Posted in Choices, Harvest, Healing, Love, Uncategorized

The Dance

Worship
No on knows what’s behind these lifted hands.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post; we’ve been in the middle of a move and if you’ve ever moved you know what I’m talking about. Thankfully, the house we moved to is a short distance from where we were, making the actual transporting of our things a bit easier. I still need to hang curtains for the few curtains I had are too short to fit the windows – I’m wondering how long I can bear leaving my few bedsheets on the windows.

I’m forever explaining myself away.

Why I’ve not posted a blog.

Why my husband and I choose to keep pursuing overseas missions.

Why, why, why do I feel indebted to explain everything away to everyone?

Romans 13:8 NASB “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

Inside I feel, as I suppose many of us do, the need to be understood and accepted. I easily concur with the above verse from Romans; the only debt I have to others is to love them. However, I want others to love and accept me and my natural tendency is to explain things away to gain approval.

What a waste of energy because the opinions people have of us can change as swiftly as the direction of the wind.

In our church here in Bujumbura, we have a lovely lady named Mama Christine Makamba who is one of our cell leaders. To get by, she farms; she works hard and shares her harvest with poorer single mothers who attend her home cell group. When they arrive at her home for meeting, she has a meal prepared for them and spends time listening to them, praying for their needs, and trying to help them find a way to feed their young children.

This past Sunday, as usual, Mama Makamba and I chatted about her group, about certain ones we want to help, and as she talked I marveled at her smile. Her joy is almost tangible when talking about her ladies and the change in the lives of her members. Her frustration also rises to the surface when she feels she’s not breaking through and making a difference.

What most people don’t know about Mama Makamba is that she is 67 years old (she won’t mind me saying so), has had 10 children and was a pastor’s wife in one of our churches. Her husband died about 10 years ago from complications of a stroke he had a few years prior. Two of her 10 children were poisoned and died and she has had to face the harsh realities of life as a widow in Africa. I can’t imagine what she has had to endure.

And yet, she has the strength to smile and the strength to love. She believes in paying that debt of love.

On Sunday, Mama Makamba is the only older person in our worship team. Everyone else is much younger but they all sing with her without regard to her age, and I think this is because she loves them all and it shows. She leads them in joy and love – and when she dances something moves in the heavenlies.

No one, besides God, knows the price she has had to pay, the price any of us have paid to get to where we are and there’s no explaining away the work of God in each of us because His grace meets us all where we need to be met. No one else, besides ourselves, can “get” what He has done in and for us and that gives us reason for joy.

I’ve decided, instead of explaining, to follow Mama Makamba’s example and dance – God knows why I’m dancing and He is the best Partner.

Zephaniah 3:17 NKJ “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

 

 

Posted in Family, Love, Marriage, Missions

Lists, Beds and Dishes

Someone once said to me that they admired me because I was organized enough to get things done without writing a list. I stopped and thought for a moment and realized it was true. Lists weren’t something I adhered to mostly because if I wrote one I would forget that I wrote it and forget where I placed it! I tend to wake up in the morning and just go and do what needs to be done.

My husband, Jamie, is the polar opposite when it comes to listing. When asked what he has going for the day, his reply, “Let me look at my list.” He’s very old school when it comes to lists in that he writes everything down that he wants to get done every day. I’ve learned not to look down on his list system as he gets things done and rarely forgets something that has been listed. I even ask him to write things down to remind me – he gets a bit upset when I ask him and wants to know why I won’t write my own lists to which I reply:

You know I’ll forget that I wrote it down and I’ll forget where I put it. It’s not rocket science, I get up and go and hope the chips land in the right places by the end of the day.

I think it’s pretty amazing how we have learned to function over the years. We used to clash over things like listing and washing dishes but over time (35 years this July!) we have evolved in our understanding of one another. For example, he doesn’t understand why I like the bed made because:

We’re just going to sleep again tonight, why bother making it again?

To which I respond:

Then you have no opinion over what bedspreads or decorative things I use.

We are at peace! At first, he didn’t make the bed and I got somewhat used to his view on the matter. Now as the years have passed, I’ve found the bed made from time to time when I’ve not made it! I think he must like me.

