Thursday, May 29, 2008

Odds and Ends

Tomorrow I go home. It has been a great time here at seminary, especially eating the EXACT SAME MEAL TWICE A DAY FOR 30 DAYS, but I’m not complaining. I’m a missionary and that’s what missionaries do. We eat stuff we hate because we love Jesus. We are very spiritual.

In all seriousness, I can’t wait to be back together with Paula. We have decided we will never, EVER do this again. That is, be apart for a month. I would rather EAT THE EXACT SAME MEAL TWICE A DAY FOR 30 DAYS than go through being away from my wife for a month again. Even seeing each other over a weekend half way through, it has been really tough. I don’t recommend it.

We are both really looking forward to getting back to Livingstone. We were in Lusaka for two weeks before I came to Malawi with the church planting boot camp and so its been over 6 weeks since we’ve been home. We’re anxious to get back.

By the way, the church planting boot camp was incredible. We had over 40 pastors go through the training. Daniel McNaughton, lead pastor of Spring Valley Community Church taught the seminar and did an amazing job. Plus, he dances as bad as I do, and that made me feel good. Thanks for coming Daniel! It was great to see you.

Paula and I are both exited about what’s coming up in June. The second, third and fourth Saturday of June, we will have our first youth meetings. It is sort of small scale, about 100 kids from five churches. We will be using a great curriculum that has an HIV/AIDS component, but that primarily focuses on teaching kids to make good choices, and to seek God’s plan for their lives. The material is very interactive, since as you know, kids have the attention span of peanut butter.

If you want to know more about the materials, check out
www.kerusglobal.org. We will be using their “It Takes Courage” curriculum.

A final note. We had announced in our last newsletter that we would be going to South Africa to have our baby. That has changed. We had some friends in the medical profession advise us that maybe we should go the states. We explored that with our leadership, and they gave the thumbs up. With all the violence that is going on in South Africa right now, I really feel it was God guiding us in this direction.

So…we will arrive in Springfield MO July 2 and will be in the states until about mid October. We will be available for a few missions services and conventions in the Springfield area, and Kansas. We are open to the possibility of other locations as well. Send us an email if you might be interested in having us come (is that all we missionaries EVER talk about is itineration?).

And, no – we don’t know yet if it’s a boy or a girl. We are just praying the baby looks like Paula, and not me!

We welcome your prayers for our youth services in Jun and for safe travel in July. God bless!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jerry Gets a Clue

Hey folks...guess what? I just found out how you can be notified by email when we post something. I knew this grad school thing was going to pay off! Just use the box to the right. Follow the directions. Sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Do a little dance (go on...nobody is watching).
But wait...there's more. With the little black box thingy (technically called a widget!) you can post a mini version of this blog into your Facebook acount or or igoogle acount or about a dozen other things that I don't have clue about yet. Just click on options button. And then, just like magic, something will happen. I don't know what though. But praise the Lord for widgets!

Friday, May 23, 2008

This Jesus

Earlier this week one of our classmates, Gille, left to go back to Ethiopia, where he pastors. Gille is a soft spoken man who walks with a slight stoop, and you would never know that beneath his gentle manner is a giant of a saint. At breakfast the day he left, he shared his story with us.

During the years that communism controlled Ethiopia it was against the law for two Christians to be together. So, “church” would be conducted between two believers sitting at a public restaurant having tea, as though they were just friends having a casual chat. That was the way they shared the gospel with one another and prayed for one another. Gille said even then you had to be very careful because the government was aggressively persecuting believers and if someone overheard you , they would report you. Amazingly, the church grew rapidly during this time. And in fact it was under communism that Gille became a believer.

Through the communist propaganda that was part of the public school education, he was thoroughly convinced of the communist/Marxist system and believed that all religion was destructive. However, one day he overheard a guy sharing the gospel with someone in a classroom as he passed by. He stopped and listened. As he listened to the story of how Jesus died for our sins, he became intrigued and went into the room and said to the man, you must tell me about “this Jesus” also.

Gille believed in Jesus and went on to become a pastor and under communism he was thrown in jail several times for preaching the gospel.

“But it was wonderful because every time they put us in jail, we preached the Gospel and all the prisoners would get saved. Even the guards got saved and eventually they had to send us home.

“Sometimes they would take us and beat us after we preached, but we just laughed because we were happy that we were preaching the Gospel.”

And I listened and was reminded of how many times I had sat in church, half listening to the sermon, and half thinking about a dozen other things and completely taking for granted the very thing Gille was beaten for.

Today in class our professor, Dr. Lwysha shared a story about some seminary students who were studying the book of Revelation. During their lunch break they would go outside and play basketball, and while they played, the janitor would sit in the stands and read his Bible. One day during one of their basketball games, the janitor erupted into shouts of joy and began jumping up and down. When the students interrupted him and asked him what he was doing, he looked at them and said, “this Jesus, He wins!”

