This Is My Commandment

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We recently returned from a weekend at “Easter Camp 2016” in a nearby town called Kadoma. Lest you start conjuring up images of a bunny-themed Summer Camp, Easter Camp is actually an annual tradition in Southern Africa during which local churches either host themselves or gather (usually at a camp-like retreat center) with other local churches for an entire weekend (Thursday-Sunday) of worship, fellowship, prayer, and Bible Study. This was our first Easter in Zimbabwe and thus our first exposure to Easter Camp, and we can now testify to what a blessing this kind of intentional and concerted time of devotion over the Easter holiday can be.

One of the biggest blessings for me (Nick) was being able to share the preaching/teaching load with my supervisor, mentor, boss man, and all-around missionary kingpin Gregg Fort (that’s the title he requires I use :)). As we planned our teaching programme (note the Anglicized spelling, I’m becoming more African daily!) we decided to walk through the Easter narrative chronologically with our sermons. In doing so, it fell to me to preach on the passage known as the “Upper Room Discourse.” This discourse is found in John chapters 13-17 and takes place on the night Jesus is betrayed and handed over for crucifixion. Since this is the last bit of teaching Jesus does before heading to the Garden of Gethsemane and then the cross, I thought it likely that this discourse may contain some important themes. And boy was I right!

As I looked through this passage to analyze its structure, I (with the help of a few commentators) came to see a clear pattern in the text. Some might refer to it as a “chiasm,” but one commentator suggested the more accessible illustration of a target featuring a “bullseye” with concentric rings around it. Whichever image one chooses to use in their thinking, what is undoubtedly clear is that the central passage of this “Upper Room Discourse” is John 15:1-25. And I would argue that the central message of this central passage comes in verse 12, This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In John 1-12, John hangs his narrative on the fenceposts of “the Passover.” We see at least 3 (possibly 4) different Passover feasts in these chapters: John 2, 5(?), 6, & 11. It is no surprise then that when John begins the second half of his book, he chooses to start in the Upper Room during (you guessed it!) the Passover. It’s as though John is presenting Jesus as a New Moses leading His people in a New Passover in preparation for a New Exodus (cf. Lk 9:31). But before this Exodus happens, Jesus (like Moses) delivers a sermon (Deuteronomy anyone?) to guide His people during their wilderness wanderings. And at the center of this sermon, He gives a “commandment.” No, not 10 commandments, not 613 commandments, but one commandment- “…love one another.”

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 How will the world see the glory of God in this His new people? Jesus says, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). How will this new people adhere to all the Law and Prophets which came before them? Jesus says “You shall love the Lord your God…and…you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40). As Paul will later say, “love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Rom 13:10). If this commandment is what Jesus chose to make the center of His last sermon prior to the cross and if this is what He says actually summarizes the entirety of the Old Testament, we would do well to consider how this “love” is meant to play itself out.

I normally don’t post exegetical discussions like this on the blog (honest, check and see), but I was compelled to do so after reading a recent post by my friend David Hare. In this post, David asks and answers the question “What is the hardest part about being a missionary?” The answer he gives is not (as one might expect) the separation from family, isolation from home culture, change in climate, sickness, insects, snakes, etc. The answer he gives is simply, “the people.” Theologically we know that wherever human beings are, sin exists. And wherever sin exists, there will be conflict (James 4:1). But nowhere do we see this more clearly than in Gospel ministry. After all, the goal of Gospel ministry is to gather a group of sinful people and shepherd them through sanctification to become a unified people set apart for God’s glory! As Hare points out, trying to bring sinners together in this way is ALWAYS going to be challenging, but there are particular nuances to this difficulty when doing so across cultural lines.

Please don’t read me as saying that some cultures are inherently more sinful than others and thus more difficult to minister among. I am not saying the sins of other cultures are more, but simply that they are different than the sins of the missionary’s home culture, and thus more difficult for the missionary to adapt to and address. As human beings, we say we naturally prefer to group ourselves among those with whom “we have the most in common.” Often we assume this means the people who are interested in or enjoy the same things as us. This may be partially true, but I think at least one of the reasons we group ourselves the way we do is because we prefer to be around those whose sin patterns are more “acceptable” to us. And the reason these sin patterns are more “acceptable” to us is because they are most closely aligned with our own. I won’t belabor this point, but would simply point out that this is likely the reason we have so much division along racial, economic, generational, and even niche (read cowboy, hipster, biker, traditional, etc.) lines in our churches.

