Thursday, December 20, 2007

Extremes

Life can be extreme at times, and in Zambia this seems especially so. Here, people’s lives are immersed in varying aspects of extremeness – extreme struggles, extreme weather, extreme life. And sometimes, all of these many extremes collide and come crashing together to form one colossally extreme day.

Today was one of those days.

A couple of days ago, some Zambian friends of ours, a beautiful young couple only married a few years, lost their daughter (their one and only child) to malaria. Their little girl was 18 months old.

The funeral was today – a dreary, rainy day, and everything about it was extreme. The day began when we were asked to take a group of ladies to the mortuary so they could prepare the body for burial before the church service! Here only the very rich can afford to have a body prepared by a funeral home. Instead, in most cases this is a task done by family members. And so, a group of 5 ladies piled into our vehicle and headed off to the mortuary to do whatever it is one does to prepare a body for burial; grandmothers and aunts and one tiny white coffin and all along the way they worshiped God in Nyanja singing a song that went something like “My life, my life belongs to you O’ Lord, my child my child belongs to you O’ Lord.”

When they had finished, we then went to the church for a short service before making our way to the cemetery for the committal. As we entered the church service and took our seats, I looked up and all the female family members were gathered together and sitting on the floor at the front of the sanctuary. As the coffin was brought in they all began to cry and wail and weep. I noticed the baby’s mother, Agnes, with her head lying across the lap of another woman. She looked as though her whole body was crying; as though her flesh were conscious that it had lost a part of itself. It was as though she longed to go to that place that mothers seem to go to for their seemingly endless supply of maternal strength, that strength that enables them to time and time again cast aside their own desires and wants for the sake of others. It seemed that she was trying, wanting desperately to go there, to go to that well and draw once again. But this time, there was nothing there. The well was dry. She was contorted and her back was arching forward and then backward, her arms hanging limp and as she cried, I began to cry. In fact I think we all cried who were there.

After the service ended we made our way to the grave site, rain still pouring down, the coffin again placed in the back of our 4x4. The same ladies that had prepared the body at the mortuary climbed in and we began to make our way across town. The cemetery here is nothing like the manicured lawns and neatly marked graves you would see in America. Here the cemetery is one grave after another, packed in as tightly as they can get them. The whole place is dirt with no grass at all, only a few green and overgrown shrubs along the roads. Most of the graves have only rudimentary markers, made of tin welded to an iron rod shoved into the ground. The graves are piled high with dirt, mounds rising a couple of feet above the surface of the ground. This is due in large part to the fact that when the coffin is placed in the grave, it is usually encased in cement to prevent people from steeling the clothes of the deceased. So, all the dirt displaced by the cement sits high atop the ground making it appear as though the bodies were just below the surface.

As the coffin was being lowered into the grave, I looked around at those gathered, standing in the pouring rain and in a seemingly endless sea of mud, some with umbrellas some without. I noticed that everyone was locked in the most haunting stare I have ever seen. People stared at that tiny coffin, silently, motionless, gazing with their brows furrowed in a look of worry and consternation – as though it were their own child being buried. No, as though it were some part of themselves that was being buried. Their faces seemed to ask how it came to be that they survived such a perilous childhood, and at the same time seemed to wonder if indeed they might yet be the next one to be encased in concrete. Their stares were not stares of simply pity or sadness. These stares were deeper than that, more searching than that, more penetrating than that. And again, I began to cry as I saw this same look fall upon the face of every single Zambian gathered – young and old, men and women, because it seemed suddenly, for a moment, the masks fell away and a pervading and abiding hopelessness shone through. The graveside it seems is no place for facades. When will all of this dying finally end?

After the concrete had been shoveled in around the grave by friends of the family, people came close and began to place flowers on the grave. Only, instead of laying them across the coffin, each person carefully placed his or her flower in the dirt atop the grave, and then many proceeded to break the stem, so that the flower would not be collected and then resold. Even something as simple and beautiful as placing a flower on a grave here is marred by the overbearing poverty. As the baby’s parents came to place their flowers, I watched them kneel next to the grave, weeping and holding one another, and I heard Agnes say as she knelt there, “Hallelujah Lord Jesus. Thank you for this child that you gave us. Hallelujah Lord Jesus.” Amidst her tears and her sorrow, amidst her pain and anguish, this dear sister in Christ, knelt by the grave of the daughter she was just getting to know, and now learning to let go of, and she found it within herself somehow, somewhere, to thank God!

