Friday, November 21, 2014

Benefits of being a Mazungo

I guess being a “Mazungo” (foreigner) has its perks. Yes, I stick out like a sore thumb. Yes, that sometimes means that merchants try to rip me off. But this week I had two encounters that made me glad I stand out.

After a women’s prayer time at church, Janie and I went shopping at the mall. And by "mall", I mean a ginormous, labyrinthine market with muddy paths and stalls made of bamboo covered in plastic for shade, where you could buy anything from hardware to baby clothes and literally everything in between. I bought some cups and a few Goodwill-reject t-shirts to turn into rags (if you ever wondered what happened to thrift store clothes that don't sell, now you know. They come here by the container load to be sold in piles at the "malls" around Africa).

After we found our goods and emerged from the "mall", a lady approached me. She was quite thin and her dress was dirty. “Please help me,” she said in a voice so quiet I could barely hear her above the traffic and hubbub of the market. I almost missed that she was talking to me. “Please, could you spare 10 mets so I could get something to eat?” (about 30 cents). Her face was so downcast, and my heart was moved. I asked what her name was, and her eyes brightened a bit that I cared enough to ask. “Dina” was the quiet reply. I told her God loved her, and gave her 20 mets. She smiled. I don’t know why I found it so hard to give last time we were here. It’s so easy to be generous above and beyond what people even ask. Seriously, I could make someone’s day with 60 cents. But it was because I look different that she came up to me. Because so many of the Mazungos are missionaries, she saw me as someone to go to for help. I’m so glad God has fixed my heart that I have compassion for the people who view me that way now, rather than getting frustrated at the constant requests.

After leaving the market we wound our way to the bus stop and climbed into a chappa that was still relatively empty, so we went all the way to the back seat and I squeezed in next to a man who was sitting in the corner. He immediately struck up a conversation with me that went something like this (in Portuguese, and I later asked his name, so I’ll use it here):

Sergio: Good afternoon! Everything good with you?
Me: Yes! Everything’s good. And you?
Sergio: Wow, you speak good Portuguese, (then we talked about language learning for a while). So, what are you here for? Do you work for a business here?
Me: No, I work with the Peniel church, do you know it?
Sergio: Oh, you’re a missionary! Is that the one with Pastor Mario? Yes, I do know it! Man, I need to get to church sometime. My life has lots of problems. I need God. When are the services?
Me: Sunday at 9:00 and 6:00, and Wednesday and Friday nights at 6:00.
Sergio: I’m going! I’m going this week! I need God. Do you have a Bible you could give me? I need the Word of God in my life.

Unfortunately I did not have a Portuguese Bible I could give him, so I made a mental note to try to find some and stockpile for the future. But seriously. Just by sitting next to him he got convicted and preached to himself about how much he needed God in his life. Needed no convincing. Needed nothing on my part but to know when to show up. I wonder if I’ll see him there next week. I was so involved in my conversation with him that I didn't notice when we arrived at our bus stop, but fortunately Janie saw it and we managed to get home. Jesus called us to be fishers of men, and it felt like the fish were jumping into the boat with no effort on my part!

Standing out can be annoying sometimes, but this time it was a blessing. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Second Chance

Well, now that we're missionaries again, I guess it's time to pull this forgotten blog down from the virtual shelf, blow off the dust, and start writing again! I'll start with a song that has been close to my heart these past few months:

My future hangs on this You make preciousness from dust
Please don't stop creating me
Your blood offers the chance to rewind to innocence;
Reborn, perfect as a child.

Oh, Your cross, it changes everything,
There my world begins again with You.
Oh, Your cross, it's where my hope restarts,
A second chance is Heaven's heart.

When sin and ugliness collide with redemption's kiss,
Beauty awakens by romance.
Always, inside this mess, I have found forgiveness,
Mercy, as infinite as You.

Countless second chances we've been given at the cross

Fragments of brokenness salvaged by the art of grace,
You craft life from our mistakes
Black skies of my regrets outshone by this kindness;
New life dawns over my soul.

I’m finding myself meditating on and reveling in the idea of a second chance. I’ll be honest: our first time in Mozambique was not pretty. I allowed myself to grow bitter, hard-hearted, far from God, depressed, frustrated, angry, and unforgiving. Those characterized my life far more than love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control did. I lived a pretty miserable life, counting down the days until I could jump on an airplane and escape this personal hell called “Mozambique”. When I finally boarded that plane in 2011, I didn’t plan on returning. Ever.

