Sunday, December 28, 2008

Creatures Great and Small

Africa is the land of creatures.

Our house is usually occupied by a variety of lizards whose special talent seems to be that they can deposit ten times their body weight in lizard poop into the crevices of our furniture on a nightly basis. There are also territorial spiders, called “wall spiders” (because, well they hang out on the walls) that are no more dangerous than a daddy longlegs (and no better named, either). They tend to simply look like a brown spot on the wall that scurries away into a dark corner if you come too close. Despite their being harmless though, I tend not to really care for any of these. I know that they are part of God’s creation but I suspect only in the way that a messy kitchen is part of a chef’s creation. Its simply an unavoidable part of the process.

And of course, there are the bigger creatures. There are plenty of elephants to be seen in Zambia if one goes to the right places. And last night on the way home from dinner we passed a couple of hippos grazing by the side of the road and it occurred to me when I saw them that I was barely impressed anymore.

And, to be sure, there are the human creatures.

Christmas morning I drove our night guard home and after dropping him off at his house, I started to make my way back home when just after crossing a one lane bridge an oncoming car full of drunks (it was 7AM) suddenly sped up and blocked me from exiting the bridge, refusing to back up. One guy got out and starting waving his arms and shouting, a sure sign that he was ready to take on me and my car all by himself.

Now I was driving a 4x4 with a diesel engine and a solid bull bar on the front, and this guy was in a beat up, old, Toyota Corolla that looked as weathered as the guy behind the wheel. For a moment, I contemplated just pushing the would be gladiators into the ditch with my larger and more powerful car, and heading home. But common sense (or something like it) got the better of me and I put my Landcruiser in reverse, backed up all the way across the bridge and let them pass. They were delighted in their victory, and as they drove past me they waved their fists and pointed to the stop sign just before the bridge as proof of their being in the right. Never mind that I had completely crossed the bridge before they ever got there.

The whole thing got my heart rate going and jolted me out of the half–sleep that I tend to stay in until my third cup of coffee. And as I drove away I was thankful that it hadn’t turned out worse, knowing well that it could have. But there was more to contemplate that morning than just my narrow escape.

There was also the nagging reality of my having somehow thought myself better than them.

The thing is, I didn’t want to back up. What I really wanted to do was drive them headlong into the ditch (as I mentioned) and gloat over my vehicular superiority (of which, by the way, I can take zero credit for) and over their drunken rediculousness. I wanted to put these guys in their place (which simply proves that their rightful place and mine are pretty much the same). I suppose part of it is due to the fact that most Zambians are the most gracious, kind and loving people you could ever meet. Until they get drunk and then they become much like any other drunk in any other country of the world: Obnoxious, overconfident and with far more swagger than is fitting mortal human beings.

I suspect the kindness of most Zambians, the abundant graciousness with which they treat us most of the time can lead you to believe that you deserve to be treated that way all the time. We would never admit it, but being called “bwana” (which is a swahili word meaning basically “boss” or “big man”) sort of grows on you, sometimes subconsciously and sometimes quite consciously.

And as I think about Christmas morning, and my little incident at the bridge, I am reminded again that Africa is indeed a land of creatures.

And that sometimes, the creature is me.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24–25).

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Problem with Poverty

This sounds like a terrible thing to say, but its true. Poverty makes me tired.

Not my poverty of course, because truthfully, I’m not poor. At least, not by the world’s standards. At least not in the sense that I’ve missed a meal due to a lack of money or had to wash my clothes in a muddy river, or had to walk miles to get water because of not having indoor plumbing. Not poor anyway in the sense of living in a house made of mud with no electricity and no more hope than the dim bit of sunlight that illuminates the holes in the roof. No, my brand of poverty entails little more than settling for a refurbished MacBook instead of a brand new one and watching for the sales at Penny’s.

Oh, the horror.

At times (not always though, because we tend to live in a world quite removed from this reality in Zambia), but at times our world and that world, the world of poverty, intersect. Or rather, they collide because the two really can’t just cross one another’s path and continue on as if nothing happened. No. They meet and the result is a sprawling wreckage of shattered ideals and lofty perspectives.

Recently a pastor came to visit us whose shoes were so worn out that he could only afford to wear them on Sunday, and then only by putting cardboard in the bottoms to fill in where the soles had worn through. He told us how his wife was no longer able to work at the market because she had just had a baby. Now his family hardly had enough food to eat. He asked us for a loan so he could set up a small stand and sell a few things, some soap and other common household items, in his community in order to earn a few extra kwacha to help make ends meet.

Today one of our workers came to us and asked if we could help him repair the toilet in the house he is renting. The landlord is nowhere to be found and the family has been using the outdoors out of necessity, much to the embarrassment of our worker (and surely his family as well).

The thing is, I wish I didn’t know that these things were a reality for people. I wish I didn’t know that a man who had committed his life to Christ and was serving God in
full–time ministry as a pastor can’t afford to buy shoes, or that a man had to go to bed every night mulling over the reality that his wife and children were living not much better than animals. Thoughts like that could really haunt a man.

I wish I didn’t know, not because I don’t care about them, but because I do (at least I want to care, and sometimes that’s enough, isn’t it?) and more often than I would like, I find myself wrestling with this vast discrepancy in things, in the lives that people live because my life is so far removed from not being able to afford a new pair of shoes or not being able to call a plumber when the toilet is broken.

But I suppose it doesn’t do much good to wish that you didn’t know something. You know what you know and the world is what it is.

I suppose the heart of the thing, what wearies me about poverty, is that I’m uncomfortable with being uncomfortable; and being confronted with other people’s pain is uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable because I don’t usually know what to do and because I know that there is no really good reason that I’m not in their place and they’re not in mine, except that that’s just the way things turned out. Neither of us had a choice in the matter and sometimes when I look into the eyes of some of our Zambian friends I can’t help but think that it could easily have been me in their shoes, or lack of shoes rather.

Today I read an article that stated that, “for nearly two out of every three people alive today, hunger is not merely an occasional pang felt before lunchtime. It’s a lifestyle.”

The article also said that the amount of money needed to provide basic education, health care, and clean water to the entire developing world is equal to the amount of money spent every year worldwide on golf. 1

Ouch.

And in case you don’t play golf, its also equal to the amount of money spent worldwide on diets.

I know what your thinking. God does not care about my Slimfast! He wants me to be skinny! And you’re probably right.

As I try to process my aversion to the unpleasant face of poverty I think that the source is (and this sounds a bit trite and I hate to even offer this except that I’m sure its true), my American brand of Christianity that causes me to believe that my faith in God is mostly about me. I have become pretty accustomed to the notion that God likes me and that I have nice clothes and other things precisely because he likes me.

But I’m starting to wonder if its not poverty that makes me tired, but rather my own excess, and the vast amounts of effort required to maintain the belief that there is nothing wrong with the fact that I have enough clothes to fill two large suitcases.

Maybe my stuff is really what makes me tired.

