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

Always

I’m happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Categories
Despair Judgment Kindness Kingdom Mercy Missions

The Roosters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Did You Do Today?

Today I went to the bank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Categories
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?”

Categories
Feeding Missions Perspective Provision Sick Waiting

The Pots Were Too Small

I feel like everyone’s grandmother. Whenever someone comes over, the standard question I ask is, “Have you eaten?” I don’t know why I have this seemingly inborn need to know if someone is alright, if they are hungry, if I can do something. My mother was the same, she went to great lengths to make sure everyone had something to eat. I think she must have had this tendency passed on to her from her mother, my grandmother. I remember at our family gatherings, as a small child sitting around the table, my grandmother fussed over everyone, making sure everyone had what they needed.

Now this mantle has fallen on me and try as I might, I am unable to shake it.

Often when we say we “need” something, we really don’t need it; we may be more comfortable with it, but it really isn’t a need. My husband (the ultimate non-shopper) says, “You can’t wear more than 1 pair of shoes at a time.” To date, I’ve not been able to win that argument (please message me if you have something I can use when I’m out shoe shopping with him next time).

In the past 31 years, I’ve been blessed to see hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of hungry people fed here in Africa and I’ve not yet tired of handing out plates of food to those beautiful extended hands. When someone is truly hungry, that plate of food speaks more of the love of God to them than thousands of hours of the best preaching on planet earth.

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Feeding in the hospital, September 2018

Matthew 25:31-40 NLT vs. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”

Today, as we do every month in Bujumbura, Burundi, our church team fed in a local hospital. Here in Africa most hospitals do not feed their patients. Therefore, reaching out and feeding the sick translates into feeling better faster as patients need to eat well to recover properly; poor nutrition equals poor recovery. As happy as I was to go feed, I knew that we wouldn’t be able to feed all of the patients. The pots were too small, we didn’t have enough for everyone and this was not at all to my satisfaction.

While waiting for the food to cook (we feed roughly 100 patients), my eyes caught a glimpse of 2 very large pots that looked familiar. I found out they were cooking pots that I had bought in 1997 when we were feeding 1,500 displaced children daily during a time of unrest in the country.  My heart sank when I learned that the church cleaning team was using them to wash chairs. Soon, however, it was time to go and my mindset changed from what I saw at the church to the task at hand – tending to the sick in hospital.

As we handed out a cooked meal, soap, and sugar, I visited a man, Yakobo, who has been hospitalized for over 2 months after being hit by a car. He was transported from his village to the capital where we live to get help and that help was delayed due to a lack of funds for much-needed surgery to treat multiple fractures in his right arm and both legs. We first met last month just a short while after his accident and when I met him, his situation moved me to tears. I began writing email appeals, spreading his news everywhere in an attempt to find help for this dear soul.  His hospital bill was over $500.00 (expensive for this particular hospital) and neither I nor the church had money to pay for this bill on top of everything else on our plates. While we waited for God to answer our prayers, I sent food to him and his caretaker weekly. I struggled to keep myself positive – how was he going to get the attention he needed?

Just a few days ago, while fighting worry over his situation, I was messaged online by an anonymous local donor who wanted to help. They requested his name and where he was located which I gladly supplied. On Friday when we delivered his food to him we found Yakobo smiling, he had his first of 3 surgeries. I chastised myself for being surprised at this answer to our prayers – God heard and answered in a way we weren’t expecting. Yes, more surgery is needed but we know that God never leaves a project undone.

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Yakobo recovering from surgery after 2 months in hospital. September 2018

More critical needs came to my attention today and together with the team, we did our best to address what we could. It was tempting to feel desperate for all the different situations until we passed by another patient that we had prayed for two months (yes, two months) earlier: a small child who had an advanced case of tuberculosis and malnutrition. Two months ago when we initially prayed for the child, I fought my own feelings about what could be done for her in such a state. Her stomach was distended due to severe malnutrition and she cried constantly as severely malnourished children do. Today, while still in poor condition, she was markedly better and eating. We stopped to give thanks to the Lord for more answered prayers – indeed God would finish what He had started, full healing is on the way.

