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

All Over The World

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

All over the world, people are crying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rant over. Time for coffee.

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Destiny, Dreams, God's call, Missions, Obedience, The Call of God

No Fine Print

The notion of living and working overseas can be thrilling – and it is thrilling. There’s nothing like living in a foreign land and seeing God start something from nothing. I’ve seen churches planted, leaders trained, schools established, children fed, many miracles too numerous to recount, and as the years have gone by, I’ve watched my own family grow and change.

When I first stepped off the plane in 1987, I imagined my life would turn out one way: that we would see miracles and our work would take off like the Space Shuttle from Cape Canaveral. While dreaming for an amazing takeoff was what we had hoped for, it wasn’t what we experienced.

No one told me that it would take years to learn languages and culture.

No one told me that it would take years to see 14 churches planted.

No one told me that this call would require me to surrender everything I had.

Little of what I experienced was part of the actual plan I had formulated in my head.

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It seems that this life that we have chosen, that many have chosen before us, never comes with any “fine print” to read. There is no full disclosure, no rigid job description, nor is there any guarantee of what this world would consider to be success. The only promise we have is that God will be with us.

I’ve been reading of the exodus of Israel from Egypt the past few days during my morning devotions and I’ve noticed there’s a common thread woven among those who accept “God assignments.” Moses was originally sent on a mission to deliver God’s people from Egypt, his original assignment was to deliver God’s people from Pharoah’s rule (Acts 7:35). There was nothing in the fine print of the original call that said he would, subsequent to delivering God’s people, have to not only lead them beyond the exodus but into a relationship with God as He gave instructions for the tabernacle and all associated sacrifices and procedures. Moses simply began with what he knew and then the doors of God’s will kept opening before him – and he walked through them one by one.

While he was far from perfect, the one thing that qualified Moses is the same thing that qualifies anyone who dares to say “yes” when God calls: fierce obedience. This kind of obedience moved Moses to leaving life as he knew it behind and into a walk of the unknown. He saw God work miracles, part waters, and speak with Him face-to-face as a friend (Exodus 33:11). He also experienced many trials: leading an unruly people, separation from his wife and children, jealousy, strife, and even attempted takeovers. The only expectation Moses had from God was that God’s presence accompany them – he knew that if God was with him and the people, they would make it to whatever destination God had in mind.

Exodus 33:14,15 NKJV My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. Then he said to Him, ‘If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.'”

All of us long to see the extreme blessings we read about or hear of, we want to see the dead raised and miraculous provision, but dare we live in the way required to see the seas part? Are we really that radical?

Posted in 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.”

 

 

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 Choices, Church planting, Courage, Cross, God's call, Inadequacy, Kingdom, Leadership, Loss, Missions, Obedience, Popularity, Rejection, The Call of God

The Hashtag

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In this new world of social media, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, Facebooking, Twittering, texting, and other forms virtual contact that I am surely not aware of, there has arisen an unlikely hero on our keyboards: the hashtag, aka #. I don’t even know how to punctuate that in a sentence!

On my keyboard, prior to its recent popularity, the hashtag sat mostly unused above the number 3. I would occasionally use it as a number sign but for the most part, I could’ve easily lived life without a hashtag. Until the advent of the #hashtag movement, this humble symbol went largely unnoticed.

I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind, what appeared to me at the time, the arbitrary use of the symbol until one day when I saw this posted beneath a meme (a picture or image with a piece of relevant text added to it):

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The meaning of the hashtag finally had dawned on the horizon of my understanding. The humble hashtag, when followed by a word or several words connected without spaces, is meant to connect people to the subject at hand and communicate a short truth such as #thestruggleisreal. I finally got it and I saw that hashtag (#thestruggleisreal) fall into place many times over the subsequent months and years.

The truth of the matter is that the struggle really is real, the hashtag has meaning. There are some things we’re going through that have no explanation, no easy way out, no shortcuts to their resolution. The only way to see them through is through the struggle, and that struggle is real. Bishop T.D. Jakes puts it so well in saying, “You have to pay full price.”

