Posted in Despair, Dreams, God's call, Kingdom, Misfit, Missionary

A Foreigner

I’ve been a missionary practically all of my adult life. I came to the field when I was in my early 20s and have been here for 32 years. So, I think it would be safe to say that I’m in this thing for the long haul. When I think about what else I could be doing with my life, I’m stumped, for I don’t know where else I could possibly go or what else I could possibly do! Where else would I, the misfit, fit? What other niche could I hope to fill elsewhere?

By no means has life here been a cakewalk, we’ve had our challenges just like everyone else all over the world. What has helped me keep steady on this course is knowing that everyone all over the world faces their own unique set of challenges. There’s no escaping the ups and downs of life; running away when things get tough won’t ensure easier passage to the next stage. Running away might bring you from the frying pan into the fire.

What causes us to run? To give up? To look for greener pastures? Wasn’t what we’re struggling with today a dream we had once upon a time?

The children we hoped and prayed for fall off the rails.

The dream job no longer holds the promise we thought it had.

The brand-new house holds, instead of joyful moments, stress-filled evenings of budgeting, painstaking work, and brainstorming of ways to pay all of the bills.

Or, in our case, the mission you dreamed of puts you in intractable situations day in and day out – making you wonder how you will ever make a difference.

Disappointment, dejection, and misunderstanding can lay such heavy burdens on our shoulders that we ultimately decide to throw away the dream to escape the load. We didn’t get out of “it” what we put in, and that stings. No one notices, no one seems to care, so why should we?

Perhaps the mistake we’ve often made isn’t found in what we are doing, but in our motivations. If we work with the thought that we “deserve” to be treated in a certain way or “should” be recognized for all of our efforts, we are sure to be disappointed. In this world’s system, for example, it’s expected for one to be rewarded in the here and now. When someone retires from a long-term job, a pension is offered, parties are thrown, and there’s usually some kind of gift presented to the retiree.

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What happens, however, when that company holding their life insurance goes under or they lose other benefits? (I recently read an article about this happening in the news.) The disappointment that comes in a moment like that could be overwhelming – what about all the years of service, were they for nothing?

In God’s Kingdom, our mindset needs to change from that that we see in the world. People outside of the Kingdom work for the here and now, while we of the Kingdom work for what we will find waiting for us in eternity. Understanding why we work helps us keep a firm grip on our reality – that this world is not our home and the recognition for what we do won’t necessarily come in this life.

I’m a foreigner here in Burundi where I live and serve. I have loved this country for decades; there is an unexplainable draw that this land has on me. My “foreign-ness” is on open display daily; obviously, I wasn’t born in Burundi and it’s commonplace for me to be called, “Mnyamuhanga” (foreigner) many times during the day while I am out. While I don’t feel like a foreigner, I know that to the people who don’t know me – I am.

Mnyamuhanga, foreigner, this term is often used in a derogatory way that could, if I allowed it, discourage me. I certainly don’t get much emotional reinforcement in being a foreigner here, but I’m not in this country for emotional reinforcement. I’m here because of a calling that I can’t explain, because of a love that I can’t fathom, and because of a message that has changed me forever. My motivation for being here doesn’t have to do with how I feel, it has to do with eternity. I know Someone Who has changed me and Whose love for me supersedes everything else that matters in life. It’s now my turn to serve the world around me with that same unchanging love, even if to them I’m mnyamuhanga.

The emptiness we feel from day-to-day when we’re not recognized for what we do fades when we see Jesus represented in those around us. It’s for their joy that I work, for their joy that I serve, and when the time comes for this earthly to be changed into heavenly, I’ll have my reward.

2 Corinthians 1:24 NASB “…(we) are workers with you for your joy.”

Posted in Courage, Goals, Grace, Missions, New Year, Rest

Goals and Grace

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Setting goals. It’s what everyone does at the beginning of every year; we make lists of “resolutions” or “goals” for the year. I have a laundry list of things that I wash, rinse, and repeat every year: be a better wife and mom, get healthier, read more, give more, work harder in the mission, the list goes on. I have gotten very specific at times, to the point where, at the end of the year when I see that my list fell woefully short of completion or success – I got discouraged. Lately, my goals have gotten non-specific in order to keep myself from feeling totally defeated on December 31st.

In our day and age, we relish in the activity more than we do in those engaging in the activity and that, at least for me, has bled into how we perceive ourselves as successful or not. Don’t get me wrong, having well thought plans and goals are good. Without maintaining some kinds of goals, we risk stagnation in every area of life. However, if we place too much weight on the side of the scale of goals, it could interrupt the balance between goals and grace, we may find ourselves striving to achieve rather than running the race with endurance.

Hebrews 12:1b NKJV “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

I believe we have exchanged what is meant to be the prize, being told, “Well done, enter in!” (Matt. 25:21) for what we can achieve in the here and now. The measures of success in God’s Kingdom have to do with His grace, not our works (Eph. 2:8). By His grace we are enabled to endure and finish the race, and if we learn to run in the cadence, as it were, of grace we will go far and see much accomplished for the Kingdom.

This year as I set my goals I’m making a change. I’ve decided that His grace is great enough to help me see Him do great things through me – not the other way around. In myself, the little that I can achieve isn’t even mediocre in comparison to what He can do with His great power if I just sit back and let Him take the driver’s seat.

Acts 4:33 NKJV And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”

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Posted in Faithfulness, The Call of God, Unexplained

The Things No One Ever Tells You

Have you ever felt taken by surprise? Started down a road with “great promise” only to find the road to the promised result is a lot longer and bumpier than you thought it would be?

Disappointed.

Discouraged.

Even defeated.

