Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Be Not Afeared

With the robbery and poisoning of our guard dogs last week, we have been feeling a bit on edge lately. However, I should add, we have recently discovered some unconventional ways of venting our frustrations. For instance, we have sort of made a sport of fly-swatting some of the 150 gazillion flies that get into our house every day. In fact, our new favorite pastime is trying to see who can get the most kills (of flies that is) in the shortest amount of time. The other day Paula got two flies with one swat (really, she did!), after which we were both so elated I was tempted to gallop around the dining room table while shouting “Reap the whirlwind, Reap the whirlwind.” But I refrained, lest Paula have me committed.

The thing is, we are still a little frightened over what happened and at night we wake up every time a truck drives down the street or the wind blows against the house or one of us sneezes. The problem is that each time one of these things takes place, I think it’s a burglar and I hop out of bed and start peering through the blinds like some deranged drug addict (being a former deranged drug addict, I know well their propensity for peering). Then, when I realize that it was just a truck or just the wind, or just some other very common and non life threatening thing, I climb back into bed but never really go back to sleep. Instead, I start thinking about what might happen if one of these burglars did return, and what if they actually got in the house but then I think no there’s no way they could get in because we have bars on the doors and then I think well they could cut a hole in the roof and come in that way or they could take the guard hostage and demand we that open the door or worse demand that we give them the keys to the house and the car and then what would we do?

Yep. Deeeeeranged.

But this is what fear does. As a Zambian pastor put it, “Ahhh. That fear is from the devil. God, He brings faith. But him (the devil), he brings fear.” And I think he is right.

I mean some fear is good for us. For instance, its good that we fear things that could potentially harm us, like hot burners or clowns. After all fear is what causes us to approach those thing with the proper degree of caution. I mean, you should think twice before agreeing to anything with someone who wears a red ball on their nose.

But fear can also paralyze us, and that is not good. Fear can cause us to become timid and overly cautious to the point that we become unwilling to ever take chances or to even trust people or attend the circus. I had a great aunt who because of some bad things that happened to her early in life, hardly ever left home. And life shouldn’t be that way! Fear can wrap us up in a blanket of ineffectiveness and isolation, causing us to shy away from the things we are called to do, and away from the people we are called to do it with.

Even Paul’s admonition to Timothy reminds us that debilitating fear is not from the Lord: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2Tim. 1:7 NKJV).

So, I am reminded that God has given me a sound mind – to help differentiate between my wife sneezing and a guy trying to break the door down, love – in order to know that not every Zambian is out to get me, and power – to continue smacking flies with great effectiveness.

This morning during a time of prayer and fasting, we were doing a responsive reading out of one of our hymnals (with me being “worship leader” and Paula being “everyone”) and part of it was a verse from the gospel of John.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

And one of us (I’m not going to say which because of said person’s great adeptness with a fly swatter), couldn’t decide whether to say “afraid,” or “fearful” – so she split the difference and said “nor let it be afearful.”

We both howled and laughed a good belly laugh such as we hadn’t had for a long time. And we discovered again what a wonderful thing it is, to not be afearful.

Note: We have also found great relief from our fears in the comforting and encouraging prayers and notes from all of you, our family, friends and supporters. Hearing from all of you has wonderfully reminded us of what a large and loving family we are all a part of.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Light in the Dark

We are in the middle of the rainy season in Zambia, which means (at least this year) that it rains almost everyday. Yesterday was rare, in that we actually could see, peeking through the clouds, blue sky! So being a bit weary of being indoors all the time we decided to go and watch the sun set over the Zambezi River. It seemed like a grand idea.

We arrived at the river and the sky/sunset wasn’t quite as splendid as we had hoped. Nonetheless, we took a few pictures, watched a hippo saunter out of the water and then just as we were about to get in the car and come home a man emerged (not from the river mind you – but from somewhere behind us) brandishing a very large knife (“brandishing” I think is a technical term meaning “to hold something that is capable of inflicting bodily harm– I mean you can’t brandish a dust pan). So he starts waving this knife in front of us and demanding money.

“I want money. Give me money. I cut you!”

And, being a guy, I thought the natural thing any guy would think. “I think I can take him.”

I know you have probably heard some incredible stories about how missionaries in the process of being mugged led their attackers to the Lord. Yeah. Not me.

I was kind of like Peter at the Mount of Transfiguration where it is said of his proposal to put up three tabernacles, “He didn’t know what he was saying.” Neither did I. I think I blurted out something like, “We’re missionaries. We’re people of God.”

I’m not exactly sure what effect I supposed that would have. As though I expected him to respond by saying, “Oh…missionaries eh? So sorry for the bother. I thought you were just a regular lot of people. Had I known you were missionaries, I wouldn’t have bothered waving my giant knife in your face and threatening to stab you. Blessings on you and your ministry!”

Anyway, turns out, the guy got away with a little money and a camera that I was quite fond of. But there, the story just begins!

Our attacker immediately ran off into “the bush” (“bush” being the African term that denotes “thick underbrush filled with crocodiles and snakes which crazy people go into after they rob someone”). A few minutes later, a car drove up and I immediately told the driver, “I wouldn’t get out of your car. We were just robbed!”

To which he replied, “Sure?” (which is that African way of saying, “We’ll I’ll be”). He then said, “Stay here. I will go get the police” (on account of the police here don’t have cars and seem to seldom answer the phone).

As he drove off, I shouted, “We’re missionaries. We’re people of God.” Cause you never know.

About 15 minutes later, the man returned with an inebriated police officer totin’ an AK-47 (totin’ being the technical term for “brandishing” once alcohol is added to the mix).