Like I said, Zambia is a place of extremes. Extreme sorrow, extreme difficulty, and yet in the middle of it all, Zambians seem to on a regular basis demonstrate extreme faith! And I am reminded at the end of this day, as I sit and hear once again the rain pouring down outside on already extremely wet ground, I am reminded that our God is a God of extremes! We serve a Savior who went to extremes, to accomplish the extreme, for us who are extremely undeserving! And I am reminded today of the extreme privilege it is to be a part of His family, part of His plans, part of His Kingdom. Because when an 18 month old child dies of a preventable and curable disease like malaria, I am reminded that in this world of extreme sorrows, that there is an extreme hope!

And His name is Jesus. Like Agnes said, Hallelujah Lord Jesus!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bearing Burdens

Burdens are strange. I suppose it’s because burdens can be either a good thing or bad thing. On the negative side, they can be the result of our own mistakes and foibles in life and can result in us lugging around a lot of extra weight. Or, they can be the result of the things we suffer like sickness and misfortune and can deprive us of the joys of life. On the positive side, a God-given burden can be the driving force that sustains us through the challenges of kingdom work. It can be the propeller that drives us against the current of opposition. It can be the glimmer of hope that causes us to labor where others have given up. It can be that extra bit of inspiration to stay up late hours tweeking that sermon because somewhere deep down we hope to make in difference in somebody’s life.

Our desire, from even before we arrived in Zambia, has been that our ministry here would be the result of a God-given burden. We have wanted our work here to be nothing more than having that which moves God, move us. And we recently returned from a training seminar in South Africa where that very thing took place.

I expected at the outset that this seminar would be, well, very seminarish. You know – tables topped with blue cloths, thick notebooks filled with stuff that we would never look at again once the seminar was over. Lots of adults milling about during the coffee breaks talking about how their ministry would finally take off if only it weren’t for this person, or that government regulation or that pesky little demand of Jesus that we be holy. And, honestly, I looked forward to this seminar about as much as I look forward to having a canned pear topped with a dollop of cottage cheese for dinner (which by the way, is not at all!).

The seminar was designed to equip attendees to teach a youth curriculum entitled “It Takes Courage,” which in a short and oversimplified explanation is a positive approach to helping young people develop Christian character with a component that addresses HIV/AIDS. Anyway, the seminar turned out to be nothing like I had expected (except for the blue tablecloths – there must be a law somewhere that says all seminar hosters must use blue tablecloths).

When we arrived at the seminar, I was quite amazed to find that the vast majority of the attendees – over 90% were in their teens or late 20’s. I’m not sure how to describe what happened during this four day gathering, but I’ll do my best. First of all, what I discovered, was that these young people were not the shallow, and petty and weird (ok… they were a little weird) creatures from outer space that I had expected them to be. What I found instead, was that they are caring, and compassionate, more transparent than most adults I know – and more importantly deeply hungry for a real experience with God! And over the course of this seminar as we discussed some of life’s issues and played a few silly games (that incidentally related back to the life issues discussions) I came to realize how deeply wounded many of these young people are. When one young man stood to give a testimony about how he had rejected his stepfather, another young man at my table commented that at least he had a father. Later during a talent show, a young 16 year old girl stood up, and shared how she had been raped when she was six years old and how as a result she had become very promiscuous as a young teenager. But, she went on to tell how she had discovered the love of Christ and how God had begun to heal and restore her life.

And in the midst of hearing testimonies like those above and watching these young people worship God, Paula and I began to have a strong sense that this is the work to which God is calling us. I began to see how my own disappointments and struggles as a young person, my own string of bad decisions, and my own experience of God’s redemption helped me relate to these young people from half way around the world as though I had known them my whole life. As we got to know them better, though these were all youth from South Africa, for us they sort of came to represent the youth of Zambia. As we heard them talk about their faith and about their passion for serving God, we began to be exceedingly hopeful about what God might do among the youth of Zambia. We thought, if God can do this in South Africa, He can do it in Zambia! And in that way, our prayer was answered, our burden delivered.

