Thursday, July 23, 2009

Communication, Yay!

So yeah, I think I forgot what a blog was for... It's for telling people what is going on or what you are thinking, not for writing a literary symphony complete with compelling arguments and beautifully scripted imagery. It's really easy to share when amazing things are going on and God is doing things all around you. It's another when you're just trying to hang on - God hasn't spoken to you in weeks and you're just hanging on to the last thing He said... But those are important to talk about too. As such, I'll try to write more often!

We went to Beira today, trying to get a couple things. However, even trying to get to the store is sometimes a challenge - this time it was because there is very little fuel in our area. The shortage has been happening since the beginning of the month. When we went to Malawi, we waited in line for 2.5 hours to get fuel in Tete, and even then we only got it because we were so luck and had God on our side. There was absolutely no fuel in our region yesterday, but we were able to get some just before going into town.

Then came the adventure of getting cash for pay day. Today was payday, but we had no money on base. We are trying to set up bank accounts with our workers so we can pay them through the bank, but we've been trying for 4 months and are still waiting on paperwork, so until those get set up we are still paying in cash. In addition, we ran out of checks and have to wait at least 2 weeks until we can get more. We stopped by at 9:30 and they weren't open yet, so we stopped by at 10:30. We were there until 11:15 filling out forms, then we had to go exchange the US dollars from the bank into Mozambican meticais. That took until 11:50, and all the stores close at 12 until 2 for lunch. However innefficient that sounds, at least we were able to get what we needed. Jeff, one of the other missionaries that works with us, spent the entire time going from shop to shop looking for one plumbing part but could not find it...

In other news, Pastor Jose (the national director) seems to have really helped our base out. He was only here for 3 days, but ever since, people are far more grateful and they complain less. Praise Jesus!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hope, Faith, and Favor

Usually what keeps me going is having a number of moments where I stop and say, "Wow, this is why I am here!" Lately, however, I've been having a lot more moments where I stop and ask, "Wait, why am I here?" I was disheartened and discouraged with all my failings in my new roles and responsibilities. I'm finally starting to hear from God (something that has been hard my whole Christian life), but I never know it is God speaking until after I disregard what I heard, and then of course I have to suffer the consequences. Lots of stress. Frustration. Even things that used to give me joy felt like a burden.

Therefore I took a day off to hide, fast, pray, and really seek God's face. Did He really call me here, to this place, to do this work? Did I miss Him on His calling for my life? I always thought I would end up being an English-teaching missionary in Asia, how on earth did I find myself in charge of an orphanage in Africa? I was filled with doubt, exactly where the enemy wanted me.

Fortunately, it was an encouraging day with God. Somehow in the tears and surrender I was able to see through my hurts and into His heart. I learned three important lessons that day, about hope, faith, and favor.

My Bible bookmark was in Lamentations (odd, I wasn't reading Lamentations last time…), but this whole passage really spoke to my soul:

"Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, 'The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'

The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.
And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline:

Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord's demands.
Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last.
Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them and accept the insults of their enemies.

For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow."

I couldn't help feeling these are promises spoken directly over my life. I believed them all as they washed over me like the fresh water of a waterfall, cleansing the wounds and washing off the dirt of the journey. There is hope! I can still dare to hope, knowing God is faithful, knowing His mercies begin afresh every morning.

Then I randomly started reading 1 Peter. Don't know why, I just felt like reading 1 Peter.

"I am writing to God's chosen people who are living as foreigners..." It's easy for me to skip over introductions and salutations and just get to the meat of the writing, but this time the salutation really hit me—it's written to me! I'm one of God's chosen people living as a foreigner in a strange land.

"God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ." These verses made me feel personally commissioned, and also said that I obeyed. I didn't miss my calling. I was specifically chosen for this place, this work, these people. I am walking in His will for me after all.

"So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." Again, I felt like the whole book was written and preserved through the centuries just so I could read it this day and draw hope from it. There is a reason and a purpose for my trials. I need them to test and deepen my faith!

 "You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy." This is a tough ministry to be a part of for someone who has never experienced earth-shattering, powerful encounters with God (someone like me). During our mission school, people were having visions of heaven, seeing God face to face, seeing angels, getting knocked out flat by the Holy Spirit, and after a while of experiencing nothing personally I started wondering if I was even saved! This verse has kept me going. I have never experienced God in the strong ways other people seem to be able to, but I still trust Him. I guess somehow that makes my faith more blind and more precious to Him, even though I honestly would rather have the visions and experiences. Even though I don't see Him, He still sees me and cares that I keep going in spite of the lack of stupendous experiences.

Jon suggested I go through my mission school notes, so I did. I was hit afresh with a message of Heidi Baker about favor. We may think we want favor from God, but do we really know what we're asking for?

"Gabriel appeared to her and said, 'Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!' Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 'Don't be afraid, Mary,' the angel told her, 'for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!'"