The officer looked in the direction that we indicated our attacker had fled in, then back at us with this look that said, “You sir, are drunker than I am if you think I’m going into that crocodile and snake infested underbrush where crazy people run after they’ve robbed someone.” And then I think he belched.

I was sure he would shoot himself in the foot before the night was over.

We made our way back to the police station, us driving since – well, you know. We got there and the officer entered a description of the incident in a log book that was titled “the Big Book.” It was, after all, a very big book. He then told us that we had to come back tomorrow to get a copy of the police report. Now this is the good part!

I returned the next day just as directed. In fact I returned twice as it seems reports can only be filled out by one certain person and if that person is not there, well you must come back when they are. We finally got the report filled out and then the officer told me, “You must go home and type this up. Then bring it back and we will sign it. And that will be 22,000 kwatcha (about $6)!” I don’t know if we had to pay for having to type up our own police report, or if the fee was for having to pick up the drunk policeman and bring him to the crime scene. Perhaps it covered both.

So, another day in Zambia. Another many lessons learned. And amidst all the quirks and oddities of life in a Third World Country, one reality seems to rise to the surface. That is that this is a place much in need of a Savior. It is a place where drinking is a national past time, where corruption and desperation are two streams that run side by side, flowing into a sea of hopelessness. And this man that robbed us, and the officer that tried (sort of) to help are both men for whom Jesus died. And I am reminded more vividly than ever, how desperately Zambia needs the hope than can come only from Christ.

And that is why we are here. Not because we are the light. Because He is the Light. And because, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

May the darkness understand it!

(In spite of my lighthearted recalling of this incident, the truth is, we were both terrified during this robbery and very much feel it was the prayers of our friends and family that kept us from bodily harm. Our attacker was truly a disturbed man, and we are very, very aware that this incident might have had a very unpleasant ending. Thanks to all who pray for us! It works. – Jerry and Paula).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Moving Day

Last Friday was moving day. After completing our 10 week language study course (after which we feel very much like Moses – “I speak with faltering lips”) we have finally packed up our things and moved into our house in Livingstone. I’m not sure at what point in life we came to have so much stuff. In fact, I am currently working on (ok, not really working on, just making up) a theory that stuff multiplies when you move it from one house to another. My theory is that all the cluttery junk that one tends to possess in abundance, like ink pens and coffee mugs and electrical cords, all of these triple in quantity during the moving process . But the stuff you really need seems to somehow vanish. For instance, I seem to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 of those red, yellow and white cables for connecting the TV to the VCR – but not a single one that is actually long enough to reach from the TV to the VCR). On the other hand, all the things you really need like coat hangers, and cell phone chargers and of course, duct tape – are no where to be found (though you specifically recall duct taping all the cell phone chargers to coat hangers when you packed). And of course, none of the things you are really fond of multiplies either. I seem to have exactly the same number of Bible commentary sets as I did when we packed, and the TV is still not a plasma.

But setting up home is an odd mixture of delight and torture. Like eating ice cream with gravel in it.

On the delight side, there is that great thing about creating a place that is – well, home; a place that reflects your tastes, your comforts, and your passions, a place of rest and a place of refuge and a place of work. A home becomes that one place where all of your interests and your passions come together. It is the place where all the roads of you intersect.

On the torture side, maybe you recall a certain movie about a run down house that a couple buys as a fixer upper . It’s is called, “The Money Pit,” and well, you get the picture. One day last week, we had a plumber, an electrician and a welder all here at the same time. I was certain passersby would mistake us for a trade school and try to sign up for classes.

Ok, so let me get to the point. After all, this is a blog about Zambia and so you must be wondering by now, where in the world am I going with all this. Ok, here it is.

All this moving, not to mention it being Christmas, has had me thinking a lot about home, and my thoughts of home have got me thinking about what Jesus said in John 14:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In my
Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you, and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.

Now, let’s be honest. No matter how deep our understanding of scripture is, no matter how close our walk with God, this is one of those verses that is wonderfully full of mystery. As one commentator says, “we understand how men are prepared for the place, but not how the place is prepared for men.” What I do understand of this passage though is that this verse talks about Jesus going to prepare a place for us, in heaven – our ultimate and permanent residence. Exactly how he is going about that, I don’t know. I somehow don’t think it means Jesus is measuring our windows for curtains or picking out paint colors at Heavenly Hardware. We can only guess at what it is that Jesus actually does in this preparation process. But, we can be sure, as He is wonderful, that it too, will be wonderful beyond measure!

One of the things that I am challenged by when I see the way Zambians worship, when I see the simplicity in which they live (yes, mostly out of necessity) is that Zambians, far better than we from the west, seem to get this idea, that earth is not our home. They seem to really get it, where as we, where as I at least, sometimes don’t. I live to much I think in the world of cell phone chargers and laptops and internet connections and too little in the reality that it is all passing away.

This week the news here reported that 5,000 homes were washed away in the town of Mazabuka due to flooding. We are having an unusually heavy rainy season this year (a Zambian farmer said it’s the worst he’s seen this early on) and homes tend to be made of mud brick and are not the most durable. And perhaps that’s why Zambians have a firmer grasp on the next life – because their grasp on this one is so tenuous.

I am going there to prepare a place for you, and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

One day the cell phones will cease (praise God!), there will be no need for coat hangers (for there will be no need for coats) and yes, even the indispensable duct tape, will be dispensed with.

And that day, will truly be moving day! Because we will have finally, forever, arrived at home.