When you cross cultures to engage in ministry, however, these types of cultural dividing lines are exacerbated. Sure, the freshman missionary inevitably goes through a period of romanticization (which we have just recently finished). The sentiment is, “Ah, these people are so simple, pleasant, joyful, thankful, and welcoming, etc.” Well of course they seem that way—as does anything new for the first few weeks! But what happens when you settle in among these people to begin doing ministry and life together? This is when the cultural divisions really begin to show themselves. And while I do not have the level of insight or experience my friend David has, as we have only been on the field for a few months now, I can I can testify along with him that this is one-hundred percent, without a doubt, the most difficult part of being a missionary.

All this to say, our family has officially entered into the well-known phase of missionary life known as “culture shock.” While this is the most commonly used term, I think the term “culture fatigue” is probably more accurate, as there is little that actually “shocks”me about the culture or its customs. What the culture does do, however, is simply wear me out! Its not the newness or surprising nature of how things are done here that affects me, it’s the fact that it is so deeply and consistently different! Any group of sinners is hard to engage with the Gospel. But this is especially true when that group’s pattern of sin is so far removed from my own. Again- not more sins, just different ones! Yet, it is in the face of these mounting divisions and frustrations that the Lord has kindly been reminding me of Jesus’ command to “love one another.”

In David’s post (which, again, I cannot recommend more highly) he addresses “why?” we ought to love one another. In what follows, I’d like to briefly address the “how?” from the structure of Jesus’ “Upper Room Discourse.” How do we love unloveable people? Particularly when the unlovely things about them are so different from our own unlovely things? I think the target structure emanating out from the “bullseye” passage gives us three answers to the question, “How?”

1. The Spirit Will Help You (14:25-31; 15:26-16:15)

The first concentric circle surrounding the command to “love” is filled with what is perhaps the most dense collection of teachings on the Holy Spirit in all of the Bible. Jesus says when the Spirit comes He will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26). He will “take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:14). He will not speak on His own authority, but “whatever He hears, He will speak” (16:13). Jesus says the Spirit will be with us as a continual teacher and reminder of the words Jesus spoke. And if the center of Jesus’ teaching (as it seems to be in this message) was “love,” it stands to reason that one of the chief things the Spirit comes to lead us in is “love.”

Small wonder, then, that Paul lists the first characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit as “love,” (Gal 5:22). In fact, if you think about it, nearly all of these characteristics must be fleshed out in the context of community. One cannot “love” by oneself. The same is true for exercising patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control, etc. These things describe the characteristics of those who are living in community while walking by the Spirit. Paul points out something similar in Ephesians 5:18ff and Colossians 3:12ff. While urging the churches to “put on” kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col 3:12) and to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21), he also provides the “how?” In Ephesians he says, “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). In Colossians he says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16; cf. Jn 15:7). In short, this is not something that comes naturally to sinful people. If we are going to live in community with other sinners (especially those whose sins are different than ours), we must walk in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, Who alone can guide us in the path of peace and love.

The second “How?” Jesus gives in His “Upper Room Discourse” is…

2. The Father Will Reward You (14:1-14; 16:16-33)

The second concentric circle in the target surrounding the “bullseye” is yet another “infamous” passage about the reward awaiting those in Christ. Jesus tells His disciples prior to going to the cross “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14:2). He picks up the same promise of reward from the Father later in chapter 16 when He promises, “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me” (16:27) and “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me…because I am going to the Father” (16:17). Jesus grounds His command to “love one another” not only in the reality that the Holy Spirit will be with us to help us, but also in the reality that the Father loves us and promises to give us whatever we ask in Jesus’ name (16:23). Jesus speaks here of the future reward for those who have loved and believed in Him. And consistently, Jesus uses this future reward as an encouragement to “take heart” (16:33). How can we carry out the command to “love one another” in the midst of a world full of sinners? Because we know something better is coming!

The NT consistently ties commands to “love” and “unity” to the promise of Christ’s return. Hebrews 10:25 warns us not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” In Romans 13, Paul urges us to “fulfill the Law” through “love” and grounds this command in the fact that “the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:10-11). Similarly, when Peter speaks of our awaiting the “new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13), he concludes by urging Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Pet 3:14). The consistent teaching of the NT is that our promise of future (and near!) reward ought to drive us to a present peace and unity as the people of God. After all, what sin can your brother commit against you that will have even the slightest significance five trillion years from now? Therefore, in light of the coming Kingdom, we must strive to “love one another.”