Yet here I am. Typing this while listening to African rap music booming from the street below, sitting in a wicker chair in an apartment on the fourth story of an old Portuguese apartment building, in Beira. Mozambique. Back where I said I’d never go again.

Funny how God works, isn’t it?

It took three years of Him working on my heart, healing the wounds that had been inflicted and encouraging me to forgive, forgive, and forgive some more. Seventy times seven times. I also spent a lot of time asking for forgiveness. Over time I grew to regret most the decisions I had made during those years. I regretted all the times I had snubbed, turned away, distrusted, rejected, and failed to love the people I was supposed to be serving. Jesus had come to me as the “least of these”, and I had turned Him away. Over, and over, and over again. 

I’m not really sure why, but I grew up with an intense fear of failure. My parents were not harsh task masters (by any means!), yet I always hated the idea of letting them—or anyone else—down. I hated making mistakes, every time it felt like I had failed again. I definitely feel like our first time in Mozambique was one huge failure. As Paul said, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t LOVE others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t LOVE others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t LOVE others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3). I failed to love. Therefore, I failed. Period. I was, in Paul’s words, “nothing”.

When sin and ugliness collide with redemption's kiss,
Beauty awakens by romance.
Always, inside this mess, I have found forgiveness,
Mercy, as infinite as You.

I fell prey to the patterns around me to marginalize the poor. Other rich people would just walk by and ignore them, so I did the same. I’m ashamed to say I even came to view their deaths with apathy. Oh, just another African. They often treated me like I was somehow superior, just because of my skin color, and I returned the favor by treating them like inferiors. Now I am so ashamed of how I acted, thought, spoke, and behaved. I was the priest and the Levite who looked away and crossed by on the other side of the road while the robbed man lay bleeding in the ditch.

All the while, I thought I still wanted to “do missions”. I grew up in a missions-minded family, I’ve wanted to be a missionary as long as I can remember, and my first few short-term forays only confirmed that desire and calling in me. Our first time in Mozambique was nothing like what I wanted from “missions”, but I knew I still wanted to do “missions”, I just decided that since it was so hard here that maybe this wasn’t where I was supposed to be. God, please call me elsewhere, I prayed. Anywhere but here.

I even went so far as to look for other opportunities, other mission organizations in other countries. Yet nothing “clicked” until a certain pastor invited us to come and work with him. In Mozambique.

In all the spiritual desert of our first few years, the brief visits to Peniel Worship Center were an oasis for my soul. After pouring out and pouring out until I was beyond dry and empty, it was the only place I felt genuinely refilled. Where I could connect with God. Where I could sense that maybe all this was worth it after all. Those visits were too few and too far between for my liking, I wished we could just join Peniel full-time. So when the pastor of Peniel asked us if we would consider helping him with a project on his heart, it was one of the only invitations that I could fathom accepting after how burned I was the first time.

So here I am. Graciously being offered a second chance. Even me. Over the past few months, God has taken me on a journey into His heart. I asked Him to show me Himself, and He told me to look to the poor. I am still working through an in-depth study on the poor in the Bible, and God has brought me face-to-face with His upside-down Kingdom, kind of like an upside-down pyramid. Where the rich and famous are at the bottom, almost worthless in His sight, and the poor and rejected are at the top, and the apple of His eye. He loves them. Oh, how He loves them. I felt Him say to me that if I wanted to get to know Him more, I would have to get to know the poor more. His heart is inexorably bound to them. He catches their tears in a bottle. He counts every one of the curly hairs on their heads. If He looks after the sparrows, how much more does He care about these precious people.

Oh, Your cross, it changes everything,
There my world begins again with You.
Oh, Your cross, it's where my hope restarts,
A second chance is Heaven's heart.

At Calvary all my failings, all my sins of commission and omission, were nailed to the cross that changes everything. Jesus' blood came like a giant eraser to my ugly page, giving me a clean and fresh start. A second chance. A new hope.

For some reason, God hasn't given up on me. He wants these people to know how much He loves them, and He has given me another opportunity to tell them of that love. Right in the exact same place where I failed before, He has sent me again to succeed. I don’t think it would have been the same if we had gone anywhere else, I wouldn't feel like that time of failure would have been redeemed quite as powerfully as it will be through the ability to serve the same people in the same place. This time I’m finding a deep love for these people that I never had before, and it makes all the difference.

Fragments of brokenness salvaged by the art of grace,
You craft life from our mistakes
Black skies of my regrets outshone by this kindness;
New life dawns over my soul.

What are the areas of your life where you could use a second chance? Are there any past dreams, visions, or missions that you've had that ended in failure where you would like to see future success? I’d encourage you to pray for the opportunity to set something right that went terribly wrong before. It is truly liberating.

