to help us when it feels as if we are going to collapse under the weight of life. We would do well not to project these expectations on others as we don’t know what weights they’re carrying – perhaps they’re hoping we would help them carry their burdens. It might be they’re not as thoughtless as we think. We never know what other people are facing from day to day and the very thing we’re hoping they would do for us, they might be hoping we would do the same for them.

Enter Jesus – He Who can live up to and surpass all expectations we might have. No, He doesn’t “live up to” what standards we might set. He actually exceeds them. It is in this exceeding (Ephesians 3:20,21) that we misunderstand His abilities. We wonder, “Why didn’t You come sooner? Why did I have to carry this so far?” The answer isn’t what we would suppose it to be for the answer is found in the form of a question or two: “Why did we wait so long to give Him the load? Why did we hold on for so long?”

In 2018, may we all learn to let go of the bags; to drop them. He’s ready to lift them.

 

 

Posted in Adoption, Church planting, Destiny, Ministry, Provision

The God Factor

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“It’s all about who you know.”

That’s what “they” say, whoever “they” are, and I’ve found this statement to be true. Wherever we have lived, we get to know different people in the offices and businesses we frequent. As time passes and we build relationships, I try to see the same person each time I need to visit those places. A friendship of sorts is established and I find my errands to be much more palatable when there’s a friendly face behind the counter.

When we began the long, and sometimes frightening, process of adopting our youngest daughter Andreya, there came a time that we needed a Malawian passport for her in order for us to travel. Her adoption had yet to be finalized and obtaining her passport could have been impossible, had God not intervened. Through a series of events, God gave us favor with an immigration official in the city we were living in at the time, Lilongwe, Malawi, and the unheard of happened – she was granted a passport in just 24 hours. It was a miracle as passports can be held up for months and even years; God just showed up for us.

Fast-forward almost 10 years and we found ourselves in Blantyre, Malawi, planting a new church. We made application to renew our work permits enabling us to stay in the country, and it became apparent that their approval was being delayed. As it is with obtaining passports, it’s not uncommon for work permits to be held up indefinitely. Our temporary permits were valid for only 3 months and time was becoming a critical issue. So we decided to go to the immigration headquarters and find out what was taking so long.

Who did we find had coincidentally been reassigned from Lilongwe to Blantyre? Our contact who had helped us with Andreya’s passport all those years ago sat behind his desk welcoming us. A smile crossed his face as he said he recognized us – even before we recognized him. He looked to Andreya and my husband said, “Here’s the one you helped years ago in Lilongwe,” and a moment was spent giving account of her adoption story to our longtime contact.

You’ve guessed right if you thought that our permits finally did get processed in a reasonable time period. God made a way – and to this day I wonder if this man was reassigned to Blantyre just so he could help us. Yes, I am that convinced that God loves us just that much.

The people we know are more than simple acquaintances or friends to help us socially or emotionally cope with the ebb and flow of life. God connects people on purpose and sometimes those connections are evident, and at other times, they are much more subtle. In fact, I wonder how many of our connections in life go unnoticed by us as to having a “God factor” attached to them. Perhaps only eternity will tell of the puzzle God pieced together in our lifetimes.

As I write this today, Andreya is sitting next to me enveloped in her little girl world of make believe, makeup, and dress up. I look at her little face and find myself wondering what the God connection with her will be? Who will she reach and where will she go? Her older siblings have all made their launch into the world and are making the mark God has destined for them and I wonder where will their connections take them and their children?

I’ve also learned that the connections that bring us places often aren’t what we would think to be the obvious important connections: those with influence and money. God connections often start with ordinary people who lead us to those who can open amazing doors of opportunity. God opportunities are not clothed with money; His opportunities are those that bring us to people, to others. When we look for God opportunities in the form of reaching out to people, God in turn reaches out to us and takes care of our every need. Real value is found in people, not in what they have or what they can do for us; it is for people that Jesus died, not for what they have (John 3:16).

God had Samuel connect David, the unknown shepherd from Jesse’s family, to his destiny (1 Samuel 16:1). Long before that destiny was fulfilled, David was connected to other very normal (some might even call dysfunctional) people whose problems had overwhelmed them (1 Samuel 22:2). Yet this band of dysfunctional outcasts became the foundation for David’s future kingdom and household, and from this household, Jesus was born (Matthew 1:20).