As a church planter I’ve experienced more than what I originally thought was my “fair share” of struggle. It seems as if every step forward is accompanied by troubles that go beyond the lines of my expertise. On a regular basis I find myself posing the same question, “Why the struggle?”

There’s a common thread weaving itself through the intertwined fingers of humanity; we’re all seeking an escape from the struggle. Try as we might, however, the struggle finds us and the fight goes on for as long as there are days we have left to live – neither is creation exempt from the struggle.

Romans 8:20-22 ESV “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

While in our day and age much is taught about the blessings of God (and rightfully so, we are blessed), little is said in comparison of the struggle we face in our futility. We struggle for the freedom we know is part of our Kingdom inheritance, we struggle in our journeying, we struggle for the answers to our prayers and come face-to-face with the reality of how real the struggle is.

Who knew?

On a warm afternoon in October 1991, I stepped off a plane with my young family and onto the tarmac at the airport in Bujumbura, Burundi. Heat rose from the runway in the distance and blurred the outlines of the trees and faraway mountains. My heart was full of hope for the future but the loneliness of our situation wasn’t lost on me. We’ve often joked about this in the past – but on the other side of our joking was the reality of our utter solitude as we began the work of planting our first church.

I can’t the number of times we’ve felt misunderstood by not only strangers but by those who are close to us. How can we go about explaining the fire in our hearts for Africa to others whose journeys are so very different from ours? What possesses us to choose this lifestyle, one so very foreign to our own? This is perhaps one of the most painful of the struggles we encounter (and we encounter it regularly). There is no logic to this call, what is worth this kind of sacrifice?

Over the years we’ve struggled with financial lack, insecurity in the countries we have lived in (not knowing from one day to the next what could happen), sickness, and leaving our children and grandchildren behind in the USA. As this cycle of struggle and loss repeats itself I find myself struggling less and looking forward more. I can’t move forward while at the same time looking back. Has my heart hardened? Am I now unaffected by the struggle? Not in the least. But I’ve learned that as real as the struggle is, the rewards of the struggle are much greater than any pain I’ll suffer in the here and now.

Philippians 3:8-10 ESV “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

I have little, in comparison to others, to offer God. While I’ve never gone to bed hungry or held any significant debt, my bank account alone gives testimony to my total reliance on God to meet my needs. I haven’t a great musical talent or prominent spiritual gift that can help propel me forward into the limelight. I don’t have the “pedigree” of coming from a family line of preachers. Neither do I possess any significant connection into the world of the rich and famous. What I do have to offer is this life God gave to me; He gave His all for me and I am now doing the same for Him.

And about that struggle, yes, #thestruggleisreal – but it’s only #temporary.

Posted in Bible reading, Choices, Church planting, Devotion, Goals, God's Word, Kingdom, Missions, Perspective, Serving, The Call of God

Hello

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Immersion. That’s a word you don’t hear often.

In the context of missions, it is the best way to learn language, culture, and the discipline required to acquire both. While becoming fluent evades some, the simple effort to communicate in the local language is appreciated by those we live with. I don’t remember ever being berated in Africa for saying something incorrectly; I’ve always been met with smiles and appreciation for the little effort made to learn to say “hello.”

I had never, in all of my days, thought that I would speak more than 2 languages: English and Finnish (my parents are from Finland and I grew up speaking Finnish at home). I also didn’t know how speaking 2 languages from the get-go would help me learn 5 more languages. My mind was already accustomed to working between 2 languages; adding another 1 or even 5 wouldn’t be impossible.  Yes, you read that correctly: 5 more languages. I studied all of them but became fluent in 3 of the 5. Since our return to Burundi last month, I’ve been working on my Kirundi that I studied in 1991 when we first moved here to plant a church. In 2000 we moved away and as a result, I lost the bit of Kirundi I had learned. However, now that we are back, I’m finding myself speaking more in Kirundi than ever before – I’ve been immersed! Just give me another year to practice and I’ll not only be slightly conversational, I will speak fluently.