Countless second chances we've been given at the cross

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some stories just need to be told

Last year we struck up a friendship with one of the Bible school teachers, Abel. He spoke English, so that was quite helpful in our first months of struggling to master Portuguese.

Abel grew up as a pastor’s kid, and as a young adult attended a Bible school run by Teen Missions. He stayed on there to become a leader and teacher in the same course where he had been a student. There was a local girl, Judite, who caught his eye, and though she was young he asked her to wait for him, and she agreed. Later on he had the opportunity to go to the USA, where he traveled around and preached at different churches all over the country. He kept writing and calling that special girl in Mozambique, and their relationship blossomed. When he got back to his homeland he married her.

Their first child was a little girl, but she was born very prematurely and only lived a couple days. Abel and Judite were heartbroken, and doctors told them they shouldn’t have any more children because Judite’s health was so poor and she was very weak. They refused to take that for an answer, and prayed fervently for another child, and a while later she discovered she was pregnant again. Doctors warned her that she needed to stay on complete bed rest the entire pregnancy to give her and this baby a better chance of living, so that’s what she did, with Abel waiting on her hand and foot. He cooked, he cleaned, he did all of his work and hers too (and Mozambican women work HARD!). When family and friends offered to help him, he refused, saying that it was a joy and not a burden to serve his wife like that, and that it was his expression of love to her. Their baby boy, Bethel, was born healthy and strong, and Abel decided to raise him like a Biblical Nazarite, keeping him set apart for the Lord. He never cut Bethel’s hair, but decided that at age 7 he would let the boy decide for himself if he wanted to continue in the Nazarite way.

At one point their relationship faltered, and Judite left for a while. When she came back to Abel, she had AIDS, but he still welcomed her back with open arms and heart. Shortly after that, they began taking in orphans and children in need, caring for them and becoming family for those who had lost theirs. Abel made minimum wage working as a Bible school teacher at the Iris base, but still managed to make ends meet for their growing family, which eventually included 25 orphans in addition to their precious Bethel. For many Mozambicans, when they take in orphans they treat them like slaves, forcing them to work hard and not letting them go to school or play, but Abel and Judite were a true father and mother to all the children they took in.

That was how things were when we met him in January 2009. In March, the leaders of the base suddenly left and we were found put in their place, and since we knew we were inexperienced we really wanted help and counsel. We asked Abel to be co-director with us; as a Mozambican he knew the language and culture better than us, as an older man (well, older than us anyway) he commanded more respect, and we were very blessed through our partnership. Over the rest of the year, we spent many, many hours with Abel, resolving worker disputes, meeting with government officials, praying about direction for the base, fellowshipping over pizza (Abel’s favorite food from his time in the States), laughing together over ridiculous situations, crying together when his mother passed away, and enjoying a close friendship.

Shortly before we left for the States to have our baby, we found out Judite was pregnant again too. I shared some of my prenatal vitamins with her, knowing her health needed all the help it could get. I looked forward to coming back to Mozambique and having our two little children grow up together as best friends. I crocheted a baby blanket for her while we were on our long road trips. I bought her some nice cloth diapers.

We were heartbroken to find out that just before it was time for us to return to Mozambique, Abel had been asked to leave Iris. There were many horrible accusations made against him, and the leaders over us decided he needed to go. Our base had a nasty history of leaders being taken out by lies and false rumors spread to damage good people’s reputations out of jealousy, so we’ll never know this side of heaven if what was said about him was true or not. Regardless, he was gone from our lives just like that. I never saw Abel or Judite after we got back to Mozambique. I never got to see their new baby girl, Marvelous, who was born right before we returned. I never got to give her the gifts I had brought.

After giving birth to Marvelous, Judite had bad hemorrhaging that continued for months. She grew weaker and weaker, and though we never saw them we occasionally heard updates on how she was doing. The last thing we heard was that she was in the hospital, but seemed to be improving after receiving a blood transfusion.

We just got the news that Judite died today. There are no words to describe the sadness, regret, and frustration that brings… I wish I had spent more time with her last year, we saw Abel every day but I should have made more effort to go to their house and spend time with Judite. I wish I could have seen them this year without causing a scandal on the base since nearly everyone here believed (or started) the bad rumors about Abel. I wish I could have been there for her when she was growing weaker, I wish I could have helped her in some way.

Life is so fragile, especially here. Thousands, millions, of people die in Africa every day, and no one in the rest of the world knows. I just felt like Judite’s story needed to be told. She was an amazing woman of God, soft-spoken and gentle, shy but generous.