1 Chronicles 14:2 TLB “David now realized why the Lord had made him king and why he had made his kingdom so great; it was for a special reason – to give joy to God’s people!”

God has connections waiting for us just outside our front doors wherever in the world we find ourselves. They may be (and probably are) dysfunctional to some degree, don’t have much to offer, but unbeknownst to them – they are a God connection and have the “God factor” attached to them.

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Posted in Ministry, Missions, Seasoning

Chicken Tikka…What?

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If there’s a place where I feel intimidated, it’s in the spice aisle of the grocery store. In the USA, the spice aisle at the local supermarket is arranged in such a way that is not as intimidating as you find here in Africa. Stateside, spices are sealed and arranged in nice boxes and jars, in alphabetical order on the shelves. There isn’t any difference in the fragrance of the spice aisle to the fragrance found in the potato chip aisle.

Here in Africa, it’s a bit different if you want to buy spices. There’s a large Indian/Asian community in most, if not all, large cities and very often in this community you will find stores where only spices are sold. The spices that are offered for sale in these places aren’t sold in nicely packaged boxes or bottles; they are sold in bulk out of large containers that vary in size. These places are relatively easy to find for their fragrance can be caught 100s of meters away – a sweet, mix of exotic aromas that is difficult to describe and it catches your imagination.

Growing up and living in the States, I had no idea that there was a whole world of spice waiting for me to discover it. Besides using salt and pepper in food, oregano was as exotic as my understanding went in the world of spices. My first exposure to seasonings other than the three that I knew was in 1987, when we first made our move to Africa. We spent some months in Kenya studying Swahili where there is a sizeable Indian community and it was there that I had my first taste of Indian food. I had no idea there was such a variety of flavors in the world. My boring salt and pepper palate gave way to amazing flavors whose names were as exciting as their flavors: masala, curry (both yellow and red), coriander, cardamom, and many others. These spices, I learned, not only were mixed with meat and vegetable dishes but also were added to deserts and beverages. Indian chai in Africa is a delicacy that I’ve never tasted adequately duplicated anywhere else in the world. It’s made over an open fire with loose tea leaves, cardamom, milk, sugar, and sometimes other flavors. Often, it is served with chapatis (a flat bread resembling tortillas) or mandasi (like doughnuts but not very sweet). There’s nothing quite like a cup of African chai on a rainy evening in Africa.

I’m still not very good with using spices in my kitchen, but I try. Spices help otherwise bland and overused recipes turn into something fabulous – if you can figure out how to use and combine them correctly. A relatively new favorite dish of mine is called, “chicken tikka masala.” It is chicken cooked in a creamy reddish sauce with a variety of spices. It can be made mild or hot and is best eaten with rice and naans (an Indian bread). I have attempted to make this dish once; it was so memorable that when my husband reads this post he will wonder when that time was! The point is that I’m ever so slowly trying to introduce new dishes into my boring repertoire of meals.

As I reached for a few new spices on my shelf this past week, in another not-so-famous attempt at a new recipe, I wondered why so many people in this world have yet to experience the wonder of the “flavor” of God? Have we, the church, become so bland that the world has lost interest in the menu we have to offer? Is this because we have not ourselves experienced the rich flavors of what He has to offer? Have we just settled for a meal void of flavor?

Seasoning can be sweet, salty, sour, spicy, hot, and even pungent – some of those don’t really appeal to me. I prefer sweet to sour, salty to hot; if given the choice, I will resist those flavors or seasonings that aren’t to my liking. In like manner, some of the experiences God seasons us with aren’t pleasant but they produce something that not only matures us but also draws others to Him through His work in us.

We can’t offer what we ourselves do not have; we can’t wonder why the world is not interested in what we are preaching because at some point, we have lost our interest, our passion, for God. When we first met the Lord, it was a new and exciting time – we wanted to know everything about God and for everyone to know about what had happened to change us. The years passed and that excitement then waxed and waned with various experiences. Life happened and with those layers of life came waves that dimmed our flavor, we became bland.

2 Chronicles 17:13 “He stored numerous supplies in Judah’s towns and stationed an army of seasoned troops at Jerusalem.”

Only seasoned troops serve in strategic positions and that is who I want to be – a seasoned servant, not a bland shadow of who I’m meant to be. Seasoned troops are seasoned on purpose, they don’t shy away from their commander nor do they resist their assignments. They allow themselves to be placed where their skills and experience can be most effective – where their aroma can reach into the smallest of crevices in their cities and draw the least likely to the feet of Jesus.

