What Was That All About?

Together with my husband and daughter Andreya in Arusha, Tanzania.


In early 2000, we moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from Bujumbura, Burundi where we had planted our first church. We had handed our church in Bujumbura over to a son in the faith and were excited to see a new church born. The process of planting a church from scratch is daunting enough but we had seen God’s favor in Burundi and were sure that we would see another wildly successful church born. We had seen it before! God was on our side! What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty.

In Burundi we struggled to get government permission to open the church and, after 9 months of waiting and struggle, we received news that our file had been approved. A few short months later, we held our first service. The church stood strong through times of serious civil unrest and war. Today, our first church has planted 4 additional churches since our departure. All of the difficulty we faced fades into nothing knowing the work has moved forward.

However, we had a totally different experience in Tanzania. From the moment we arrived, it seemed the odds were definitely not in our favor. We had applied for approval to start the work and despite having all indications we were approved, we spun in circles from day to day for a year and a half trying to get our certificate of registration. It became very expensive as we had to purchase visas for our 5 member family monthly at a cost of $400 per passport. In the end, after spending nearly all we had, we moved on to Lusaka, Zambia and registered the work there in a matter of weeks.

Yet, the “Tanzania effect” followed me for quite some time. 

Everyone has moments in life when hopes and dreams not only don’t come true, but it seems they are shattered into millions of pieces so small that there’s no way to put them back together. For me, Tanzania was my first experience with such a disappointment. 

I had supposed that I knew how things worked since I had seen it happen before; in Tanzania I faced the harsh reality that each step we take has its own set of rules attached to it. My mind battled with the questions of, “How could we have been so wrong?” and “How could we have made such a mistake?”

For years afterwards, I avoided the subject of Tanzania. The work continued and other difficult moments ensued, but none that hurt as deeply as Tanzania. With the years passing, my attitude changed from “How could we have been so wrong?” to “What was that all about?”

Periodically, as it goes here in Africa, we would get news of those we had ministered to during our short stay in Tanzania. One brother’s news in particular helped me see things differently. This man had told us years ago that he wanted to reach his tribe, the Maasai, who are notoriously difficult to reach. “Out of the blue” as it were we received news he had actually gone back to his people and was a pastor of a church.

A smile crosses my face, now nearly 17 years later, as I realize what never was meant to be for us, happened in the life of another. What we sowed into him has carried on and that is amazing. When we say, “One soul is all that matters.” God will test us on our word, not because He needs to find out for he knows our hearts, but to show us what is in the depths of our hearts.

It took years, but I was finally able to come to a place of peace and left the unknown and unanswered questions about that time to God. I have had more “Tanzania effect” moments in the years since we left, and they have hurt me as well, but none effected me as deeply as my season in Tanzania. 

Then, earlier this year, we received an email from some connections in Arusha, Tanzania, inviting my husband to speak at a conference. Two days ago I stepped onto a plane and made the long journey to Arusha from our home in Blantyre, Malawi, with my husband and daughter. I’ve not been back to Tanzania since 2001, and I wondered what “effect” this journey would have on me.

The conference begins this morning and as I look out my window and wonder what this week holds, I know one thing: God is faithful. He loves us so much that He puts us exactly where we need to be at any given moment. Had our journey in Tanzania taken more or less time, everything we have seen in its wake could have turned out differently. Would the churches have been born that we’ve seen born? Would our adopted daughter in Malawi have come into our lives? I can’t bear to think of that! I thank Tanzania for pushing me forward, so much has come to pass in the years since.

Romans 8:28 NLT “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Take a breath, the pain will pass, and one day you’ll find yourself on the other side of that experience. The reasons you endured what you’ve endured may not be understood in this lifetime, but that really doesn’t matter. They will work to get you to where you need to go.

Supposing Could Cost You

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“Watch out and be careful!”

It’s the mantra of mothers everywhere – be careful. I always thought that I wouldn’t be as cautious with my children as they grew and I gained more experience. However, I’ve found the opposite to be true; the more experience I have, the more I am aware of what can go wrong. It’s amazing my daughter, who is now 9, is as patient with me as she is as I catch myself (all too often) lecturing her on safety and what “could” happen if every precaution is not taken.

Cue the rolling of the eyes: Mom is taking her lecture position!

This holds true not only with my children but life in general. With the passing of each year, I struggle to hold on to the courage I had in years past. Like everyone else, experience has taught me that life can be harsh and it’s only logical to learn from past experience and “play it safe.”

Playing life safely is good when it comes to rules of safety in the kitchen and driving but when it comes to matters of faith – the only way to play it safe is to be willing to risk it all and that risk can cost us everything. The sad fact is that for the most part, there are few believers today with the courage to swim against the current of what is “safe.”

