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.