And finally, Jesus tell us that we are helped to love one another by the reality that…

3. The Son Serves You (13:1-38; 17:1-26)

The third concentric circle surrounding the central “bullseye” passage contains two of the most paradigmatic episodes in the Bible illustrating the ministry of Jesus to His people. In the first passage (13:1-38), Jesus physically acts out the servant posture He came to earth to assume (cf. Matt 20:28; Mk 10:45). When Jesus removes His outer garment and stoops to wash the feet of His disciples, this is a visual picture of the fact that He willingly refused to cling to His “equality with God” but rather emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). This is the picture that lies behind His command to “wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14). Far from implementing a third “ordinance” for the church, Jesus is instead giving a much greater challenge- that we would imitate His example of serving one another out of love. Similarly, Paul takes up Jesus’ example of service as grounds for His command to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). The Son first serves as an example of His command to “love one another.”
The second way the Son serves to help us obey this command, however, is through prayer. In what is sometimes called the true “Lord’s Prayer” or the “High Priestly Prayer,” Jesus intercedes on behalf of His disciples as well as those who would believe on account of their message (Jn 17:1-26). This prayer for His disciples can be broadly summarized under two requests: 1) that they may be sanctified by the truth (i.e. God’s word) (17:17), and 2) that they may be one (17:21, 22, 23). This sounds strikingly resonant with what we saw earlier regarding the Holy Spirit guiding us into all truth, which leads us to love. Similarly, this resonates with what we saw in Paul regarding being filled with the Spirit (or “word of Christ”) as the grounds for putting on love, gentleness, meekness, humility, etc. The summary of this prayer, then, seems to be the same thing Jesus has already said the Spirit would accomplish—namely sanctifying us with the word to the end that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26). The difference here is that we actually see JESUS praying these things for us! Don’t skip over that sentence. Jesus PRAYS these things for us! So not only does Jesus put this commandment at the center of His teaching and live out the quintessential example of obedience to this command for us to follow, The Righteous Man actually prays for us that these things would be so in our lives (cf. James 5:16).

I apologize that this post has become so lengthy, but I needed to review these truths for myself as much (or more!) than I hope some of you needed to hear them as well. I know it is easy when missionaries are sent to have an initial phase of engagement and interest followed by a phase in which they fade into the background of the thinking of those who send. I am writing this post to plead that you not allow the rope to slip on us now. Honestly, the early phase in which much interest and involvement is expressed is perhaps the period in which it is needed the least, as most missionaries are still “honeymooning” and experiencing the “romanticized” view of the culture. For us, it is now, when the “culture fatigue” is really starting to hit, that we most desperately need your prayers and encouragement as the people of God. And we don’t just need generic or token “prayers” or “encouragements,” we need to be encouraged and challenged anew by these words of Jesus. That the central message in His commandment given to guide us through this wilderness is so simply stated, but through such difficulty obeyed—“love one another!”

Pray for us as we seek to navigate this new culture and learn to truly “love” as Jesus loved!

 

 

 

Zvikomborero

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View from our front window looking out on one of the below-mentioned “frog chokers” and BTSZ campus in the background.

During our first week in Zim, the kids made fast friends with the neighbor children. The first day, their play consisted of helping round up the cattle that had gotten out of the kraal (pen) and bringing them back home. The next day, it was the goats (mbudzi) that had gotten loose. This whole time, we kept hearing the kids refer to one of their new friends as “Blessing,” which is not an uncommon name here in Zim. But the other day, the parents of “Blessing” came to visit and we told them how much our kids love playing with “Blessing.” A puzzled look came over their faces and at first we thought we had made the embarrassing mistake of assuming they were his parents when they weren’t. But suddenly came a knowing look and then one of laughter as they realized their son Zvikomborero had introduced himself as “Blessing” as this is a form of the Shona word for “Blessing.” At age 9 he was already acting as a cultural accommodator for our kids!