In the past weeks I’ve been reading about Moses’ life story – his was a life lived, from the beginning, by taking risks. His mother first took a risk by hiding him (Exodus 2:2) when Pharaoh of Egypt ordered that baby boys be killed (Exodus 1:15-22). As the baby grew, his mother took another risk by putting him in a kind of basket in a river where Pharaoh’s daughter found him and rescued him (Exodus 2:3-10). What gave that mother the courage to do what she did goes beyond natural courage – and that heritage followed Moses for the rest of his life, but not without challenge.

Moses was raised in the lap of luxury; yet it would appear that he knew he was not a real Egyptian for it says of him in Exodus 2:11 NKJ Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens…” At that moment, Moses took his first risk:

Exodus 2:11b-14a NKJ “And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, ‘Why are you striking your companion?’ Then he said, ‘Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’”

Moses took a risk, and supposed his brethren would understand he was one of them but that, unfortunately, wasn’t the case.

Acts 7:23-25 NKJ “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.”

After this incident, Moses fled and was gone from Egypt for 40 years. He lived his lifetime knowing that he was called to deliver Israel from Egypt, but after the incident with the Egyptian, he chose a safer path. His own brothers didn’t recognize the call on his life; supposing cost Moses a lot of his time.

I wonder if he thought he needed their approval to deliver them?

I wonder, what would history’s account have been had Moses stayed in Egypt, rather than fleeing, at that time? Would the Exodus of Israel from Egypt have happened sooner? Would there even have been 10 plagues in Egypt? Would there have been more? Less?

In spite of everything, God brought Moses full circle and used him, as he had supposed all those years earlier, to deliver Israel out of Pharaoh’s bondage.

More often than not, those closest to us will not recognize the call on our lives, especially if that call has a radical faith attached to it. If you read the entire account of Moses’ life, those he was called to deliver regularly rejected him; yet he persevered. Was his 40 years in Midian before his return to deliver Israel a period of time he regretted? Was he avoiding another 40 years of regret? Of possibly wondering what could have been?

Safety comes first in the kitchen, with driving, and sports – however playing it safe when we live for God is never the best option. We may, in the moment, have more friends, bigger homes, and even more money but destiny is still calling while we are playing it safe. History’s books are being written every day; what will its account be of us when our days are done?

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Graduations,Universities, Weddings, and Altars

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I’ve cried out in prayer, like many of you have, “God, I’ll do anything, go anywhere, and give up whatever You ask, for Your will! Everything I have is Yours!” Only to find that everything encompasses everything and that offering of everything I have is much more complicated than praying that prayer sounded at first.

My promise rang out in my mind when God took me up on my offer. I realized when my offering was being accepted that I might not have really meant what I said. Shame filled my heart as I realized my promises to sacrifice everything to my Lord perhaps weren’t as sincere as I thought; I labeled myself the supreme hypocrite until I understood that an offering isn’t meant to be easy. Sacrifices are meant to hurt, just ask the animals offered on the altars in the Old Testament. I don’t think that once the sheep meant for the sacrifice approached the place of slaughter that they happily ran to have their throats slit. In fact, I can almost picture them pulling and crying out for help. No, sacrifices are not easily given; lives are not offered on the altar without a struggle.

Some of the most difficult sacrifices we make in life are those that pull us away from loved ones. That sacrifice not only touches the lives of those going, but also touches the lives of those who stay behind. The journey of those staying behind has a pain all its own and can only be soothed in the same way it is soothed in the lives of those going: by laying our lives, our wills, on the altar of sacrifice. Jesus said, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers” into the harvest (see Luke 10:2). In praying those prayers, it rarely crosses our minds that God might actually take one of our own into His field. Then, when our loved ones answer the call, we resist their leaving us, forgetting that we had prayed (unknowingly perhaps) for them to go.

God the Father understands that pain, you see He never asks something of His children that He Himself hasn’t done before us. God’s Son answered the call of Who will go?” when He came to the earth. God, until that point, had never been separated from His Son, but let Him go fulfill His destiny. In sowing His Son, God reaped a multitude of lost children in us. Now we carry on with that destiny, our own life experiences mirroring His, taking us to every corner of the world with this Good News.

As our families grow and our children graduate, move on to university, get married, move to other states, and even other nations, the altar of sacrifice comes center stage once again and that lamb doesn’t want to stay put. The familiar sting of sacrifice will automatically cause us to pull back; as if out of reflex, to avoid the inevitable hurt that we will feel. I know that pain all too well but have found resisting God’s will to bring more pain than accepting it.