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Still in frail condition with TB and malnutrition, this one is beginning to make a recovery.

 

As we were finishing, the painful reality of how little it seemed we accomplished that morning hit me. Driving home, the usual chatter going on in the car, I prayed, “Let us do more.” My mind then returned to the big pots at the church and I smiled remembering how many times from 1987 until now God has come through to help us feed the hungry. Where will the money come from? I don’t know – I’m on a “need to know” basis only but there’s one thing I know:

The pots were too small today, but we can fix that.

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Bought in 1997, my big pots are ready to be fired up again.
Categories
Change Correction Cross Family Forgiveness Kindness Kingdom Missions

Be Nice

I remember one of my favorite things to say to my 3 older kids when they were growing up was:

“Be nice.”

Sometimes it felt nearly impossible to get through a day without a major crisis unfolding between 2 or all 3 of them. The oldest would pop the youngest over the head, the 2nd born (a daughter) would take great delight in getting her 2 brothers in trouble, and the 3rd born relished in the fact that he had it a bit easier than his 2 older siblings. Now, with a 4th one that came a full 15 years after our 3rd, you know there is a lot of “you didn’t do that for us” going around.

Well, I confess, there’s truth to that statement, but we learn as we go don’t we? While we were waiting for our first child to be born, I remember thinking how I would do everything better than everyone else (why I thought this I am not sure). I knew how I wanted to raise my child in a certain way that was better than everyone else’s. I was sure that my household would be quiet, peaceful, the laundry would always be folded, dinner on the table, and everyone would be nice.

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Fast forward 10 years and I found myself up to my neck in raising children, living abroad, and somehow working as a full-time missionary Africa. I honestly do not know how I made it through those days with my mind still somewhat intact. The amount of work that just goes into running a household here is stupefying; there is no fast food (thankfully), no quick place to shop (you go to the market which is an all-day ordeal), and keeping the house clean is a whole other blog for another day. All of this doesn’t take into account the work of the mission and church. At the end of every day (much like you wherever you are), both then and now, I wonder how I made it and continue to make it and follow my own counsel to “be nice.” Honestly, I wasn’t always as nice as I had hoped to be – but I always worked on it and am still working on it!

Ephesians 4:31,32 LB “Stop being mean, bad-tempered, and angry. Quarreling, harsh words, and dislike of others should have no place in your lives. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you because you belong to Christ.”

In the current supercharged world of “speaking our minds,” many have forgotten the need for those of us identifying as Christians to just be nice, be kind to each other. Everywhere we look these days be it online, TV, print, or in person there’s a strong negative current to “speak up for what is right.” We are ambassadors of the Kingdom and our righteous King, but we won’t convince anyone of their need for Christ if our righteousness is covered in ugliness. No matter the situation, Scripture is clear on the matter, we must be nice.

Society has always been ugly, humanity has always been divided, and the church can’t fulfill her mission when she looks, acts, and speaks like the world. Whatever happened to following Jesus advice to “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 NLT)

Have you ever noticed how exhausting it is to force change with anger or frustration? I wonder how many ulcers and troubles with high blood pressure could be averted by simply being nice. 

I learned this truth the hard way years ago serving here on the continent when I saw much hunger, injustice, and unnecessary death. I worked myself to the bone trying to bring change; no matter how hard I worked, no matter how many hungry and vulnerable children I fed, there were still more than needed feeding and despite my valiant efforts, people still went hungry. I became tired and bitter about my situation and the unfairness of it all – until one day, after sickness forced me to rest, I understood that anything pulling me from Jesus’ yoke that gives me rest is not His will for me. Over time I began to understand that this fallen world is full of sin and sin can’t be dealt with on our terms. Anger, frustration, overworking, and self-righteousness pull us away from His way to address man’s fallen nature by just being nice. The response of humanity to the message of the cross is not my responsibility; I am only responsible to bring the Good News. As long as there is sin in the world, there will be division, injustice, and pain.

This doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth for Scripture clearly instructs us to “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT) What is our motive for speaking out and what is our method? If love for those we see lost in sin is our motive, then our methods will line up with Scripture – otherwise we are only adding fuel to the fire of division instead of bringing Christ in to redeem the situation.

How has frustration over the sinfulness of this world worked for us thus far? How has being angry helped any situation? Jesus walked this fallen earth and seldom was seen showing outright anger and frustration to the world; He had come to save them, give Himself for them – He died for them. His frustration was seen in the temple, among the “righteous,” who were too bsuy enriching themselves to reach out to those who really needed help – those outside of the temple (for us this can be taken to mean the church).

My youngest daughter loves the movie, “Frozen” and the theme song, “Let it go.” I rarely spiritualize animated movies but today I will make an exception. Those things frustrating you, those unfair, unrighteous, unholy, difficult things that anger you – let them go. Take Jesus’ yoke on you, He is the only One qualified to measure out judgment. Now is the time to be the church in the world, speak in love, and simply put:

Be nice.

 

Categories
Choices Courage Destiny Kingdom Missions Obedience Rescue

It Was Good

When we landed in Africa back in 1987, the wonder of our surroundings took our breath away. The setting was picturesque: where we were to live was set on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika with the mountains of Tanzania on the other side of the lake seen as a dim outline on the horizon. The afternoon we arrived, full of jet lag, I was sure that since I was in Africa my morning coffee was going to be an amazing event since Africa is known for its coffee.

My hopes were dashed when in the kitchen later in the day, all the coffee that there was to be found on the shelf was a small tin of instant coffee. I was horrified but decided to give the questionable powder, made in neighboring Tanzania, a chance. As a first generation American of Finnish decent, the importance of coffee in our culture’s daily routine is impossible to deny – and the words  “instant coffee” aren’t words we Finns dare to utter, even in jest, when speaking of coffee.

Weeks turned into months and I was still bound to drinking the sullied concoction of coffee-flavored powder and hot water. What I had learned, out of necessity in a very short period of time, was how to make mayonnaise, bake bread, and cook a meal from almost nothing. What escaped me was real brewed coffee. As my borders expanded personally, I braved going to town and the market by myself and learned to speak the local language which helped in all of my bold exploits. Everything I learned wasn’t a result of my curiosity; it came purely out of necessity and the process of learning often left me in a puddle of tears – but I learned over and over that those hard processes were good for me.

Yet, in spite of all my learning, a good cup of coffee in the land of coffee seemed out of my reach. Until one day when I was walking in the market and saw a pile of strange pale colored beans on the ground (for all things in the market were lined up on the ground). I asked the lady selling the strange beans what they were and to my delight she said, “kahawa” (coffee). Without hesitation I scooped up two kilos (a bit over four pounds) and headed home with high hopes of fresh coffee in my mind.

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I knew the coffee needed to be cleaned (obviously) and then roasted in our oven which was easy enough – but how was I to grind it? There was no store where I could buy a coffee grinder or anything like a coffee grinder; but I wasn’t ready to give up. I had seen the ladies in the villages grinding flour with large mortars and pestles, called a “kinu,” made of wood. Of course there were none that were ready-made to be found, I had to order one to be made. After what seemed to be months (which was really only a week or two) the elusive “kinu” was delivered to my doorstep.

It couldn’t be too hard to grind coffee, could it? Once I had my “kinu” I got to the serious business of grinding our coffee beans. The pounding was harder than I thought, it took a toll on my shoulders, but I eventually learned how to work with this contraption. The pestle (large stick that pounds into the mortar) was heavy and it worked best when allowed to fall through my hands and smash the beans. In time, I was able to grind a week’s worth of coffee in minutes without having sore shoulders afterwards.

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I really have used a “kinu” many times and each cup of coffee made it worth the effort! PS – pls ignore the 80s hair and bad perm not to mention the SHOES!