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Impromptu “snowball” fight between neighbor kids and the Moores. While our friends in KY were getting the cold stuff, we settled for cotton-foam balls in 72 degrees and sunny 🙂

This story reminds me of one of our first Sundays here in Zim when we visited FBC Mkoba. One of the hymns we sang that first Sunday was “Zvikomborero.” Of course I did not recognize the words right away, but as soon as I heard the tune I knew what we were singing about was “Showers of Blessing.” The words of this hymn rang all too loudly as we were singing in the midst of a drought the likes of which Zim has not seen since 1992, and even that one (many say) was not this bad. From the time we arrived (12/27), there had not been any rain since the prior week and there wouldn’t be any rain until just a week or so ago today. So there was well over a month with no rain at all. Zero. And this during “rainy season.” The result of this has been sparse vegetation, resulting in a downturn in crops as well as starving, ill, and dying livestock. Many farmers have been forced to sell emaciated cows for $50/head (less than 10% of value) simply to be able to recover some of their costs. For a primarily agrarian society, this is devastating. Never before had I had I heard believers cry out to God like many OT saints for rain to fall from heaven. It was gut wrenching to see something so essential to life, yet something we had largely simply taken for granted our entire lives (water) in such short supply.

But as in the OT, the Lord has heard our prayers and “opened the good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain” (Deut 28:12). In many parts of Zimbabwe we are now hearing reports of the rains beginning to fall, including almost daily gully-washers (or as our supervisor might say, “frog-chokers”) at our place in Gweru. Please do not hear me as saying all of our problems are solved, as many places are still without rain (particularly toward Tongaland) and still need much prayer. But I bring up this example as an illustration of how we are learning to trust our God who hears and answers prayer. Even when there seems to be no sign of rain, we can cry out to our God who hears from heaven and pours out Zvikomborero in His good timing. We have seen this to be true one-hundredfold since we have been here in Zim.

Time would fail me to list out all of the specific blessings and answers to prayer our God has provided since our arrival. I have actually tried to make a discipline of sitting down once a week and writing in my new journal (thanks MG!) these specific things so that in days to come we can look back and reflect on God’s faithfulness to us along the way. Because many of you have been praying with and for us for these things, I thought it would be appropriate to update you on some of them:

  1. Within our first week here, we received news that all of the seminary’s debts (to power company and all) had been paid up to date! This extraordinary development (dare I say, miracle?) enables us to move forward with many plans for getting the seminary back on track which would have been seriously hindered otherwise.
  2. We had asked for much prayer regarding the kids’ and specifically the dynamic that they would be the only whites in a somewhat racially charged environment. We are happy to report that, thus far, the schooling could not be going better. The kids are not only loving their new school, by all appearances the school seems to love them. They have seem to have been openly embraced into virtually every facet of the school from the academic side to the athletics side and even hearing about many friend eager to learn from our kids about “what things are like in America.”
  3. Another thing for which we had prayed and requested prayer was a trustworthy and competent helper for the younger kids and around the house. In God’s grace, our new helpers the Mandimutsiras (David and Miriam) have moved from Harare to Gweru and are now assisting us with these things. David will be helping with the lawn and general maintenance around the house, while Miriam will be watching Juliet and Johnny during our language study and also helping around the house cleaning, etc. The Mandimutsiras come with the highest recommendations both from our previous LCs on the field as well as some of our friends who now work with BGR, but who had employed David and Miriam during their years in Zim.
  4. I know we came here as cross-cultural missionaries, but any missionary who says they don’t find some satisfaction in discovering “westernish” comforts on the field, is lying! 🙂 Since being in Gweru, we have found SO many unexpected comforts we had originally assumed we would go without. Not all of them are entirely affordable, but it is still neat to know things like Coke Zero, Chicken filet sandwiches (nearly rivaling Chick-Fil-A…I said nearly), new release DVDs ($1 each), and even a NICE (by that I mean one of the best I’ve ever had) steak dinner are available if/when needed.
  5. Another thing many had told us to prepare for in coming to Africa was a sense of isolation from relationships. Coming from a church like Redemption Hill, where “Community” is one of our core values, we knew this would be a struggle for us. Obviously we realize there may still be some sense of this to come in the months/years ahead. But one huge answer to prayer has been an almost immediate sense of community through some new relationships we have been able to forge here. To make a long story short, God providentially placed some folks in our path within our first week who are our age, from a South African (more westernized) background, and who have 4 children the same ages as ours. This relationship has opened the door to several others like it and we look forward to building on this sense of community we already feel.
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The kids enjoying the evening air at our new Friday night treat, Chicken Inn. The Chicken filet sandwich here (or Chicken burger as they call it) is top notch!

I could literally go on and on about the things God has done and is doing to make our landing and deployment here as smooth and effective as possible, but as I said before, time would definitely fail me to do so adequately. So I will just leave you with this report- God is hearing and answering your prayers! “Zvikomborero!” Thank you for lifting these things up to the Father over the past months. The prayers you have prayed and are praying are paying big dividends for us on this side of the pond! So keep it up.