Right after getting back from our trip to South Africa we made a trip to our post-office and happened on a horrible sight. As we pulled into the back lot where we usually park, we saw a woman lying on the ground, with blood dripping down her face. A small crowd was gathering and so we jumped out of the car, grabbed the first aid kit and ran over to see if we could help. When we asked what had happened we were told that the lady had gone to the post office to pick up her pension check, and was told it wasn’t there. As she was leaving, she collapsed on the pavement in apparent despair and had a seizure. She had no money to get back home (and perhaps no money at all) and the stress of her situation was more than she could bear. In short, her burdens overwhelmed her. And in seeing this lady, I was reminded of the future for many young people in Zambia if they don’t come to know the One who takes our burdens away! We ask that you would pray for us as we continue to seek God’s guidance in the development of a youth ministry in Zambia and that you would join us in praying for the young people of this nation.

Fact: 47% of the population of Zambia is below the age of 15!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Friday After Thanksgiving

I love the Friday after Thanksgiving. It is sort of the best of both worlds. It has all the benefits of a holiday (i.e. not having to go to work) and none of the busyness (i.e. not having to cook for 20 people – not that I personally have ever cooked for 20 people in my life). No, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a day when we lay around and moan about having eaten too much the day before. It’s a day when we vow to start exercising “now that the holidays are upon us” and then immediately proceed to fix ourselves a turkey sandwich roughly the size of Rhode Island.

Now, this Thanksgiving, I knew that things would be a little different as Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Zambia and therefore there would be no day off from language classes on Friday. But, I was anticipating at least the possibility of what one of our fellow language studiers refers to as “the long sleep” (by which they don’t mean dying, but sleeping in). But it was not to be so.

As Thanksgiving day was winding down, I began to sense that the Lord wanted me to go on Friday morning and help with putting in the footings for a tabernacle that is being built this week by a church team from America. It would mean getting up at 5 am to leave the house by 6, and be at the job site by 6:30. And, it would mean spending the morning doing concrete work. I tried to argue with the Lord, explaining to Him, that obviously he had gotten me confused with someone else as I know about as much about concrete as I do about knitting. But it was no use, and soon I was sure it was what the Lord wanted me to do.

So, Friday morning Dean Galyen, a missionary from Zimbabwe who is heading up this project ( a guy who has built 81 of these tabernacles all over southern Africa) and I were riding to the site when Dean asked me what I wanted to do.

“You mean in life?” I asked?
“No, at the job site.”
“Is taking a nap an option?”
“No.”
“Whatever you need me to do I suppose.”

Dean assigned me to be in charge of mixing the concrete. “Its simple,” he explained. “I once had a guy on a team who was a baker, and I gave him that same job. If you can follow a recipe, you can mix concrete! Just remember 3, 2, 1. Three parts rock, two parts sand, one part cement. Simple.”

“No problem,” I said. “Three parts sand, two parts rock, one part cement. Or…was it three parts rock….”

And so, off to work we went, mixing our concrete and pouring the footings. A couple of young Zambians, who had probably done this many times, worked with me. As we were shoveling gravel into the wheelbarrow, I started to breathe heavy after about 15 minutes and one of the Zambians gave me a little smirk that seemed to say “You Americans work like girls.” I shot back a sheepish grin that said, “Yes I know. Is there a Crispy Crème around here?”

But, as we were shoveling that gravel something truly wonderful happened. There are times when God calls us to do something so that we can be a blessing, so that he can use our gifts and talents to accomplish His will in the lives of others. But there are other times when God calls us to do something just so he can speak to us in an unmistakable way. He sometimes calls us to be part of a situation so that that situation can become like the walls of a canyon off which God’s voice echoes. And so it was that there next to that pile of gravel, the voice of God began to resonate with a clarity that I had not heard for a long time.