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Resisting the changes God brings to our lives, whether loved ones leaving for the foreign mission field or when our children graduate high school and move away, only results in bitterness thinking over what “could have been.” 

What could have been if we don’t obey God? What would those consequences be? The loss of destiny, the loss of what could have been had we obeyed God or not resisted the obedience of our loved ones to God’s call? Why do we resist so much when the call doesn’t flow with what we thought was “normal” for families? Allowing, instead of resisting, those changes to take place means you’ve graduated in more ways than one.

Here’s a secret, answering God’s call won’t be easy, it will definitely be the road less traveled. However, traveling that road will certainly make all the difference.”

Recently, our family has been reading biographies on missionaries of times past. Just this morning we finished reading about George Müller who was a missionary to the orphans of England in the 1800s and founded the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England. He was a father to over 10,000 orphans over the course of his lifetime and was known for his reliance on prayer and faith in God to meet his and the orphans’ needs. The road he traveled wasn’t what his family, especially his father, expected – his sacrifice cost him greatly and often tasted bitter. It seemed he had nothing, but in the end, as it goes with “All Things God” his life was richer than anyone could ever have imagined.

We won’t see the difference unless we are willing to drink that cup, whether it be sweet or bitter, that has made its way into our hands. That’s the pattern Jesus set for us and I’ve decided not to fight the call. I’m putting my sword down and drinking the cup, it’s what’s best for me.

John 18:11 TLB “But Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword away. Shall I not drink from the cup the Father has given me?’”

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Chicken Tikka…What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

The Mom Voice and Shopping Carts

I had to laugh today when someone mentioned that the local grocery store had new shopping carts. I found myself smiling, thinking I need to go and experience using a clean, smooth-driving shopping cart. Using these shopping carts can be a hazardous to your health: they are sticky, smelly, and otherwise unhygienic. I feel as if I have to disinfect myself when using them and use my “mom voice” with my daughter when she tries to touch it, “Don’t touch that, you have no idea what is on it.”

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This may not seem important, and it really isn’t, but we in Blantyre have become accustomed to filthy shopping carts that turn left when you want to turn right and turn right when you want to turn left. There have been times when the cart I’m using simply stops moving in the middle of a shop and I, the unfortunate shopper, am stuck with a cart that I end up having to pull, instead of push, to the checkout.

From checkout, I then proceed with great difficulty with the sticky cart-that-needs-a-front-end-alignment turning this way and that, to the car. Finally, after loading groceries, the temptation is great to shout at the cart and leave it, just like everyone else does, in the parking area – but that is not meant to be. No, I have heard teachings on the importance of returning the cart and I can’t bear the guilt of leaving the cart. So, I once again fight with my nemesis and return it, often to the quizzical looks of others who also despise the carts at the store, to its proper place.

By the time I return to the car, that I have on occasion unintentionally scratched with the misaligned cart, I’ve broken into a full sweat and count shopping for that day as my cardio workout. The problem is that more often than not, I have to frequent several places to filling my grocery list for the week and this process repeats itself two or three times before I get home. Then, I have to unpack everything and take myself, and daughter, through a decontamination process after our encounter with the sticky cart.

It’s obvious I’m no fan of grocery shopping and perhaps you can understand why now that you know of my problem with grocery carts. The truth of the matter is, despite my utter disdain for the carts here, that shopping carts aren’t a big deal in life; they’re really little details. However, those little details can create a very big deal if left unattended. Just knowing that the store’s carts were as bad as they were, made me avoid shopping there – but now upon hearing that there are new carts I may (emphasis on may) not avoid that shop next week.

A rock in the shoe, a shopping cart that turns badly, or no power to print your document, all are inconvenient, but none are deadly. These little things are conveniences that are meaningful, but do we allow them to mean more than they should? I am guilty, on more than one occasion, allowing what’s really a small thing to have a greater impact on my life than it should and I find myself in a “kerfuffle” (I like that word) for nothing.

My mother was pretty amazing and I didn’t realize how amazing she was until I was grown. She graduated into God’s glory in 2008 and I miss her dearly; one of the things I miss most is her way of making what seems complicated, to be simple. One saying of hers that has stuck with me has helped me deal with the unimportant things of life: “If you’re going to be upset, be upset about something that really matters – and there are a lot of things that don’t matter.”

Today I choose peace, I choose to shake the rock from my shoe, avoid the bad shopping cart, and find a way to teach without my printout. The emotional energy invested in being upset has no payout besides elevated blood pressure and heartburn, so why bother?

John 14:27 NLT “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

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