On that note, I would be remiss not to add some new things to your list 🙂 :

  1. Pray for the upcoming semester at BTSZ which starts on 22/2 (Feb 22). We have a completely new set of degree programs and curricula we will be launching with an entirely new administration and staff. A complete reboot, if you will. Pray that God blesses our efforts and prayers and that BTSZ makes some headway to becoming one of the premier theological training institutions in Southern Africa.
  2. Pray for plans we are in the process of making to bring training to 1000+ leaders across Zimbabwe in 2016. By God’s grace, and with a little help from our friends at World Hope Bible Institute, we will see pastors, deacons, and lay-leaders from each of our 20+ Baptist associations in Zimbabwe enroll in sound theological and practical ministry training this year.
  3. Continue to pray for our language study as we are moving steady along at 20+ hours per week in Shona. The good news is we are already finding ourselves understanding more of the daily conversations we hear. The bad news is, when people see us they almost always revert to English, so we are at a disadvantage not being fully “immersed.” Anyway, pray for continued progress and fluency. Supernatural ability would be much appreciated! 🙂
  4. Pray for a relationship to be forged deeply and quickly with our new helpers. For someone to virtually live with us and act as surrogate parents/caretakers is a huge step. Even more so when you have just met that person! Pray that we would have a beautiful gospel friendship with this brother and sister and that much fruit would come from our partnership.
  5. Pray for wisdom and discernment regarding meeting needs. The needs here are so overwhelming from the macro level (national food and water shortage) to the micro (untold beggars and orphans on the streets in genuine need). Please pray that we would have divine guidance as to the most wise way to engage poverty and need here in this country and to provide helping that really helps rather than hurts.

Blessings to you until next time!

 

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The family at one of our new favorite family places, Antelope Park. The sights (wild animals and nature) as well as the food at the restaurant are second to none in the world!

THANK YOU CHURCH!

 

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As most of you know, the internet situation in Gweru has been a bit spotty for us thus far. We are currently in the process of negotiating with TelOne (broadband company) about getting service out to the campus of BTSZ. In the meantime, I am left to dodgy smartphone service and finding a seat at internet cafes in town which offer Wi-Fi for $1/hr.

It just so happens, however, that today I am in one of these cafes and was able to check Twitter at more than 1kb per second. In doing so, I saw that our sending church Redemption Hill has exceeded its Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal of $15,000! I am blown away by the generosity of this faith family. Every year since launch we have exceeded our goals in both national and international missions. Please keep up the good work as I can tell you with confidence that your “sent out ones” at Hope Church Utah, as well as those of us in North Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe feel the impact of your giving every single day.

As we embark on yet another week of language learning, cross-cultural engagement, strategizing for the future of BTSZ, and well, just living life, we just wanted to say THANK YOU for your generosity to all those who gave to the LMCO this year!

The One Who Calls

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“I hate it here. I’m uncomfortable and I feel like I have no control of anything. I can’t even ice. I’m writing this and being honest so that if and when you change my heart and call us here, I’ll know it was you.” 

This is an excerpt from a journal entry from when I visited Zimbabwe in November 2013. God had made it clear that He wanted my husband to go to Zimbabwe and train eager-to-learn pastors. Nick had taken several trips to teach at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe and after his 6th trip or so, he said he was ready to move there and meet the need that seemed to be increasing with each trip.

I told him that I’d happily let him use our money and I’d keep the kids alive while he continued to go on his short-term trips, but I was sure that was all God expected from me as far as mission was concerned. My husband understood, but he graciously asked me to pray that God would change my heart if He wanted us to go. I agreed to do that, because I already “knew” God didn’t have anything different for me. I began praying and He began changing my heart. I was able to see for the first time the difference between someone who does not know Jesus because they have little to no access to learning about Him and someone who has had the opportunity to accept His love and grace all their lives, but continues to treasure the world rather than desire to be rescued from it.

As I was studying the book of Hebrews, God was showing me the importance of longing for a better city and being able to let go of the comforts here because of what we have in store. He was teaching me about having faith in a God who had sworn by His own name (because there is no higher name to swear by) that He will keep His promises to those who love Him and something infinitely better is coming.

So…when Nick asked me to go on a short-term trip, I went. I worked it out for my sister to keep the kids, my husband sold his guns and guitar and bought me a ticket to Zimbabwe with him. The journal entry above is from that trip. It was nothing like I had expected. It was way worse and way more uncomfortable. From the food to the electrical outlets, everything was unfamiliar. And it scared me to death, because I knew it was a real possibility that God might want us to move there.

