L-A with Mama Maria. Tony said when this was taken, “Two mamas”
This article is a longer version of a talk I gave at St Paul’s Kanata Anglican Church, October 16, 2016. We had a ‘Mission Sunday’ that included me giving the sermon, and three friends sharing on their own SchoolBOX outreach in Nicuragua. It was a jam-packed day, which also included a baptism/dedication, and more.
The scriptures for the day were: Jeremiah 31: 27-34, Psalm 119-97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 and Luke 18: 1-8
Thank you to all who prayed for us for our Africa mission. It was intense, and we grew a lot. We worked through a crazy schedule and cultural differences. We adapted, were blessed, and met people who need hope. The exiled Jews also needed hope when Jeremiah prophesied to them. They overcame the sins that brought them into exile by returning to the Lord. They also had culture shock. Babylon was so different from Jerusalem.
The Mozambicans we met are overcoming poverty and civil wars. The Iris base in Pemba is helping bring prosperity through more schools, proper homes, farms, jobs, outreach and entrepreneurship. Churches are exploding! Eleven years ago, the Makua tribe had no Christians. Now, there are over 16 percent and growing.
We fell in love with South Africa, but the nation is deeply divided. Poverty and wealth are side by side depending on the neighbourhood or township you visit. Many are scarred by the apartheid years. Many struggle with fear and isolation, anger and hopelessness. All need to understand the promise that the Lord will be their God, and they shall be his people. No one in South Africa or Canada should be invisible.
Many people did know Jesus, but we were to deepen that faith by “stopping for the one.” This is to be available to those you meet by a divine appointment, set up by God. This is more than being in the right place at the right time. It’s when you meet someone and ONLY YOU can minister to them. Not only are you the right one, but you’re filled with overflowing love for that person. Tender compassion filled us when we were in the townships, and people responded. They thanked us for coming, caring, and remembering their needs. This happened so many times in the kid’s club, hospital ministry, and the townships. They were hungry for love.
God created us to love him, and to receive his love. When you know Jesus, he writes his direction on your heart, and he takes away our sinful ways. Healing happens through relationship. The healing and restoration of a whole people and land only happens in relationship with God. Today’s Psalm says the Lord’s commands give wisdom, understanding and direction. Daily scripture reading keeps you living well. When you know the Bible, scriptures will come to mind as you pray, and encourage others. Scripture is an important way that God guides us, yet God’s more than a cosmic GPS –it’s about relationship. If God is our friend, his words become as sweet as honey. You no longer read the Bible out of duty. You want God to guide you through life’s surprises. I had a lot of those in Africa. Here’s one. We left South Africa early to get a new visitor stamp. Otherwise we risked being banned from South Africa for 5 years! We should have been given a second stamp for our second South African visit after Mozambique, but for some reason, we did not receive one. So we flew to Botswana, where we ministered to two men. Although we originally went to help the visiting situation, I believe the extra Botswana visit wasn’t an accident.
The Apostle Paul mentored his spiritual son Timothy. Timothy gained wisdom from the scriptures throughout his life. He received direction through knowing scripture and Jesus. He must be prepared to minister and preach, whether the time was favourable or not. He was to patiently correct, and encourage his people with good teaching. Paul reminded him that all scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. Scripture gives important guidance. Timothy must be prepared whether the time is favourable or not. When I was in Pakistan, they decided to schedule a talk on my day off. They forgot to tell me. When we arrived, I was not prepared! Sometimes divine opportunities aren’t convenient. Tony received an opportunity to teach Johannesburg orphans, when he least expected it – but he rose to the challenge.
How could sharing look in your own life? Everyone has a story about their own faith, and life. I shared my own faith story in the Mozambican bush (a rural village). It seemed like it was tailor made for this village. Before we went to the bush, we watched a movie called “Holy Ghost Reborn.” Every Sunday night we watched missionary movies in the Harvest School village. This was a fun time to inspire us for outreach. During this movie, I felt a strong nudge in my heart that I needed to share about how I came to faith when we were to go on the Bush Outreach. When I was spiritually nudged, we were watching a story of a Mozambican pastor who prayed for a South African witchdoctor. Witchdoctors are very common in Africa, and many do not realize that this is spiritually dangerous. Others do, but they don’t care what source their help comes from – God or the devil. This lady sure realized the difference between the evil spirits and the Holy Spirit. But she had to be shown the difference.
So I addressed this difference through my own story – because before I came to faith in Jesus Christ, I was a fortune teller. I did not know the Bible, so I didn’t know that fortune telling is something that Christians don’t do. Why seek out spirits to tell you your future, when you have God to direct you? It’s spiritual adultery. But I was a seeker and I didn’t yet know the love of God fully. A conference speaker said to me that you couldn’t be a Christian and a New Ager too. This caught my attention. I had to make a deliberate choice, so I did. This was just what I needed. I came to faith and gave up my occult practices. I shared my story in Linde, Mozambique, where only a few weeks prior, the village witch doctor came to faith. He abandoned his practices and donated land for their first church. What a surprise to find out that the Makua words for witchdoctor and fortune teller are the same word!