While these seminary students were consumed with the meaning of the seven trumpets and the seven seals and the beast and the woman and arguing over pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib and whatever other theories there are on the tribulation, this janitor picked out the very heart of the story:

This Jesus, He wins!

I was so reminded of that when Gille told his story. How in the midst of the oppression of communism in Ethopia, the Church did so much more than survive – it triumphed! And I’m reminded today, that in the midst of a world that seems to be crumbling down around us, where violence and destruction are rampant, where stories of sexual depravity and natural disasters rule the evening news, I’m wonderfully reminded that in the midst of it all – this Jesus, He wins!

In the midst of our sickness and our loneliness, our struggles in life and in ministry, the heart of our Christian lives, the one truth that makes it all worth while and brings resolution to it all, is that this Jesus, He wins!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Consumed


Last weekend I made a quick trip to Zambia. Paula flew up from Lusaka and we met in a small town on the border of Zambia and Malawi. We hadn’t planned on this at the start. Originally we had decided that I would stay in Malawi for the whole month while taking my classes and Paula and I would see each other when I got back. Turns out though that my capacity for being apart from my wife is about equal to my capacity for pickled eggs. I think I’m starting to sort of understand what it means that the “two become one” because it seems that the one of us were never meant to be in two separate countries at the same time. I know this because when we are apart the whole cosmos seems to get disordered (starting with my underwear drawer and working its way outward in the general direction of the de-frocked former planet, Pluto).

And for you men reading this, I have to warn you: parts of this blog entry are very mushy. Maybe one day I’ll write a blog on “Deer stands, Tractors, Band Saws, and other Godly Things,” to make up for it.

But I was very aware of a couple of things this weekend. First, I was reminded how consumed I am with love for my wife and what a great thing it is to be consumed by a thing like love. Second, I also couldn’t help but notice how in the busy-ness of life how I often get consumed by a gazillion little things and become unconsumed with the few really important things. And finally, I was reminded of how much of the world is both consumed with things and being consumed by things.

The town of Chipata is a center of Muslim activity in Zambia and a place where several worlds collide. As I waited for Paula at the Chipata “airport” (which is just a tiny two room building on the outskirts of town), I watched a boy precariously perched atop an ox cart steering it with his reed whip along a dirt road next to the runway. It was as if in Malawi yesterday never noticed that today has come. As I walked into the outdoor “waiting yard” for arrivals and departures, I noticed that most of those who were waiting to fly out were Muslims. They were all dressed from head to toe in the clothing of their faith, the men in their galabias and some of the women draped in black from head to toe. Even the children wore donned in Islamic attire, with the girls wearing hijab head coverings. I was reminded of the calls to prayer we hear daily in Livingstone coming from the mosque down the street from our house. Every morning around five the imam’s chanting rings out across the city via loudspeaker. And it seems that those who practice Islam are consumed by their faith; some might say, devoured by it.


In the news in South Africa this week there was a story about sectarian violence. Residents of some of the shanty compounds around Johannesburg attacked many of the foreign residents in their community, many of whom had fled the desperation that has engulfed Zimbabwe. People who had left the nation they had lived in all their lives and had come to South Africa hoping for a new beginning found only a tragic ending. The attackers set people on fire and beat them with sticks and rocks. We hear about that kind of violence and we tend to wonder how people can be consumed with such hatred. And, we wonder, if it can happen in South Africa, is there in place on this continent that is immune from the consuming fires of animosity and racism.

I get consumed with a lot of things in the course of my life. Sometimes I get consumed with good things like Bible study or prayer, but probably not as often as I should. But a lot of times I get consumed with stupid stuff like my hair (hey - let him who is without hair gel cast the first stone) or with my tee shot or with what's going to happen to Jack Bauer.

And as I thought this week about what it was like to recapture the wonder of being consumed with love for my wife (and sort of shocked that it got away from me for a while), I am also reminded of my great need to over and over be recaptured, re-burdened and utterly consumed with a passion for those who don’t know Christ. It will never do for us as Christians to look at Muslims and mock the futility of their rigorous prayer life and to decry the outward appearance of a religion that offers not a glint of hope for the human ailment. Because while we are busy scoffing, Christ is busy weeping and praying that someone among us would have the courage to go and bring these people the Gospel.

All around the world this week the news seems to shout at us a reminder that people are being consumed in a thousand different ways. They’re being consumed in earthquakes, in genocide, in famines, wars and disease. And many, many of them are being consumed without ever having heard the name of Jesus. And just as I was reminded of how great it is to be consumed by something wonderful when Paula and I met in Chipata last weekend, I am also reminded of how essential it is to be consumed by something eternal.

