Friday, December 1, 2017

Why Churches Should Visit Their Missionaries

Just last week, we had our very first visitors since arriving on South African soil a year and some months ago. After months of anticipation, our pastor and friends from our Chicago church arrived to spend a week with us.

They did not come as a short term team, with a particular ministry focus. We had no projects lined up for them. They did not come to “check up” on us, to make sure we were worth their investment. They did not have a list of questions with which to assess our effectiveness or success.

They came with a simple purpose: to be an encouragement to us.  

Throughout their visit, both Ben and I wondered, “why aren’t more churches doing this?” We have teammates whose churches are generous financially, but most other kinds of support are non-existent. And believe us, after just a short stint on the field, we see our deep need for all kinds of support from our churches back in the States. Long-term missionaries need you, beyond just your monthly check and prayer. They need you to visit them.

Here are some reasons why.

It is a major encouragement to the missionary.

The very night they arrived, I told my husband, “I already feel so encouraged – it’s like such a lift to my spirit.” They didn’t have to actually say anything – just the act of planning the visit, making the long trip, and arriving at our door, was a gift in and of itself. They could have turned around and left and I would have been so thankful!

But then, over the course of the week, we were able to have meaningful conversations, about our family life, about how our kids were doing, about Ben’s classes and his students, about how we’ve struggled this year and grown this year. And being able to share all of that, to hash it out with people who’ve known us and invested in us pre-field, was huge.

It enables the church to see and experience the ministry.

Before our pastor and friends arrived, we lined up a handful of experiences which would give them insight into our ministry. They attended classes with Ben, and we hosted a dinner with students that evening. They met our coworkers at the college, and from our organization. They spent hours in our home and played with our kids. They took a tour around our city. They attended our church and chatted with our pastor here.



At the end of the week, they expressed how valuable it was for them to be able to put faces to our ministry here – it’s not just numbers anymore, but peoples’ lives, stories, hopes. It’s not just a vision for ministry anymore, but a tangible experience of that ministry. And we’re not just a picture on their wall, but a family whose life and work they intimately got to be a part of for a week.

 It reminded us that this ministry isn’t just about us.

While we were fundraising in the States, we regularly were encouraged by the excitement and support people provided. It was obvious that this discipleship ministry in South Africa, this raising up of Christian leaders, wasn’t just about us or God’s leading to us. It was about so much more – about many individuals who were joining us in this ministry and churches who were behind this mission. We truly felt like Paul when he wrote, “I thank God in all my remembrance of you… because of your partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:3, 5).

After being removed from our churches and circles of partners, however, it became easier to forget that this was indeed a team project. On hard days, especially for me at home with kids most of the time, I found myself asking of the Lord – “Why am I here again? Did we make a mistake, coming to South Africa? Is all of this sacrifice really worth it?”


Over the past week, having our sending church here, I was reminded in a deep and meaningful way that this ministry was never about just me. Sure, we are the face of this work, but we could not be here without our churches behind us, without our amazing base of partners in the States, all who have affirmed God’s leading of our family in this direction and expressed desire to be a part of this ministry. Tearfully and humbly, I have thanked God multiple times for his goodness in sending our Chicago church to remind me that it’s not all about me. I needed this reminder, and he gave it to me in a powerful way.

There is no price tag you can put on that kind of encouragement.  

It’s an investment in your long-term missionaries.

You may be thinking, “isn’t it really expensive to send people just to visit?” Yes, it is. Many churches are sending multiple short-term missions teams out every year, some with great effectiveness and others without. There may be great value in redirecting some focus onto the effectiveness of long-term missionaries. After all, they are the ones who are with locals day in and day out, for years, developing relationships, training future leaders, and have potential for a more lasting impact.

Additionally, there is great value in just “being” with people. We are prone to believe that unless there is tangible achievement or numerical results, nothing has been done and our efforts have been wasted. This is simply untrue. Sending people for the primary purpose of encouraging your missionaries is indeed doing something very valuable. It is practicing the ministry of presence. Being with people is encouraging, rejuvenating, and motivating.


 

In general, every church would be wise to consider their investment in their long-term missionaries. And I mean beyond the financial investment. Long-term missionaries need much more than just your money every month – we need your prayers, your emails, your intentional connection, your teaching, your accountability, your resources, your care. Sending a few key people to visit your long-term missionaries is an investment in them, and in that ministry. I only wonder how this kind of support would increases the effectiveness and the longevity of long-term missionaries.