Learning the culture of any people group comes from learning language, for culture is deeply intertwined in language. Just think of how differently English is spoken in different places around the world! Years ago in Zambia, my husband was preaching in our church on a Sunday morning. He attempted to tell a joke, which often backfires here as what we may think is funny, often falls flat.  What is funny to us from the USA is often incomprehensible here in Africa. The same holds true for African humor versus Western humor. We often don’t see what’s funny to the other! However, on this particular Sunday, Jamie (my husband) was rewarded with not only a laugh from the crowd but an addendum to the joke. The joke went like this as he said:

“It has been said that the British invented English, but it’s the Americans who perfected it.”

From the crowd, we heard the following:

“And the Zambians ruined it!”

Roars of unexpected laughter filled the place – I’ll never forget it. Why was it so funny? Well, you’d have to hear Zambians speak English to appreciate how funny it was.

Culture and language, they go hand in hand and if we can’t learn to pick up on their cues we risk being effective wherever in the world we find ourselves.

Becoming fluent in language and culture came (and is still coming after nearly 31 years of learning) through being immersed, there is no shortcut, no second option. It’s the only way to leap over the barrier that separates me from those I’m serving and it’s a barrier that must be overcome. Living among the people we serve and being forced, as it were, to communicate with them and learn the ebbs and flows of the culture is enabling me to communicate through a filter they will understand. It’s an extremely frustrating season for anyone serving in a culture foreign to their own – but it’s what we came here for. We didn’t come to bring American language and culture to Africa. We came to Africa to bring Kingdom culture to those we touch. The onus to change how we communicate is on us, not on those around us (see Acts 17:16-21 when Paul was ministering at Athens).

The same principle holds true in Kingdom culture and language. The more we immerse ourselves in the culture and language of the Kingdom of God, the more fluent and comfortable we will become. His cultural cues become increasingly engrained in us as we spend time studying His language, His Word. The more effort we put into learning His ways and language, the more we will get out of our relationship with Him. As time passes we find ourselves needing less interpretation of what He is trying to tell us – because we’re familiar with His voice, His language, His culture.

I arrived early this morning for another bit of Kingdom culture immersion as I sat down to read my Bible, pray, and spend time with God, my Father, who is also the King of the Kingdom I serve. I began as I do every morning when I sit down with Him:

“Hello, Dad.”

He was quick to respond:

“Hello daughter, I’ve been waiting for you.”

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Posted in Change, Courage, Destiny, Faith, Finishing, God's call, The Call of God

Making the Mile

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What was I thinking? Who was I to join the junior high track team? At the time I was 12 years old and had never run a mile; I had never even thought of running a half mile.  Yet there I was, in the hot Florida afternoon sun running around a sandy football field wiping the sweat from my face to keep it from stinging my eyes. Day after day I pursued the goal of finishing a mile and day after day I failed.

I was the one who started multiple projects that I never finished. There are tens, possibly hundreds, of half-finished crafts floating around in the USA of things I had started but never completed. Cross stitch, rug hooking, paint by numbers, and more were projects I started with good intentions but after realizing the effort required to finish, I laid them to the side. I wanted amazing results with little effort or patience.

What was different about making the mile? I am not sure what the impetus was to get me to make that mile but whatever it was I had determined that running the mile wasn’t going to evade me. Evade me it did for some time but the day finally did come that I crossed the mile marker. While I never managed to become an Olympic runner or even place in a race at a track meet (that’s another story for another day), running the mile, to me, was equivalent to wearing a gold medal.

Numbers 13:20 NASB “How is the land? Is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit…”

Moses had gone through quite a bit by the time Numbers 13 was written, to get Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He had seen the people through plagues, the Red Sea, and had food and water miraculously provided for millions in a wilderness. It is as if he had been hand feeding them for years; I imagine he was ready for the people to begin bearing some of the burdens themselves.