And perhaps poverty just makes me see things a little clearer.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Journeys

Well, its official. We’re moving again. Over the last month or so Paula and I have been praying and exploring the idea of relocating to Lusaka due to a sense that God was leading us to make the move. In the last few days, one by one the doors have opened for us to do just that and today we found a house in Lusaka. Between now and January 1st we will pack up all our things, say goodbye to Livingstone and relocate once again.

It seems that following the call of God is all about mobility.

I was speaking in church the other day and made the comment that as Christians we shouldn’t focus too much on the journey, but rather on the One who calls us, sends us and leads us. If we focus on Jesus, I said, the journey will take care of itself. It was a very churchy thing to say and I could tell everyone thought so because they all said “amen” just like I had hoped they would.

But as I was walking back to my seat, it occurred to me that that is so not true! At least not entirely.

Now I know that Jesus said, “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). Which we take to mean that if we’ve been really good, everything on our list will show up under the tree on Christmas morning. When in fact, Jesus is talking about how unnecessary worry leads to unnecessary pursuits. Worry too much about clothes, and you will end up getting a third job just so you can afford a $200 pair of jeans that will never look as good on you as they do on the half-starved teenager who was hired to advertise them. Worry too much about your weight, and you’ll turn into Richard Simmons.

Frightening isn’t it?

But, to the best of my knowledge, Jesus never said, “Pay no attention to the journey.” He did tell the disciples what not to take on their journeys and later, what to take. But if we consider the record of men and women of faith in the Bible, we notice that often their journeys were as important as their destinations. Consider Israel. Forty years wandering in the desert after 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Why? Perhaps because arriving in the promised land was as much an internal thing as it was an external thing.

What I mean by that is that as I reflect on our journey, our ever changing, often challenging journey I am constantly brought face to face with who I really am, and often it ain’t too pretty. I am daily confronted with my own apathy, my own limited compassion, my own lack of grace. And I am starting to think our journey of faith, our efforts at being followers of Jesus, are meant to lead us to discover our own broken selves as much as anything else. Because if that never happens, the truth is we may travel far but we will never really go anywhere. A journey that doesn’t change us, that doesn’t lead us to wholeness, is ultimately a journey destined to be repeated.

Of course the journey is about a destination. When Jesus told the disciples to follow him, he was going somewhere! But the journey is also about transformation. Its about what happens to us as we go. Its about our failures and frailties, our frustrations and tears because those things more than anything bring us out of where we’ve been, and out of who we were. We leave Egypt not on foot, but on our knees. It is there that our hearts are poured out and set on the potters wheel where we can be plied into something useful.

Today was a hard day in Zambia. This afternoon we took a young lady named Prisca (pronounced Priska) to the clinic after her boyfriend had beaten her until she collapsed in the middle of the road. He then started kicking her in the head and ribs until someone finally pulled him away.

Prisca became a follower of Christ just a few days ago, led to the Lord by some missionary friends here in Zambia. The reason her boyfriend attacked her was because after she became a Christian, she told him she couldn’t see him anymore, that she wasn’t going to live the way they had been any longer. As Paula was comforting her, helping to hold an ice pack on her swollen, bruised face she spoke about her new found faith. She said, “I’ve made my decision. I’m not turning back now.”

Each of our journeys are hard in their own way I suppose. But it often takes someone like Prisca, who is welcomed into her Christian faith with a brutal beating, to bring a little perspective to our own journeys. Then we realize that there are some among us who are on t inconceivably difficult journeys, who know suffering and loss to a degree that is beyond the comprehension of the well–cushioned Christian lives that most of us live.

And though I’m tempted to complain about having to pack up our stuff, and though I really want to cry out to God asking, “Why do we have to go through this whole moving thing again?”, I tend to think now that the better thing is to follow Prisca’s lead and to say simply, “I’ve made my decision. I’m not turning back now.”

Friday, December 05, 2008

Faith, Feelings and Wooden Hippos

It doesn’t feel much like December, let alone Christmas, here in Zambia. Its hot out, really hot, and everything is green and there are none of those wonderfully delightful and not the least bit annoying Salvation Army bell ringers anywhere to be found. Plus, there are no green and red lights lining the tops of peoples houses (which are, of course, meant to commemorate Rudolph safely leading the wise men to the baby Jesus). There are no giant inflatable snowmen or Candy Canes adorning peoples yards (which are, of course, meant to inform your neighbors that you are a raving lunatic – not that there is anything wrong with being a raving lunatic, mind you).

Worst of all its not cold, and Christmas without cold is like egg without nog. Whatever that means.

But despite the appearance of things it is Christmas (almost) and we are doing our best to have a sense of that. But I’m amazed at how much my state of mind is dependent on my surroundings because I find myself wishing that I FELT like it was Christmas more than I do. And I realize that, despite my best efforts to hide it beneath a healthy layer of Old Spice, feelings really do tend to run my life.

Of course I know that men aren’t supposed to even have feelings beyond a psychopathic attachment to sporting teams that leads some of us to wear giant blocks of cheese on our heads, paint our entire bodies blue and fly enough flags from our SUV’s that people might have mistaken us for the President had it not been for the cheeze whiz dangling from our beards.

Now any preacher worth his salt (by the way, how much salt is a preacher worth, anyway? I mean, is there a place where you can buy salt and can pay for it in preachers?), will be glad to remind us that as Christians we’re not to operate on our emotions, on what we feel like doing. No. We who follow Christ are to operate by faith not feelings. Right?

Well, sort of.

The problem with that idea is that we’re left thinking that feelings are our enemy, or as if Faith and Feelings are the names of a couple of Pro Wrestlers who hate each others guts and are forever smashing chairs over one another’s heads. But is that the way it really is? I’m not so sure.

I don’t think faith and feelings are opposite ends of the good/bad spectrum. Now they’re not the same thing, that’s certain. But I do think they compliment each other. I mean, imagine where faith would be without emotions. Imagine worship void of emotion. It wouldn’t be worship at all, it would just be, well weird.

The truth is I cherish my feelings because they tell me who I am. My feelings tell me that I hate poverty because every time I see a Zambian kid who’s clothes are nothing but tattered rags, and who looks like he hasn’t eaten in a day or two, I get mad and I’m glad that I get mad. My feelings tell me that I care. When I see a street kid approaching me and I know that he’s going to ask for money, even though I’ve seen all the billboards and read the books that say that giving to kids like this only encourages them to continue to live on the street, I still wrestle with what to do – because life is more complicated than billboards would have us believe.

But the problem with emotions is not that we have them, but that sometimes our emotions are ill-informed and therefore we react based on what we think is true, and not based on what is true. And so the problem then is not an emotional problem, its an informational problem.

Today I went to the Road and Transportation Safety Office in downtown Livingstone, which is the place where you go if you need to renew your driver’s license or pay your road tax (which of course, is never used for the improvement of ANY road: perhaps they are saving it up in case the roads should ever get REALLY bad). Anyway, after waiting in line for about 20 minutes I was told that the computers were down and I would have to come back later.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot a guy came up to the window of my car and knocked. I scowled at him and continued to pull out of my parking space because I knew he was going to try to sell me something – either bootleg DVD’s, or a copper bracelet (Zambia is known for its copper) or a wooden hippo, and having all the bootleg DVD’s, copper bracelets and wooden hippos I will ever need, I did my best to ignore him and give him the distinct impression that I had no qualms about running over his foot if he became too persistent.

