Posted in Beginnings, Choices, Christmas, Destiny, Joy, Missionary, Missions

A Little Fixer Upper

I do miss driving around and looking at Christmas light displays this time of year. There used to be a big tree in the area I lived in (Lantana, Florida) sponsored by The National Enquirer that drew many to our community each year to enjoy. I was in 7th grade the last time I saw the tree on display; unfortunately, there’s not been a tree on display there for many years since the property sold. Some of my favorite middle school memories come from the time when going home after school, I’d stop and walk through the property (no entry fees in those days) and because it was still daylight when I went, it would often be deserted and I got to enjoy the tree and all the accompanying decorations without interruption. Of course the lights were only visible when visiting at nighttime but my then 12-year-old-self figured it was better to be alone and take my time looking at the displays rather than fight crowds of people and fail to get close enough to see anything.

Fast forward a bunch of years and I still miss seeing the lights. We have a little fake tree here in Bujumbura that we were able to purchase at a local store. It may be a bit along the lines of a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree but after we put our few decorations on the tree and hung the single strand of lights that we had, it looked pretty. We moved about 6 months ago from Malawi to Burundi and due to the move, most replaceable items were left behind. What’s funny about replaceable items is that while they are replaceable, it will take time to replace them! I figure some years will pass by before my little tree’s bare spots are filled with decorations. At the same time, the beauty of my simple tree doesn’t get past me: it’s all we need.

In reality, no one needs a Christmas tree, decorations, lights, presents, and eggnog. In fact, we would do well to scale down on our “need” for these things and remember why the 25th of December is even highlighted on the calendar: to celebrate the beginning of a shift in history, the birth of Christ. History shifted for me personally when the Christmas story became my story –and my life changed.

I often wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t made the choices I had made over the years. First, to follow Jesus and then quite a few years later I met and married my husband and together we chose Africa. We chose to raise our family here, we have chosen to continue living here, and we have chosen over and over again to move and work for the mission to reach people everywhere with that same message that their histories, too, can be changed.

I suppose had I chosen differently I might have had a more physically comfortable life. Money, or more correctly the lack thereof, possibly wouldn’t have been such a point of stress. Maybe I would have had my family all around me and seen my grandchildren grow, or maybe I wouldn’t as kids have a way of growing up and moving on in their time. It would’ve been easier to get shoes, clothes, groceries, schooling for my children, and have more reliable electricity and water. I would probably have had a dishwasher (for those who know me, you can hear me moaning when dishwashers are mentioned) and maybe I would even have had an electric garage door opener.

Instead I find myself starting over again here in Burundi where we moved and planted our first church many years ago. We’ve been away from this country for 18 years; when we flew into the airport last May the years we spent here all came flooding back into my thoughts. My heart was filled with thanksgiving – we have another opportunity to see God come through for us again here in the nation where we first began planting churches. Almost simultaneously as I felt the joy of returning, I felt the burden of the need. You see, there’s a lot of work for us to do and little money and man/woman power to do it, and sometimes I feel like my poor little Christmas tree that is in need of more decorations.

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While the tree may look like a “fixer upper,” there is more to it if you look at it closely. My tree speaks of hope when you see it for there are pictures of our youngest daughter in a few of the decorations. These speak of the future as she growing up and coming into her destiny. There are also memories of past joys as some of the ornaments on the tree that come from Zambia where we planted a church 17 years ago. The emptiness of my little tree also speaks hope to me for if the tree were full, maybe its representation to me would be a bit less meaningful this year. The bare spaces sit there waiting to be filled with memories of what God will do in days to come.

If I had chosen differently, my tree would have been so very different. Yes, it probably wouldn’t be so needy but neither would it be as beautiful, its branches decorated with future hope and past victories. It would have had better lights, trendier ornaments, and more presents underneath, but I wouldn’t have seen what I have seen and lived as I have lived and that would have been a loss for me.

While there is a bit life behind me, there is still work to do, there are still places to see, churches to plant, and adventures left to live. Whatever it takes from me, wherever it takes me, and whoever it takes me to, I choose again to let my history change as He holds my days in His hands.

Merry Christmas everyone, wherever you are!

Luke 2:8-10 MEV “And in the same area there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And then an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very afraid. But the angel said to them, ‘Listen! Do not fear. For I bring you good news of great joy, which will be to all people.’”

 

Posted in Church planting, Destiny, Dreams, Endurance, Goals, Missions, Travel, What Did You Do

What Did You Do Today?

Today I went to the bank.

Is that all you did? Couldn’t you just deposit your money from your bank app on your phone, go by the ATM and withdraw whatever cash you need? Couldn’t you just have done an online bill pay or money transfer? What is it that you do out there in Africa, waste your time?

