Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In Malawi

Had a long and bumpy drive today from Lusaka Zambia to Lilongwe Malawi. The drive is far from boring and you have to be careful not to hit the mélange of creatures that share the road. My companions for the trip were a Zambian pastor, Pastor Zulu, and a missionary friend named Steve. For fun, we came up with our own way of establishing the intelligence level of various members of the animal kingdom by the speed with which they got out of the way of our vehicle. Goats did the best. Humans, cows and dogs were tied for a distant second. Pastor Zulu deduced that Zambian goats were smarter than Malawian goats, who were sluggish in their efforts to avoid being hit.

I arrived at the seminary today to begin working on a M.A. in Intercultural Studies. It is an incredible opportunity to study missions along side African brothers and sisters who are out there doing the work of the kingdom. I am bit overwhelmed at the work load that lies ahead, but excited about what might come from it.

More and more here in Zambia I feel like I have far more to learn from Africans than I have to give them. With the struggles they face and the obstacles they overcome to start churches or to reach the lost in their community they truly seem to me to be giants in the faith. They seem like modern Paul’s and Barnabas’s and next to them I sort of feel like that cow we almost ran into today who couldn’t seem to distinguish between our 4x4 going 70 miles an hour and its own dear mother.

There are something like 20,000 pages of reading sitting on my desk right now, so I need to end this. First, let me add that my wonderful, sweet, wife Paula is in Lusaka this week – unable to make the trip as she is pregnant with our first child. She’s probably working harder than she should, probably not feeling as good as she would like, but she’s undoubtedly missed more than she knows. It will be a long month.

Gotta go.

Remember, love deeply.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"My food is to do the will of Him who sent me!"

It has been a busy week here. We had a former professor of mine from college, Daniel McNaughton, visiting this week and he taught a seminar on starting new churches. It was great stuff.

As often happens to me here, throughout the week I was challenged by nearly everything the Zambians did and said. One guy told of how he had planted 100 churches in about a 12 year period. He started when he came to Christ at the age of 18, and then immediately wondered if his mother, who died giving birth to him, had ever heard the Gospel. He decided he needed to go his home village and start a church there. He did, and the church was a success, and soon neighboring villages were asking him to start churches there because they saw a dramatic change in peoples lives. In 12 years this guy started 100 new churches in as many villages.

I thought about what things I had started in the last 12 years.

Not much. A few arguments. A lot of books. Many of them still unfinished. I’ve probably started 100 crossword puzzles. Not sure if I’ve ever finished one.

This guy started 100 churches.

Another guy talked about how when he was first starting out in ministry he prayed and fasted – FIVE days a week, for TWO YEARS! He said he only ate on weekends in order to have enough energy to preach.

I was expressing to another Zambian pastor how amazed I was at that, and he looked at me rather puzzled and said, “In Zambia you must fast a lot if you are going to overcome the spiritual attacks you face.” He then added, “I fast 22 days.”

“Wow. 22 days a year is a lot,” I said.

“No. 22 days a month,” he replied.

Its been a long week, and I need to get some rest before a long drive tomorrow, and then an even longer drive on Tuesday to Malawi. I am excited, I’m challenged, and I’m getting hungry just thinking about the idea of fasting for 22 days a month.

Can’t wait to see what the Lord does here next!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Brian's Story

This is Brian’s story.

He pastors a small church just up the road from where we live in the small town of Zimba. Zimba, according to Brian, isn’t known for much, except beer drinking and prostitution. Brian came to this small town just north of Livingstone two years ago called by God to revive a church that had been started almost 15 years prior but that had been torn apart by various factions. Two of the groups that left the church started two separate churches – one called True Vine, the other Future Hope.

Shortly after he arrived, the pastors of these two churches showed up at his home in the middle of the night, demanding to know who he was and what he was doing in town. It seemed they were threatened by his presence; probably afraid he would take members from their churches.

The next night, the police showed up at Brian’s home, and arrested him. They took him to the police station and asked who he was and what he was doing in town. Turns out the pastors of the other two churches had gone to the police and told them (falsely, of course) that Brian was there to stir up trouble and that he had come from Congo for the purpose of destroying their churches. They also accused him of being a Satanist. Amazingly, (or maybe not so amazingly – after all, this is Africa) the police believed the story and had Brian brought in. He was eventually released after proving that he was in fact from Lusaka, and not from Congo, and after he had secured a letter from his district officials.

Brian had come to a small town, where he had no friends or relatives, to revive a church that had no members and who’s former members in a fit of jealousy immediately tried to run him out of town on trumped up allegations. How’s that for a first job right out of Bible college? Had it been me, I probably would have been on the first mini-bus back to Lusaka, shaking the dust off my feet the whole way and praying that a meteor would fall on both Future Hope and True Vine.

Brian stayed.

He stayed and little by little, he built a church. First one person. Then two. Then five. And for a while, just five people. Today he pastors a church of about 40, with a separate branch that meets in a local boarding school and ministers to about 60 students.

His challenges though are still many. Prostitutes show up at his home in the middle of the night under the pretext of wanting prayer. They offer him gifts of cooking oil and beans, and try to seduce him. Brian is a young, handsome, single man, and when he was telling us this, he lowered his head into his hands, and told us it wasn’t always easy to say no, but that he always did. He has since instituted a policy in which people who want prayer are to call him and arrange to meet him at the church and not at his home.