When the people arrived to the border, spies were sent to check out the new land the nation was to possess and Moses said, “Make an effort…” In essence, he was telling those he was sending to try, work at it, and see what information they could bring back. He knew they would possibly face dangerous inhabitants or wild animals along the way and they would have to be courageous and sweat a little to complete the task. We know how the story pans out for all the spies, save two Joshua and Caleb, who went were against taking the land even though God had promised it to them reported that the land, while good, was overrun with giants – there would be no way to take it.

Were they used to having life handed to them on a silver platter? Had all the miracles spoiled them? Was their faith so shallow that they couldn’t see the God Who parted the Red Sea for them was the same God Who would wage and win the war for the land He had promised them?

They weren’t willing to put the effort in to what God had promised them and that is not how faith works. Faith to do the will of God requires effort on our part. Faith isn’t a 1-2-3 get-rich-quick scheme; faith is a way of life (Rom. 1:17) that gets us to where we need to go with what needs to go there with us.

Today many of us might be quick to criticize Israel’s doubt at this juncture, but if we were to look at ourselves honestly we would realize that we have often been guilty of the same. How many times has God delivered us? Helped us? Encouraged us? Provided for us? Why is this giant we are facing now so very different? If He delivered us before, surely, He will do it again.

We are required to put a little “sweat equity” into this walk of faith. Sometimes this journey is harrowing, fraught with impossibilities – but that’s where God comes in. He is ready to heal, provide, deliver, and open doors when we are ready to move forward with Him.

It’s time to make that mile, it’s time to sweat.

Posted in Courage, Destiny, Faith, Fishing, Missions, Rejection, The Call of God

Empty Boats

 

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Luke 5:2-6 NLT He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.’ And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear!”

I have felt unnoticed before; I’m sure there have been times you have felt that way, too. I imagine these fishermen in the above account felt a bit defeated, unnoticed, for all their effort as they worked all night long and catching nothing. Their work had no measurable outcome – but they had worked hard.

I’ve worked hard over seasons and seen nothing measurable resulting from it – all that testifies of my toil is the weariness enveloping me body and soul. This weariness has a cumulative effect as the more I work, the less it seems I have to show for it. For some reason, I keep trying because I believe that God’s Word is true. It just takes time for it to come into its season.

That doesn’t make the work any easier.

That doesn’t make me feel any more noticed.

What I have learned, and this is where the beauty of experience shines through, is that I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Someone is noticing my efforts. Some of those efforts are spot-on, and others are more self-centered. The times weariness overwhelms me is when my focus shifts to my shortcomings; I then easily forget that there’s Someone watching my efforts. During those times I am found taking extra time washing my nets, instead of casting my nets another time, for the disappointment becomes too heavy to bear.

Washing nets, focusing on myself and my disappointments, is easier to do than focusing on the hurting world around me. Those repeated disappointments, when I am not careful to focus on His goal and not my own, can make me feel rejected, unnoticed as it were. Dejected and exhausted, I find myself scrubbing and mending nets (licking my wounds) on the shore.

Until, that is, Jesus makes me aware fresh and new that He has noticed my empty boat. He has also noticed my efforts and He has gotten into my boat with me – and having Him with me changes everything.

“Now go out” is the call that comes to me in this new season of my life – and perhaps for you as well. It’s time to go out a little deeper; farther from the safety of shore where the only hope we have when storms arise is in Christ Himself.

When a fisherman spends more of his life on shore than in the water, his very value comes into question because fishermen are meant to fish. The kind of fish I’m after are out in the deep waters where waves and wind rise, but, I am born to fish (Matthew 4:19).

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The fish are not going to be found on the shore, they are there out deep in the water. There are some fish near the relative safety of shore, but the bigger schools of fish, the net-breaking, record-shattering ones are found where it’s deep.

Now go out.