Lord may it be said of us, as it was said of you, that “Zeal for our Father’s house would consume us!” (John 2:17).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lessons in a Time of Malaria

Higher education has a way of turning perfectly normal people into buffoons . Before we started this program we're in, my classmates and I used to talk in such a way that the people around us could actually understand us. But now that we’ve entered the strange and bizarre world of “graduate studies” ( sort of like entering “the twilight zone” only without the cool music playing in the background) we’ve started talking in a sort of scholar-babble that even we don’t really understand. It seems if you write a few thousand words on “How an Indigenous Church Might Propagate a Missional Worldview Among its Adherents” and suddenly we’re all running around using twelve syllable words to say what we used to say just fine with two syllable words.

For instance, a week ago, we were saying things like “man, sure is hot out.”

Not any more.

Now, its “I was thinking of saying that it’s hot, but that won’t do. One can’t just say its hot because, you see, “hot” is a non-specific quantity and thus to classify something as hot is to not really say anything at all. I mean at exactly what point does something stop being warm and start being hot?”

Oh, shut up and turn on the fan.

Resultantly (and “resultantly is another of those words that sounds like it means a whole lot more than it does”), we all sound like a bunch of kokamamie ninkumpoops (and I am certain that “kokamamie ninkumpoops” was coined by a professor reading a bunch of graduate papers. “Why do these kokamamie ninkumpoops keep using such excessive verbiage!”).


So...the week ended with me getting malaria, which by the way if your planning a trip to Africa, I don’t recommend. It sort of feels like all of your body parts are trying to escape through your eye sockets. You hurt all over, you can’t sleep and you can’t eat because your stomach (or is it your liver, I cant’ remember) has been turned into a global village for parasites.

Lovely.

But one great thing did come out of it all . Somehow my suffering did seem to get that high-falutin’ jibberish nonsense out of me and my friends at least temporarily.

“Man, Jerry. You alright? You look terrible!”

“Uughh.”

“Alright my brother.... Sure is hot out.”

My “uughh” was perfectly intelligible to these new friends of mine, because they have all been where I am, many times before and knew well what I was feeling.

As my roommate said, “When I read that question on the application, ‘how many times have you had malaria,’ I started to laugh!” Apparently, posing that question to an African is like asking an American “how many Doritos have you had – ever?”

My grunting and groaning spoke volumes that were extremely intelligible to those around me and none of us needed an English to Malaria, Malaria to English dictionary. Everyone in Africa is fluent in Malaria.

Today was Sunday and I had yet another wonderful experience with language. We went to a small church on the outskirts of Lilongwe here in Malawi. It was a typical compound church, unfinished with tin sheets for a roof, and in one corner a pile of corn just prepared for grinding. The floor was unfinished, still mostly dirt.

The service started around 10 and at just after 12 the pastor asked for people to come forward who had not been filled with the Holy Spirit. Most of the church responded and about 30 people came and stood at the front of the sanctuary. There were old men and women, teenagers, and even young children. And then the pastor led those gathered in a simple teaching from the Gospel of John and Acts on the Person of the Holy Spirit and how Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to his followers before he was taken up to heaven.


And then he prayed.

For as long as I live I will never forget what I saw this afternoon. Almost every person there was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues, and among them was the village headman (sort of like a local chief) and another was a six or seven year old boy. The little boy stood in the front of the sanctuary with tears running down his face, his hands raised toward heaven, speaking in tongues!

I guess what really fascinates me in all this, is that our own attempts to elevate ourselves through the use of language end up as nothing more than blubbering nonsense. I mean nobody actually says things like “the day is soon to wane” unless you’ve been stuck on a desert island all your life with nothing but the complete works of Margaret Mitchell to keep you company.

No. Real people say, “its night!” And then eat some Doritos and go to bed.

But when we entrust our language to God and speak to Him from a place so deep within us that it can not be mined with the languages we know and trust, we find ourselves being elevated not by way of pompousness, but in the simple and profound mystery of God. We find ourselves lost in the presence of God, as we “declare the wonders of God.”

And the sight of a six year old boy worshipping the Lord with every ounce of his being today reminded me of what a precious gift that is!


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pray With US

We have recently received some horrible news regarding some good friends of ours here, and we ask that you join us in prayer for this family.

A Zambian family that are friends of ours recently sent their 9 year old daughter to the market to buy cooking oil. When she arrived at the market, she was pulled into a vendor’s booth, and raped.

She made it back home and was finally able to convey to her parents what had happened and they immediately went to the police. The police took the girl and her parents back to the market; the girl identified the man and he was arrested.

Then, incredibly, the other vendors began to threaten the parents for having their friend arrested. They have threatened to burn this family’s house down. So, in the middle of all that has happened to their little girl, they are having to move out of their home and find a new place to live.

