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!


Jess J. Bousa said...

Dude, I am excited for you. God is faithful in directing to the specific job HE has planned for us to do. Broken and hurting relationships are said to be the new mission field. I will be praying God shows you the next step. Love you man. Jess

Andy said...

Greetings Jerry and Paula ! That's or God! Often showing up when we least expect Him. (I somehow think He gets a kick out of that). You are often in our thoughts and prayers. Love you guys ! In HIs Grip...Andy and Dianne

Lee W said...

Jerry and Paula,
I thank God for how He has once again faithfully laid out a confirmation of His plan for your being there! I don't write nearly so often as I think of you. It is great to see how you are being prepared by the training you are receiving through these experiences, in addition to the life experiences you already have.
Let us know when you host that seminar with green table cloths... LOL... I can see you doing it, too.
---by His grace and in His strength, Lee W.