It struck me, with an overwhelming sense of awe, with the kind of amazement that leaves one’s knees trembling and one’s heart pounding, what an amazing privilege it is to be building a church! I have done a lot of dumb things in my life and have brought a lot of pain to the lives of people I cared about. But that Friday morning, I found myself just bursting with delight at the privilege of being a part of what God was doing; not only building a church in terms of a physical building, but to see God build his church by using ordinary people like you and me.

And so, I filled my shovel again with a load of gravel, and I began to recall silently a verse from Matthew 16, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” And I looked around at the members of this church who had come to help put up this tabernacle, and I realized that the building was already standing. And that somehow, we, Dean, myself, you who read this, these wonderful Zambian brothers and sisters, are all a part of that indestructible edifice know as the family of God. “You also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5).

It seems that somehow, on Thanksgiving Day, I had forgotten to be Thankful for the most wonderful gift of all – the gift of being a part of the family of God and the gift of being a part of His redemptive work in this world. I realized that sometimes my gratitude is too small! I am thankful sometimes for the stuff that hardly matters at all, for those temporal things that moth and rust will one day destroy, and I overlook the things that mean the most. I get discouraged and I get disheartened at times because I become too aware of my own weaknesses and frailties, and in the process, I lose sight of what an amazing thing it is to be serving Jesus! And so, off God sent me, to a construction site, not because I am an expert builder, but because He is. And because I needed a gentle reminder of the privilege we have in being called His own!

I really do love the Friday after Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Paula and I are now 5 weeks into our study of the Nyanja language and it is going very well. Though I’m not quite what you would call fluent yet (basically, I can talk like your average Zambian 2 year old), I do feel I am on the verge of a “breakthrough” (by which I mean a breakdown). Anyway, in the short span of a few weeks we have learned more greetings than any one language should legally have, not to mention a host of short phrases of questionable use such as, Sindili Mtengo I am not a tree, and, Khasu ili mu nkokwe – The hoe is in the granary. But, nonetheless, armed with my new skills, I decided to try them out on a Zambian friend recently.

Me: Muli Bwanji (How are you?)

My Friend: Bwino Bwanj. (This totally threw me for a loop, as according to our text book, the proper response should be – ndili bwino, kaya inu? - which means “I am fine, and how are you?” His answer was roughly “Fine. You.” As you can imagine I was totally not ready for this and a bit angry at my friend for not talking the way he’s ‘sposed to).

Me: Uhhhmm….Uhhhmm…Uhhh…..Khasu ili mu nkokwe?! (see above).


So, we are wading our way through this language that has nine classes of nouns, each class with its own prefixes, infixes, suffixes and various other types of ixes that change according to the tense of the verb (and at times just out of spite for no apparent reason at all). If you want to say the word “there” you better know exactly where “there” is because the word for “there” is different depending on whether or not “there” is close to the speaker or close to the hearer or close to both speaker and hearer. Plus you find that there is no verb for “to have” and so in order to say “I have a headache” you say “I am feeling my head.”

We are feeling our heads a lot lately (and a whole bunch o’ grace!).

So, our prayer request for this week, is that we would be “feeling our heads” a little less, picking up Nyanja a bit more, and always and in every way speaking fluently the language of faith!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It was like a bad dream or surreal movie.

We didn’t want to watch it, but were mesmerized. And even though I had seen it all before, I could hardly believe my eyes. A wave of memories and emotions came rushing at me and I remembered again: Zambia breaks your heart.

In the middle of a worship service, we had been called out to transport a critically ill man from a local clinic to Lusaka’s main hospital (ambulances are pretty scarce). I can’t begin to describe the suffering and despair of the people we saw there, nor the pathetic state of that clinic environment. But every time we turned our head, another person was being carried in, and looking worse than the last. Not carried in on stretchers or wheelchairs, mind you. A grown woman carried on the back of another woman. Several women carrying in a young man that looked like a skeleton. Another group of women carried in a teenage girl, completely rigid and gasping for breath, her loud gasps haunting the entire room. Dozens of other people in need of attention sat on a few benches or on the floor—some feverish, some moaning, some dazed. In the midst of this chaos was one nurse, and one doctor – admitting patients at this the only major hospital in a city of 1.5 million people.