Finally though as I was backing out, I did role my window down (mostly to tell him to go away). When I did he informed me that the my presence was being requested by the folks in the Road and Transportation Safety Office. So, I grabbed my paper work and thanked the guy that moments ago I was ready to run over, and when I got inside they informed me that the computers were back up and they proceeded to process my request and in a matter of minutes my 2009 road tax was paid and I was on my way.

Not only was it a miracle that the computers came back up, but it was truly a miracle that they sent someone out to the parking lot to see if I had left yet, and even more of a miracle that that someone actually went and tried to catch me before I drove away. Things like this NEVER happen in Africa!

And as I walked back to my car, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that its starting to feel a lot like Christmas!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Rainy Season

Its the rainy season in southern Africa, which is not, as you might expect the time when it rains, but when the ozone over this part of the world (in total disregard for Al Gore), goes on vacation to Canada.

As a result it becomes so hot that no one stops at traffic signals for fear that their tires will melt to the road (at least, I’m supposing that’s why they don’t stop).

Anyway, the rain is supposed to start any day now and in fact it should have started weeks ago but like most things in Africa its terribly late. The ground should be saturated by now and the dirt roads turned to mud, but instead its mostly just dust and heat and the occasional shower thrown in for good measure.

But the storms are approaching and we hear them every now and then rumbling like a good case of indigestion.

Sometimes though a storm sneaks up on you and before you realize it you’re caught in the middle of it.

When we came out of church on Sunday a strong wind was kicking up, bending tree branches and blowing debris everywhere. The sky was turning black and so we hurried to the car and it started to rain hard just as we climbed in.

We started making our way across town, dodging branches that were being blown into the road and people scampering for shelter, and I wondered, maybe this is the way it is with evil and suffering.

Perhaps sometimes, we just get caught in the storm.

One of the great mysteries of faith in an all powerful God is the honest but potentially toxic question: why? God why didn’t you intervene? God why didn’t you stop this? God why didn’t you answer that prayer? God why did you let this happen to those people?

And the truth is, I really don’t know and I’m not sure anyone does. Why does God intervene on some occasions and not others? Again, clueless. But I know this. I know that in our storms over the last few years (and we’ve had a few), the storms have been distinctly violent and distinctly not God. What I mean by that is that when I stared those storms in the face, when I trembled in the midst of them, I sensed not the wrath of an angry God but rather the fury of a menacing darkness. Each of them bore not the essence of a Savior who died for me, but rather the impending weight of something determined to destroy me.

I guess what I’m saying is that there is a temptation to want to look at the storm as though it emanated from God, as though it somehow flowed from His Being as all things must. But I don’t buy that. I think some things, like evil and suffering flow not from above, but from within, that they flow from the inevitable consequences of billions of people living in rebellion against God and the way He ordered His universe.

Evil and suffering are not the work of God as though He fashioned them out of leftover articles found in His attic; but rather they are more likely the aftereffect of things we have done (or not done). Evil and pain have emerged not from the process of creation, but from the overflow of destruction. Remember, in the Gospels, it wasn’t Jesus that created the storm; rather, He was the one who calmed it, who spoke to it and brought it into submission. And I wonder really if God is not patiently, lovingly, holding back the torrent of affliction that ought to otherwise be surging around us in far greater measure than we know.

And so the real mystery becomes not why we suffer so much, but rather why we suffer so little.

As I write this, a slow steady rain has settled over the part of town we’re in, the kind that you hope for on a Saturday morning, that brings in a cool breeze and the scent of freshly fallen rain.

Not all rain comes in storms. Sometimes it comes softly and lingers a while and then wanders off during the night leaving you to wake to a world rejuvenated. And many times even after a violent storm there comes sort of a resurrection of things as once dry fields become muddy cradles of life both for the seeds buried beneath the surface and for the hope that has lingered just above it.

And Africa has reminded me that all storms eventually pass.

And that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,” (John 14:27).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Preaching has its own set of challenges in Africa. And it isn’t really a language issue. Though there is a bit of a barrier there. Here, the real challenge when preaching is primarily glandular. As in mammary.

You see, in Africa breast feeding is a very normal and natural thing (as compared to the US, where its very normal and natural so long as its done behind closed doors). Well, it can be a bit distracting when you’re coming to point number three of a sermon on Jesus casting the demons out of a guy, and you’re gearing up for the big close on what it means to be set free, and all of the sudden you notice a liberation of a different sort happening all across the congregation.

In Bible college they always told us to make good eye contact when preaching. And, well, that was what I was attempting to do on Sunday. As I was scanning the audience I turned just in time to catch a rather large mother removing what appeared to be a near life size model of the Hindenburg from beneath her shirt and begin feeding her baby with it.

And in an effort to stay focused, I began singing to myself, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face…”

I was sure I was going to say something really dumb, (like, “and the disciples got into the breast...BOAT, BOAT, they GOT INTO THE BOAT and headed across the sea of Galillee”) or worse, that I would look again and get consumed in a ball of fire right there in church.

Apparently though, things were just getting started. As I was attempted to finish my message, more of these uhm... biological lactose distribution devices were unveiled and I wished that in Bible college my preaching instructor had included a section on where to look when you can’t look at your congregation.

You know, the ubiquitous “Preaching Effective Sermons to Naked People” lecture.

I mean, how could he have left that out?

Sometimes in Africa I feel so far outside the cultural norm, that I wonder if I will ever really be “in the know” here. More often than not I feel like a perpetual kindergartner who gets sent back to preschool to relearn patti–cakes and how to share my toys. It seems like every time I think I’m starting to figure things out, something happens and I realize that I’m as clueless about life here as I am about life on Mars.

But I suppose that’s the essence of cross–cultural ministry, of any ministry for that matter. We don’t really have much to give until we’ve begun to give up our selves. Somehow, from that position of emptiness we find our greatest resource. Out of the hollows of our weakness and desperation we are perhaps as close to Christ as we ever get. Because its there that we find Christ in us. Jesus never seems quite so near to us as when our own resources have run dry.

In fact, Christ set the standard on this one: “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men,” (Phil. 2:6–7).

And this is something I think Zambians could teach all of us.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Gold medals

I was feeling pretty self–congratulatory the other day for having made the 10 hour drive from Zambia to Malawi without any help (though it was offered) from my driving companions. After all, such a thing surely ranks slightly lower on the sacrificial scale than 30 day fasts and slightly higher than sitting through a Sandra Bullock movie (any Sandra Bullock movie).

I suppose it goes back to that whole traffic frustration thing and its resultant feelings of unworthiness. I think we Christians like to feel holy (aren’t we suppose to?). And when we don’t we sometimes go to great lengths to try and create it, as though holiness were as easily conjured as a batch of Rice Krispie treats. When the stains of human nature appear for all to see, we tend to try and blot them out with our best efforts of self-sacrifice. In light of our faults we declare, “Yes, I know that thing I did over there was terrible. But forget about that. That was yesterday. Instead, look at this! LOOK AT THIS AMAZINGLY SACRIFICIAL THING I JUST DID!