Years ago when we first moved overseas, I was busy with three young children at home and naturally let him cover most of the mission office work. I thought I had enough on my plate (and I did) just trying to get from morning til evening with the family. I reckoned that he should take care of the office – until I watched him one day. Jamie worked hard to keep everything in order but was swimming in administration. I’m pretty good at telling people what to do, at least that is what my kids have said, so I quietly (almost imperceptibly) began taking much of the administrational load from him. Slowly I assumed the task of writing our newsletters, overseeing some accounting for him, and other mundane but necessary tasks. I think I really like him a lot.

We have learned to take up the slack for the other; neither expects the other to fit into some prefabricated mold. Our responsibilities overlap in such a way that works for us, our marriage isn’t what’s “my” job or “your” job. Our marriage and everything that it’s about is “our” job. Sometimes that calls me to give a bit more and other times he gives a bit more, and we try not to keep track of who is ahead in giving. We’re cool with one another like that.

I didn’t set out to write about our enigmatic way of working together but this blog, like our life together, doesn’t ever end up looking like what it started out to be! Life with Jamie has been an adventure, I can never say he’s not taken me anywhere. I can also say it’s been very good to grow together in love as we wait for the next part of our adventure to unfold.

At the same time, I still like the bed made and dishes washed and he still likes lists. Maybe I should write him a list about the dishes and bed? Nah, that might be pushing it.

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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 Change, Correction, Cross, Family, Forgiveness, Kindness, Kingdom, Missions

Be Nice

I remember one of my favorite things to say to my 3 older kids when they were growing up was:

“Be nice.”

Sometimes it felt nearly impossible to get through a day without a major crisis unfolding between 2 or all 3 of them. The oldest would pop the youngest over the head, the 2nd born (a daughter) would take great delight in getting her 2 brothers in trouble, and the 3rd born relished in the fact that he had it a bit easier than his 2 older siblings. Now, with a 4th one that came a full 15 years after our 3rd, you know there is a lot of “you didn’t do that for us” going around.

Well, I confess, there’s truth to that statement, but we learn as we go don’t we? While we were waiting for our first child to be born, I remember thinking how I would do everything better than everyone else (why I thought this I am not sure). I knew how I wanted to raise my child in a certain way that was better than everyone else’s. I was sure that my household would be quiet, peaceful, the laundry would always be folded, dinner on the table, and everyone would be nice.

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Fast forward 10 years and I found myself up to my neck in raising children, living abroad, and somehow working as a full-time missionary Africa. I honestly do not know how I made it through those days with my mind still somewhat intact. The amount of work that just goes into running a household here is stupefying; there is no fast food (thankfully), no quick place to shop (you go to the market which is an all-day ordeal), and keeping the house clean is a whole other blog for another day. All of this doesn’t take into account the work of the mission and church. At the end of every day (much like you wherever you are), both then and now, I wonder how I made it and continue to make it and follow my own counsel to “be nice.” Honestly, I wasn’t always as nice as I had hoped to be – but I always worked on it and am still working on it!

Ephesians 4:31,32 LB “Stop being mean, bad-tempered, and angry. Quarreling, harsh words, and dislike of others should have no place in your lives. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you because you belong to Christ.”

In the current supercharged world of “speaking our minds,” many have forgotten the need for those of us identifying as Christians to just be nice, be kind to each other. Everywhere we look these days be it online, TV, print, or in person there’s a strong negative current to “speak up for what is right.” We are ambassadors of the Kingdom and our righteous King, but we won’t convince anyone of their need for Christ if our righteousness is covered in ugliness. No matter the situation, Scripture is clear on the matter, we must be nice.

Society has always been ugly, humanity has always been divided, and the church can’t fulfill her mission when she looks, acts, and speaks like the world. Whatever happened to following Jesus advice to “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 NLT)

Have you ever noticed how exhausting it is to force change with anger or frustration? I wonder how many ulcers and troubles with high blood pressure could be averted by simply being nice. 

I learned this truth the hard way years ago serving here on the continent when I saw much hunger, injustice, and unnecessary death. I worked myself to the bone trying to bring change; no matter how hard I worked, no matter how many hungry and vulnerable children I fed, there were still more than needed feeding and despite my valiant efforts, people still went hungry. I became tired and bitter about my situation and the unfairness of it all – until one day, after sickness forced me to rest, I understood that anything pulling me from Jesus’ yoke that gives me rest is not His will for me. Over time I began to understand that this fallen world is full of sin and sin can’t be dealt with on our terms. Anger, frustration, overworking, and self-righteousness pull us away from His way to address man’s fallen nature by just being nice. The response of humanity to the message of the cross is not my responsibility; I am only responsible to bring the Good News. As long as there is sin in the world, there will be division, injustice, and pain.

This doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth for Scripture clearly instructs us to “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT) What is our motive for speaking out and what is our method? If love for those we see lost in sin is our motive, then our methods will line up with Scripture – otherwise we are only adding fuel to the fire of division instead of bringing Christ in to redeem the situation.

How has frustration over the sinfulness of this world worked for us thus far? How has being angry helped any situation? Jesus walked this fallen earth and seldom was seen showing outright anger and frustration to the world; He had come to save them, give Himself for them – He died for them. His frustration was seen in the temple, among the “righteous,” who were too bsuy enriching themselves to reach out to those who really needed help – those outside of the temple (for us this can be taken to mean the church).

My youngest daughter loves the movie, “Frozen” and the theme song, “Let it go.” I rarely spiritualize animated movies but today I will make an exception. Those things frustrating you, those unfair, unrighteous, unholy, difficult things that anger you – let them go. Take Jesus’ yoke on you, He is the only One qualified to measure out judgment. Now is the time to be the church in the world, speak in love, and simply put:

Be nice.

 

Posted in Inconvenience, Kindness, Kingdom, Love, Pride, Sight

Of Glasses and Vanity

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I’ve come to the realization that my eyesight simply isn’t what it used to be. An optometrist told me a few years ago that my age is at fault for my ocular malfunctions. After recovering from the “age” comment, I felt somewhat betrayed that my eyes would rebel against me to the point of requiring full-time vision correction.

At first, I only needed glasses for reading, I was able to swallow that pill easily enough and carried on with life. Fast forward just a few years and everyday tasks became impossible without my glasses – reading recipes, deciphering the lettering on my measuring cups and spoons in the kitchen, recognizing someone’s face on the other side of a parking lot, all became difficult. I found it cumbersome to put my glasses on and take them off repeatedly during the day and finally succumbed to the need of wearing them all day long.

Vanity has driven me to great lengths to find the perfect pair of frames and I have yet to find them! Vanity also drove me to wear contact lenses; I happen to like my green eyes and am now in the throes of wearing daily contact lenses in order to keep them from being hidden behind my glasses.

As irritating as it may be to wear glasses, use contact solution, order new contacts all the way from my optometrist (Dr. Reiter who is amazing, and did not make the age comment, if you’re in South Florida and need your eyes taken care of she’ll take great care of you) and have them delivered by FedEx to Malawi, I can’t imagine not correcting my vision when it’s in my power to do so.

Yet, when it comes to seeing what’s really important in this life, there have been times that I’ve been in need of a heavenly optometrist. I’ve been guilty of neglecting to correct my vision, finding it inconvenient to open my eyes to what’s at stake: the souls of men and women. The noise of life, the angry TV news reports and overboard social media blurbs, have made me focus on the “rights” and “wrongs” in society rather than keeping my eyes on Kingdom business. It’s easier to take sides than it is to be a Kingdom worker, for God sees all humanity equally through lenses of love. Those lenses force us to see not only the true condition of others but also of ourselves in light of Who He is – the Great I Am.

Has the truth of John 3:16, that God loves the world, become so foreign to us today that we conveniently edit out the truth that everyone means everyone? Everyone not only means those who we think fit into the mold, but also those who especially don’t fit into the mold. Everyone from the Midwestern housewife, the school janitor, exercise instructor, orphan, billionaire, and Syrian refugee is seen equally through the eyes of our Father. He simply loves them and wishes they would become part of the family.

I wonder how much our spiritually poor eyesight keeps us from working with the Father to grow the family; how much have we actually harmed the effort to bring the prodigals home?

2 Peter 3:9 Voice Now the Lord is not slow about enacting His promise—slow is how some people want to characterize it—no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you, not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path and to turn toward God’s.”

The next time you see someone at the grocery store or sleeping homeless on the street or even see angry newscasts on the TV, dare to look behind the veil of what this world would have you see. On the outside, people appear to have it all together or be the authors of their own misery or at the mercy of a ruthless dictator. Their external circumstances belie who they really are: the apple of God’s eye.

It’s time to put our glasses on.

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Courage, Despair, Why

The “Why”

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“Why?”

It’s the question of the ages that has gone largely unanswered: Why do bad things happen?