 

 

Posted in Beginnings, Church planting, Missions, Thankful, The Call of God

The Tent

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The tent in Blantyre, Malawi

This morning I woke to the sound of wind and rain. Immediately my mind went to our church site and I thought, “The tent…”

When we moved to our church’s property in December 2016, we pitched our tent and carried on meeting and growing the congregation. How the property itself came to us was a miracle; it was one of those situations that, up until that time, a miracle of that magnitude was something we had only heard of happening to others. The piece we had our eye on was ideal; located on one of the main entry roads leading into the city. When we found out the asking price we simply looked up and said, “Dad? What about it?” Within a couple of weeks, we were able to make our counter offer and close the deal shortly thereafter. After having spent 30+ years in Africa, preaching , working in local communities, and planting churches, we were amazed that in less than a year from the planting of our church in Blantyre, Malawi, we had a piece of amazing property that was fully paid for. This process in itself has usually taken years to accomplish in other places we have served; we knew God was up to something and are still pinching ourselves as we witness His amazing hand at work.

Prior to owning our own land, we rented property from a local school that was willing (for a price of course) to let us set up the tent and meet as a church. It was therefore a great relief to begin the process of settling into our own place. If we had to spend money, we were glad it wasn’t to be spent on rent but on developing our own property, which was totally undeveloped at the time. We hired a large grater, leveled the land as much as our finances allowed us as hiring a sufficiently powerful grater needed for the job we had was no cheap undertaking. Once the land was sufficiently leveled, we set up the tent. There was no (still is no) running water or electricity; we had to come up with creative ways to build without a reliable source of water or power. We learned it was possible to haul large amounts of water from a local stream as well as bring a generator on site to run musical equipment during church services on the weekend.

As we are going on our second year on site, we have a nearly-complete security wall fence around the property and if you look hard enough, you might “see” the main building and surrounding educational/office complexes that will go up in the future. Standing proudly in the middle of the mud, rocks, piles of bricks, and drainage ditches is our tent. In this tent we’ve held meeting after meeting, week after week, and it has been a great adventure seeing people come week after week and meet Jesus.

Yet, tents are not meant to be permanent structures. During the rains in Malawi, our tent has come down a few times due to violent rain and wind. Repair has always been expensive and challenging: expensive as the materials needed are not cheap and challenging as the man who has a sewing machine that is able to sew the tent lives far away and requires us to collect him and his sewing machine whenever we need a repair. All of this doesn’t take into account the fact that not only do we have to go through a lot just to get him on site to sew, but also, we have to arrange for power to run his sewing machine –  out comes the generator.

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When the tent’s come down, we’ve prayed in the sun.

So, when I heard the rain and the wind this morning, Sunday, I prayed, “Lord, the tent.” It’s all I could think of to pray as He already knew the situation. Later on, as we left the house and were in the car driving to the property, I saw a large sign along the roadside that had blown over in the wind as well as some sheet metal blown off a construction site. I kept whispering quietly, “Jesus, the tent.” As we drove up, it was still standing tall without a single tear and we all breathed a sigh of relief and started the service.

It was cold today and windy; we have no walls and are at the mercy of the weather. The sand blew in my eyes and the damp wind made me shiver. Jamie (my husband) preached a message on gratitude and I closed my eyes for a moment, thinking of all I had to be grateful for just that morning: we woke up well, the car got us to church (sometimes I wonder about that car!), and the tent was still standing. Behind me sat a teenager who wore shorts and a T-shirt and I watched his teeth chatter as he huddled next to his friend. Yet he smiled when I looked at him. My eyes looked over our people and I thanked God for them – they’re in a “no frills” church with uplifted hands. These, our people, I thank God for them, they are really coming because they want to come.

In days to come, when God blesses (for He always blesses) and buildings begin to go up on site, I will remember these precious ones who were brave enough to come and meet in a tent. Somehow, I think I prefer these days; there are no bells or whistles to distract us. It’s simply the people, loving Jesus and us watching a church be born.

I’m grateful.