Our church ministered to us in profound ways, by simply showing up at our home and being a part of our life for a week.

And we are so thankful.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Long Haul


Last week, I returned home from a few hours out working to find my daughters puttering around inside. Almost immediately, the oldest said to me, “Mom, we tried to get the “x” marks off your map… we just wanted to mark where our friends live around the world.” My heart sank as I comprehended her words. Just the day before, I had finally found a world map for our wall, the map I’d been looking for since we arrived in South Africa ten months ago and for the wall which has been bare ever since. I had opened it, to show the girls, then decided to have it laminated so it would last for years, and rolled it back into the tube it came in.

I turned and walked back to our study. Sure enough, there on the floor was my map, unrolled from its tube, marked with “x”s in all sorts of random spots (which friend was it that lived on an island in the middle of the Atlantic, I can’t remember), and thoroughly, quite thoroughly, sprayed with my vinegar spray in a well-meaning attempt to clean said “x’s” back off the map. I could feel my blood pressure rising as I knelt down, felt its soppiness, and recalled that it was the only one that the bookstore had.

Years! I thought. For years we have been teaching our children to obey, and yet! Sure, I hadn’t specifically said, “please don’t unroll my map, mark it with “x’s” and then clean it off with vinegar spray,” but still? When will they just get it? I thought grimly.

//

I wonder how God must have felt when dealing with the Israelites regular grumbling and unfaithfulness over the course of hundreds of years. Or when David’s very deliberate disobedience had huge and devastating consequences. Or when Jonah, after God rescued him from his disobedience through a big fish and changed the Ninevites hearts, struggled so much with hatred of others that he asked God to end his life.

We know from the biblical account, that “the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8).

Fortunately, the Lord reminded me quickly that morning, before I could say something I would later need to apologize for, that indeed, obedience in my own life is a long-term project. Though I have been saved by grace for the majority of my life, I still struggle to obey, most often in my heart and in my attitude. Could I truly expect perfection from my own children when I fail regularly?

In that precious moment, God taught me this: A faithful mother is in this for the long haul. Just as God himself has been since the beginning of the world. There’s a reason no biblical author ever wrote about the ease of faithfulness, the quickness of learning obedience. There’s a reason we have been instructed to run with endurance, because finishing well requires it (Heb12:1). There’s a reason we are admonished to remain steadfast under trial, because trial will come, and steadfastness will be an absolute necessity if our faith is to survive (Jas 1:12).

Obedience is not something that I will teach my children and expect that they will have mastered by age five, despite any parenting books that may have indicated otherwise. Rather, my faithfulness as a mother looks like loving them when they fail, and gently instructing them yet again from God’s Word about what obedience looks like. While I know they will not be perfect this side of eternity, I trust that as I seek to be a faithful mom and as God works in their hearts, growth will result, slow though it may be at times.

When I think of how God has faithfully loved me despite my disobedience, how he gently yet often firmly makes clear my shortcomings, how he teaches me over and over from his Word, I rejoice. And I prepare my heart for another day of loving my children and faithfully teaching them those same truths that I taught them yesterday, last month, and last year.

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov 3:3).

//

I hung the map anyway, dried bubbly and with “x’s” in the middle of the Atlantic. And now, when I see it, I am reminded that I am walking alongside my children in their journey to godliness for the long haul, just as God is faithfully walking with me.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

When God Doesn't Give You the Desires of Your Heart


“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 37:4

Your heart aches, your arms empty. The quiet seeps in, your loneliness your companion. Your body aches, any healing seems impossible. Your child suffers, your heart breaks. Your mind questions, this loved one doesn’t believe. Your soul downcast, stuck in cyclical sin. Your heart heavy, the suffering doesn’t end.

Perhaps, like me, you are in a season where there is a strong unmet desire of your heart. This desire is good, for a blessing from God or for healing or for companionship or for children or for relief from pain or for a loved one’s salvation. And yet, God has not chosen to bestow upon you that which you so earnestly desire.

A Brief Commentary

Before moving on, let’s briefly explore what it means to “delight in the Lord.” Here in Psalm 37, the word “delight” literally means to “enjoy, be fond of, take pleasure and enjoyment in.” To say we delight in God ought to mean that we enjoy him, which brings to mind the Westminster’s Shorter Catechism answer to the question, what is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. But we don’t enjoy him in a pluralistic sense, as in, we enjoy God along with our spouse, our children, coffee, ice cream, being outside (if I’m making a list). We enjoy God fully, ultimately, as the one who fully completes us and alone brings ultimate meaning to our lives. We enjoy him even when we do not have a spouse, or children, or coffee or ice cream or the ability to be outside, because he is the beginning and end of our joy. He is fully our joy.