And so, I had been walking around for a few days with that 10 hour drive dangling from around my neck as though it were Michael Phelps 8 gold medals, trying to work it into as many conversations as I could.

Good Morning, Jerry. How are you?

I’m good...still recovering from THAT 10 HOUR DRIVE which I drove all by myself as a sacrificial act in humble service to my fellow man. Other than that, I’m doing O.K.

But then today over lunch I was given a healthy dose of reality. A friend conveyed a story to me that was told by one of the pastors traveling with us, a Zambian named Pastor Zulu, who started a church among lepers.

Yes, lepers. Which I’m pretty sure pegs out the sacrificial scale.

Apparently after our trip, he conveyed a story to a friend about Paula. When we had stopped to make the border crossing from Zambia to Malawi, we all piled into the tiny station to show our passports and sign our name in the log book – an exercise that mostly proves that we are willing to stand in line. Which is really all that is required of anyone in Africa.

Anyway, Pastor Zulu had said to my friend, “That Paula! She never fails to show me the character of Christ.”

He went on to recount how at the border crossing when he needed a pen and turned to ask for one, he noticed Paula was behind him. She had silently let the rest of us (gold medals and all), beat a path to the log book as quickly as we could. She waited and let everyone else go, and then took her turn.

I suppose a guy who plants a church in a leper colony, knows a genuine act of humility when he sees it. And in Paula waiting to be last, he saw just that. And the simplicity of it is dumbfounding.

Anytime service becomes about us, it ceases to be service and becomes merely impotent maneuvering. It is rarely the grandiose schemes that we conjure that speak the divine language of humility. Rather, it’s the little things. Humility is best heard, not from the mountain tops of life, but from the cracks and crevices of our daily routine. That is where an injection of sacrifice and service finds its voice because that is the place we least expect it.

In our daily routine, we expect others to try and best us, to jump in line ahead of us, to take the last cookie and then give us that helpless, “sorry...should have been here earlier!” look that in turn causes us to think things for which we could be imprisoned in most states.

Jesus said, “And whoever wants to be first, must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).

But its not always easy. Being a servant does not come naturally for me. I don’t want to get in the back of the line. I want to be first. I want recognition not obscurity. I want to be on the podium with my national anthem playing in the background and some famous athlete of yesteryear handing me flowers and putting a medal the size of clock around my neck (not that I’m so fond of flowers and medals, per se – but you get my drift).

But that’s not how it works with God. Servanthood is never the product of impulse. It doesn’t come by way of calculation or scheming but it flows from who we are. A servant doesn’t decide to put others first. For a servant, others are first.

And Pastor Zulu was right.

That Paula. She never fails to show me the character of Christ.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Elections and Grace

Sometimes I am painfully aware of how unlike Jesus I really am. Just before we left for Zambia Paula and I were in a Staples store looking for an external hard drive, and when we asked for help because we couldn’t find what we needed, we were greeted by clerkzilla – who looked much like a regular store clerk except that she was convinced that her job description was to make every customer feel as though they were intellectual fleas.

ME: Hi. I’m looking for a portable, external hard drive with a firewire connection.

CLERK: They don’t make those. They only make desktop external hard drives with firewire connection. Besides, you don’t need firewire anyway. USB 2.0 is faster.

ME: No it isn’t.

CLERK: Yes it is. I’VE BEEN DOING THIS FOR OVER 20 YEARS!

ME: Actually, they DO make them, because I HAVE ONE, and NO, USB is not as fast and did they EVEN HAVE COMPUTERS 20 YEARS AGO?!

Jesus wept.

And today, driving that favorite stretch of road of mine, the pothole laden Lusaka to Livingstone road (also known as The Highway to Hell), the dark side of Jerry reared its ugly head once again.

You see, I don’t do well in heavy traffic, and by that I mean that the way some people drive makes me wish I had a rocket launcher attached to the front of my car so that when someone cuts me off without the courtesy of a simple signal, I could blast them into a thousand tiny little slivers of rudeness.

Tomorrow is election day in Zambia, and elections here are not the multi-million dollar, finely tuned machines they are in the states where candidates, in the most civil fashion, pretend to debate one another by ignoring every question the moderator asks and instead blatantly lie about their opponent. After which they shake hands and call one another “a fine American.”

Though I’m not sure exactly which quality makes them a fine American, whether its the ability to dodge questions, or to just make stuff up, or that they are able to do it and call it a debate.

In Zambia election campaigns are conducted from the backs of pick-up trucks and mini buses, filled to overflowing with revelers payed to shout and dance and sing in support of a particular candidate. Its a bit unruly and you can’t help but expect a riot to break out at any moment, but then the same is true of our conventions. But as a result, roads in Lusaka, where sitting in traffic has begun to replace football as the national pastime, come to resemble a Wal-Mart parking lot on Labor Day weekend, except that Zambians are generally better dressed than folks at Wal-Mart.

And when caught in the middle of it all, I just become very unspiritual.

Did you see that IDIOT!

Honey, he’s just changing lanes.

There’s no lane changing in a traffic jam! You just stay where you are! That’s the rule! UUGGGGGHHH. Stupid lane changing...lane...changer! UUUGGGHH.

And then I almost ran over a poor fellow hawking “Beware of Dog” signs and “Certificate Frames.” You have to understand, certificates are very big here.

Anyway, all of this though, just reminds me (rather painfully) how much I’m a work in progress. In one sense, I feel I should have by now risen above such trivialities, that obnoxious clerks and insane traffic should affect me about as much as does the social life of Brittany Spears (which by the way, is not at all).

But it does affect me and at first, it makes me a little depressed because I start to think that I am a terrible, traffic hating, clerk bashing Christian, which maybe means that I’m not a Christian at all. And where then does that leave me?

But then I realize what a false version of Christianity that’s based on. After all, God doesn’t accept us on our merits, but on His merits. He doesn’t redeem our lives based on our holiness, but based on His. As Jesus says in Mark 2:17, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”

And so, I’m reminded today of that amazing thing called grace – God’s unmerited favor, and that God has saved me not because of who I am, but because of who I might become as He works in my life.

And when my own clerk bashing and traffic neurosis has me feeling quite unlovable, the realization that God’s love for me has neither been diminished nor repealed, causes me to be overcome with a desire to do a better job of extending some of that grace myself.

Even to people who CLEARLY deserve to be blown to smithereens.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Vision of Hope

Sometimes God shows up at the most unexpected times, and in the most unexpected ways.

Yesterday as Paula and I were driving back from Lusaka, and just as we were approaching a police stop, I had a waking vision of our son Josiah. He was in heaven and it was as if we were arriving there. I didn’t see Jesus, but I knew he was there, because his presence was unmistakeable. Josiah was tall with sandy brown, blondish hair and blue eyes. He wasn’t a baby. He was grown, yet he had a sort of baby like quality to him. It was as if the infant and the man were one, and we could look upon both of them at the same time.