I know there aren’t supposed to be tears in heaven, but I think I’ll have some in my eyes when I give her a hug when I get to see her there.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Just like a waving flag…

This song was written by an artist from Somalia, and it does such a poignant job of expressing the sad histories of almost all African nations:

When I get older, they'll call me freedom
Just like a Waving Flag.

When I get older, I will be stronger,
They'll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag,
And then it goes back (3X)

Born to a throne, stronger than Rome
But violent prone, poor people zone,
But it's my home, all I have known,
Where I got grown, streets we would roam.
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest,
Among the hardest survival.
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak,
Accept no defeat, surrender retreat,

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We're wondering when we'll be free,
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day,
It's not far away, so for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger,
They'll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag,
And then it goes back (3X)

So many wars, settling scores,
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor,
I heard them say, love is the way,
Love is the answer, that's what they say,
But look how they treat us, Make us believers,
We fight their battles, then they deceive us,
Try to control us, they couldn't hold us,
Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers.

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We're wondering when we'll be free,
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day,
It's not far away, so for now we say

It is such a sad but honest cry to the corrupt governments and outsiders that have stripped a continent that is so rich in resources to be the poorest area of the planet. Wars, colonization, slavery, selfishness, and corruption have touched and damaged nearly every country in Africa. However, this song was rewritten this year to be the anthem of the Soccer World Cup, which was held in South Africa just next door to us, and the lyrics to THAT version go as follows:

Give me freedom, give me fire, give me reason, take me higher
See the champions, take the field now, you define us, make us feel proud
In the streets our heads are lifting, as we lose our inhibition,
Celebration, it surrounds us, every nation, all around us

Singing forever young, singing songs underneath that sun
Lets rejoice in the beautiful game,
And together at the end of the day.

We all say

When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag
And then it goes back (3X)

Since soccer is such a popular sport here, and since the song is quite catchy, our boys on the center were constantly singing it. I noticed when I let the kids borrow my guitar they had learned how to play it. While it isn't a bad song, it still made me a little sad because before this the only music they ever played was worship and Christian music, and now they were all gathering around the guitar to sing this soccer song together. So, since it does have such a catchy tune, I rewrote the lyrics to be my own Christian parody (more a parody of the soccer version than the original, and sorry, no YouTube link for it):

You're my freedom, You're my fire, Take me Jesus, take me higher

You're the champion of the battle, You refine us, make us pure gold

In the streets we live Your mission, bring Your hope to all the children

Adoration, it surrounds us, Every nation and tongue will join us

Singing around the throne, singing worship to You alone

Lets rejoice that You came to save

And together give You praise

We all sing

When I am weaker, You will be stronger

Love is Your banner over us like a flag

Until You come back (3X)

I just taught it to the boys today, and you should have seen their faces! Their grins were so big, that they could take this song they loved and now praise God with it! They laughed and were eager to learn it, so I printed out several copies for them. Hopefully soon I'll be hearing it often around the base :-).

Sunday, August 15, 2010


If You came back today

Would You find me faithful with all that You gave me to do?

How did I live day to day?

Did the talents You gave me bring glory to You?

Did I learn how to love the unlovely?

Did I stop to help a stranger in need?

Did I put others first, lay down my pride?

Did I give myself completely?

I want to be found faithful

I want to hear You say, "My servant, well done"

I want to be found faithful

I want to see more of Your Kingdom come

Monday, August 2, 2010


Ephesians 4:31a-32
Get rid of all bitterness… Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Philippians 2:1, 3b, 5
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?... Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves… You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Colossians 3:12-13
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

1 Peter 3:8
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.

God has been prompting me lately to keep a tender heart. You wouldn't believe how hard that can be. It's so easy to get hardened, calloused, bitter, and angry. Here's an example:

Just the other day one of our workers came to the door asking Jon if we could "loan" him some money for his wife's school fees. I instantly shut down on the inside; last year we gave out hundreds of dollars in "loans," and only one person—one—ever paid us back. One Mozambican even advised us, "Don't give loans. Either give a gift or don't, but certainly don't expect anything to come back." Many of the people we "loaned" money to, we never even saw again after the "loan," and even if we did see them they never once considered paying us back. We're white, white people don't need their money back because they have an endless supply, so they think. I also grew bitter about using our personal money to give "loans" to the workers, because they already receive so much more in their salaries than most other people live on and they are allowed to get loans from the ministry. They are automatically upper-middle class citizens by having a minimum-wage job, because minimum wage is so high—they receive in about two months what most other people make in a year. This particular worker doesn't even have to pay for housing, because of a fluke of situation we bought him a nice house last year and he doesn't have to pay rent or anything (long story). I thought there was no way he could possibly need money above and beyond his salary for his wife's school fees, and I knew that what most people do is as soon as they receive their salary they'll spend it on nice clothes, cell phones, TVs, and other nonessential items, so that they can honestly go begging from the missionaries that they don't have any food in their houses and their families are starving, or in this case a deadline has come up for school fees, and all their money is gone.

