Posted in Endurance, Faith, Patience, Preparation, Questions

It Will Take As Long It Takes

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“How can I possibly get this done in time?” I asked myself frantically. “How in the world am I supposed to have this lesson done by Thursday morning, let alone have it proofread ahead of time?” I had talked myself out of even trying; I convinced myself that any attempt to get the lesson written in English and then translated into Swahili would be futile.

In 1987, I finished three months of language school and soon after found myself being expected to teach a class in the language I had just studied: Swahili. I was only six months out of my studies and had been given a translator to assist me during my first few months post-language school. Those were good months! I had enough understanding to hear and understand the topics of conversation; having a translator kept me from forcing myself to become conversational on my own.

The smooth sailing was short-lived; the translator was needed for others who knew less of the language than I did; it was time to teach on my own in Swahili. I was assigned to teach a class on prayer. The class met on Thursday mornings for one and a half hours, which felt like an eternity of time to fill. I was barely conversational at that point; I had to carry a dictionary with me whenever I went anywhere. Going to the market was always an adventure: I would go (trusty dictionary in hand of course) with a list that I had translated into Swahili beforehand and meet the ladies who were there selling their produce. Always smiling, they helped me unlock the meaning to words and phrases I failed to find in my dictionary on my own.

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When I finally summoned enough courage, I opened my lesson book and began with the title, which was simple enough, “Prayer.” On a corresponding sheet of paper, this was pre-laptop and printer days, I handwrote the title in Swahili, “Maombi.” I encouraged myself, “This is like translating the grocery list.” I worked over an entire day to write and translate the first page, I had several more to go before my first lesson was complete – and there were, if memory is serving me correctly, ten full lessons that I had to write, translate, and teach. When, after a week, my first lesson was complete (over ten carefully handwritten pages), I went to have it proofread by Shirley Hagemeier who was, with her husband Ralph, our senior missionary. By the time she was finished, my poor translation skills were on full display. Shirley, being the gentle lady that she is, encouraged me. She said, “Be patient, every week you will get a bit better.”

Week after week, I walked to Shirley’s house to have my paper checked for errors. Week after week, I watched my skills slowly improve. The time required for me to write and translate the class filled my days; I had difficulty keeping up with going to the market, cooking (that’s another blog for another day), and other necessary and unglamorous life-duties. By the end of my first term teaching in Swahili, however, I began to find myself not only reading my painstakingly written notes, but I was also able to answer some of the students’ questions without first having to go home and translate the question and then write out their answers.

After two years of speaking Swahili, we moved to another city away from Ralph and Shirley where we taught in one of their extension Bible schools. I was quite comfortable by that point with living in Africa, and moved around the city we had moved to easily without a dictionary. In time, I became acquainted with another missionary, Mrs. Grooms, who had served as a missionary for many years. She was fluent in Swahili as well as a couple of other languages spoken in the region and was an encouraging soul. One day, over a cup of coffee, she told me that while I was doing well with language study, that language study was not over. I would spend my first five years on the field studying language.

I left her house that day, my three-year-old in tow, thinking I was fluent enough in Swahili. Three more years of language study didn’t sound appealing to me at all – I bristled at the thought. Surely there were more important things to do than learn languages! However, in the back of my mind I knew that Mrs. Grooms was right. Swahili was a great language to know but there were great swaths of people who didn’t speak Swahili. If I learned French, a major language in Central/West Africa, I could communicate with even more people.

A year later I found myself in another classroom in France studying French and another year later (three years after Mrs. Groom’s comment) I was sitting down to study my 3rd language: Kirundi (the language spoken in Burundi where we had gone to plant our first church). Shirley Hagemeier’s words rang in the back of my mind as all the languages jumbled together in my mind: “Be patient.” It was apparent, by that time, that Africa was to play a major role in my life and I had learned to be patient with the process. As the years passed, I learned two more languages, translated more classes, books, and lessons than I can remember. Five years actually was a conservative period of time spent learning language – it may be more like seven or ten years of language study for the career missionary.

I no longer worry about how long a process will take; it will take as long as it takes. There’s always a reason God puts us through His processes – and we are not always going to be privy to His reasons. Those feelings I have of frustration at His process is an indicator of my weak faith and foolish pride. If I truly trust in Him, then I have no option but to submit and follow Him answering, “Yes, Lord.”

There were bonuses to my submitting to God’s process: not only did I learn how to communicate without translators, I learned patience, perseverance, and the cultural nuances that one learns only when digging into the language of the people of the land. I was also easier to live with when I gave up struggling with the process.

How long will it take to get it over and done with? It takes as long as it takes, but hidden in the time it takes will be the elements needed to take you on parts of your journey that are yet unknown to you, but not to your Father.

Psalm 9:10 TLB “All those who know your mercy, Lord, will count on you for help. For you have never yet forsaken those who trust in you.”

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 Fasting, Organization, Preparation

Day 20 – The Laundry

Are you a planner? An organizer? Someone who likes things to fit into neat boxes? I like to plan and organize as much as I can. I find if I can keep things as orderly as possible, life proceeds a bit more smoothly. I’ll make mental lists of chores to do for the day – I’ll add memos to my phone, write sticky notes to remind myself of “things to do” for the day. Unfortunately, when I resort to using sticky notes I forget that I’ve written them until days later.

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One of the things in life that needs to be done regularly is laundry. There’s no panic quite like the panic of needing school uniforms only to find they are all dirty, or for a preacher to wake up on a Sunday morning only to find that there are no shirts for him to wear! Then the manic digging through the laundry hamper begins – trying to find a shirt that isn’t “that dirty.”

I’ve seen shirts pulled from the laundry, sniffed and sprayed with deodorant and declared fit for use. The image of this ever happening on my watch as main caretaker of our laundry makes me shudder. When I was first married, my mother drilled it into my mind that the state of my family’s laundry was a direct reflection on my character. Now, I know that’s not true, that my people are capable to figure out their own laundry, but somehow I can’t seem to accept that truth at my core. I’m the “laundry police” and am almost obsessed with clean laundry.

This mentality of mine, for clean laundry, has been further drilled into me living here in Africa. With the ever-present threat of water shortages, I take care of getting the laundry done as often as possible because it is likely that at least one day in the week the water will be turned off.

To keep things flowing at the “laundry level” it means there’s a price to be paid! Laundry has to be washed regularly. But, it’s bound to happen, that the odd, unforeseen emergency pops up. Maybe the water won’t go off but something else is bound to complicate the process. What to do when the baby dirties each and every bib in the house or the dog messes on the folded laundry or the children track mud everywhere? We pay the price and get the laundry done if it means we stay up til midnight so that life can carry on tomorrow.

Psalm 68:19 ESV “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.”

I’d like to think that when the unforeseen happens, our Father helps us step up and get things done that need doing.

In this New Year, as we prepare to end our 21 day fast tomorrow and set our faith in alignment with the will of God for us this year, we need to keep in mind that just like the laundry – the unexpected will happen. It’s very easy after an intense and amazing season with the Lord to forget that on the other side of this time, there will be tests and trials of the vision God gave to us during this fast.

This year’s wash is bound to have a few unexpected dirty t-shirts. The Father’s there to bear us up when He needs to. He has all that we need to help us not get behind with the laundry, we don’t have to do this alone.