So then, what of our desires? Calvin, in his commentary on Psalms, helps explain: “it can never be well with us except in so far as God is gracious to us, so that the joy we derive from his paternal favour towards us may surpass all the pleasures of this world… if we stay our minds wholly upon God, instead of allowing our imaginations like others to roam after idle and frivolous fancies, all other things will be bestowed upon us in due season.”

Keeping this in mind, let me encourage you with a few thoughts for your weary heart.

Take Your Loss to Him

Though it may not feel like it, God knows the deep desires of your heart, for he knows everything.

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar” [Ps 139:1-2].

This desire is not unknown to the God of the universe, to the God of your life. He knows you so intimately that even “before a word is on my tongue…you know it altogether” [Ps 139:4]. You may not even voice your desires, and yet he knows them.

Though he knows them, there is much good for us to still take these unmet desires to God, in prayer. To open our hands, which clutch so tightly that which we so deeply desire, to gently open and offer it to God. To say, from deep in our spirits, “God, this is my desire. This is my loss. I do not understand, but I give it to you.”

God is not surprised; in fact, you and I cannot find a better friend in grief than Jesus. He indeed is “acquainted with grief” and has “carried our sorrows” as part of his experience as a man on this broken earth so many years ago [Isa 53:3,4]. He is not only qualified to hold your desires because he is the very God who created you and knows you intimately, but also because he is the very God who lived on this earth and died real death for you.

Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

“I work all things to the counsel of my will” [Eph 1:11].

Firm belief in the sovereignty of God is the sweetest comfort when we are feeling the weight of unmet desires. We can know and trust that the God who created the world ordains it: “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” [Isa 45:7]. Likewise, we can rest knowing that the God who created our very lives also establishes them, “the heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” [Prov 16:9].

You take steps, you walk forward, knowing each step you take is from God, both the joyful leaping lunges forward and the painful slow shuffling. Does this comfort you? It is a relief to know that ultimately, God is choosing to not give this desire now, for some reason you may not understand. But it’s not because he does not know you or hear you. His reasons are often beyond our understanding, but because he is a good, loving father, we can rest in his care for us.

Recently, my 18-month old found an old apple core covered with ants on the ground. She, in true toddler form, reached down, picked it up, and gleefully shouted over her discovery. So when I quickly reached down and plucked it from her grasp, and her glee turned to a despondent glum, all I could say was, “I know you thought that would be good. I know it looked good to you. But it is not good for you now.”

Your desire may be good, your heart may be for God’s glory, your steps may be obedient. But for some reason, only known by your good and loving father, he has not given it to you for now.

Rest in His Peace

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock” [Isa 26:3-4].

So we can take our unmet desire to God, holding it with open hands because we know and trust that God is sovereign over every aspect of our lives. What now?

Dear friend, rest. Take deep rest for your heart in the only one who can give you complete rest. In trust, there is rest. In trust, there is peace. In those moments of pain, seek to fully delight in God, because when your other desires are yet unmet, your heart will be full from his joy. It is possible, and God desires for us, to live with unmet desires but be fully satisfied in him.

When your heart is weary with unmet desire, turn your mind to your God, who knows you and hears you, who ordains your life, who alone can fully satisfy your heart. And in this active turning of your mind, rest in his perfect peace.

//

“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” [Ps 73:28] 
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Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Day in the Life

For those of you who have wondered - here's a glimpse into our daily life. This is a typical Monday:

5:45 am - we wake up, hopefully before the kids, but not always, to spend some time in the Word, always with a cup of coffee for me. I try to take a walk each morning for exercise and sanity.

Stella, with her "coffee" (milk) and "Bible" 

7:00 am - Ben heads off to teach his Hebrew 2 class. The girls and I get dressed, have breakfast, try to get rolling for the day!


8:15 am - Ben heads to his office to get in two hours of isiZulu study. I sometimes try to do some preschool type work with the girls, or a craft, or we play outside. There might be some baking happening if I'm not ahead of the game.

as soon as they hear me puttering in the kitchen, out come the stools...