There is no dignity in this kind of suffering, and precious little hope. Dear Jesus, this is not the existence you intended for your children, this is not the way it should be. And there it is again. . . that ever-present, try-to-forget sense of feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of suffering, despair, injustice. And these dazed faces all around me – how many are on the brink of just giving up, in a land where trying to survive is just so hard?

We prayed for Godfrey, and helped his family get him admitted into the wards. We were supposed to meet some other missionaries for lunch at a nice Indian restaurant. We couldn’t do it. Going from that place, to a nice restaurant where people can afford to buy a good meal . . . . was too big a leap. We came home and had leftovers. And prayed once again, Merciful Father, who sees every sparrow fall, give us Your heart – and show us what we can do to bring more of Your hope to the people of Zambia.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wonderful, Curious, Names.


Names are curious things. For instance, this past week I met a Catholic priest here in Zambia who is from Ireland, and he marveled at my last name being Ireland. I suppose for him, it was sort of like meeting someone named “Jerry America” might be for you and I. Very weird.

“How in the world did ya get a name like that?” he inquired, sounding sort of like that little leprechaun in the Lucky Charms commercial. I told him probably my ancestors, when they immigrated to America, must have been asked by an immigration official, “What’s your name?” And, thinking they had been asked, “Where are you from,” they responded “Ireland.” I mean, its possible, right?

Of course, in reality, I have no idea where the name comes from. As with most Americans, its just a name and the meaning, at least to me, has been lost.

Here in Zambia, however, names are full of meaning. For instance, a child born on a Friday might be named Friday. Or a child born after a difficult pregnancy might be named Rejoice, or Relief, or Gift (a quite common name for boys). Even some foods have amazingly meaningful names. For instance, the casaba, which is a type of starchy root vegetable, has been given a most unique name by people living in the Eastern Province.

Because the plant is extremely resilient, and can survive in almost any conditions, it has been able to provide food and nourishment during times of drought when all other crops were failing. As a result, in this part of the country the casaba is called, “Without Me, You Would Be Dead.”

Now, a name like that might lead to some confusing conversations.

“Ma, what’s for dinner?”
“Without Me You Would Be Dead.”
“Yes, Ma. I know that very well and I am grateful. But what are we eating tonight?”

Confusing conversations yes, but confusing significance, no. After all, I doubt anyone who has every used that name, has failed to realize how vital the casaba is to their survival.

So, all this stuff about names has got me thinking about the name that is above all names. In fact, you could sort of say that Jesus is sort of like a milder version of “Without Me You Would Be Dead” because “Jesus” means, “Yahweh Saves.” And I find that often I use the name “Jesus” in prayer or encounter it reading the Bible, and sometimes fail to grab hold of the wonder that is contained in it! How much more vigorously would my prayer life be, and how much more passionately would I seek to glorify God in my thoughts and in my speech, if I constantly remembered, that Without Him, I Would Be Dead!

This week we heard a story about an amazing lady who seems to have grasped that very truth. She had gone back to the states to retire from missionary life, only to return to Africa months later saying, “Life in America is too boring.” Two weeks ago, she died still serving as a missionary nurse to Zambia. She was over 80 years old! And I have a hunch, that she never lost sight of the meaning of that wonderful, wonderful Name!

Jesus, may we minister and serve in the knowledge that you are the one and only giver of true life!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

To receipt or not to receipt


Today I started the process of getting a Zambian drivers license and one of the required steps was a trip to our local hospital. I was kind of intrigued by this idea, as I had never been to a hospital in Zambia yet, and was anxious to see one (though not anxious to be treated in one).

The hospital itself was a small building, by American standards, but quite large by Zambian. It was about four stories high, and like everything in Zambia, built of concrete block. After entering the outpatient clinic (making my way past a line of mothers sitting outside, nursing their sick children, and a man laying across the entry way) I approached what appeared to be a check-in desk. It was stacked high with papers and to the right was a man taking money. I handed them the form from the Road and Transportation Safety Something or Other and was told to sit in the chair next to the man taking the money. I was promptly told that the fee for getting this forme signed by the doctor was 50,000 kwatcha (or about $12). However, I was also informed that if I wanted a receipt, it would take about 3 days to get all the necessary items completed because I would have to go to the nurses station and then on to each of the places on the form to have these things (eye sight, hearing, reflexes etc.) checked out, and it would be a very slow process indeed. But, if I didn’t need a receipt, then I could get the form signed in a matter of minutes because if I didn’t need a receipt, it was explained, then there would be no need to actually have any of these things checked. The doctor could just sign them off and I would be on my way.