Before Brian came to Zimba at least four pastors had been sent before him to try and revitalize the church. None of them stayed.

Not too long ago someone asked that perhaps we could include in our blog some of the more beautiful aspects of Zambia. And their point was a good one for there is certainly more to Zambia than potholed roads, corrupt officials and knife wielding maniacs. We have seen some spectacular sights since we arrived in Zambia. We have gazed upon the breathtaking and “leaves you speechless’ splendor of Victoria Falls. We have stood at the top of the Royal Gorge as the sun was setting and watched as the last light of the day slipped over the serene African horizon and gave birth to a million-star nighttime sky. We have stood under that same night sky and seen that very distinct (and only viewable from the Southern Hemisphere) constellation known as the Southern Cross. We have watched elephants feasting on acacia trees along the roadside just a few kilometers from our house. But in all of the many wonders of God’s diverse and vast creation that we have seen here, none have inspired me as much as Brian did one afternoon last week when he sat in our living room and told us his story.

All the colors of the spectrum, all the majesty of nature, all the intricate and detailed designs that God has carved into His creation, are no match for that most intricate of designs that He carved into us His children: namely His very own image. We don’t see it too often I don’t think. In fact, we’re far more likely on an average day to run into the images of Hollywood or of Wall St. or MTV. But when we do encounter the image of God in an otherwise ordinary person among us, it is unmistakable. You feel as though you are standing on holy ground, not because you’ve elevated that person to the rank of deity, but because you become acutely aware that God is alive and well and very much present in His people. In the divine image we are reminded that God moves from the pages of the Bible and from the songs and prayers of our Sunday morning services and He travels to the streets of a small town of prostitutes and drunks, and in the life and faithful ministry of a young pastor, he still pitches his tent among us.

And man, what a sight it is to see!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Give a Little Ground

One of the biggest adjustments to life in Zambia is that often things don’t go as planned. Actually, its not so much that things don’t go as planned, as much as it is that they often don’t go as planned and nobody seems to really care! Life here sort moves along like at its own seemingly unconcerned pace.

For instance, when you schedule an electrician and he tells you he will come at 9 in the morning, he may show up two days later with no explanation and may even express total dismay that this would strike you as odd. I suppose the notion being, that “in the morning” really was meant to indicate “some morning” and not necessarily “tomorrow morning.”

Or, for another example, the other day I was at the grocery store and was thrilled when I walked up to the check-out and found that there was not a single person in line. Surely, I thought, I will be out o’ here faster than a safari guide can point out the many uses of elephant dung (which is quite fast, by the way).

It was not to be, though, due to the fact that the checkout girl was busy flirting with the bag boy. Now, I know that as a minister, I should be constantly concerned about whether or not people are going to heaven or hell (and mostly, I really, really am!). But what I noticed in the minutes that followed (and please - pray that the Lord will forgive me) was that I began to care less and less about where this cashier would spend her eternity because it started to seem as though mine would be spent standing in line to buy some apples and a can of shaving cream (which I was not planning on using in conjunction with one another in any way – in case you were wondering).

And I have noticed, that if I’m not careful, in situations like these, grace can tend to get away from me. (I know you find that hard to believe, but its true!).

Grace, is that wonderful thing that Jesus so abundantly showed (and continues to show) to us – when he died for our sins, every one of them, without waving them around and shouting about them and telling us what idiots we were for not being more obedient. He simply stood silently, and took the abuse that He didn’t deserve, and the insults of people whom he could have squashed, so that he could give us what we could never earn. And yet somehow, still, when people don’t meet my expectations, and when things don’t go my way, I often don’t want to show them any grace at all. I want to show them wrath. Yes…even the wrath of Jerry.

I want them to know that they have let me down, and I want them to know that they are inefficient and that they should invest in a calendar or a watch or a sundial or something. And here in Zambia I often find myself needing to be reminded, that every day of my life the very ground I walk on, is the ground of grace. The very fact that I have something solid on which to stand, is an act of grace, because I ought to be sunk in the deep mud of my own failures. And so, rather than kicking up a bunch of dust over little things like late electricians and overly friendly cashiers, I ought to share a little of that ground called grace with everyone I meet.

Its so easy to see the fallacies of people, and yet to overlook the challenges from which those fallacies usually flow. People most often are who they are, because of where they come from. And yesterday, a drive through the shanty compounds of Livingstone reminded me that in my 5 pairs of shoes, air conditioned, ipod-ed, well-fed world, I really know nothing of the challenges that Zambians face. And as I consider that, I am reminded that Zambians are probably far more deserving of my grace, than I am of theirs. And yet THEY seem to offer it in abundance.

We’ve put together a little video that does very little to convey the severe poverty of life in the Zambian compounds, but perhaps it will give you a glimpse into that world, and a little peek at the joy (and grace) Zambians seem to have in the middle of it all. So, as you watch this, please pray with us for those who live without running water, without electricity, without enough food, that the Living God would walk among them, and that He would meet their every need – above all they could ask or imagine.

And, don’t forget to give a little ground yourself today.