Mary found favor with God, and it turned her life upside-down. I taught in a high school in the States for a while and had at least 1-2 pregnant girls in each class—it's not a big deal to us anymore to see girls pregnant out of wedlock, but in Mary's time it was the biggest shame imaginable. She could have been stoned for promiscuity and adultery. And it wasn't like she could hide her "favor" either—it was obvious to the world, humiliating, embarrassing, and shaming. And what a story to tell people! "No really, God made me pregnant! I'm still a virgin!" Right, Mary. If they had mental institutions back then they may have considered admitting her to one.

Not only that, but think of the responsibility to carry the Son of God. Ever since man sinned, God promised a Savior, a Messiah to set people free from the power of the mess they got themselves into. Now finally, thousands of years and hundreds of prophecies later, little Mary is chosen to be the channel to bring this Messiah into the world. I was feeling under-qualified and inadequate for my work here, I wonder how she felt? The favor brings a huge responsibility. And a choice. Mary could have said "no", she could have refused at the start or given up partway through. So many people are given a seed of favor, but the process of carrying that favor before the world can see the fruit is beyond difficult. Many people miscarry or abort it before seeing it through to fruition.

For me, God has shown me favor by placing me to be His hands, feet, heart, and love to 30 orphans in Africa. He promised to take care of the fatherless, and He chose me to be the channel through which He cares for these precious ones. It's hard, some days harder than I want to deal with—the kids have emotional scars that show themselves either in lashing out and fighting or clamming up and hiding, most of them are not saved, they have serious issues with disrespect, disobedience, dishonesty, they are demanding and rude, they have so many needs that I just feel like I can't meet, and some days I'm ready to abort this favor, pack up my bags, and go home. How can little me take on this huge responsibility? I dream of a beautiful children's center, where the kids love God and voluntarily spend time in prayer and worship, they get along with each other and put each other first, they share and are not selfish, they take on responsibilities and follow through without expecting payment, they speak the truth all the time, they pray for the sick and see miracles, they grow up to be powerful men of God and change the world around them, they are well prepared for life and are equipped to live their dreams to be car mechanics or doctors… It just seems like a long way to go to get to that point.

It's a matter of carrying the favor, and not miscarrying before all can see the fruit. I just need to live in hope of seeing God's mercies new every morning, faith that He has called me and will make me adequate for the work, and accept the favor along with the promise it brings, no matter how difficult the journey.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Creativity and God

Invariably, whenever we would speak at a church, someone would come up to us and say, "Have you heard of the ____ method?" They would go on to tell us about how many people are being saved using that method... Lol, can you think of anything more American than a process for the Gospel?

Before He was anything else to mankind, God was Creator. He created everything we see, yet people think He would be willing to use the same method over and over again to save people? That would be so boring for Him - 2000 years of the same thing...

As it is, I've never run into two people who were saved the same way. Even here in Africa, where mass conversions are all the rage, each person has a different story about what brought them to the point of raising their hands. It's important to realize this so we don't judge others. Few Christians have problems with miracles happening in Africa; many more have problems with miracles in their backyard. If we think the only way God is going to reach America is through many years of Sunday School meetings and youth camps, we will never be looking at how God wants to use us each day. Similarly, if we think the Gospel can only go out through the Romans Road or the Spiritual Laws, we'll be flat out missing countless opportunities to show love, bring hope, or demonstrate God's power. And if we're always looking to demonstrate God's power, we can miss the smaller times He just wants to show his grace, mercy, or love.


I just wanted to talk about grace for a second because God's been teaching me a lot about it. Not grace for me, but grace for others. For us in the church, I think we understand grace when it applies to us but not to others.

Grace is God's love for you. It's why Jesus died for us. It's forgiveness when you've messed up. It's also when you save up your money for 5 years to buy a car and someone gives your neighbor a Lexus for free. Matthew 20:1-16 - the Parable of the Vineyard Workers:

1 "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who owned land. He went out early in the morning to hire people to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to give them the usual pay for a day's work. Then he sent them into his vineyard.

 3 "About nine o'clock in the morning he went out again. He saw others standing in the market place doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard. I'll pay you what is right.' 5 So they went.

   "He went out again about noon and at three o'clock and did the same thing. 6 About five o'clock he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'

 7 " 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.

   "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

 8 "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard spoke to the person who was in charge of the workers. He said, 'Call the workers and give them their pay. Begin with the last ones I hired. Then go on to the first ones.'

 9 "The workers who were hired about five o'clock came. Each received the usual day's pay. 10 So when those who were hired first came, they expected to receive more. But each of them also received the usual day's pay.

 11 "When they received it, they began to complain about the owner. 12 'These people who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said. 'You have paid them the same as us. We have done most of the work and have been in the hot sun all day.'

