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Courage Covid19 Endurance Faith Fear Feeding Missions Perspective

Just a Starfish

The past weeks here in Bujumbura, Burundi have had me (and all of us living here) spinning in circles. We have faced flooding, an ambiguous covid19 situation and now elections are set to take place on May 20th. Each of these issues have presented their own set of pressures that have proved to be demanding, even in the most optomistic of lights.

Our city borders Lake Tanganyika, one of the longest and deepest lakes in the world. It is more like a sea than it is a lake in that it has tides, rough and smooth water and it is slightly salty due to it only having one river outlet. The rains this year have been extremely heavy in this region so all of the water from the countries surrounding the lake, and there are many, dumps into Tanganyika. Water levels have risen exponentially causing the lake, and rivers that feed into the lake, to rise and break their banks. The beaches have disappeared under water, homes and villages nearby the lake have been inundated without much relief in sight. Thankfully, in the past week, the rains have finally started to taper off and the waiting game for the waters to recede has begun.

The tens of thousands who have been flooded out of their homes now live in absolute squallor, in makeshift camps under conditions that no human being should have to live in, waiting for someone, anyone to bring relief. Children run around in the dirt and mud, women try to cook with whatever cooking fuel they have and the men work to build shelters out of grass, plastic and any other materials they can find. There is no potable water, no toilet facilities and no food – their situation is dire. We were able to raise some money to bring care packages to 200 families last week but this little amount proved to be far from what is needed. As we were distributing the relief, it was painfully apparent that in less than a week the food would be gone and they would once again need assistance.

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While we were handing out the packages, even though covid19 has infected Burundi, there was no observing of social distancing or washing hands. How can people be expected to distance when their children are hungry and they fear being left out? How can people wash their hands when there’s no clean water? I didn’t realize that we ourselves had put ourselves at higher risk of infection until arriving on site – I simply said a prayer and carried on.

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Next week, on the 20th, as Burundi goes to the polls, there is an underlying fear of outbreaks of violence that this country/region is known for. Fear is a powerful emotion that can cause people to react violently even when there is no cause. Tempers can flare easily when a large number of people are afraid, people can react violently when they feel they are in danger. Our recourse? Dropping to our knees in prayer for these people, this nation and region that has long been the target of painful uprising and death.

This afternoon, as we do every Thursday afternoon, we have an outreach to the area surrounding our church in Bujumbura. Most of the time it is easy to step out and participate as we talk to people of the hope that is in us, that brings us to serve this nation. However, the past few weeks have been a faith-walk for me, rather than the usual exciting time of outreach. I find myself pushing hard to keep up and move forward while so much is whirling around me.

At times like this, when life presses so hard that you feel the water has gone over your head, it’s tempting to wonder (like I have) if your usefulness in your work is done or even give up. What is the use of working in the face of an ocean of need when all I have is an eyedropper to address it?

While I can’t do everything, I can do something and the small something that I can do means a lot to the one or two I have been able to reach. Many of you likely have read the story where a young child was on a seashore that was covered in starfish that had washed ashore. The child was busy throwing starfish back into the water, one at a time. A man walked up to the child and asked if the child thought he could clear the beach of all the starfish? Did it really matter? To which the child replied, it matters to this one, the one he was holding in his hand.

The needs of this world are so vast, so complex that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to meet even a fraction of them. But to the one or two I work for, it will matter. Lives matter, all lives big or small, young or old, black or white – and what I’m responsible for is doing what I can. It may just be one starfish – but to that one it might just make an eternity’s difference.

Psalm 66:12 “You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

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You may wonder, since covid19 is all around the world, why we are able to distribute aid and carry on working. In Burundi we have not been in lockdown during this pandemic. Our borders are closed as is our airport. Handwashing is encouraged and somehow people are trying when they can to socially distance themselves. Ours is a unique place in the world, please pray for us!

Categories
Change Choices Church planting Destiny Endurance Father Missions Obedience Purpose Travel

Again

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I couldn’t find scissors to help me open the tightly sealed box. I tried, in vain, to force it open with my hands as sweat began to run down the sides of my face. “Why did I pack this so well?” Finally, I found a kitchen knife and began slicing the packing tape open around the edges of the cardboard; the unpacking of our lives had begun. Again.

The boxes I was unpacking had gone overland from Malawi, where we had moved from, to Burundi. They were brought to us by two of our Malawian pastors who had taken on the assignment of bringing these boxes by bus. It was a 4-day ordeal just one-way for them to undertake but they passed through all the borders practically without incident to Burundi. As we said our goodbyes the same day that they had arrived, it was as if a movie of all of the work that had been done in Malawi over the years was played as a movie in my mind. The churches that had been planted, the children that had been fed, the leaders that had been trained, all passed before me as I looked into the faces of these dear ones who were about to leave. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I remembered what we had been allowed to take part in – and then it was time for them to go.