2 Corinthians 1:8-10 LB “I think you ought to know dear brothers, about the hard time we went through…We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us…And He did help us and save us…”

It couldn’t be too hard, serving God, could it? Like grinding coffee, it seemed to me when I started out in my life of serving God that it would be simple enough to follow the Leader. Later on I came to understand that what appeared to be easy in the beginning turned out to be hard when the waves of opposition, misunderstanding, and lack met me, it seemed at every juncture. Those waves made it easy for me to want to quit.

Like you, I’ve wanted to quit on more than one occasion. Sometimes I’ve felt like quitting multiple times in a day and I imagine I’m not alone. But I’m still here, still moving forward, holding out hope against hope for a brighter tomorrow.  So what is it that keeps me going when giving up sorely tempts me to walk away? I can answer this question with a question: What is there to go back to? I’ve seen and experienced too much of God to give up on Him.

It is on the other side of my wanting to quit I find those miracles that I’ve prayed for, so the process of being in a place of wanting to quit but refusing to puts me in a place of Divine intervention, and that is an honor. God doesn’t have to step in and save me, He owes me nothing and I owe Him everything, but He always does what He does best: He comes to my rescue. This honor is offered to all but only few dare to walk far enough past the proverbial “line drawn in the sand” to receive it. So it was good when I found myself powerless to help because it placed me in a place of trusting God, hoping in and believing that His promises are true.

Psalm 16:6 ESV “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

Those lines we draw of wanting to quit bring us to what otherwise would have eluded us – a beautiful inheritance. In reality, the lines are pleasant lines if we can just see past what has gotten us there.

So it was good that I was doomed.

So it was good that I was helpless.

So it was good that I was powerless.

For the lines have now fallen for me in pleasant places.

 

Categories
Choices Church planting Comfort Courage Destiny Familiarity Family Missions

Abnormally Normal

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“If you do not hope, you do not find out what is beyond your hopes.”                           Clement of Alexandria

I’ve hoped and dreamed and trusted for so many years for so many things – some have come to pass and some haven’t. Why have some come to pass and others haven’t? I don’t think I’m able to grasp the “why” of each circumstance, but I do know that I somehow still find in myself the grip of my going on with my dreaming, hoping, and trusting.

What if what I’ve dreamed of, hoped for, and trusted is on the way is just beyond this moment I’m in?

What is the alternative to dreaming, hoping and trusting?

I’ve heard it said that if you shoot for the moon, you might hit the stars. If you shoot for nothing, that is exactly what you will get. I think the chance of hitting a few stars is more appealing to me than achieving nothing at all!

As if our own internal struggles weren’t enough to tempt us to discouragement, there are those who have taken up the cause to help us “think things through logically.” Or to be “wise” in the way we approach things. Indeed, we are to live in wisdom, but not the wisdom that this world is accustomed to:

1 Corinthians 1:20,21, CEB “Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? In God’s wisdom, He determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching.”

Wisdom that comes from God will always run cross-grain to that what this world considers to be wise. Certainly my life doesn’t appear to have been lived wisely as far as this world’s wisdom is concerned. First of all, I didn’t get a degree that would promise me a lucrative career; imagine spending years studying Theology and Christian Social Ministry. It doesn’t bring in much money even though I earned my Master’s Degree – nevertheless I loved every bit of my studies. A part of me wishes I could go on further but time, location, and cost give me reason to pause!

Where I’m located (Burundi) also presents a problem as far as the wisdom of this world is concerned. I’m far from family, friends, and my home culture – I can’t tell you how painful it is to be far from our families but The Name is worth the living and giving of all of our lives (see Acts 5:41, that’s a blog for another day). To fit in, I’ve had to learn languages, cultural cues that make no sense to me, and face misunderstanding on every side. Why choose to be far away? Why choose such a road? How will you afford retirement (we have saved regularly but it’s far from what is projected that we would need later on in life, missions work is not lucrative)? How will you pay for all the things you say you’re going to do?