10:00am - Ten students arrive at our house for our Khutezanani group (discipleship group), where we share tea and treats, and catch up on life. I primarily try to keep the kids quiet while a student shares a devotional, and Ben shares a bit about another country, and everyone prays, often "in one voice" (which means aloud, at the same time).

11:15am - Our sweet coworker Susan tries to take the girls for a couple of hours on Mondays, so that I can get some study time in. I usually clean up from our group, grab a quick lunch, and make a lesson plan our language helper for the week. Working without the girls around is wonderful and peaceful.

When Susan isn't available, I have some great assistants. 

1:00pm - The girls return, usually very happy, and we have a mad rush of getting everyone into their beds/quiet spaces as Mama Tshazi, our language helper, also arrives at this time. We make coffee, spend the first 30-40 minutes speaking only in isiZulu, and then move on to grammar/vocab/reading for the rest of our two-hour session. Sometimes the kids wake early, or don't stay put as they should, but in general, we are thankful for this time to work together.


3:00pm - We take Mama Tshazi home (she lives just up the road), and Ben goes to our study to get some class prep in before breaking for the day. I will let the girls watch a show, or Facetime with Grandma, or we will go outside. I have to try harder to keep my attitude positive and my sanity in tact at this time of day.

how Grandma reads to you when you live overseas

4:30pm - Ben is usually done working around this time, which is great as I'm usually trying to prep dinner with a certain 18-month old clinging to my leg and crying.

it's all about trying to keep everyone happy now...

5:30pm - We eat dinner together as a family, and share about our day. We light the candles the girls dipped in four colors a few months back, and sometimes sing the Doxology for our prayer. We love to ask the girls about their favorite part of the day.

6:15pm - Lately, since autumn is here and it's much drier in the evenings (back in the "spring" we had quite a few storms in the evenings) we are enjoying family walks in the dark (the sun sets around 5:30pm now). The girls enjoy running around one more time, and Ben and I get a chance to connect.


7:00pm - We have that end of the day push to read a Bible story and sing a few songs, and get all the kids into their beds. Usually cuddling is involved, even though I'm about checked out at that point. Ben and I collapse on the couch. We will usually try to catch up on emails or other work things, but then spend some time winding down by watching a favorite show (if the internet is having a good day) or playing a game or reading.

9:15pm - Most nights, we are in bed early, reading or talking, and fall asleep quickly. Thankfully that hasn't been a problem here!

/////

Not all of our days are this busy, but there's a notable increase in our pace of life here for me. Two mornings a week Ben is at chapel, and some afternoons there may be a staff meeting. Mama Tshazi comes on Mondays and Thursdays. On Tuesday nights, Ben and I rotate attending a three-hour Zulu 2 level class. Regularly, coworkers or teammates or students pop over to chat (this is a "pop in" culture). Every other Friday, we have the sweet opportunity to go to a local children's home to lead a little Bible class.


Thanks for hanging with us, and for your continued support and prayers! 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Enjoy Every Moment


[Some of this was written last year, and some was finished recently. The Lord has been teaching me this lesson for awhile!] 

Enjoy every minute.