Then we were left alone to start again.

The box was dusty, but intact, and as I started the process of unloading everything the magnitude of what we had done (again) struck me. Time after time I have found myself in this same situation of starting over and trusting God for the next step. However, knowing we have done this many times before doesn’t make any new step I take easier. In fact, I have learned with each new step comes new challenges and without faith, I could easily be scared out of it! What has kept me going, this time as in every time before, is knowing we had heard His Word spoken to us to go to Burundi and He wasn’t about to let go of us.

Isaiah 8:11 ERB “The Lord spoke to me, like a firm grasp of the hand.”

This move has been a challenge (they all are in their own way) but we have seen God walk with us daily and address everything that has come our way from acquiring resident visas to finding a house to finding the best market in town. Without hearing His voice and knowing His hand is tightly holding onto ours, we would never have been able to see Him at work over all these years.

I’m so glad we chose to listen, I’m so glad He’s holding our hands.

 

 

Categories
Change Church planting Courage Destiny Dreams Endurance Faith Harvest Inconvenience Missions Vision

A Foreign Feeling

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This is likely to be a very different entry today. We are going through a change as we are headed towards Bujumbura, Burundi in the coming weeks. This move is different in that it will be the first time we are returning to live in a region where we have planted a church before. We’re going to take the lead pastor role in the first church we planted as our pastor presently on the ground is going to venture out and plant a new church in Kinshasa, DRC. At the same time, we are branching out into Mozambique; it’s all very exciting. The thought of branching into new regions, planting new churches, and even returning to pastor our first church – these all have me on my knees.

In 1991, after serving in the DRC (back then it was Zaire) for 4 years, we moved to plant a church in Bujumbura. We spent 9 crazy years there planting, plowing, praying, and digging a church out of the ground from scratch. They were rough years, but I consider them to be some of the most important and formative years of my life. Without them I wouldn’t be here today doing what I am doing. We were so desperate to fill the hunger in our hearts to plant a church that we went to amazing lengths to get the job done. There wasn’t much we didn’t face: financial challenges, health challenges, civil war, pressure to leave from outside sources, it was a total labor of faith and through it all – our God was faithful.

During those years, while we did experience an abundance of hardships, we also experienced great peace and comfort. It was a supernatural time when we knew God was in control and wasn’t giving us a job that was beyond His ability in us to handle.  We felt like we were living in the book of Acts when the church grew and had peace despite the persecution it had gone through (Acts 9).

Nevertheless, when God released us to launch out again and plant more churches, I never looked back and yearned to return. Together with my husband, we pressed ahead and moved on with the challenge to dream of new lands where we planted new churches and repeated the process over several times. I watched churches grow from nothing and national leaders take their place; I also watched my own family grow and one-by-one leave the nest. (Side note: Thankfully, I have one more at home who keeps me young and stirs the pot every once in a while to keep life interesting.)

It therefore was a foreign feeling to me when it became clear that our next assignment was going to bring us back to Burundi. I had become so used to being the one who would go scratch something out of the ground that even considering a return made my head spin. As the dust in my mind and spirit settled and I prayed into the idea, my heart began to expand in a new way. The same burden and fire that first sent us there in 1991 began to burn fresh in my heart and I now find myself aching to return, aching to reach for what this new era in our lives is to bring.

This past week we’ve had a house sale, letting go once again of household items and paring things down to a minimum. I initially dreaded this part of the process as it can be an exhausting time; I had found things here in Malawi that I hoped not to replace for a long period of time, if ever. Yet, now as I watch the shelves, chairs, and fans leave my home I’m surprisingly unaffected emotionally. I do wish I could have held onto my coffee pot for an extra week or two but the coffee press (French press to my American readers) is getting the job done for my morning brew.

I am now impatient to see the dream of 1,000 churches planted on the continent and somehow this huge move that involves not only our family but several others is a key to the dream coming true. Whereas before it was only a dream, a hope for the future, I can now actually envision 1,000 churches. It may be that this move is more about changing my perception of the vision and not God’s, for His remains the same. He already sees things that don’t exist and declares that they do – I now need to do the same.

Romans 4:17 NKJ “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;”

There are pieces in the puzzle that God is putting into place that I, at my ground level, cannot see – but He can. The challenge now is for me to lift my eyes and look forward and above instead of down at the ground as I’ve been used to for so long. Church planting requires a lot of “dirty work” meaning everything that needs doing the church planter does. Most of the time we have planted churches, we have had little to no help. We arrive at the border or airport with no one to meet us, no one to help us get started. Our focus for the first few years is always, understandably, on the ground God put under our feet to plow it, plant it, and bring in harvest.

I’m looking forward and above to focus on the bigger picture now – it’s a new day, a new moment to seize, and a whole continent to win.

I can see it now.