Huh? It took me about half a second to realize what was going on. The receptionist was trying to make a little extra money and by not giving me a receipt, he could just pocket it. Somehow, he had organized a scheme to get these documents signed and avoid doing any of the things that were supposedly being signed for. I have to admit, that for a second, I was tempted. Lines can be long and slow moving here and the thought of a bypass was enticing. But immediately my mind went back to the scriptures I had read that morning from Psalm 72. It is a Psalm of Solomon, that begins with Solomon praying that God would help his reign to be characterized by the justice and righteousness of God

Endow the king with your justice, O God,

The royal son with your righteousness.

I remembered thinking, as I read that psalm this morning, what a contrast there was between the way Solomon started, and the way Solomon finished. How his heart here in Psalm 72 seems so right, so humble. And of course his finish, his end, was anything but right and anything but humble. Somewhere along the way, he began to make compromises and little compromises always lead to big ones.

So, in the end, I told the receptionist “No, I will need a receipt.” And, as it turned out, I visited all the necessary stops and was out, signed paper in hand, in less than an hour. And so my prayer today, is that our ministry, our work, our very lives here will be characterized by justice and righteousness – and not the kind that we are capable of, but the kind of justice and righteousness that comes only from God.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

New Beginnings

A few days ago my ten year old niece Hannah attended her first day of middle school. Yes, its been a few decades, but how well I remember the excitement, anticipation, anxiety, and terror of first days at a new school. The long hallways, trying to remember my schedule & locker combination, all the new faces . . . that was a lot of stress!

New beginnings—we’ve all experienced them. Here we are in Zambia, in a province and city that is brand new to us. Here we are, full of excitement, and occasionally, anxiety and terror! It’s a bit bizarre to be in a place and realize that no one in the whole town knows you. The slate is completely clean, the calendar void of formal appointments, the future wide open, the agenda waiting to be defined. That’s cool, that’s wonderful, and that’s a bit scary. It’s a position we don’t find ourselves in everyday, and one that we want to handle with great care and prayerfulness.

Our main job right now, besides chasing cobwebs and mopping dusty floors seemingly incessantly as we settle into our new home, is discovery. We’re discovering the city of Livingstone, the streets and shops. We still haven’t found where to buy hangers so we can take our clothes out of our suitcases! We’re discovering the culture and climate in this tourist town where temperatures, unemployment, and disease run high. Best of all, we’re beginning to discover individual men and women, youth, and children—their names, their stories. We’re encouraged by their warm smiles and genuine welcome. And we’re discovering that there is a whole lot more we need to discover.

In two weeks we begin a 3 month language course. Please pray with us that we will excel in this crucial endeavor. Pray that we will make the most of every opportunity the Lord sets before us here in this new place. Pray that we will be sensitive and receptive to truly discover all that God is doing here, and how He wants us to be a part of His Kingdom work.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

ABeauty-ful thing!

