Sunday, September 14, 2014

"You Speak My Language"

My husband and I were recently invited at the very last moment (actually AFTER the event was supposed to have started!) to a prayer meeting in one of the communities in which we serve. The pastor who invited us is a gentle giant of a man, well-respected in the community, and precious to us for his huge heart for those he serves.

We were rushed to the meeting, which was taking place under a tent, and ceremoniously but hurriedly escorted to our seats near the front so the proceedings could start. I am a naturally shy person, and maybe you can imagine my enormous discomfort at having every trained on us, due partly to our late arrival, but most of all to the fact that we were glaringly and obviously out of place. We were white people in an area of South Africa where few white people venture. I imagined all sorts of hostility towards the honor being bestowed on us as special guests, but had no time to dwell on that because no sooner had we been seated than the pastors were asked to stand, and apparently I was to be counted in that number. Once again, I felt all eyes on me. Next, we were each called forward, one by one, to greet the crowd of about 80 people and instructed to introduce ourselves.
 
Everything was conducted in siSwati, because that is their language. I was very thankful to have my young and gifted interpreter sitting next to me to help me with the rough spots. But more than that, I was thankful for the years of diligently practicing and learning siSwati, not only so that I could follow along with most of the speeches, but more importantly because I was able to confidently stride forward and take the mic, and joyfully greet the crowd in formal siSwati, and to introduce myself in their language. Pastor Daniel was positively beaming like a proud parent as the entire gathering erupted into spontaneous and delighted applause at my efforts.

Several hours and buckets of sweat later (it was unmercifully hot under the canopy), the meeting was concluded. The change in our reception by the others was sweet—everyone rushed to greet us (in animated siSwati!), to shake our hands, and to give us warm hugs. One of the last people we said goodbye to was Pastor Daniel, who simply said, with tears in his eyes, “You speak my language.”
 
YES, dear pastor, because God has put a supernatural love in my heart for your people. I have made that effort because of Jesus and His great love. May we all have His compassion, and make the effort to understand each other, not just in diverse spoken languages, but in diverse races, cultures, families, socioeconomic conditions, trials, joys...even and especially when it is uncomfortable. This is the antithesis of political correctness that says anything is okay. This is the love of Jesus shining through to change hearts and lives through love--for His glory and for His Kingdom!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Long Life


That you may fear the LORD your God...by keeping all his statues and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Deuteronomy 6:2

Today, as we celebrate my husband's 56th birthday, I am reflecting on life and health. Many well-meaning friends and family members have inquired about whether or not we are worried about the recent Ebola outbreak since we live in Africa. In fact, even last year a precious Christian sister asked if I was “willing to sacrifice my health” by working so hard here.

When we were back in the US for the 2013-14 holiday season I was shocked at how health-obsessed our fellow Americans have become. Of course we take precautions, and try to eat right and get enough exercise. But we didn't move to the area of the world with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis for our health. And it is definitely a little harder here to find gluten-free products, or heck, even whole wheat anything. Malaria, deadly snakes, and a murder rate roughly six times higher than it is in the USA are only some of the challenges we face here, so I am just thankful for clean drinking water and three meals a day. We are not ignorant or foolhardy; neither are we heroes. We are simply doing our flawed best to be Jesus followers.

Matthew 10: 38-39 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Just last week a friend in the US died unexpectedly. We are mourning his loss. His death is a poignant reminder of something I prefer to face head-on. We are all going to die. I'd rather focus on fearing the Lord and living passionately for Him than obsessing over my own life. I feel safer right in the center of His will than anywhere else. I trust Him and His promises.

Exodus 15:26 If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.

Psalm 91:16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.

Call me crazy, but I pray we all become more concerned about our dying brothers and sisters worldwide, and being Jesus' compassionate hands and feet to those who are suffering. John Donne's classic poem speaks more eloquently that I ever will in expressing my heart.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
 

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Jesus


I was recently blessed to be invited to start leading another woman’s Bible study group here in South Africa. From the very first, the pastor's wife (who is co-leading the group with me) and I sensed that God was powerfully at work amongst this group of ladies. Swazi women are usually very stoic and reticent to share stories of their painful pasts, though almost all of them had one. The very first day we were shocked and amazed as they, one-by-one, began pouring their hearts out and allowing Jehovah Rapha, the Lord our Healer, to begin healing their broken hearts. The very next meeting the following week had to be moved to the church because the group had more than doubled in size! The Holy Spirit moved mightily! Mrs. Jele (pictured here), the beautiful and passionate pastor's wife, spontaneously began sharing her testimony, including parts she'd never before shared. She was not the only one with tears streaming down her cheeks. Her courageous obedience to the prompting of the Spirit opened the door for three of the most profound salvation experiences I've ever been honored to witness. There was no soft music, no step-by-step Gospel message, no altar call. Just one woman sharing what Jesus has done in her life, and three lost women spontaneously asked to be found. They saw Jesus in my friend, and they wanted Him. And just that simply, we led them in a prayer to receive Him as Savior and Lord. Hallelujah!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Pray Continually!


Pray continually. I Thessalonians 5:17

A friend from the US and I were just discussing doing menial labor. Even though in America we are privy to all the latest technology and gadgets to supposedly make our lives easier, there will always be dirty dishes and dirty laundry. In the rural communities in southern Africa, the realities are no different in that there is always dirty laundry and if one is blessed to have enough food to feed one's family, dirty dishes. Of course these tasks are more cumbersome when water has to be carried from afar, and that water might not be very clean or abundant, or even unavailable during a dry season or drought. And one's back might hurt a little more doing all the chores by hand. But the fact remains that almost all of us have work to do with our hands. I have come to appreciate those chores. Period. For me it is a time to pray! To lift others up in intercession, to listen to my Father's voice, to praise my King, to confess my trespasses and fears and sorrows, and to receive sweet release. I have encouraged the women I disciple to look on those tasks as a time of blessing, and not to waste them grumbling or resenting. Pray my sisters, pray!




Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rita


As I shared in my last post, the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity in South Africa is astounding. God continues to chisel away at my preconceived ideas of what ministry in Africa is supposed to be, and to sweetly but firmly call me to His plans day by day. My idea of my work here to share the love of Jesus in the impoverished black communities, and yes, that is the bulk of what we do. But of course we can and should serve Him anywhere, all the time, with every breath.

When we first moved here to South Africa two months ago, and literally while we were still unpacking, a fellow missionary friend asked me to come with her to visit an elderly friend of hers who was recovering from hip surgery. All sorts of ungodly thoughts flashed through my mind. “I have no time—we just moved in.” But she's white and privileged and my ministry is to the black and underprivileged.” You get the gist. My friend, Sandra, knew how to rope me in and told me this elderly woman had two dogs, and dog lover that I am, I succumbed, all for the wrong reasons.

Once we arrived, I was quickly charmed not only by the dogs, but also by Rita, the antithesis of an elderly invalid. She was feisty, hospitable, and in great physical condition except for her hip. Her nails were manicured, her short spiky hair had a spunky streak of color, and her legs put Sandra and I both to shame. Turns out she was a ballerina in her younger years.

Soon after that, there were complications from the hip surgery, and Rita was hospitalized two more times, and I visited her as often as I could, always coming away feeling ashamed with my attitude going in, essentially something like, “Sigh, I'll make the time to bless this needy woman with my selfless appearance.” I'd always walk away knowing I was the one who was blessed by her fabulous sense of humor and zest for life.

Things deteriorated very quickly and took us all by surprise. More complications, enough concern to make sure Jesus was Lord and Savior of her life, and soon thereafter, she left us, still full of spunk and vigor but with a body that just gave out.

My last, and probably only true gift to her was to have the honor of officiating at her memorial service. I was so blessed to be able to give tribute to a fabulous lady and cherished new friend. Rita, thank you for enriching my life so incredibly much in the short time we knew each other, and I can hardly wait to see you dancing on new legs on streets of gold, with all the dogs and animals you ever loved frolicking with you!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

All Nations Serve Him!


May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him ho has no helper. Psalms 72:11-12

We have been in South Africa a little over a month now and are experiencing a little foretaste of Jesus Kingdom here on Earth. Revelation 7:9 ...a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb....As Americans, we sometimes have a tendency to think our country is the only melting pot. But since we moved to Africa, we've met so many people from all over the world—China, England, Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Swaziland, South Africa, Australia, Mozambique, Sweden, Denmark, Zambia, and the USA just to name the ones I can think of off the top of my head! And each of these people are here, either on a short term basis or living here as we are, as servants of the Most High God. It is so fun to hear all the different languages, often at the same dinner table, or as was the case recently, while putting up playground equipment for children in an impoverished community. An American donor sent money to our American missionary friends for the equipment, and our friends asked us if we'd like to come along for the fun, and so of course we said “yes!” Before the day was over, we had people from three different countries involved. Americans, Kenyans, and South Africans, speaking a jumble of three different languages, got the swing set and teeter totter assembled and in place, and together we watched as precious children who previously had no place to play come running. With huge smiles they began taking turns (with a little coaching!) joyously swinging higher and higher.





Thursday, March 13, 2014

Feet


Since our move to the country of South Africa almost two weeks ago, I've made many observations as people often do when placed in a new environment. We are now living in a modern city as opposed to the very rural area where we resided for three and one half years in Swaziland. We are almost startled to have so many conveniences again at the tips of our fingers.

I think what continues to capture my amazement, though, is that my feet always look clean. For over three years, my feet were always covered in the beautiful reddish brown dirt of Swaziland. Yes, I showered regularly, but the moment I stepped outside, the clay-like dirt began to cling to my feet. Here, we walk on concrete, and my feet are back to their normal flesh color. To tell you the truth, I kind of miss the dirt!

While pondering this whole feet thing (lots of time to think while unpacking and getting our very old rental house in liveable condition) I was also reminiscing about “my” beloved ladies in Swaziland. In my (granted, rather biased!) opinion, sub-Saharan African women are some of the strongest women in the world. And their feet show it! These women walk miles and miles (okay, kilometers and kilometers) daily.

One of the first things we noticed on our arrival in our new and lovely neighborhood was the dozens of housekeepers all trudging on tired feet to the bus stop after a hard day's labor. South Africa has come a long, long way in the past two decades, but racial inequality is still readily evident. These long-suffering housekeepers are all black, and all work in homes of whites. They work in clean houses because they keep them that way, and walk on concrete because they have jobs. Their feet are relatively clean compared to their rural neighbors in Swaziland, but I'm sure every bit as tired.

The Bible has many, many references to feet. Quite a few refer to the hospitable practice of helping guests to wash their tired and filthy feet. One of the most beautiful examples of humility and agape love in the whole Bible is when Jesus washes the disciples' feet.

It brings my heart joy to read the promises in the Bible about the feet of believers. It brings me joy to know that because of the price Jesus' paid (including allowing His feet to be pierced) someday all these precious women who believe on Him will have pristine clean feet! And that even now, God cares for their swollen, calloused feet.

He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. 2 Samuel 22:34 and Psalm 18:33

You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. 2 Samuel 22:37 and Psalm 18:36

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Psalm 40:2