Monday, December 8, 2014

Culture Shock

I am a hugger, one of those annoying people who gushes and loves everyone and exuberantly shows it whether or not the recipient wants my affection or not. I don't do it on purpose, it's just an extension of my personality and happens spontaneously, often even embarrassing myself.

Since we've been in Africa, I've become even more aware of this propensity in myself, and the fact that not everyone appreciates my enthusiastic greetings. People in Swaziland and South Africa are typically far more reserved than most of us from American culture. This is, of course, a broad generalization, but still an overarching phenomenon we experience. I have had to really learn to curb my natural ardor, which is considered quite rude here. Even Americans less passionate than I are generally perceived as pushy and forward in this part of the world.

So imagine my shock during my recent brief sojourn back to the U.S. I found myself on the receiving end of typical American assertive and effusive greetings. I was profusely hugged by many strangers, asked very personal questions without much introduction at all, and generally had what I now consider my "personal space" violated over and over again by very wonderful and well-meaning people, who were just acting as they have learned growing up in the U.S.

It is I who have changed, through assimilation and acculturation in my new African home. I came to the painful realization that those were the very behaviors I all too often had inflicted on my African brothers and sisters. It was a priceless lesson to me about how very important it is for me to be even more careful and more respectful of cultural norms here, and to never assume that my ways are best!

Most of all, it was a poignant reminder again of my Lord Jesus Christ leaving His perfect Heavenly home to come to earth, with all it's shocking and obtrusive sights, sounds, smells, presumptuous behaviors, rude people, and every other discomfort in a fallen world. And He did it because He loves me! Humbled and grateful once again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Grace is Sufficient

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
One month ago I set out excitedly for a prayer conference in the US. Several friends had made generous donations so I could go, and I was determined to honor their generosity by being a blessing in every way I could while I was there.

My plans came to a head-on collision with reality when less than a full day after the conference started, I became so sick I could barely crawl out of bed. Instead of being a blessing, I was completely reliant on God's grace, and that of my friends. To make matters worse, because of the overblown fears of Ebola, especially in Dallas where the conference was held, I was afraid for many to know about my illness for fear of ruining the whole conference for 1,200 + attendees. I knew my symptoms didn't match those of Ebola, but the climate was such that I knew many would worry unnecessarily.
 
Instead of being a blessing, I became a burden to those friends I knew I could trust with news of my illness. Not only was I physically debilitated (I later found out I'd somehow become host to intestinal parasites, causing fever, severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, and disorientation) but experienced an overwhelming spiritual attack as well. Fear, and an oppressive dark sense of gloom settled on my like a dark shroud when I was alone there in my hotel room until my prayer warrior roommate came to pray scripture after scripture over me, chasing the darkness away.

My disappointment was huge and the illness remained for over a week until I got on the proper medications. I have spent weeks trying to sort through my feelings of frustration, discouragement, and disillusionment. Those old questions of “why, Lord” surfaced, questions I thought I'd long ago put to rest in my joyous acceptance of God's sovereignty and goodness and perfect plans.

God is ALWAYS faithful, and so patient with me. In my heart cry to Him to understand why He allowed such weakness in me when I wanted to serve Him with all of my might, He reminded me of one of my favorite verses, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (see above).

I realized once again that I too often want to rely on my strength rather than His. It was in His mercy that He allowed me to see my desperate need for Him, and then to experience His abundant provision through my friends.

It started with my dinner companion who charitably helped me to my room and prayed over me and took care of my immediate physical needs. She in turn located my roommate who missed a great deal of the conference to unselfishly take care of my exhaustive demands. Suffice to say I'm a needy patient. Once she had to leave to catch her flight, it was no coincidence that He had preordained childhood, high school, and college buddies who lived in the Dallas area to come visit me, and the timing of the arrival of each was uncanny. Just as one had to leave, it was time for the next to arrive. I was never alone for more than a couple of minutes, and each one in turn exhibited such tender loving care. Last but not least, He'd wisely scheduled another dear friend to fly all the way back to South Africa with me, because without her patient and steady help I'd never have been able to travel. Finally, I was home in the arms of my husband, who takes his job of taking care of me very seriously.

It is only now, in hindsight, that I can sincerely say “thank you, Lord” for never leaving me nor forsaking me, and for sending so many to take care of me. It is only now that I can get past my own self-indulgent pity party over really such a silly matter considering the huge amount of true suffering in the world. And it is now that I am on my knees praising God for my weakness so that I may boast in His strength, which never, ever fails. Forgive me Father for my foolish pride. May all the glory and honor be Yours alone.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Under His Wings

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Psalms 36:7
 
 
We were recently driving away from the care point where I'd just led a woman's Bible study. The care point consists of some classrooms and an outdoor kitchen, and an outhouse (called a long drop here!) all surrounded by a heavy chicken wire fence. As we pulled away, we noticed some baby chicks crossing the dirt road in front of us. It was a warm day and our windows were rolled down, so the next thing we noticed was the mother hen making horrible noises, calling frantically to her baby chicks to come back to her. She was stuck inside the fence and somehow they'd gotten out. It broke my heart to see her frenetic attempts to jump over or somehow claw through the fence to reach her babies and guide them back to safety under her protective wings. I am sure she hurt herself in the efforts, but she obviously was impervious to the pain and only wanted to get to her wayward chicks to save them. Immediately the picture sprang to my mind of the Father, and his desperate, distraught attempts to call us back when we have gone astray. He would do anything, at great personal price, to bring us back under His tender loving care. In fact, he even gave His own son's life to do so. I can't get the picture of that poor chicken out of my mind, and I sure hope she was able to somehow get to her young ones and shepherd them to safety. More than that, I'll never forget the price Jesus paid to shepherd me back to a relationship with my holy Father and eternal life with Him.

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!