I know that missionaries are not supposed to do anything fun - that we're supposed to live off fried termites and dry roots, but I have to confess that yesterday I slipped away to our local golf course for a few hours (if it makes you feel better, there are no golf carts here and I had to walk the entire 18 holes; of course you are required to have a caddy, but that is included in the very low price of only $15!). Ok...that probably didn't help. Anyway, let me get to the point.
My caddy was a wondeful guy with a curious name - Abeauty. There are lots of curious names here - and I found out recently that it could be because in Zambia children are allowed to choose their own names at the age of ten. But that's another story, for another day.
Anyway, as we walked from hole to hole I began to ask Abeauty if he went to church. He said he did and so we started talking about the Lord. He was a Catholic he said. I told him I was a Pentecostal. He gave me strange look and I wasn't sure if he just thought that meant I was weird, or if he thought that meant I was dangerous. Anyway, he asked me a few questions about the ten commandments, and about whether or not it mattered if you went to church on Saturday or Sunday. And then He asked me to pray for him. He said he was only working part time at the golf course, as there are not enough people playing for him to work full-time. He said that he brings home about $32 a month. And that with that, he takes care of himself, his wife, his seven year old son, and his two younger brothers.
Needless to say, the family is just barely scraping by. His son is supposed to start school soon, and Abeauty said he didn't think he would have the money for uniforms. And in Zambia, if a child doesn't have the school uniform, they can't attend school.
My first thought was to just give him the money. This was something I could do, right? It seemed like a no brainer. But, before I did - I felt that gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit (being Pentecostal and all) inclining me to pray that God would provide for Abeauty, and so I did. I asked Abeauty if I could pray for him right then and so, standing near the green on the 18th hole we bowed our heads. It was a simple prayer, not long and not very complicated. It was something like - Lord Jesus I pray that YOU would be Abeauty's provider, that you would meet all His needs according to your riches in glory. We finished the round, exchanged numbers (in case I came across any job openings) and said good-bye.
Then today while I was fixing dinner (and repenting for playing golf while me wife worked), the phone rang. It was Abeauty. He was calling to say thanks for the prayers, that someone had given him the money for the school uniforms, and that it hadn't been a loan but a gift. Abeauty was sure that God had helped him!
And so my thought this week - I wonder how often we prevent God from acting in our lives, and in the lives of those around us, by trusting in our natural resources rather than trusting in our God. And, I also wonder how many times we keep God from acting in peoples lives by not playing more golf?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pang'ono Pang'ono - "Little by Little"

After many months of itineration and a long journey to get here, we have finally arrived in Zambia. We will be spending a short time in the capital of Lusaka taking care of official business such as work permits and meeting with church leaders, and then within a week or so we hope to be heading down to Livingstone.

Our British Air flight landed in Lusaka at 6 AM on August 9th, two days after we left Baltimore. We got off the plane and were immediately reminded of the essence of life in Africa. Here, no one is in a hurry.

We had been seated at the back of the plane and as a result were near the end of the line to go through customs. For the first twenty minutes, the line didn’t seem to move at all. We stood and waited and waited and waited, and nothing seemed to be happening. Then, finally one very small step forward, followed by another prolonged period of non-progression. I found myself starting to get impatient, wanting to speed things up. Surely there must be another faster line that we could get in. After all, I have been waiting for this moment now for over two years and was anxious to get started in our missionary work! But there was no speeding things up. There was one line and we had to just stand patiently and wait our turn. And so we did.

It wasn’t long though – about half an hour, before the line started to move faster and faster. Soon we were at the baggage claim gathering our 10 bags and within minutes we were out of the airport and on the way to the home of some of our fellow missionaries. It was almost surreal the way we went from complete motionlessness, into a luggage gathering frenzy and then on to being waved right through customs (rather miraculously), then into the welcoming embrace of waiting missionary friends and finally zipping away in Speed the Light vehicles. What had begun in seeming inertia, ended in rapid progress. And it seemed perhaps, the perfect parable for the beginning of our ministry in Zambia.

Our next few weeks and months here are almost certain to be times of seemingly little progress. We will be setting up house (including building a kitchen in our house – plumbing and all). We will be studying the language and we will be focusing on building relationships with Zambian pastors and church officials. It will be a time of much waiting, a time of learning, a time of growing in cultural understanding, a time of sitting at the feet of others and gleaning from their wisdom and insight. And, like our experience at the Lusaka International Airport, we hope that all of this time of patient preparation will in the end lead to a time of great productivity. We sow in patience so that down the road we might reap in plenty.

Our prayer request then is that we would be patient in this time of preparation, and faithful in the little things. We are reminded that God took 40 years to prepare Moses for the task He was about to give him and that some 10 years elapsed from the time of Paul’s conversion to the outset of his ministry. It would seem that any successful ministry is the product of patient preparation.