As Jon reached for my wallet and explained it was a "loan," I muttered bitterly, "There's no such thing as a 'loan'."

"He said he'll pay back next month," Jon replied with what I considered gross naivety.

"You don't actually believe that, do you? They always say that, it never happens," I said.

"But I have to keep hoping," he responded. Somehow Jon has managed to keep his heart tender while mine has grown hard as stone.

It's not just "loans" and money, either. I've grown so hard in my view of people in general.

They're not really worshiping God. They just like having the microphone and being in the limelight.

People don't come to the conference for spiritual reasons, they're just here for the free food.

The evangelism team just uses the outreaches as a chance to hang out with their girlfriends.

That kid is a kleptomaniac who is never, ever going to change. He will just steal and steal and steal until he gets caught and thrown in jail or killed one of these days.

Even the pastors lie and steal every opportunity they get. They only became pastors because of the lure of power and money.

I guess if they were a perfect people, God wouldn't have called us here because they wouldn't need the gospel. Still, it's so hard to forgive, forgive, forgive, and show mercy, mercy, mercy. So hard.

"How many times must I forgive my brother?" Peter asked. "Up to seven times?" I'm sure he suggested the seven thinking it was quite generous. Not just two or three times, no, let's go extravagant and forgive up to seven times. I can keep count up to seven, and that is a lot of times for someone to blow it and still get off scot free.

"No," Jesus replied, "Seventy times seven." Four hundred ninety times. By which, of course, He meant infinitely. Who is actually going to keep count of almost five hundred offences and at the last one be able to say, "Okay, last forgiveness! After this, you're through!" One time a friend and I had a running joke for a few weeks of how many forgivenesses he had left for his random offences against me, but when I lost count he still had four hundred seventy-something to go.

Three of the four verses above mention tenderheartedness together with humility, which is obviously important. Pride doesn't want to forgive. Pride wants to keep a record of wrongs done. Pride hardens the heart against a repeat offender. It is a humble person indeed who can keep forgiving over and over and over again, and keep a heart tender enough to believe the best of everyone even still. To believe that they can change. To believe that when they say they'll "never do _____ again" that it's true. To believe that this "loan" will come back, that he's being honest. To not let bitterness set in.

I'm not there yet. I'm still struggling, fighting, daily taking up my cross to keep a tender heart, to put others first, to believe the best. Two of the verses above tell us why we should forgive: "Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others."

Boy, I'm glad God isn't keeping count of how many times He's had to forgive me. I'm sure I'm past even my four hundred ninety by now.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Every Word

So apparently I can write poetry in my sleep.

I just started reading a book about the civil war in Mozambique (1970's-early 1990's), and it is harrowing. It was nothing like the American civil war: two armies of soldiers, either volunteers or drafted, who meet each other in battle and fight until one side wins or surrenders. No. Here it was more like bands of raiders attacking innocent villages, raping women and girls, stealing everything of value (including all doors, windows, roofing material, electrical wiring, plumbing... everything), and killing the majority of the population and enslaving the rest to carry said stolen materials into neighboring countries to sell. The few who managed to escape would huddle in refugee camps throughout the country, dressed in tree bark since they had no clothes, usually starving and lacking clean water. Sometimes the rebel bands would even attack hospitals, killing the sick and injured, and even babies. No one was safe.

Even in my sleep last night I was haunted by some of the stories described in the book, the ruthlessness of the attacks. In my dream I was writing a poem about how I felt, and when I woke up I could remember most of it. Here it is...

Every Word

as I looked out
I started to sing
it was a song I had never heard before
yet I knew
every word
even though it had many verses
and even variations in the chorus

it was a sad song
played in a minor key

if you had come and stood beside me
you would also start to sing
though you, too, had never heard the song
we could sing in perfect unison
every word

how else but song can you describe
a battle with no heroes
where those who died—
were not soldiers
and those who lived—
will not live long

looking out across the scene
we would stand and sing together
in perfect unison
every word

for it is a song