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 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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