We are so very grateful for each of you our supporters and friends, and we want you to know that you are a vital part of our work and our lives here in Zambia. With all of our love, as we prepare for the work ahead… Jerry and Paula, your missionaries to Zambia

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Journey Completed

The Bible is full of people who are on a journey. Most notably in Genesis, we find Abraham willingly on a journey to an unknown land and then later his great grandson Joseph goes much less willingly on yet another journey. In Exodus, all of Israel is on a journey – a journey begun by one generation and completed by another. In the book of Ruth, Naomi is on a journey with her daughter-in-law, and the books of Samuel, Chronicles and Kings are replete with the journeys of Samuel, Saul and David, not to mention the ark of the covenant which also goes on a journey of its own. And of course in the New Testament, the Gospels are the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross, Acts tells of the journeys of the apostles, and the letters of Paul provide insight into his missionary journeys.

It seems that the people of God are forever engaged in a journey of one type or another. And so as modern believers, we ought to expect that we too, will forever be on a journey. And in fact we are.

As Paula and I come to the completion of this part of our journey, and are preparing for the next leg, we find much to reflect on. For instance, we have found that every leg of the journey, every mile, yes even every step, is an important one. Some steps seem saturated in monumental achievement – such as that final step that crosses the finish line, or that last push that reaches the peak, or that final pledge that completes our budget. But we are reminded that that last step is but the culmination of many steps that preceded it. Giant leaps always ride the coattails of little steps. And as we look back over the last year or so that we have been itinerating, we realize that there have been many, many little steps, but no insignificant ones. We have learned that we cannot measure kingdom progress by the size of a congregation, or by the amount of an offering. There is only one criteria that matters, and that is – was God present in our efforts? And if we can answer yes to that question, then we can log that day as a step forward. Anything less, is standing still, or worse, stepping back.

We have also learned to seek the constancy of God in an ever morphing environment. One Sunday morning it’s a suit and tie with the songs of Bill Gaither and Fanny Crosby, and the next its blue jeans and a tie-die and the music of Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin. In Pittsburgh they put French fries in your salad, and in Wichita it’s Jello (…but hey, when you’ve eaten fried termites…). Our home was wherever we happened to be, and we’ve rarely spent more than three days in a row in the same bed. We became expert packers and unpackers. And yet amidst all these many changes we found rest in Him who never changes.

And now the journey continues, on to another continent. And there we will surely be met by more challenges, more change, more strange food (likely of the many-legged variety). And what we find at this time, is that we cannot look forward, nor even move forward, without looking back and realizing that there are many, many friends who share with us in this journey. It is certainly a paradox. Our journeys are both separate and one. In the wonderful world of Christian brotherhood, we who walk apart, also walk together. What we find is that for a time and for a season, our paths converge and we, in the course of discovering our own destinies find ourselves walking hand in hand with fellow travelers who are in the process of discovering their destinies. That is the nature of a kingdom journey. We each walk a path of God’s choosing, but we never walk it in solitude or independence. And so, we want to say to you – fellow journeyer, thanks for the company! Thanks for the shared meals, the testimonies, the words of encouragement. Thanks for your support. We have truly enjoyed the walk! And until our paths should converge again, know that you are in our thoughts, prayers and hearts always!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Click here to check out Paula's story: "His Call, My Journey"

On the Road in Pennsylvania

We're enjoying getting more acquainted with Pennsylvania. It has a few more hills to navigate than our other district, Kansas. These hills posed a challenge on several occasions last month as our little Honda attempted to climb and descend slopes covered in snow and ice. Blizzards aside, this is truly a beautiful state.

The best part of itineration is meeting lots and lots of wonderful people. Sometimes we get to stay in their homes, like sweet Ellie and the gracious Fraers. Sometimes we get to pray together with them after our services. Sometimes we eat pizza together after church and tell them about Zambia. We even met two Zambian women in western Pennsylvania churches last month!

We really are one big family, you know, and there’s nothing like visiting 8000 churches (almost) to make you realize how much we have in common, and how much we need each other. We’re just thankful to be on God’s team (the Zambia division). Please keep us in your prayers: for safe travels, and for God’s perfect timing in finishing our support-raising so that we can return to Zambia. We’re still hoping to be there by August.