I gave the people of Linde the same challenge that I faced back in April 1988. I told them that they could not be a witchdoctor and a Christian too – and even not to go to them! I gave them the choice. The Iris pastoral supervisor preached from my testimony and many more people came to faith that night. There were miracles in that village during our visit. But to me, these precious people knowing Jesus was a bigger gift. I was so glad that I was prepared, and that God would use even that dark time in my life to bring people to faith and full of his love.
Our Gospel story is about more than a persistent widow in survival mode. We met women like this in Mozambique, like Maria. Her story encourages us to persevere and do not quit trusting God in tough times. It seems easier in African societies that are slower paced. But in Canada, many of us scream at the microwave to hurry up. We get antsy in traffic at red lights and slow drivers. Persistence involves waiting. Persistence is a faith key we learned about in mission school. Too many missionaries trained in traditional approaches, quit on the field, even after years in training. They just can’t handle the stress and cultural difficulties. They forget why they are there in the heat of disappointments, so they quit. Iris uses a different approach, including cross-cultural communications that go beyond words. They also learn on the job as we did. Heidi Baker told us: Do not quit. Those who do not quit WIN. How do we keep going – when we are challenged? Look at Jesus. Let him fill you with his love and help you persevere. You can’t do this in your own strength.
We also learned that “Waiting is worship.” This sounds strange if you don’t know how to wait, or become still in your heart towards God. How can waiting become worship? Anything becomes worship when you focus on God. He fills you with joy, despite circumstances. Your heart softens, you’re more grateful, and you become closer to God. We also heard that persistent prayer builds your character and intimacy with God. You become God’s friend, and friendship with God is even deeper than obeying him. Friends give their lives for each other. Bereavement and loss are weathered because you are not alone. And so during that time, you’re transformed. You’re ready for the answer to prayer on the other side of the challenge. Do not quit. Remember God carries you. I couldn’t do the mission school or South Africa alone. There were times I found it difficult – with physically trudging up and down a steep hill in Pemba. Our South African base was in the mountains, and one of the townships was also on a steep hill. But we persevered. We were rewarded with amazing experiences, and a love for South Africa so deep that, God willing, we’re returning within a year.
I mentioned Maria, our adopted Mozambican widow. She made lunch for us in her two room shack. It’s at the bottom of a hill, beside the village latrine. The walls aren’t sturdy enough to keep out rain, wind or thieves. There were holes in the walls and roof. When the rains come, the house floods. They cannot sleep lying down. We wanted to help with short term repairs and had her house assessed. They said the house was so bad, it would be better to start over. So we’re building her a new house! It costs thirty two hundred US dollars to build her a proper block house. We started a fund in Pemba and connected with Iris Ministries Canada to continue the fund. We thought if we were careful, we might get her a house in a year. But God turned up the schedule. Tony met with two friends who wanted personal prayer. During the visits, he shared about Maria. Both these people took out their chequebooks and suddenly, we had almost enough to build Maria’s new house! God engineered this legacy far more than we did. Now a whole family can be safely housed during the coming rainy season, and actually sleep lying down. God was faithful – Maria received something she didn’t know was possible. She did not give up her trust in God. We loved friending people like Maria. Tony and I hope to be spiritual parents in a township, as well as do prison, hospital and radio ministry. We plan to teach and support the Robertson base leaders. Even now, we’re going through a journey of downsizing again.
So to summarize, remember that you are a people with hope. You have been called to know God, and be his people, as he is our God. Spend time with him in relationship, and he will write his love and direction in your hearts. He heals us as a family and in our hearts. He is our guide and our friend. Read the Bible daily. There are so many passages in there that will nourish your soul like honey. Too many of us spiritually starve, even when our bellies are full. When you know your Bible and your own faith story, it also becomes easier to share your faith when you are asked. That is not just for missionaries, but for all Christians. After all, it says right in our baptism liturgy, “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?” and will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?” This means we can all be missionaries in some way (even Morgan Christina who has been baptized today)! So learn to be prepared as we have promised.
Don’t quit. Waiting is worship. Be persistent like the widow, like Maria. Believe God’s promises to you, even like Jeremiah promised to the Israelites in exile. We are God’s people, and He is our God. (Amen)
Note: I hope you, dear reader have been blessed by this talk. A lot of people at St Paul’s said they were impacted by this sharing. I hope you have been too.
L-A helping with the kid’s club at the art table