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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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Posted in Courage, Faith, Fear, Ministry, Preparation

Perfectly Imperfect

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Perfect, everything has to be perfect:

Before the birthday party begins, everything needs to be perfectly set up…

Before I apply for a job, my resume has to be perfect…

Before I do anything, I have to get everything perfectly ready…

Perfectionism, it’s something that plagues most, if not all, of us in one way or another. From the time we are little children we are taught to keep trying to improve; we are given the impression that what we’ve done simply isn’t good enough.

I understand the importance of making preparations (Luke 14:28), working to improve and do our best, but at the end of the day there’s no way to be perfect or to predict everything that will happen along our journeys in life. There’s never enough experience or money to do everything in our hearts when we start. We never have enough money to go to university, get married or have children. When we had our first child, I am sure everyone thought we were out of our minds. We had no money, no savings, no experience, but we wanted to start a family and we had NO IDEA how much it would cost to raise a family. How our oldest children have grown up and are now on their own astounds me. How did God manage that? Where did He get the money because we certainly didn’t see it in our bank account.

Thinking back to when we first left for Africa, I wonder how well we “counted the cost” of what the call would cost. No amount of preparation could have made us ready for the things we have faced over the years. We had 3 years of service on staff at our home church and had some Bible college under our belts (we both finished our Master’s Degrees later on) when we began our internship in Zaire (DRC). We spent 3 years serving under Ralph and Shirley Hagemeier, learning about missions service. It was the best 3-year investment of our lives; it set our course for the years to come.

Well-meaning organizations set certain guidelines for their missionaries to follow and fill before even being considered for overseas service. I understand the reasoning behind all the requirements, as cracks in our lives turn into large crevices under the pressure of the foreign field. There needs to be a time of preparation and internship for any kind of ministry position. As prepared as we felt once our 3 years with the Hagemeiers was finished, we still had no idea what we were going to face in the years to come. Had we known, I doubt we would’ve had the courage to run the race.

For a brief season in my life I worked in insurance and learned that there are “actuaries” who are professionals that try to figure out the costs involved in insuring people. It would appear that they’ve all fallen very short of counting how much it will cost to insure the health of millions. It may seem that they haven’t done well with their figures but truth be told, they didn’t have enough information to figure costs in the unstable insurance atmosphere that has settled in the USA in the past 20+ years. 20+ years ago, it would have been extremely difficult to envision today’s reality.

In the same way we prepare ourselves for life, but as we embark on this journey we have no way of knowing what will happen tomorrow, especially in the situation our world finds itself in today. Should this keep us from stepping out in faith? Not at all! On the contrary, knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed should be an impetus for us to dive in and trust God – He will definitely get all the glory since there’s no way for us to be prepared for the journey ahead.

James 4:13-16 NKJ Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

In some way, when we rely too much on our preparation and planning, we are returning to relying on ourselves rather than relying on God for the outcome. If the goings-on of this world can prove anything to us it is that we surely don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. In fact, James tells us that too much planning and preparation is actually evil. Why do we live in this life as if it is going to last forever? There are ages yet to come – this is not the end of existence, it’s only the beginning.

Ephesians 2:6,7 NLT For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”

I won’t get it perfect; I’m also learning not to be disappointed when things have an unexpected ending. In fact, most things don’t end up exactly as we had planned. When the winds of change come, when the unexpected arrives, or when disappointments head in our direction the only way to deal with them is head-on. Face it, learn, and grow – if we can only do that, we have accomplished a lot. We’ve learned how to be perfectly imperfect.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

Posted in Ministry, The Call of God, Uncategorized

Where is Everywhere?

I woke early this morning before anyone else. Rain was falling softly on the roof but soon changed its tune to a stronger beat. Sheets of rain began to batter the house, trees, and I wondered how things were faring at the property we just moved our work to over the weekend. Pictures filled my mind: mud, damage to the tent we’re using, roads that were too waterlogged to pass…

We’re lifelong missionaries, that in and of itself is strange to most people. I still feel it is strange from time to time to think about God calling me to distant places to accomplish something for Him. Who am I to have been chosen except someone who was crazy enough to say yes? I’m quite ordinary and can even be introverted at times. I am not the right “pedigree” for ministry (no one in my close family has ever been in ministry full time), and all that I had going for me was a God Who loved me. When His call came to be a missionary in Africa, I accepted without hesitation thinking God would do something amazing – I never thought that I would be the one to change.