The past months, our world has been inundated with bad news; catastrophe after catastrophe, loss after loss, and without much explanation. We struggle to get behind the reasons for the trouble; if we could know “the why” perhaps, we reason, we could come to terms with the outcomes we are facing.

Working in Central Africa years ago in Burundi during the time of civil war, I had my first real wrangling with trying to answer that question. The violence, which began in the country’s interior, had caused a migration of thousands to the capital city, Bujumbura, where we were living and pastoring our first church. Within a few weeks of the escalation of fighting, makeshift displaced persons camps were set up in the city. Initially, those in the camps were the elderly, women, and children who had fled the violence. Of course, as the weeks and months went by, those having less than noble characters hid themselves among the innocent making their plight in the camps even worse.

Hunger gripped the city and those fleeing the violence felt it more than most. As it is with most of these types of situations, the NGOs and worldwide community took a long time to respond and it was up to the local community to react – and spring into action we did. The ladies of the church and I, there were only a few of us at the time, decided to pool our resources and cook whatever we could find for the children. At first, we thought our outreach would last only a few weeks as we hoped along with everyone else in the country that things would “cool off” and life would return to normal. Little did we know that this situation would rock on for years to come.

God blessed and we found ourselves suddenly feeding hundreds and thousands of hungry mouths. We worked to bring children’s church lessons to the children as well as finding ways to provide medical care when needed. It’s easy in these situations to get swallowed by the need and allow the pressures of the situation take a front and center position in life. After some time of being witness firsthand to the anguish felt by mothers who watched their children suffer the effects of the war, I found myself pulled into the whirlpool of “why?”

“Why, God, is this allowed to happen?” Became the mantra of my prayers, and it went largely unanswered for a long period of time.

The stress of having to find the answer to that question produced an anger in my heart that I couldn’t immediately shake. It pushed me at first to work harder, which caused me to nearly neglect my own family and health. I became exhausted and felt as if I was the “only one” who cared if the children lived or died. I went to meeting after meeting of NGOs, who by that time had tried to involve themselves in the relief effort going on in the country, and felt I was unheard by those who apparently “knew more” about the situation even though all they did was dictate how to work from their air-conditioned offices surrounded by private security. Meanwhile, the rest of us on the ground scrambled to bring what help we could to the children.

One morning, I went to the local market to purchase some food supplies and while there I saw, for the first time, stacks and stacks of food clearly marked “not for resale – for distribution only” for sale. Incensed, I reported it to the organizations responsible, but there was no change. Those items continued to be for sale in the market and no one took notice. I was disillusioned and disappointed by those saying they wanted to help but only seemed to profit from the pain of the people. It seemed no matter how hard I worked, it wasn’t enough to mean much, adding further complication to my “why?”

Once I grew tired of being angry, tired of asking why and not understanding, I surrendered to God and changed my question from “why?” to “how can I help without being swallowed?” For I came to the understanding that the answers to the “why’s” were so far-reaching that it went beyond my ability to explain:

Why do people hate one another to the point of killing those they hate and their children?

Why won’t more people help?

Why are the poor marginalized?

The answers to those questions lie within the hearts of those committing hate motivated atrocities; there’s no understanding that can be applied to hate. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and if we aren’t careful, we, too, can be “rightfully” infected with a hate for what we cannot understand and, in the end, does that make us any better than they are?

The only answer I have found for hate is love. Loving more, loving extravagantly, loving when it is easy, and when it is hard for love is an easy load to carry. Jesus never asked us to take up something we can’t bear, for He bore it all for us and what He calls us to carry is light in comparison to what this world would lay on our shoulders:

Matthew 11:29-30 NKJ “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

As time has gone on, I have learned to keep reaching out, keep caring, keep loving people even though I can’t understand the motivations behind their situations. I only carry in me a better way to live – through the love of God.

Galatians 5:6 NLT For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus…. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.”

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Posted in Anniversary, Love, Marriage, Missions

The Dance at Shoprite in Blantyre

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This past Friday was like any other day this year even though it was our anniversary. Yes, it was a special day but life went on as usual. We had just come from an amazing week away visiting and ministering in our church in Lusaka, Zambia. Just getting to Lusaka from our home in Blantyre, Malawi takes two days so you can imagine how travel-weary we were by the time we got home.