By the end of the week, my heart had softened somewhat and I was able to see some of the joys in being there. The primary joy was the people. The conversations. The wives who I had planned to teach about 1 Peter 3, but who instead asked me to teach about the resurrection and the age to come. The women who told me they do not covet anything about my life because I have everything I need, and thus no need to pray. I loved the image of God I saw in them.

But I came back from the trip still not quite ready to dive in. Maybe even a little more reluctant having seen what I would be getting into. A couple months later, I was reading an article about a woman in China who at 8 months of pregnancy was dragged from her home, beaten unconscious, and woke up with her dead baby by her side. I was overwhelmed by grief looking at this article complete with a picture that will be forever imprinted on my mind. All I knew to do was pray for her. “God, thank you for sending your Son to claim victory over sin and death. Thank you for the hope that we can have in these situations….” But then I stopped. This woman more than likely is grieving a level of grief that I pray I never will, but without the hope of the Gospel.

So I picked back up, “God! Send someone to share your good news with her! Send someone to tell her that she can see her baby again and that you will make all things right!” Wait. Here I was praying for God to send someone else to do something I myself was unwilling to do. So I continued, “Send me. Send us. We will go.” I went home and told my husband I was ready, I was being compelled by the Spirit and after a year of wrestling (and losing) I knew this was our Ephesians 2:10.

Now, here we are. We have been living in Zimbabwe for over a week. I had prepared myself to have the same emotions, feelings, and discomforts as my first trip. I was ready to battle those feelings with the truth that this is where my King had called me and told me to serve Him. But I haven’t had to. This is the same Africa that I first hated. The Africa where you open up a cabinet to find a wasp nest or a spider the size of your hand. The Africa where you drive down the road (on the left side) and see women carrying 100 lbs. on their heads and precious babies on their backs, no a/c, no TV, no ice at restaurants, no filtered water, and no one who “gets” you.

But I love it. The place is the same, but my heart is not. He has changed me, and this is the power of the Gospel that He gives us to die to ourselves so that we can live for Him. I pray God will use us to show His power to redeem lives from the pit and give purpose amidst suffering and hardships. Some may read this and say I’m too optimistic considering we’ve only been here a little over a week and haven’t yet experienced many of the hardships that will inevitably come. We haven’t had random power outages yet, etc.

But the point in writing this is not to talk about what an awesome missionary I am after having not really even engaged the culture or done any real missions yet. The point in writing is to take away the admiration for missionaries and point it where it is due. My heart is selfish, lazy, and longs for pleasure and comfort for myself alone. My heart hated Africa because it did not cater to my every whim, satisfy, and gratify every desire of my flesh. I am unfaithful. But the One who calls us is faithful, and He will do it. That is why I am confident that not only will we be okay here, but we will thrive even through the hardships. Because He is faithful. He will not call without equipping.

Most of the people in my life and most of you reading this are not called to international missions. You more than likely serve as a different part of His body. But no body part is unnecessary, and no role is easy. Every role carries heavy weight toward the same end…His glory. His name, and His goodness reaching the nations. Every role is difficult. Every role requires sacrifice and faith. There is no “easy” role in the Kingdom, because having a role in His Kingdom implies we have forsaken this present one. So it isn’t just missionaries who need to hear, “the One who called you is faithful.” Its the business man and wife who are called to use their resources to fund the mission, but constantly battle the temptation to indulge and spend God’s money on themselves. Its the pastor who is called to mobilize the church for the mission, but is tempted to tickle ears in order to keep people in the seats and build bigger buildings. Its the housewife who feels insignificant and is tempted to forfeit her role of praying for laborers. Its the teacher who is faithful serving God by serving often disrespectful students and is tempted to lose heart, not realizing there may be a Paul or Mary Magdalene in that room. The list goes on.

But the point is this, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). We’ve often heard through this process of going, “missionaries are our heroes!” Well, I can say with sincerity that senders are mine. Thank you to all of you who are being faithful in your role so we can be faithful in ours. What a privilege to be part of this body. I cannot wait to see what He has prepared for those who love Him. So stretch your legs, grab some water, and let’s run this race together toward the prize to which we’ve been called. He is worth it and when we know what an honor it is to be known by Him and have a seat at His table, there is no such thing as sacrificing for His name’s sake.

How can we sacrifice something that was never ours? Comforts we are not entitled to? The only thing we are entitled to is an eternity in Hell. Yet He gave us what only He is entitled to. He is the only One who knows what it means to truly sacrifice. The only word to describe what we do, is privilege.