I’m a missionary in Africa (currently Burundi) and have been serving in missions since 1987. I’m supposed to “produce”results (at least this is the unspoken rule), tangible results, that I can then write in glowing reports to justify my service overseas. Living in an exotic location such as ours does have its amazing perks: we have wonderful coffee every day for pennies (no drive-thru here), we see/hear hippos regularly because we live near Lake Tanganyika, and we get to enjoy the rich culture of the people we serve. The scenery is breathtaking, the food we eat, I cook everything from scratch, is good for us (not sure how good it tastes but…that’s another blog…), and the simplicity of life away from the distractions we find in the West allows us to focus on the work we’ve been sent to do.

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Often, I’m asked something like the following: “When are you going to _________?”Those asking such questions are referring to whatever outreach/project we’ve discussed in a newsletter or other form of communication. We might have discussed it months or even years ago – but nothing has happened and why not?

The answer to this question is seen in something as simple as going to the bank. While life has changed here, dramatically, since we first arrived in 1987, the time that is consumed to get something done has not. Having access to cash from our accounts in our home countries is not as simple as it is back home. Years ago, to get money, we would have to write checks and if the bank cashing the check wasn’t willing to give value to our checks right away, we would have to wait to get the money until the check cleared our account in the USA. That process took 6 weeks and even longer; thankfully, we usually found favor with the bank and they would cash them for us almost immediately. The other obstacle we found back in those days was not only having access to the money but making sure that before we wrote a check that there would be enough money in the account to cover any check we had to write. We didn’t have internet, cell phones, or email in those days. In fact, if you had access to a fax machine back then you were considered to be living on the cutting edge.

Today, thankfully with the advent of cell phones and internet service here, we are able to see what is in our accounts, provided the internet server isn’t down or the power isn’t off. Once we have been able to see what we have in our account, we can electronically wire funds to our account here. Thankfully we already went through the process of opening an account which is material for another blog. *Note to self: please read past blogs to get reminders of all those subjects I’ve said that are worthy of their own blog.*

Once we have sent the wire, providing the codes given to us by the banks are correct, money should appear in our accounts relatively quickly, as in a day or two. Once we get news that the funds have arrived, we can go down to the bank, write a check and withdraw the dollars from our account, go and change the dollars into local currency. Often, however, that simple process doesn’t work as intended. There are delays of the bank’s network being down and unable to process our transaction so we have to return in the afternoon or the next day (turning the 1-day process into a 2-day process). There are also delays of work hours. The banks in the country follow strange working hours and there are no ATMs that we can use to withdraw money during off hours.

The other issue we face, the gorilla in the room, is funding. Fund raising is difficult and often void of result – therefore projects get done at a slower pace than we hope. Because we trust God for all of it, we know He will provide in His timing and we rest in that fact. To travel back to our countries of origin to raise support itself costs money in plane tickets, hotels, food, and other necessary costs that coincide with that kind of trip. Not only are the costs of travel an issue but the work itself we leave behind must be considered as well – who will care for things in our absence? Especially in the situation we find ourselves in now where the church we have come to serve and its outreaches are in need of much attention; better leave the thoughts of travel to the side for a bit.

It can tempt me to bow my head in discouragement but where would that lead? What would that solve? Those beautiful souls we are here for are worth every bit of frustration and delay.

So today, if you’re wondering what I did, I went to the bank.

1 Corinthians 7:7-11 NKJ But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

 

 

Posted in Church planting, Endurance, Faith, Fasting, God's call, Motives

A Special Reason

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Our work in Africa has required us to file many official documents for the purpose of registering the work legally in the countries we are serving. Each country has it’s own specific procedures in place for those wanting to pursue registration; we have gone through this process successfully in several countries on the continent of Africa (Burundi, DRC, Zambia, and Malawi) and have had to study each nation’s process before making application. In 2005 when we first filed for registration of the work in Malawi, we submitted our application at an office called the “Registrar of Societies.” From there, the file entered the system  and we waited for its approval, which took less than 6 months. At the time of our filing, there was no congregation, no building, no outreach – all we had was faith to sustain us. Now, nearly 12 years later, we have 5 churches in Malawi alone not to mention the other community outreaches that are ongoing.

Today, as I ponder what God has done over the years in this country alone, I struggle to find words to describe what’s going on in my heart. What made God choose us? We are an extremely ordinary couple with nothing extraordinary that would “qualify” us for something like we have seen take place over the years.

It may be that being extremely ordinary we found our journey to the extraordinary.

1 Chronicles 14:2a TLB “David now realized why the Lord had made him king and why he had made his kingdom so great…”

David who was King of Israel at the time that this scripture is referring to, came from an ordinary family. He was, perhaps, the most ordinary in the family as he was a shepherd. His work was to care for the family’s livestock. When the time came for a new king to be chosen for the nation (see 1 Sam. 16:1-13) David was out in the fields watching over the flocks for his father (vs. 12). No one expected someone so painfully ordinary to be considered for the extraordinary job of leading the nation. Yet, it was David, the ordinary one, who was chosen over all his brothers.