Two days earlier, on our return trip, we picked up a dear friend who is visiting with us for a couple of weeks. She is a special family friend, more like a family member, who we haven’t seen for some years and meeting up with her was wonderful. We chatted all the way home, revisiting old memories and making new ones.

Pulling into the driveway at the end of our journey my mind filled with all the things that needed to be done: the laundry needing washing, the kitchen needed stocking, dinner needed cooking, and life needed to carry on. Then, just two days after getting home, we marked our 33rd wedding anniversary with a smile and a kiss. My husband Jamie looked at me saying, “We need to go out.” I knew he meant well and loved him more for it but because he preaches every weekend I said, “It’s Friday, you always prepare for the weekend on Friday.” Maybe we will find another day to celebrate, I mused.

The day was going to be busy as the next day (Saturday) I was to lead our first ladies’ meeting at the church. Our church is young and the first of any kind of meeting is special. As I went over the plans for the meeting I realized we still needed a few supplies from the store – yes, I have a penchant for forgetting. When I write lists, I forget where I place those as well so I’m in a never-ending cycle of trying to remember what exactly I forgot.

We decided since we would be out for prayer at church, we would stop at the store to pick up the few items needed for Saturday’s meeting. In the back of my mind I was remembering our own special day; no one else thought Friday was special but it was to me. Only once can a couple celebrate 33 years of marriage so I tried to find a card at small stationary shop while my husband was at the bank. I hurried looking through the dismal selection of cards and glanced out the store’s window, hoping he wouldn’t catch me only to see his smiling face in full view. I couldn’t even get a card to surprise him with and chastised myself for waiting too long to find one, for in Malawi finding an appropriate card of any kind is no easy task.

Feeling a bit sheepish, I exited the shop and hugged him saying, “Sorry, there wasn’t a card.” Then, some love song began to play on the loudspeaker. I really don’t remember what song it was but I put my arms around Jamie’s broad shoulders and said, “Dance with me.” This was particularly out of character for me since I don’t know anything about dancing – but he smiled and complied. For a few brief moments the world was ours and my favorite anniversary memory was created. Jamie smiling, arms entwined as we swayed to some silly song. I guess a few people wondered what we were doing but I really didn’t care. Lifelong love deserves some moments of its own and for me one of those moments happened in front of the Shoprite at the Chichiri shopping center in Blantyre.

Life is a special dance of moments that God has graced us with to enjoy. While our anniversary passed without great observation as far as a night out is concerned, the moments we danced together were a gift whose value was far greater than any dinner we might have had in the best restaurant in the world.

The music is playing, life is happening, it may seem ordinary, but God is waiting. Take His hand and dance.

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Posted in Family, Missions, Patience

Potato Chip Sandwiches

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Things don’t get done quickly or conveniently here in Malawi. When something actually is accomplished in one go, you find yourself wide-eyed and amazed, wondering what you will do with all the time you have saved. We live for days like that.

The list of pending business around here is quite long; we spend hours going to the bank, paying bills, and checking on an application to approve our church’s site plan for building that has been waiting approval for a few months now. When one initially moves overseas to a situation like ours, it can take some time to grow accustomed to the change of pace. I remember the first few years we worked abroad; we wondered how we would ever get anything done. There’s always another signature, another stamp, another fee…no wonder so many fall to paying bribes. We decided long ago that we couldn’t follow the crowd and pay bribes; it has made us an enigma among many but we sleep peacefully at night knowing we are working on the up and up.

This doesn’t mean we don’t get frustrated – we certainly do! There was a time, years ago, we believe that our commitment to not paying bribes played a central role in us not getting approval for our church to operate. It was time-consuming (we worked on getting approval for years) and expensive with many trips, applications, fees, and even living in the country for a time. The sting of ending our efforts, the embarrassment we felt over leaving, made our situation all the more uncomfortable and demoralizing.

We are now used to taking our time. One of the most notorious places you will ever waste time in here in Africa is the bank. To open an account at the bank, you will need a list of documents that will fill a large binder. It can take a few days to gather all the proper documentation, but, once you have it all together, you then have to fill out a 6-8 page application. There are many questions on these applications that will stump even the most avid application-filler! I’ve needed counsel almost every time when filling the applications. I usually don’t take less than two days in filling said applications; I will customarily take at least 2 blank copies to prepare for the inevitable errors that I will make in my attempts at filling in the needed blank spaces.