 13 "The owner answered one of them. 'Friend,' he said, 'I'm being fair to you. Didn't you agree to work for the usual day's pay? 14 Take your money and go. I want to give the ones I hired last the same pay I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Do you feel cheated because I gave so freely to the others?'

 16 "So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last."

I think this is one of the best places in the Bible to look to understand grace, because it's talking about grace for others. If Eminem, your gay hairdresser, a child rapist, or an islamic terrorist accepts Jesus as their savior right before they die, they will be your neighbors in heaven. They may even get the same reward you do, according to the parable! Think about it - a missionary who gives their entire life to Jesus could get the exact same reward as Hitler if Hitler turned from his ways.  That's Grace! Ugly, revolting, raw grace, at least as far as our flesh is concerned!

When faced with this grace, I think most of us would react like Jonah or the son who was loyal to his father when the prodigal son returns, "It's not fair!" And just like Jonah, we won't be able to be the workers God wants us to be unless we understand that grace.

I think it was the same with the Pharisees. They were just fine with sitting back and judging sinners, and were disgusted with the fact that Jesus chose to make his best friends out of tax collectors, sinners, and petty fishermen. I think most of us are afraid to admit how much Pharisee we have in us. When was the last time you actively sought to spend time with a beggar? When was the last time you reached out in compassion to the person at work that everyone else hates? Grace is a crazy thing. It can even touch the lives of Pharisees.

It's the same thing here, for us. Beaten, broken kids are easy to reach out to. Not so much with the person who just charged you double for a ride because you're white, the person who just hit on your wife, or the person who just stole money from you. But if it were easy, we wouldn't need God's love to do it. Please be praying for us that we can even reach out to the people who we don't want to help, and that we can extend grace to the people don't think deserve it. God Bless! And feel free to add your own comments etc about grace!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No pretending allowed

"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them" (Romans 12:9, NLT).

This is me being gut-honest. You wouldn't believe how hard that is sometimes, to really love people and not just pretend. As much as I want to think I have the mind and attitude of Christ, as much as I like to think I view all others as exactly equal to myself, as much as I want this to be so, I find myself slipping unintentionally into feelings of superiority. From my affluent and well-educated background (compared to 95% of the people in Mozambique), I sometimes feel entitled and, well, better than the people around me. It doesn't help that they perpetuate the feeling by acting like inferiors. It doesn't help that we keep everything under lock and key with the assumption that if they have the chance to steal anything, they will. It doesn't help that most of the time you have to assume they are lying to you to get what they want. It is a challenge to stoop down and treat someone as an equal who is coming to you as a servant.

I always had a closet and dresser full of clothes growing up—they are lucky if they have more than one outfit. I always had food on the table in abundance and variety—they are considered fortunate if they have one meal a day, and likely the same meal every time. I had loving parents and endless opportunities stretched before me—most of them are abused, neglected, and without any hope for their futures. I have an Associate's degree in Biblical studies and a Bachelor's in English and Education—most of them can't even read and write. I have always grown up with a computer in the house—most of them don't even have electricity, much less anything that would run on it. But does any of this matter in eternity?

When I envision myself stripped down to my raw, naked soul, I realize I am no better than them. The child with the boated belly, the woman with AIDS, the man with no legs, the blind beggar, the toothless hunchback… we each amount to one soul. And I am called to love—really love—each and every one of them.

It's easy to pretend to love. It's easy to give a handout of money. It's easy to show pity but not compassion. It's hard to really love them. To get past all of the cultural, financial, racial, linguistic, and educational differences. To sit and learn from them, let them be the superior teacher and me the inferior student as I learn the language so we can even communicate, learn the culture so I can honor and not offend them, learn how to dress, learn how to eat, learn how to go to the bathroom. To become weak as they are weak (1 Corinthians 9:22) to win their hearts over to a God who came down to identify with our weaknesses (Philippians 2:5-8).

I'm learning, slowly, to view each life as though through the eyes of the Father. He really does love them all as much as He loves me, if not more since they are so given to reckless, wholehearted abandonment to Him when they hear and accept the gospel. Sometimes I feel like my worship is so apathetic and stale compared to their lively, jubilant dancing. My sacrifice is nothing compared to the ones who have been stoned and hacked with machetes for preaching. My faith is so weak compared to the ones who sit and pray next to a dead man for four days until he finally starts to breathe again. God really loves the Africans. So why is it so hard for me?

I'm learning to love—really love—the African people as much as I love my husband, my family, and my dearest friends. I'm learning to value them far above what other people of my wretched race have done in the past—and learning to value them even above myself. When I am willing to forgive all injustices of corruption and people taking advantage of us, when I am willing to lay down my life and die for the sake of one person, any person, then I will understand the mind and heart of Christ who forgave us when we were still His enemies, and died for us even though we deserved His suffering.