The girl has been put on ARV’s in case the man has AIDS. It is likely that he does, because witchdoctors here tell people who have AIDS that if they have sex with a child, it will cure them.

This whole thing makes our stomachs turn. It fills us with rage, and we find ourselves looking to the Lord, and crying out “God, unless you do something…”

Please keep this family in prayer, that God would heal this little girl in every way, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Pray with us that she will not be infected with HIV and that there will be no long term effects. We know that only the Lord can accomplish these things. But we also know that “with God all things are possible.”

Also, please pray for this family, the Mundia family that God would protect them and truly be their fortress, and place of refuge, that they would find comfort and peace in His presence.

And join us in prayer that such a mighty revival would sweep across this land that the forces of darkness would be destroyed for good.

Thank you and God bless.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Family Matters

Africans have a wonderful sense of family and our discussion at the breakfast table today was an education for me on this.

My friend Pastor Zulu was getting ready to tell my something about my wife – particularly how wonderful he thinks she is (he’s a very smart guy this Pastor Zulu!) and then mid sentence he paused after saying “your wife.”

He then began to correct himself saying, “In our culture, if I’m talking about my wife, I would never say ‘MY wife.” I would say ‘YOUR sister-in-law. And if I were talking about your wife, I would not say “YOUR wife, I would say My sister.”

Sounds confusing, but stay with me.

“You see,” he continued, “if it was someone close to ME, I would give them to YOU by saying YOUR not MY, so that you have a sense of belonging to US, of being a part of US. We wouldn’t use language that separates us from you, but that brings you closer to US. If they are very close to me, I would “throw” them to you. But if they are very close to you, I would “throw” them to me.”

I snickered as I tried to imagine this 5 foot tall Zambian man that weighs all of 95 lbs hurling my pregnant wife through the air, like a big bellied Frisbee (A very cute big bellied Frisbee I might add)!

He went on. “If my brother has children, I don’t refer to them as ‘HIS children’ but ‘as ‘MY son’ or ‘MY daughter’ because it brings them closer to me. He would do the same with my children. They would call both of us Dad.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about family these days, with baby Ireland soon to enter the picture (a reality that fills me with equal amounts of joy and terror). And I’m reminded in our discussion (which we later christened “Pentecostal Dining Room Church”) of how much I tend to want to own things, and of how much effort I exert in the pursuit of individuality, often to my own detriment.

But also, I am struck by how biblical the African perspective is. After all, it was God Himself, who “threw” HIS Son to us, so that we might be brought close to HIM. And all that energy I spend trying to find MY purpose, or MY destiny because MY identity has become completely wrapped up in what I do, might be much better spent simply loving other people and letting those relationships be the source of who I am.

So, if I can, I would like to throw this thought to YOU so that YOU might throw it to those YOU love and care about so that we all might know a little better what it means that “in HIM we live and move and have OUR being.’ for, ‘We are HIS offspring” (Acts 17:28).

And here in Africa you and I have some pretty great siblings!

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Classes

We are three days into our first month long session at All Nations Theological Seminary, also known as ANTS. Our professor for this first session is a brilliant Malawian man that learned to speak English from Texan missionaries and so he talks with a twang, sort of like John Wayne and Charles Wesley rolled into one.

The class we are currently enrolled in is meant to explore current trends in missions and how those trends might affect the future of missions. We are looking at things like short-term teams and their increasing frequency and how they can be made more effective.

We are also discussing the issue of who’s vision do we pursue in missions? Do we have a right to dictate to a national church what they ought to be doing and how they ought to do it? As Dr. Chakwera put it, “You shall receive power when the Americans have come upon you.”

I get up around 5 each morning, not because I’m particularly a morning person, but because every day we’re expected to read something like 27 books, write a couple of papers and then teach ourselves how to make baskets out of porcupine hair (because you just never know!).

But when I climb out of bed feeling rather proud of myself for having accomplished such a monumental task as actually getting up before sunrise (as though God were at that moment placing a gold star next to my name for a job well done), as I make may way to the showers I am slapped with a good dose of reality.

I hear coming from the chapel just a short distance away, the voluminous cries of students at the undergrad school here calling out to God in passionate and fervent (which I think in the Greek means “really, really loud”) prayer. Every morning at 5 am they are already at it. Now, it could be due to the fact that they are in the midst of finals and final exams tend to make the most heathen among us lift a cry to heaven. But I think it’s more than that.

I think here in Africa people really depend on God for nearly everything (sort of like we in America depend on Wal-Mart). They know what it means to trust in God, to seek God, to have Him meet their every need (and they never have to worry about not finding a parking place!).

And so I am finding that here at seminary, my classes begin long before the teacher arrives and never really seem to end.

And I can’t help but think that the Lord would have it no other way.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go pluck a porcupine.