Once you have an account at the bank, you would think that things would be a bit easier but, alas, going to the bank is not meant to be convenient. From long lines, few tellers, money that requires time to count (the current rate of exchange for the Malawi Kwacha to USD is roughly 700 MWK/$1 USD), there’s rarely an occasion when going to the bank is easy. So when asked, “What did you do today?” and I answer, “I went to the bank.” People here immediately know what frustration I must’ve faced and will often nod with understanding.

My young daughter, Andreya who I call Dee, has also grown accustomed to our errands around town. Another skill we have developed in our service here is making time for our family when there’s no time. Yesterday, for example, we had to run a few errands after school was out for the day and we took Dee with us on our route of “getting things done.” We’ve learned to be together on these errands that can, without planning, simply be time-consuming and rob us of family time. Our journeys yesterday took us to pay the Internet bill and by the pharmacy. Dee, knowing that such things can take time, took her bag, homework, and baby doll with her to pass the time efficiently.

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Jamie, my husband, and I were chatting away as we pulled out from the pharmacy and heard some crunching coming from the back seat. I asked Dee, “What are you eating?” Before she could reply, Jamie looked back and saw she had brought a sandwich with her– and not just any sandwich: it was a potato chip sandwich.

“I knew I’d be hungry so I brought a sandwich.” She said in her sweet little voice and I was immediately disarmed. I had the usual list of motherly reasons why a potato chip sandwich wasn’t the best choice du jour – but that voice and reply finished me off. In any case, if I were honest, I wish I had thought of bringing a potato chip sandwich along as well.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in patience has been to value the potato chip sandwiches of life. The sweetest moments won’t come with the approval of plans or building of facilities. They come often in the unplanned, unguarded moments when we drink in the beauty of those who God has given to us.

The next time you get ready to unload the pre-prepared list of reasons why not to someone you love, remember the potato chip sandwich. The reasons why not aren’t quite as important as we may think and the moments of the sandwich may just pass by without our taking them in.

Psalm 90:12 VOICE Teach us to number our days so that we may truly live and achieve wisdom.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Devotion, Faithfulness

Get Your Visa

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Living in Africa has gotten me accustomed to following lots of procedures. I have learned that there is a procedure to everything. For example, as foreigners, we (my husband, daughter Andreya and myself) simply couldn’t arrive and live here without following due process. It would be amazing to just hop on a plane and fly to the continent and serve the people. However, that just isn’t the case. To live here, we are required to have a visa. We had to apply for this visa prior to our arrival in the country. We were required to provide many documents upon application for our visa – and then we waited. While waiting, we were given temporary visas that we renewed monthly until our visas were approved. The whole process took some months and was nerve-wracking! Thankfully, our visas were approved and we were given a 2-year temporary work permit. Next year, the process begins again as we will request a renewal of our visas – processes and procedures never end here. We will always need a visa.

Without following due process, we wouldn’t have been allowed to step off the plane when we came to establish a work here in Malawi. Once when we were planning a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we were assured after communicating with our pastor in DRC that it was possible (as it was at the time in many other countries) to get an entry visa to the DRC at the airport. We felt well assured and decided to follow what instructions we had been given and got on a plane bound for the DRC.

What we encountered at the airport after landing in the DRC was nothing less than chaos. Coming from Malawi, it was impossible for us to have gotten a visa in Malawi for the DRC because there was no consulate or embassy for the DRC in the entire nation of Malawi. We did our best to explain what we had been told, that we would be allowed to get a visa at the airport upon arrival. Our pastor who was receiving us at the airport was also doing his best to inform the officials that he had been told we could obtain our visas at the airport.

This little fact did not matter to the airport officials. They said, “You did not follow proper procedure.” We were summarily escorted to our seats on the plane and off we went, returning from whence we came. (Later on we learned that the higher-ranking official who had originally given our pastor the information we could come, arrived at the airport right after we left and reprimanded his colleagues for their conduct. While nice to hear, this didn’t do much to pay us back for those plane tickets!)

Now, whenever we plan to travel to the DRC, we make sure to get visas even though that means traveling to another country where the DRC has a consulate or embassy for some days to acquire a visa. This is an added cost but stepping off the plane with a visa in hand is the only way to go to the DRC.

In the same way when we travel we need to follow due process, there’s a process to the presence of God. The first step in experiencing His presence is wanting, or craving, His presence.