Our Father Gives Good Gifts

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I am super excited to be sending this update! This delay has proven to be a blessing in disguise in many ways, but the “disguise” has some days been more apparent than the blessing. Good news…all of the kids are alive and there is now a light at the end of the tunnel…

We love our kids, but man…being holed up in a house with 7 kids and no schedule is enough to turn Mother Teresa into a monster. We have one son in particular; I won’t mention any names (starts with a J and ends with an “immy”) who has a tendency to question me. “I don’t think this is the way, Mom,” “We are going to be late, Mom.” “You’re going to forget, Mom…” His questions leave me frustrated, offended, and often, hurt. Why? He’s just trying to be sure things don’t go wrong, right? Yes. But he feels like he has to because underneath the anxiety is a little boy who doesn’t trust that I am looking out for him and have his best interest at heart.

As much as this may hurt my feelings (not to mention my pride) for my son to consistently doubt me, I do the same to my all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving, and perfect Father. This process has had many ups and downs and I’ve often felt like we’re on a roller coaster of emotions. Each time God decided to change the plans and mess up my perfectly controlled and comfortable little world, I like Jimmy began to doubt and become anxious about what might happen next. The Spirit has brought Matthew 7:9 to mind several times, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Because I am flawed and apparently “evil,” Jimmy actually has reason to doubt my love, adequacy, and intentions. But I have no right or reason to doubt a God who can do no wrong. Instead of getting frustrated with me and calling me a “know it all” (not that I do that to Jimmy…) He patiently pursues me, proves Himself faithful/trustworthy, and wins my heart over and over. This is what His word means in James 1:3 “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” He is using these little tests by showing himself strong and building our faith in Him! This result of this test is no different than the others…He came through. Not only did we receive an email today with news that our visas were approved, we were granted 3 year visas!!!! Our logistics Coordinator who has been in Africa over 30 years called this “unprecedented.” This will save us a lot of trouble not having to reapply until 2018 instead of every year!

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 10.56.07 AMI long for the day when I see Him for who He is, and I am so thankful for Jesus who never doubted Him the way that I do. I still have a long way to go in learning to release control and trust His plan and timing, but He promises to love me while He finishes the work He began!

Please pray He would direct the planning process for departure! We will keep you posted when the dates are set.

 

Shepherds After My Own Heart

Willie 2First, I should probably go ahead and get out on the table that as far as our Zim visa status goes, there are still no updates. Our LC emailed this morning that he visited the Immigration office and the status is still “in process.” However, we are hoping that later in the week there will be someone who can help speed things along. Also, because of the fact that the immigration officials have been so open and helpful thus far, we are optimistic that this will only be a delay in processing, not an outright rejection. Lord willing, we will hear an affirmative later this week that will allow us to go ahead and book plane tickets and head out soon!

In the meantime, several people have asked what I have been doing to stay busy during the delay. Among other things, including “last minute” shopping and Amazon orders, re-packing airline luggage, and scheduling enough time with friends and family to last the next 3-4 years, I have had the privilege to be somewhat productive. World Hope Bible Institute (WHBI), the institute for which I have served on faculty the past 3 years, has recently begun to explode in expansion throughout the world, but particularly in some very exciting “East Asian” contexts. One of the immediate demands that has surfaced here is the need for a training module on the topic of “Christian Leadership.” WHBI president Stuart Sheehan graciously enlisted my aid in helping put together a module on this topic and, by God’s grace, the rough draft is finished and in the editing phases as we speak.

As I worked on this material, I was simply struck by the wealth of material the Bible contains on the subject of leadership. I will not reproduce the entire training module here, but suffice it to say that from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, the biblical storyline revolves around this topic! In Genesis, God appoints Adam as His image-bearer to represent Him and rule over the cosmos– to “subdue” and “have dominion.” In the Fall (Gen 3), we learn that Adam surrenders this mantle of leadership and the result is a creation that becomes unruly, insubordinate, chaotic, and which groans for the “revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19). In the fullness of time, we know that this longing for leadership will finally be put to rest when the Chief Shepherd appears and “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). But in the meantime, what of godly leaders and leadership?