It’s been said of missionaries, rightly or wrongly, that they change the places they serve. This can be for good or bad depending on the mission. Personally, I believe in a Gospel that touches people in whatever culture they are in and only enhances the beauty of the people. As such, I have dedicated my life to learning languages and customs, cultures, anything and everything that would help me better communicate the Gospel to those I’m serving. I’m not to change them to what I feel is comfortable for me. Rather, I change to better communicate with them. This is indeed a challenge but has become second nature to my husband and I. We also understand that God created cultures to reflect His amazing nature and He only demands changes in culture that go cross grain to His culture. This truth holds true the world over; as believers none of us are here permanently anyway and our true passport comes from a land that is not of this world (see Hebrews 11).

It’s uncomfortable, changing. Over the years I’ve adapted to change, come to expect it, I’ve even come to embrace it, as I know the end result will be good. The process is unpleasant, though, and there’s no way to get through it except to go through it. When I first moved overseas, I had no idea that as a female my role would go back in time 100 years. Women on the continent of Africa are generally considered to be property that is owned upon marriage. Before marriage, girls are at home helping care for the family. This is changing some in the larger cities but Africa has a long way to go to reach even a fraction of the development in women’s rights that the rest of the developed world enjoys. I wasn’t prepared for the strict rules for dress, makeup, hair, even speaking to men. My role was radically changed and I certainly wasn’t prepared for it and I resisted it internally for a long time. “How unfair is this?” I would whisper to myself.

Maintaining a bad attitude for a long time is exhausting and after a few months of my grumbling and complaining, I began to release the “unfairness” of my situation to God. I remember exactly when I began to change in this direction. We were living in Zaire at the time (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and had gone to a service at a local church where my husband was going to preach the morning’s message. There were no chairs in the building (at least they had a building), we sat on large stones and cement blocks. The floor was sandy and it was hot (sounds like the inside of our tent now!). Sweat was dripping off my forehead as I struggled to get my 2-year-old son to stop playing in the sand. We had already faced a few health challenges with our child and I wasn’t keen for him to get sick again. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something flying around the building. As it turned out, it was a small bat but no one seemed concerned about it so I decided to act as if it didn’t bother me, which was far from the truth.

Finally, my little guy fell asleep on my lap and the service carried on for quite some time. Internally, I was tired, externally, I was tired, and spiritually I was exhausted. While we had attended language school and I was slowly coming to grips with the new language, it was a slow and tedious process. I missed worship in English, I missed services that weren’t 3 hours long, and I missed air conditioning…

That morning as a chorus was led, I recognised the words and tried to sing along, it was my first real attempt at worshipping in a language not my own. My eyes closed as I lifted my one free hand and began to worship from my heart. I understood that this moment was holy. I finally understood that these people and all they go through during their lifetimes: tragedy, poverty, death of loved ones, civil unrest, hurt the heart of the Father and they were precious to Him. To serve them is to serve Him and there wasn’t anything from that point that was too great for Him to ask of me.

Much debate has taken place in recent times about whether “going” to the nations is viable. I do understand why that argument can be made; with all of the troubles taking place in what were the traditional “sending” countries causes people to be a bit more introspective. This is only natural and right. I don’t believe God would have us ignore what’s going on at home, but at the same time, neither do I believe that He would have us ignore what’s happening around the world. The scriptures are clear; they haven’t changed with the evolving crises around the world. Jesus said in Mark 16:15 LB “And then he told them, “You are to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere.”

As a missionary, my job is to work myself out of a job, which I’ve done alongside my husband over and over again planting churches and community outreaches and leaving them in the hands of national believers working alongside us. It gives me great joy to see them fulfill all that is in their hearts and to go farther than we ever did – so we can keep going to tell the news to everyone, everywhere.

My everywhere right now is here in Blantyre, Malawi, in the rain, under the tent, with a sandy floor, at early Morning Prayer. Praying for the people of the city, praying for leaders to help, praying for a move of God, praying for a building soon as I’m not quite sure how long the tent will hold up under the rains!

So where is your everywhere? Anywhere you are. God calls all of us differently and our only task is to be faithful to Him where we are and make sure those around us know about this Good News. Tell them, tell everyone in your everywhere.