In choosing David over anyone else, God demonstrated that what He sees as qualifications required to serve Him far outweigh anything found in this world’s definition of success: a job with a large salary and benefits, a large bank account, land, education, presitge, honor in society, to name a few. God saw something in David that none of this world’s experiences could provide: someone whose eyes were open to others.

1 Chronicles 14:2b TLB “…it was for a speacial reason – to give joy to God’s people!”

David’s interest throughout most of his reign as King of Israel was focused on leading God’s people well; his interests came behind those of the people he was ruling. Whenever he veered from this, he experienced chaos. Thankfully, he learned this lesson quickly and the nation grew strong and prospered under his rule.

The moment any of us think outside of the realm of ourselves, we will quickly find the extraordinary taking place in our lives. This doesn’t mean we will live lives without test and trial. On the contrary, I have often felt as if we have bounced from trial to trial with not much time to breathe between the opposition that comes for the souls of men and women. What I have seen in the trial is miracle after miracle – miracles of provision, protection, and peace.

Jesus Himself chose to be born to an ordinary earthly family and had an ordinary profession as a carpenter and rose to see the extraordinary happen. With no formal training, He served His generation faithfully and lowered Himself so that others might experience joy. The result of His sacrifice for others carries on to our generation and now the challenge to us is: can we live for that same special reason, the joy of others?

Posted in Endurance, Inconvenience, Journey, Joy, Missions, Perspective, Travel

I Didn’t Walk Through Business Class

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I just checked.

We are flying at 37,000 feet our way back home to Blantyre, Malawi. Our flight, that I’m watching on the conveniently located flight map on the seat in front of me, has so far been uneventful (save for a few bumps of minor to moderate turbulence). Our overall progress, however, seems to be advancing so very slowly! The outside speed is 561 mph (903 kmph) but the trail indicating distance traveled is moving at what appears to be a turtle’s pace. This may or may not be due to the distance we are flying, by my calculations, about 10,000 miles (approximately 14,000 kilometers), give or take some few hundred miles/kilometers.

Since I’m well aware of things not appearing as they seem, I am not worried. Traveling for the past 30+ years in the developing world accustoms one to the regular odd happening such as the travel map not reading the correct destination. I mean, I am supposed to land in Africa, not Dublin, Ireland as indicated on the map.

Or, should I be worried? Is the map showing anything correct at all?

Nah, I’m now hours into the flight and it’s too late to turn around. Things will work themselves out, they always do – but I wonder a little bit about the map and will do so until the end of the flight.

My daughter, who is sitting between us in our ever-shrinking economy class seats, is playing every game that the airplane system has to offer, my husband is alternating between nodding off to sleep and watching movies. While I sit here on a 13+ hour long flight failing to do little more than watch the odd movie and play a few games of Scrabble on my iPad.

Slowly the “food trolleys” pass by with plastic wrapped sandwiches that everyone, in this nearly full flight, devours with great gusto. This may sound strange as most of you probably haven’t had the delightful experience of landing at our next stop before finally landing in Blantyre: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Addis, as we who travel through there affectionately call it, is an interesting airport.

Let me explain.

Upon landing in Addis, the level of noise in the airport is amazing; there are people everywhere. I’ve learned that it’s becoming a major African air travel hub that is now struggling to keep up with the increasing volume of people passing through on their way to various destinations on the continent. The noise, combined with the movement of so many people to their various gates, creates a fascinating environment. It’s easy to decipher who is patient and who is not.

Not only is it noisy in Addis, but there’s no “easy seating.” What do I mean when saying there’s no “easy seating?” This is a term I have conjured up myself to describe the near panic that grips your heart when you realize there’s nowhere to sit for the next several hours while you wait for your connecting flight. Every available seat is jealously guarded by the fortunate one who managed to get it before anyone else.

Even the most frugal person would, at this point, try to pay to get into the airport lounge. Once the lounge is found, entrance is denied if you aren’t a member with the airline. Tears sting at the backs of your eyes as you are forced to return to the swirling masses of humanity in the concourse where you find yourself resorting to some kind of instinctual behavior as you scout out possible seating.

Still, we keep making these trips over and over!

The remaining part of our journey, once we leave the busy Addis airport, is where the plot thickens even further. We will fly to Lilongwe, Malawi (about 3+ hours from Addis), and be on the ground for about an hour dropping off and receiving passengers. Finally, after departing from Lilongwe, after a very short flight of less than an hour, we will land in Blantyre where the lines are long and slow and luggage carts are broken.

The chaos that ensues upon landing is a mixture of joy for the journey’s ending, jet lag, and struggling to get through customs and immigration. The heat this time of year is suffocating, but my eyes long to see the dusty roads of Africa.

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Home for me has never been wrapped in the comfort of my natural citizenship. I have longed, painfully at times, for family and friends but have learned to accept the longing of my soul for the people of Africa. To fight against it would be tantamount to fighting against my very breath.

So, I embrace this discomfort: economy class and all simply that I might see Him someday and pronounced faithful to His call (see Phil. 3:10).

I am thankful that at least this time I didn’t have to walk through business class to get to my seat.