Normal life events take us by surprise: marriage, children, moving, all of them throw curve balls at us that we had no training on how to catch. More often than we care to admit, we arrive at those events unprepared.

Many of us dream of having children, building a family, something like a Norman Rockwell painting of days gone by: a house, white fencing, a playground in the back for the kids, a dog, and good jobs to sustain it all. What a surprise for the new parents when baby comes home! I remember years ago when we were expecting our first child. We did everything right from the get-go; we wanted the best for our baby. In those days, some of you may remember, Lamaze was all the rage and peer pressure dictated that we attend Lamaze classes to prepare for the baby’s arrival. There, we learned breathing techniques, positions to take to ease the pain of labor and delivery, and were encouraged to have a totally natural birthing experience. In addition to following Lamaze, there was a real push for “supernatural childbirth” in some churches. A cassette tape of teaching accompanied by a small book encouraging women how to believe for a pain-free delivery was circulated. I diligently followed the teachings of both: Lamaze and the process for a pain-free supernatural delivery expecting things to go smoothly.

Fast-forward a few months (mind you I was deep into preparation mode by that time) and one Monday afternoon while walking around in the mall, I felt a strange twinge in my lower back. This came a bit earlier than my due date so initially I thought it was false labor – until the twinges became full-blown knife-in-my-lower-back-put-me-out-of-my-misery pain. My husband, wrapped up in his Monday night football said, “You’re not having that baby!” To which I replied, “Oh yes I am!” It was as if a fire alarm went off and he jumped into action, up and down the stairs, “I’m going! Where is your suitcase?” This was my first undeniable indication that things were not going to go as planned…at all.

It was nearly midnight by the time we cut through all the red tape of checking into the hospital. When I was finally examined, I was told, “Oh this is going to take some time yet.” The night was young, I was strong, and I was determined to follow directions: breathe right, lay on my side, rub a tennis ball on my back, and pray, pray, pray. The minutes turned into hours and the pain, contrary to my great hopes and prayers, went from my determined announcement of, “This is very hard but I’m gonna do this!” To my begging, “Give me SOMETHING!!!” Before my son was delivered the next morning just after 7, I had had two injections for pain and wanted a third but was told when I asked for that third shot that I was too far advanced for more painkillers. Each of my preconceived ideas for a smooth, pain-free delivery went out the door. There was no breathing technique known to man that could’ve helped me – and I wondered how could I have possibly been so ill prepared? Taken by such a surprise? How could I have failed so miserably?

And…the surprises kept coming. My baby had colic for the first full year of his life; sleep was a rare commodity in those days. Slowly, very slowly, I began to predict the unpredictability of parenthood. I threw out books and tapes on perfect parenting and simply listened to other mothers who had walked longer in those shoes than I had. By the time my boy was three, I woke from my disappointed slumber, no longer berating myself for my naiveté, and wanted more children! What was wrong with me? I went through two more deliveries, still unprepared each time, and one adoption but I learned through them all and fiercely loved them all (and still do!). What didn’t bother me so much as time progressed were the surprises that crossed my path. I grew accustomed to rolling with the punches and began to laugh at myself for being surprised; for life, I had learned, was full of surprises.

Life, and its accompanying surprises, has a way of exposing our pride, revealing our lack of faith, and displaying our faults out in the open for all, ourselves included, to see. If only we would enter into adulthood as if we were still children – simply trusting our Father to take care of us no matter what unexpected circumstances arise. When my babies were small, all I had to tell them when trouble came along was Dad and I would take care of it, not to worry. When they heard that answer, they turned over and slept without a care in the world. Mom and Dad were going to take care of everything and that was all the assurance they needed. Oh that we would learn to trust our Father like children again!

Instead of living carefree, we allow the disappointments of life to weigh us down; we’re bent over under the weight of this world.

Age and life experience, another lesson I’ve learned, doesn’t disqualify me from being blindsided by life. Living on the foreign mission field is an unpredictable – and wonderful – adventure. Nothing is normal, anything is possible, and there are unexpected events that take place, sometimes by the hour.

There’s a certain romance in the Western mind about the mission field. I’ve seen it and heard it when traveling stateside and in Europe. We are told by some that they admire what we do, thank God for our service, yet we feel so very under qualified to serve these people God loves so very much and who deserve so much more than we can offer. Somehow, despite our shortcomings, we were given this call and we do our best to be faithful.

While on the subject of missions and the connection between the West and the mission field, I wanted to debunk an idea that some might have about those serving overseas. I get the distinct impression that those on the other side of the pond think missionaries must love everything they do and have lots of faith to get things done. Yes, we love the field, but we don’t always love everything associated with our call and often feel that our faith is so very weak in the face of the great challenges we face. No one loves financial strain that, for the most part, doesn’t come and go for the missionary. It seems financial strain comes to set roots down in everything we do. No one loves to see young children suffer in famine, such as we now have in Malawi, and have our hands tied by finance and circumstance to do anything to bring them relief. No one enjoys rejection, yes, we missionaries and the Gospel we carry are often rejected; we aren’t received with joy and red carpets. It can be a lonely and tiring journey – but the rewards of seeing lives changed far outweighs the bumps we face along the way.

 

Like everyone else, we are not immune to discouragement and find, in the process of time, that we bend over under the stresses of circumstances far beyond our control. Therein our pride is revealed when we think our presence can do anything, for it’s only by the Presence of God can things change. Therein is our lack of faith revealed when we doubt that God hears our prayers when it seems answers are delayed. These are our faults and imperfections and yet God still chooses to use us, any and all of us who dare to walk down this road towards a City that God is building.

Psalm 145:13b, 14 NLT “…The Lord always keeps His promises; He is gracious in all He does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.”