In the vision, Josiah stretched out his arms toward us and said, “Mommy, Daddy. Welcome home.” I immediately began to sob.

What struck me about it all, was the joy in Josiah’s eyes and in his smile. It was pure joy and I instantly realized that I had never seen pure joy before. I had seen only partial joy, only joy laden with the certainty of being temporal, always marred by its finitude. I didn’t realize this until then, but all the joy I had ever known seemed to be riding a wave that was certain to break. But this joy wasn’t riding a wave. Rather, it was the ocean that carried the wave, that contained the wave and that would forever absorb and resurrect the wave.

Josiah’s joy had a permanence to it and it became the source of our joy. It was as if his joy radiated and produced ours, which in turn increased and amplified his own joy. And I think that’s what made the joy so, so joyous, was its sharedness, its reciprocity. It was joy produced and realized in communion with God and with one another and because we had an endless future, so did our joy. It was a joy that we immediately recognized as being far beyond what we could have ever imagined joy to be. I realized that all that we had considered joy to be before, had only been a facsimile, a latent image, a faint shadow.

The other thing I noticed in this vision, was that our joy wasn’t a feeling or an emotion. It was something more tangible than that. It was part of us and it came from our love for Josiah, as his joy came from his love for us. In the vision, Josiah’s face radiated with pure happiness and love – love uncorrupted by pain or by sin and I knew that we were experiencing just the very beginning of things. I knew somehow that all that we thought we had lost, was there waiting for us only in greater measure than we could have possibly conceived of. In Josiah’s welcome, we were stepping from the insignificant into the magnificent and all of this world so paled in comparison to what lie ahead.

It is a strange thing to share with others that you’ve had a vision from God and I hope that you don’t take this to mean that it happens to me often. It is biblical though. Joel 2:28 says, “ Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.” And having just celebrated my 39th birthday, I am delighted that if nothing else this officially qualifies me as a young man.

But as I contemplated sharing this (and I was leaning toward not) I decided that I would on the basis, not that it should make me seem more spiritual, but that it should help us all to see God as more faithful than perhaps we sometimes imagine.

It is difficult to sum up what this vision did for me, because it did so many things that are difficult wrap up in nice and neat little phrases. But I suppose, in essence, it stirred up hope in me in a way only God could do. It was able to reach inside me and find a remnant of hope, and stretch it and enlarge it and cause it to begin to grow once again.

In giving this vision, God gave me what I so desperately needed to continue on the path he has placed us. He gave me the hope of knowing my son in a real way someday, both as a baby, and as a man. As one of our friends has said, “Josiah is not only a part of your past, he is also a part of your future.” God gave me a vivid reminder that, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).

But really, it is much more than that, though I’m not sure the much more can be conveyed. Maybe its not meant to be. Perhaps that part is mine and Paula’s alone.

This morning during a time of worship and prayer, after months of wondering and asking, “God, where are you in all of this,” Paula and I had an incredible encounter with the Lord, right in our living room. As we sang and worshiped, God began to give me a prophetic word to speak over Paula’s life. In that word, God spoke directly to many of her specific struggles, and in doing so, I think a similar hope was stirred in her.

In a span of two days, we have found ourselves comforted by God in ways we could have never imagined. That is not to say our sorrows are all swept away, and that all is well. But rather that they have come once again to be mingled with hope. And I am convinced that this in part, due to the sovereignty and grace of God, but also in part due to the prayers that have been offered on our behalf.

The many of you who have prayed for us have had a vital part in all of this. Your prayers have been essential threads in this magnificent tapestry. And just as you have shared in our sorrows, I also am convinced you will share in our joys – and that your joy in turn will produce greater joy in us, and...well, you know the rest.

So I don’t know why God allows bad things to happen. I don’t know why our friends Andrew and Christie are having to watch their newborn twins struggle for survival. But I know God is not far from them, that he is not far from any of us, and perhaps especially near to those who suffer. And I also know that all that we do as the church when we pray, makes a tremendous difference.

And finally, I know that in the end, all of this, will pale in comparison to what awaits us.

(Please join us in praying for Andrew and Christie Lundgren and their twin boys, Luke and Caleb. Luke is especially critical and in need of a miracle to reduce swelling in his head, and that his seizures would cease).

Monday, October 06, 2008

Crossing Canyons

I hate airports. In fact, I am pretty sure that hell will be very much like an airport, only with no departures (in the same way that I think heaven will be much like the Olympics, only with less spandex).

Our trip a few days ago from Kansas City to Baltimore as we began to make our way back to Africa, set those feelings in concrete. Upon our arrival we set about to accomplish the monumental task of getting all of our luggage checked in. This was no small endeavor and the curb-side-luggage-check-in-guy was less than enthusiastic about our appearance at his station, and he let us know that by saying no less than twenty times, “It would have been cheaper to send all this UPS.”

Which made me want to point out to him rather forcefully that WE ARE NOT AT UPS AT THE MOMENT, AND SINCE THERE ISN’T A UPS STATION IN THE AIRPORT IT LOOKS LIKE WE’RE STUCK WITH YOU! I refrained, and fear I will forever regret that I did.

These days airlines are charging for everything, they say to make up for the rising cost of fuel. Which seems strange to me because I thought the ticket price increases were to make up for the rising cost of fuel. But apparently airlines can no longer afford to fly you AND your luggage to the same destination unless you pay them roughly the equivalent of what it would cost to repurchase everything in your suitcase when you reached wherever it is your going. They just hope you don’t figure this out until after you have already paid, which they accomplish be stating, “My computer won’t show a total figure until AFTER I have scanned your credit card,” (yes, we were actually told that!).

When curb-side-luggage-check-in-guy finally had our charges all tallied – like the fee for oversize bags (which is not dependent on our bag being too long, but on the total dimensions of your bag when they’re all added together- huh?), and the fee for overweight bags, and the fee for bags with pockets, and the fee for bags with wheels, and the fee for bags that look old, our total luggage cost ended up being four times the cost of our tickets, which means that I could have flown to Baltimore and back twice for what it cost to get my luggage there. Or for that matter, I could have sent them to Baltimore by limousine for less than what our airline charged.

When I protested, curb-side-luggage-check-in-guy informed me that he didn’t actually work for the airline I was flying, but that he actually worked for a private security company hired by the airport. Which when translated means, “Listen pal, nobody at this airline really cares that you are unhappy because they know you don’t really have a choice since you have already paid for your tickets, and since I don’t actually work for that airline, I care even less than they do.” And then he informed me, “It would have been cheaper to send it UPS.”

It seems being on a journey is often a costly experience. We move from place to place, season to season, from joy to sorrow, from life to death. As a missionary I sometimes struggle with the state of somewhat homelessness we live in (and I hesitate to write this less I be perceived as one unhappy with the journey I’m on). The truth is though I am happy with this journey, just challenged by it at times. Sometimes I long for more permanence than we have, for more stability and sameness in our lives. But the landscape seems to forever change. We go to bed in calm, and wake to chaos. We cross the creek, only to be confronted by the canyon.