There are no easy answers to any of those questions as far as “normal” people are concerned and it’s painfully obvious that I’m not a normal person and I didn’t marry a normal person either. We are a terrific misfit couple and are comfortable in our “abnormal” normal (for us) life. This doesn’t mean we don’t struggle or feel anything, it simply means that the One Who pulls us to do what we do, hope for what we hope for, dream as we do, and trust when everything says “give up” is far more powerful than any opposition and hardship we face.

Who will step in and resuce me when things go upside down? Not anyone who has tried to convince me to do something more “reasonable” with my life – for they would find something unfortunate to say even if I lived “safely” according to what the world thinks is wise. The only One Who has the power to save, and has saved me each and every time I’ve needed it, stands by my side keeping watch over me and mine.

Psalm 11:1,4 LB “How dare you tell me, ‘Flee to the mountains for safety,’ when I am trusting in the Lord?…But the Lord is still in His holy temple; He still rules from heaven…”

He still rules and that is more than enough for me.

 

 

Categories
Change Church planting Courage Endurance Faith Holy Spirit Missions Patience Perspective Serving Unexplained Unknown

So It Is

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There are so many lessons to learn when a big change takes place in life. Most of the time I can, with relative accuracy, predict what the 2 main lessons in such a change will be (since I’ve gone through this multiple times): faith and patience. Faith to trust God when the next step is ambiguous at best and patience to walk down a path that might make me take more time than I had hoped to reach my destination.

I mistakenly thought I would bounce back from a move like this one we have just taken (from Malawi to Burundi) quickly; perhaps I was a bit presumptuous in thinking so. It was easy for me to think, “I’ve seen it all.” when really I haven’t touched the tip of the iceberg in life experience. Yes, I’ve worked overseas since 1987, yes I have moved multiple times across countries and continents, and yes of course I have experienced quite a bit – but I’ve not experienced enough to say I know it all.

The past weeks have reminded me that not all changes we make in life are equal. There are many factors that can figure into our reactions during changes in our lives, I won’t even try to list them there are so many, it can be mind-boggling as we try to make adjustments along the way. Thankfully, there is one constant truth that I cling to every time we have had to make changes (big or small) and that is God, my Father, loves me and always does what’s best for me. If I can manage to keep that truth in focus, everything else eventually falls into place.

It seems, as I look back on the past few months, that God is always teaching me the same lesson in a different way: trust Him and His process. If I resist the process long enough, God will simply bring me around again to another set of circumstances to teach me the same lesson again. Better to learn it the first time!

I used to be under the impression that our lives are meant to be lived for God so we can do something for Him; kind of a merit-based faith! Don’t mistake me here, I believe we give all we have back to God: our time, energy, talents, and possessions. However, we don’t give it all to get His approval or His blessings, Jesus already did the work for us so we don’t have to strive any longer. We have been given God’s approval in Him – we are blessed! Anything I might do in my lifetime for God is simply an expression of love that I have for Him and that lets me off the hook of seeking after merit!

Since God is after the best for me, not what He can get from me as I have thought in times past, it would seem the best course of action would be to trust His processes over my own. Those processes don’t make sense to my mind most of the time, but my heart somehow understands what God’s Spirit is leading me to do.

John 3:8 NIV “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

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Living this way, by the Spirit, can be quite intimidating in the sense that most of the time those around us are likely to misunderstand what we are doing. In fact, it might even seem a bit “flighty” to those around us. It might appear to those observing us that we don’t know which direction we are taking, and in this life of the Spirit so it is. We don’t really know where we are going. All we know for certain is that God is good and He takes us to the places where we need to go in order for Him to work in us and through us. This life is a big puzzle that God majestically puts together from start to finish – we just don’t know where those pieces fit much of the time until we look back and can say, “Now I see.” 

We’re after a goal that only God knows how we can attain, so as He leads may we follow – even to the consternation of those around us. So it is, we often won’t be understood or embraced, but if we dare to let God’s Spirit blow through us, nothing can hold us back from seeing the pieces fall into place.

 

Categories
Church planting Faithfulness Family Missions Obedience Sacrifice The Call of God

A Full Moon

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.

www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-cni94-942e1b