Three little words. Words that elicit a rushing force of guilt like no others for this mama. In that early morning hour, hour after hour, when my arm is falling asleep because I’ve been laying on that side nursing my babe yet again and my eyes are drooping and the clock indicates only a few more precious hours of opportune sleep exist before the upcoming day.
In that normal morning hour when I rise to sounds of three little people who need me more than anyone has ever needed me before, and I feel like I have very little of worth to give.
In that breakfast time when my toddler refuses one more bite of her favorite oatmeal as a test of will and I must be consistent so she knows she can learn that love is not about just giving her what she wants, and so we sit and wait, for one of us to give in.
In that mid-morning hour when I think my baby needs a nap but she cries because she thinks not and I wonder how my motherly intuition can fail me so many times. I think maybe I never had that motherly intuition after all.
During that late morning walk when we have just had the most fun at the park and my toddler helps to push the stroller and runs gleefully in front of me, so free and independent and stumbles only like a human who has walked just a year does. I watch her independence falter, her glee fall to pieces, and her tears stream as she runs to me with her little button nose scraped and we are both broken.  
In that glorious naptime hour that is so anticipated and needed when both babies are meant to be sleeping but neither one is and I feel panic rising and my breath is short and I need space, time, quiet, peace and it doesn’t happen.
In that famous witching hour when I want to greet my husband into our peaceful home with smiles and kisses and something besides yoga pants but the kids are grumpy and I am grumpy and we all just need him as soon as he walks through the door. And we get a pizza for dinner.
It’s the hardest in that hour when I put my babies to bed for the night with stories and songs and lots of cuddling and tucking in. I failed this day, again, like I do every day. I failed to enjoy every minute. I will look back on this day in two years, ten years, thirty years and regret that I failed deeply at this and I cannot do anything now to fix it. This thought eats me alive and makes it hard for me to sleep those few hours and clouds my days with these three sweet gifts from God.
So I stopped trying.
And instead, I began to focus on truth, found in God’s Word. Nowhere, fortunately, does God command us to “enjoy every moment.” Rather, he commands us to be faithful. In 1 Samuel 24, as the prophet Samuel gives his farewell address to Israel, he recounts all that God had done for Israel since their slavery in Egypt, and instructs them to serve the Lord: “only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” [24]. What has the Lord done for you? Called you to himself? Forgiven your sin? Given Christ to you as your righteousness? Consider these things.
What does faithfulness look like, for you, in your season?
This current season may be one where the Lord is working hard on your sanctification – praise him for that! For “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” [Heb. 12:10-11].
For me, faithfulness looks like this: embracing this season with little ones, full of hard and long days, thanking God for these children and the great responsibility of loving them; hourly checking my attitude, that it is not resentful or self-serving, but asking God to help me in my constant small sacrifices, to do so cheerfully; to with my words and actions point my children back to God, modeling for them what it means to “love God and enjoy him forever”; daily leaning into Christ’s sacrifice for me, accepting that God’s forgiveness covers all my sin, resting in his perfect love; seeking to honor God in all the dish-washing, diaper-changing, peace-making. It does not look like: enjoying all those hard moments, and dwelling in a place of guilt when I don’t. God would have us find our full enjoyment in him, not in our circumstances.  But through our enjoyment of him, we can, with gratitude, live faithfully, whatever our circumstances.
For very good reason, this verse has been a favorite lately:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” [Lam. 3:22-23]
Even when we fail to be faithful, he never does.
Praise God!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What It's Like to Raise My Young Kids Overseas



I have three kids, all 4 and under. And six months ago, we moved across the globe.
To be honest, some of the thoughts I’ve had are:
Am I crazy?
Am I irresponsible?
Definitely not, I’m so equipped to not only raise my own kids but also to write a fantastic blog post about how I do it so well!
I’m sure there are many others who’ve been overseas longer, who have golden nuggets of wisdom on parenting overseas.
But all this aside, here are some reflections from a fresh-on-the-field, young mama of three on what it’s like to raise my little ones overseas.

They have losses too.


Before we left, many people told us how wonderful it was that we were moving overseas when our kids were so little. And truly, they are right.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Planted

It may be that you are planted where you get only a little [sunshine], you are put there by the loving Farmer, because only in that situation will you bring forth fruit to perfection. Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had to choose your lot, you would soon cry, “Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows.” Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. 
Charles H. Spurgeon


Believer, do you find comfort in this truth? 

The reality that God sovereignly ordains our days can be both a source of great turmoil and one of great comfort. If you are in turmoil over the place in which God has placed you, ask yourself why. Is it because you wish your life had gone a different way? Or because some situation did not turn out as you had expected, hoped, dreamed? Or because you find this current daily grind so monotonous, dreary, difficult? The truth is that God cares most of all about your process of sanctification, that way in which he is making you more and more like himself. Yes, he cares about your comfort, about your dreams and your desires. But mostly, he cares that you are transformed into the image of Christ and he will lovingly orchestrate your life in order to bring about this Christlikeness in you. 

The sovereignty of God is the safe place for the believer. What a comfort, to know that God has planted me here, in this very place, with these very people, for his good purposes! Does this change your perspective? He knows your sorrows, your difficulties, and begs you to come to him for comfort. He knows your dreams and longings, and desires to give these to you, according to his good will. He knows the depths of your heart and he loves you the same. Praise him!

Be encouraged today, that God has given you the daily cross best suited for you, handcrafted for you, his beloved, for your good. Your lot in life, in this season and the next, is given you in God’s great mercy for your further growth and his ultimate glory. 

And remember that he who has planted you in this place will properly water you, give you sunshine, and tenderly care for your growth. God does not toss his children to fight for their lives in the weeds alone and in our own strength, but promises to never leave nor forsake us, to make perfect his strength in our weakness, to provide us with all that we need. Grace upon grace, how wonderful it is to be a child of the living God!

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