But there is also something wonderful in that as well. And that is that simply, in the unknown-ness of our journey, in the midst of unforeseen challenges, we also find unexpected delights. As we crest the mountain, we witness the setting sun paint orange and pink streaks across the sky. As we emerge from the wood, we stumble on a field of wildflowers. As we pause by the roadside, we marvel at the multi-colored coat the forest dawns in mid-October. Just as there are unexpected obstacles, there is also unexpected joy. And without one, we would never have the other.

And the thing is, when we can’t see the whole road laid out before us we tend to expect more of our present terrain, whether it be good or bad. But often the move from struggle to success is as close as the next bend in the road – a bend we will reach only if we continue to travel.

The night we arrived in Maryland to visit Paula’s sister, we were getting settled in the house where we would be staying while here and were being welcomed by our nieces and nephews, when the youngest, four year old Hope, came up to me and said with a hint of concern in her voice, “Uncle Jerry...you don’t look like Uncle Jerry.”

Realizing that Hope hadn’t seen me since I started wearing glasses, I promptly removed them to see if that might change her mind about my not resembling myself. When I did, she beamed and dove into my lap with a hug, exclaiming jubilantly, “Uncle Jerry!” – as though the offensive Hyde had once again become the affable Dr. Jekyll.

Apparently, the resemblance had been restored. And with it, my own hope that joy and revelation might be closer than we think.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On the Way Home From Kansas

The thing I hate about grieving is all the grief involved. I wish it was more like a MacDonald’s hamburger (which has about as much actual beef as a Greenpeace luncheon). No. Grief is the real deal. There’s no way to get around it, under it, and certainly no way to get over it, except to simply go through it.

I guess before going through this, I didn’t realize that there were certain types of grief that are inconsolable, that can’t simply be unlocked by the right combination of words (whether they be human or Divine). Grief sort of grabs your heart in a choke hold, planting a foot firmly on your stomach for leverage, and requires that either you completely surrender to its demands or be destroyed by its relentlessness. So the process then of grieving is sort of like going to jail for what was done to you, rather than for what you did. For the loss that you suffered, you must pay a price. The loss itself was costly, but grief extracts a further penalty.

The easiest and maybe the most common mistake we make in grieving, is in trying to make sense out of it all, trying to find answers to our questions. This is not to say we shouldn’t ask the questions. We should ask them. We should shout them with tears and beat our fists against the ground (which I have found is quite therapeutic, as long as you’re careful how hard you beat and who sees you do it). But we tend to want to extend the comfort of reason. This happened because. Yet without fail, anything that follows those three words is sure to not be comforting. That’s because grief is not interested in answers. It is interested only in pain. And this is where the problem begins for most of us.

I think its easy to reduce our grief to a need for answers. We tell ourselves if we just knew why, then we might be o.k. But if we look honestly, answers probably are not what we need or what we want. I mean, suppose the “why” is answered. This happened to you because. Would the pain be gone? Not likely. But for some reason we think that it would. The truth is though, we really don’t want answers. What we want is for things to be the way they were before all this happened. We want our lost loved ones back. We want our lives back, our dreams back, our joy back. And its difficult to imagine that anything as difficult as that could be found in a simple explanation of “why?”

Grief forces us to confront the pain. That is grief’s job. This can be problematic though because everyone around us wants to do whatever they can to help alleviate the pain. Our friends and our families see us hurting and they want to rescue us. They look at us and see that we have fallen in a deep, dark pit and so one by one they come to us, and lower a rope made of good intentions, at times bad cliches, and often the sincerest of hopes that they will finally be the one who rescues us; perhaps hoping that in rescuing us, that they too would be rescued.

But the stark truth is, that what we need is not to be rescued, but only to be recognized. What we need is to have our pain acknowledged, not resolved. What we need is for those we love to be o.k. with our pit. Because for now, we need the pit. We don’t need pity, and its important that we don’t confuse the two. But in the pit, since we can’t look out, we are forced to look in. We are forced to experience our anger, our despair, our outrage and not run from it or minimize it. The pit is not a place of explanation or enlightenment, it is only a place of experience. And those who grieve need friends who will see them and not pretend the pit is not there, who can acknowledge – “yes, you are in a dark and difficult place.” It is amazing how much comfort one finds in a tearful, and silent face that doesn’t know what to say.

When Paula and I were traveling home from a short trip to Kansas recently we stopped for lunch at her aunt’s house. During the meal we were talking about some roof work she had done to her house after a recent storm. Then, Paula’s aunt very matter of factly slipped in a story about some salvia she had planted in front of her house years ago.

A terrible storm that summer had done much damage and had flattened the salvia. They looked pathetic, but before she could pull them up, her dad commented, “I’ve seen sicker dogs than that live.”

She decided not to pull the plants, but left them as they were.

“That fall,” she said, “they bloomed more beautifully than they ever had before.” She concluded, “You see, they were stripped, but not dead. Their roots were still good.”

Paula and I both looked at each other, wide eyed as though we had just encountered a burning bush, and somehow we knew, our fall will come too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thank You...

Paula and I want to express to all of you how grateful we are for the incredible outpouring of love over the loss of our son, Josiah David.  You have ministered to us in countless ways as you have shared our burden and grief.  We had a beautiful funeral on Saturday and during the service Rev. Terry Yancey, District Superintendent of the Kansas District of the Assemblies of God shared a journal entry that Paula had written in her journal five years ago!  It has ministered to us in many ways, and many of you have expressed that you also were touched deeply by these words.  We wanted to make them available to all of you, that you too may be encouraged by them.  with heartfelt love and gratitude - Jerry and Paula.


June 2003
This morning I ministered in Scott City. At lunch with the pastors, the idea came to me to go and visit the cemetery on my way out of town. They told me where it was and I went. It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon – clear skies, pleasantly warm but a cool breeze, and birds singing everywhere. The grass was green from the recent rains. There was such a peacefulness there! I wanted to find Stephanie Lynn’s grave, but upon seeing how large the cemetery was, doubted if I could ever locate it. I called mom and dad (remarkably, phone coverage in that remote area!), and dad gave me an idea of the general area, but he wasn’t able to be very specific. I headed that direction, parked under a shade tree, and approached a section of graves to see if they were in the children’s section. Amazingly, the very first stone that I came upon and read, was Stephanies’!

All I can say is, I felt a strange and special connection to my “big, little sister”, one whom I never met. I didn’t want to leave that place, it was just so serene, and I felt I was supposed to be there. Kneeling beside her headstone, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Lord had taken her in order to make a place for Rhonda. Did the Lord choose to bring Stephanie straight home, because there was another baby girl, who didn’t have a home, and who would need all the love and grace and prayer that Ron and Pauleta could give her? And isn’t the exchange of those lives another expression of God’s design to bring Rhonda into His wholeness?