In the Old Testament, there was a time when the Ark of the Covenant was residing outside of Jerusalem. This Ark was a symbol of God’s presence among His people. King David had unsuccessfully tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem but was unsuccessful, and left the ark outside of the city. When saw the blessings that those who housed the ark were experiencing, he craved the presence of God. This is seen when he said:

2 Samuel 6:9 Rotherham “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?”

When David had first tried to bring the Ark to the city of Jerusalem, proper procedures weren’t followed. This resulted in a tragedy that kept he Ark from God’s people.

1 Chronicles 15:13 NLT “Because you (Levites) did not carry it at first, the Lord our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.”

The process to having His presence began with a craving for His presence. David wanted God’s presence, but failed at first to follow due process. Once he did follow the proper process, God’s presence filled the city of Jerusalem.

In the same way David craved God’s presence, he learned that God’s presence comes on His terms alone.

This is where we often get it wrong when it comes to the presence of God. We assume because He is an amazing Father that no matter what our attitudes are, what we do, where we go, we have that approval of His presence. Yes, it’s true that His presence is within us – but when we live outside of his processes and procedures (that are only there for our good), we gradually begin to limit His presence in our lives.

Please God, be present with me when I’m sick.

Please God, be present with me when I need a job.

Just don’t be so obviously present in my life when I’m with my friends who think that Your kind of life is strange.

Just don’t be so obviously present in my life when I’m using the credit card for purchases I can’t afford and keeping it from my spouse.

2 Corinthians 5:14 Message “Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.”

When we experience His love, we are moved so deeply that we cannot help but allow His way to be first and last in everything we do. From worship services on the weekend, work, family life, and more – He has the say-so in whatever we are doing.

That’s what it means to crave Him – He becomes all that is important.

Why does that matter? It matters because He knows the end before we do. He knows that your friends need Him even if presently they think His life is strange. Who else will show them but you? He knows that things will end badly if you continue secretly running up debt on your credit card. So what if you don’t have the trendiest outfits or electronic gadgets? He has the best in mind for you even though it feels like the opposite when things are rough.

He only wants the best – and He is the best, by far. Trust Him today.

 

 

Posted in Healing, Love

Just Because

Today, much of the world stops to celebrate those they love. As cliché as it may sound, my husband Jamie and I got engaged on Valentine’s Day in 1984. We were young, in love, and what better day than Valentine’s Day to get engaged? My engagement ring wasn’t expensive at all; some might say that the diamond was the size of a microchip. Years later that little diamond fell out and got lost while we were living in Zambia and I cried buckets of tears. So many beautiful memories were tied to that little diamond.

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One of God’s greatest gifts to us in life is the gift of being loved by Him. All of His gifts to us are a direct result of His love – He doesn’t give anything to us because He has to or because He owes us. He gives to us because His love compels Him to give to us those things we ask for and need. Sometimes He gives us things “just because.”

Those “just because” gifts are the best gifts. I remember about 10 years ago around Christmastime, I admired a painting of lions that I saw in a shop in Lilongwe, Malawi while we were shopping for gifts for our children. Money was tight and we concentrated on getting our kids’ gifts; there wasn’t money to buy something unnecessary like a painting. The painting wasn’t in my thoughts again until Christmas Day when the kids had been given their gifts and Jamie disappeared into another room. I didn’t think much of his slipping out until I saw the beautiful lion painting I had admired in Jamie’s hands and him smiling ear-to-ear. “Why did you do this?” I asked, knowing our money was tight. He simply said, “Because I love you.” My heart was overwhelmed that he went through great lengths to give me a gift and I was left without giving him anything at all in return. That’s the nature of love – giving without expecting anything: just because, that’s why.

There’s no way any of us could ever earn enough money to buy God’s love or do deeds that are good enough to merit His love. He loves us – just because – and His delight is to bless us and be a Father to us. We fail to understand that He loves us just as we are – warts and all – but He does! It is His love that draws us into relationship with Him and then His love begins to heal the pains of life’s disappointments that we’ve hidden away in the depths of our souls.

It may be that today you feel alone, wondering if anyone could ever love you unconditionally. Unfortunately, people will fail us; even those closest to us will sometimes fall short and wound us. Those whose marriages have “made it” know that one of the keys to happiness in marriage is not putting our hopes for happiness in our spouses. There’s only One Who loves us completely, with all of our faults and morning mouth, and He wants to be the One giving you those “just because” gifts right when you need them.

Jeremiah 31:3 NKJ The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”