I could just imagine a 24 year old Pauleta and 28 year old Ron, kneeling there at the headstone, on a freezing January day, devastated. How could they have known that 40 years later, they would hold 3 daughters in their hearts, and 3 grandchildren? At that moment, their hopes and dreams were crushed and the future was far away.

That tiny baby, was as a seed planted in the ground. Her life, of course, was never buried – it was released into the arms of God. What was buried in the cold ground that winter was a mother and father’s hopes and dreams. They buried joy, and love – their very hearts!—but they buried in God. And in the perfect and unfailing heart of God, every seed planted there must spring to life again. It was a very bad winter, but what a springtime, what a summer, what a harvest! In a lifetime of raising a family and shepherding God’s flock—what joy, trust, and love has flourished in those deeply plowed hearts.  

Grace me, Lord, to bury every disappointment, every loss in You. To accept and embrace what You do and what You don’t do, what you give and what you take away. And to respond in faith, recognizing that with You, the resurrection far surpasses the natural life; the harvest greatly exceeds the seed planted; the latter is greater than the former.

God spoke to me today, in the stillness of a cemetery, through my baby sister. He reminded me, that though life can be desperate at times, seasons change. Things are not always as they seem. His ways are infinitely higher than ours. And He is causing all things to work together – and accomplish His work of reconciliation, restoration, and perfection. Hallelujah!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Forceps and Fatherhood

On Saturday Paula and I attended a birthing class to help us get ready for the baby and while I knew this whole having a baby thing wasnʼt gonna be easy (for Paula that is), I have to say, truthfully, I was pretty clueless.

I learned more about amniotic fluid than I EVER wanted to know and we watched videos that were apparently made by folks who feel deeply that there should be no secrets about anything that happens during a birth and that in fact we who are about to have a baby should actually see it happen up close and personal – you know, salad tongs and all.

Despite the initial shock – (“Oh my. Why, thatʼs a....Oh my!”) I found all of it quite helpful. I mean, I have had my apprehensions about actually being in the room during the labor because truthfully, I am sort of on the squeamish side and I could just imagine myself passing out and hitting my head on a stirrup or something and having to be carted off to the E.R., leaving Paula with nothing to comfort her but a “Songs of the Dolphins” CD and a cup of ice chips.

But now that Iʼve had an 8 hour class giving detailed (very detailed, I might add) descriptions of everything that is supposed to take place, I feel like maybe Iʼll be O.K.

I suppose more than anything, this class reminded me what a miracle life is, that life doesnʼt just happen and that when it does the fingerprints of God are all over it.

Something the nurse said towards the end of her presentation though I thought was particularly profound. She pointed out that when the baby is born they immediately place the baby on the motherʼs chest. She noted that they do this, even if the mother isnʼt breast feeding, because as she put it, “this will help the babyʼs temperature and breathing to stabilize.”

You know, the same is true of us. Our nearness to the heart of God is what more than anything will cause our lives to stabilize and find rhythm. Our nearness to the One from whom we came is the ultimate source of our peace and comfort because as it says of Jesus in the book of Acts, “For in him we live and move and have our being...we are his offspring” (Acts 17:28).

And truthfully there are times when my life gets out of synch and I flounder about looking for something to validate who I am and to give my life significance. I think if I just preach one more good sermon, or write a profound blog, or get another degree, then my life will have the order and peace I long for. But the truth is, during these times what I am really thinking, perhaps without realizing it, is that my life belongs to me, when in fact it doesnʼt.

And so as I contemplate that weʼre about to bring a life into the world who will be totally dependent on us for everything, and as I contemplate becoming a father, I am reminded again of my own infancy and dependency.

And Iʼm reminded that peace is not about how we perform or what weʼve achieved, but about our nearness to the One who gave us life, so that we might sense His heartbeat and know the comfort of His breathing.

Not to mention that I am sure that after Saturday, Iʼll never look at salad tongs quite the same again.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

TV or not TV

We don’t watch much TV in Zambia and truthfully I don’t really miss it. But sometimes you find yourself at one of those unfortunate junctions in life where TV is about all you can muster. You’ve read yourself cross-eyed and it’s a Sunday afternoon, and those Old Testament passages about resting on the Sabbath suddenly seem particularly inspired.


Today was one of those days for me.


I hadn’t really watched much TV in a while and I didn’t really know what I might find, though recent mini-surfings had been hopelessly disappointing.


As I scanned the channels, I came across a couple of guys beatin’ each other senseless (the Testosterone Channel I think), and wasn’t sure what was scarier, their seeming determination to kill one another, or the crowds equal determination to encourage them to do so. There was Joel Osteen, preaching about letting your praise flow and let the blessing flow with it or something like that and I thought it sounded very much like the one other sermon I had heard Joel Osteen preach, but then again, what do I know.


There was of course the news talking about they young guy and the old guy and the soon and coming election. I think they were taking a poll to see who would win if the election were held today and everyone had to vote blindfolded with one hand tied behind their back while eating a Twinkie.


There was some show about deer hunting and how you can kill a butt load (can I say that?) of deer with some kind of acorn powder, which for deer is second only to eating Twinkies while voting for president. None of these interested me in the least (do we REALLY need one more poll!??), but for some reason I had to go through all the channels about 17 times just to make sure.


In the process, I stumbled across a show on the Animal planet that almost had me. It was about bandit mongooses (which has nothing to do with thieves on bicycles), but was about a herd – yes a herd, of bandit mongooses (surely, its not Mongeese) that ate dung beetles and scorpions, and it was just adorable until one little baby mongoose got separated and was in danger of being eaten by a lion. And then one Mongoose named Odo (or something) ran over to save the little stranded baby Mongoose from the lion, and IT GOT EATEN TRYING TO SAVE THE POOR LITTLE BABY MONGOOSE!


I was so angry wondering why they had to go and name the little critters if they KNEW one of em was gonna get chomped on? I could have enjoyed the show just fine if they had said, “And then one of the random Mongooses in the herd of many mongooses who all look pretty much the same ran off and got eaten trying to save one of the many unnamed baby mongoose. Up until then I was pretty much committed because the show was so African I thought I was on a game drive and almost started taking pictures of the TV. Plus, it was weird that I felt more at home watching rodents running around Tanzania than I was watching Fox News. Which is mostly about rodents running around Capitol Hill.


But TV bliss was, in the end, finally achieved and I found it on an old faithful standby that has come through before – The Food Network. The show was “The Next Food Network Star” and its (you probably know this because I ‘m pretty sure it was a rerun) a reality TV show where the winner gets their own show on The Food Network.


So what was it, I’m sure you’re wondering, that I liked?


For one, I could watch the whole show and not have to repent once because nobody ever got naked, cussed any body out, or shot anybody during the whole show and that says a lot these days. Second, it was about food. And the simple fact that food is apolitical and that Paula Deen was on the show as a judge and she just makes me want to go out and eat something fried and be glad I did, all made me love it. It had everything you could possibly want in a TV show. It had drama, suspense, humor and chipotle peppers which by the way, I learned are just smoked jalapeños. Therefore, it was also educational.


But more than that, it was nice. That sounds terribly second grade-ish as in “Be nice and stop putting your brother’s toothbrush in the toilet.” But it was nice and I loved it. It was so nice that when one girl got voted off, they did it without ever telling her that she should consider becoming a greeter at Wal-Mart. And the girl that got kicked off hugged the others and agreed that they deserved to go to the next round. It was very Hallmark.


And the truth is, I like nice. I like nice people and I like nice TV. So from now on, when a Sabbath is in order, its me and the Food Network.


And by the way, I’m thinking of not voting for the old guy or the young guy. I’m thinking of casting my vote, for Odo, the bandit mongoose.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Donkey Pancakes


Families are sort of like belly buttons. You tend not to appreciate them until you can’t see yours anymore.


While we were in the states before leaving for Zambia I tended to take for granted that there are people in this world who actually know just about everything there is to know about me, and yet who still love me anyway, people that are fully aware that I tend to forget things and that I can be self-absorbed and impatient and that I’m not usually the chattiest fellow around.


Families have a way of accepting us, quirks and all, simply because they love us and because we’re a part of them. Despite our many and varied weirdnesses they realize that they are incomplete without us just as we are without them and its very easy to forget that acceptance like that is hard to come by.


With our baby on the way, I’ve thought a lot about family lately. The last two weeks for us have been a great time to re-connect with our families and we are trying our best to push any thoughts out of our heads regarding having to say good-bye once again this fall. We’ll cry that river when we come to it.


I heard a great story the other night over dinner at the Cracker Barrel. A friend, who raises miniature donkeys (and I admit – I had never heard of miniature donkeys) was telling us about a mother donkey who had rejected her baby (and forgive me for not being up on the technical mother/baby donkey terms).


As the story goes, our friends had washed the baby donkey with some iodine because it had a rash. Afterwards the mother rejected the baby and would have nothing to do with it. They tried everything to get the scent off the baby donkey, including covering him with molasses. Nothing worked and after their failed attempts the donkey was not only orphaned, but in danger of being put on someone’s pancakes.


Until one day the mother donkey and the baby donkey got caught in the rain together. After being stuck in a downpour, apparently the human/iodine/breakfast table smell was gone, and the mother took the baby back, as if nothing had ever come between them.


All because of a little rain.


I thought about all the storms our family has been through together and realized that we weren’t much different from those donkeys (now that’s a sentence I never imagined I would write!). We’ve had our share of rain, but in the end we seem to be better off for it, simply because we were in it together.


And that’s the way it is with missions.


Missions is really just a matter of us realizing that we and the churches across the pond are the same church, the same big, weird wonderful family, and realizing that if the church over there is caught in the proverbial rain, whether it be the rain of poverty or of disease or simply a need for training and education, then we ought to go and help them out. It simply won’t do for us to pretend as though we don’t recognize them or that they’re not us, because they are – and we’re them.


As Paul says regarding the collection for the famine struck church in Jerusalem, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality” (2 Cor. 8:13-15).


And we just might find that when we stand together in the rain, that we too come out smelling a little better than we had before.


Not to mention it’ll save us from having to pick donkey hair off our pancakes.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Fourth of July

We arrived back in Springfield on Wednesday night after a very long flight. I say we arrived, but should note that our arrival is only partial. Physically, we are in Springfield. Emotionally, mentally, and gastronomically, I think we are still in Africa and the journey from that world to this one won’t be completed I suspect for a few weeks. Although, trips to Taco Bell are being planned to speed the process.


On Thursday Paula had an appointment with her doctor and that meant plenty of time sitting in a waiting room for me; time to think about what a diverse world we live in and what it is that so sets this American world apart from the African one we just left.


There are the obvious things. Here we drive on the right, and there it’s on the left. Here we have paved roads, there, they mostly don’t. In America things are quite tidy. I can’t help but notice how clean and organized everything here is, as though Martha Stewart were made sheriff in our absence. In America, we have Wal-Mart. In Zambia they have outdoor markets. In America, we have stuff, lots of it and Zambians have virtually nothing by comparison.


But it’s more than those things really that make us so different.


For one, in Africa, chaos seems to lie just beneath the surface of everyday life, waiting like a lion in the tall grass of the savannah, hidden from sight, and anyone with any sense at all in Africa is aware that they are as likely as the next person to be devoured on any given day. Even in peaceful nations like Zambia, micro-disasters seem to flourish and shortages of everything from food and water to opportunities and optimism rob the days of their tranquility.


In Zambia the world seems to groan a little more than it does here and arriving in America fresh from being there almost a year brings to light how very blessed this country is. Yes, gas here is hovering around $4 a gallon, but in Zambia it’s around $12. And as we made our way from the plane in Dallas via the monorail that taxis you over the tarmac and across the freeway to the main terminal (very George Jetsonish) I noticed in me a self-confidence, or perhaps a national-confidence I hadn’t felt since I had been away.


Here, there is a tendency to feel like there’s not much we Americans can’t create, fix or resolve. I mean after all we’ve built a giant arch in St. Louis that seems to do nothing more than say, “Hey. Look what we can do.” I mean if you can build a giant arch just to build a giant arch, then the world is surely at your beck and call.


In itself this isn’t such a bad thing. After all, I do believe America is the greatest nation on the planet in part because of the God-given ingenuity of its citizens. The problem is we all too often forget the God-given nature of our abilities and too easily come to attribute our success to ourselves.


Already since I’ve been home, I have noticed a profound tendency here to trust more in my debit card than in prayer and when I do pray here, my prayers sort of take on an ATM nature, as I try to figure out what sequence of buttons I need to punch to get what I want from God. And time here seems always to be nipping away at my heels like a dachshund with something to prove.


And that, I am starting to realize, is what I love about Africa. The church there is a church that depends on God for virtually everything and they gather on Sunday morning to worship because they NEED to worship. Not because it appeases their conscience.


And the truth is, I think we in America truly want what Africa has. We want with everything that we are to have a genuine encounter with the Living God. We want to be in the presence of God and to experience God first hand. Our problem is that we just don’t know how to get it. We don’t realize that as long as we seek first the Kingdom of Macy’s that we will never know the blessings of desperation, of so agonizing for God to intervene in our lives that we’re willing to let go of all that we have to find Him.


Granted there are some real obstacles to the presence of God in America. There is that movement among us that wants not a sovereign God, but a pocket-sized god that we can take out and put away at will. Not a God whom we must serve, but rather a god who will serve us and grant us all that we want if we would only have enough faith and send in $50 a month.


America is indeed a blessed nation. But spiritually, I think we have been hijacked. In some ways, our churches mirror our culture, and tend towards brevity, selfishness and apathy.


And this fourth of July, I find myself wondering what our churches might look like, if that same indomitable spirit that declared independence from the most powerful nation on earth over 200 years ago, would rise up and declare our independence from the present tyranny of consumerism and complacency?


Then, we might discover independence as we have never known it before.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pictures

Hi Friends! Just a note to let you know we have posted a slide show of some of our favorite pictures from this first year on the blog. You can double click on the images and you will be directed to the picasa web page, where you can view the photos full screen.