A brief survey of the Old Testament shows that God’s plan of redemption seems to hinge upon those He calls out as leaders. Prophets, priests, and kings- throughout history God is setting apart those He calls “shepherds” over His people. But there is a problem, a major problem. Time and again, those God sets apart to “shepherd” prove themselves wicked and faithless. The prophet Ezekiel is called upon to prophesy harshly against these leaders “because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:8). The Lord goes on to vow that a day will come in which, “I will seek out my sheep,” “I will rescue them,” “I will bring them out of the peoples,” “and I will feed them” (Ezekiel 34:12-13). Of course, we know (as mentioned above) that this promise is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the True Son of David. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who fulfills all of God’s promises by laying “down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11) and being raised up and seated at the right hand of God where He waits to come again and separate His “sheep” from the “goats” (Matt 25:31-46).

But we dare not think that in this “time between the times” He has left His flock untended. Immediately after His resurrection and before His ascension as He sat by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, what was Jesus careful to entrust to Peter (as representative of the 12)? “Feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Jesus repeats the commission three times to emphasize the magnitude of both Peter’s restoration AND the task that lay before him. Small wonder, then, when Peter wields a similarly strong exhortation to the elders of the churches of the dispersion to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” until “the chief Shepherd appears” (1 Pet 5:2, 4). So follow this chain of logic- God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36, etc.), Jesus commissions Peter (as representative of the 12) to serve as “under-shepherd,” and Peter (along with the rest of the NT) says this shepherding task is handed down from generation to generation as local churches are formed and “elders”/”pastors”/”overseers” are appointed. Jesus has not left his flock untended, no indeed.

One thing that becomes clear, however, in the New Testament teaching on the offices of the church is that these “shepherds” are only effective insofar as they fulfill what the Lord promised for His “shepherds”. When the Lord promised to rescue His people, He vowed to bring “shepherds after my own heart” (Jer 3:15). Again, ultimately there is “one shepherd, my servant David” (Ezek 34:23, i.e. Jesus) who meets this description. But elders/pastors/overseers function as representatives of this Christ until He returns…IF they strive to walk as Jesus walked. This is why the qualifications of elders in places like 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 are so significant for the life of the church. It’s not just that we want to hold someone up as a “good example” for the congregation (although that’s certainly true, 1 Tim 4:12), it’s that these leaders will only shepherd Jesus’ flock effectively insofar as their leadership resembles…well, Jesus. Like Adam in the Garden, the effective leadership of church is 100% dependent upon the leaders’ obedience and faithfulness to God’s word.

This brings me to the heart of this post (and sorry for the long path getting here). In our process of going, some have asked us something along the lines of, “Why go to a place that has been classified as ‘reached’ when there are still so many who have little to no access to the Gospel?” To this, there are many answers we could give. Some have to do with the accuracy of statistics regarding the true status of the church. Others may have to do with what “reached” really means or how effective is a 2% “tipping point” anyway?, etc. But the primary answer we must give to this question is that we really love Jesus’ sheep. And because we really love Jesus’ sheep, we really love His shepherds. Having served as a local church pastor for the past 8 years, I might have thought it a bit self-serving to write such things, but now that I’m a layman again I feel total freedom to say- Jesus loves pastors a lot! They are special people. They have been commissioned with a heavy burden and a significant task in the Great Commission- namely, to shepherd the flock that has been set apart by the Holy Spirit to be and do everything Jesus commanded them to be and do.

One of the many blessings our visa delay has afforded us has been the opportunity to participate in the life of our local church, Redemption Hill Baptist Church simply as church members. For the past few weeks, we have had no leadership roles, no responsibilities, no oversight, no expectations (other than those of a regular church member), we have simply been able to enjoy being “shepherded.” And I have to tell you- we may be a little biased, but as far as we’re concerned we have the best pastors anywhere on the planet. We praise God for the shepherds Jesus has given us to “keep watch over our souls” (Heb 13:17). But even as we revel in the opportunity to be loved and fed by these faithful shepherds, we are constantly reminded of a tragic reality around the world. In a recent article over at Training Leaders International (TLI), Weymann Lee writes:

75% of all Christian believers today live outside the U.S. in the “majority world”, where the majority of the world’s population resides – in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many refer to this area as the “10/40 Window.”

As a result of this radical move of God in the Global South which Philip Jenkins calls the “The Next Christendom,” many new churches are being established and growing at an astounding rate. A corresponding reality, however, is that with the increase in these churches there is “an insufficient number of pastors who are theologically trained in God’s Word to shepherd the growing number of believers in these churches!” Lee estimates that there are about 5 million pastors outside the U.S., 85% of whom “have very little to no solid theological training or have no access to it.” To put that in perspective numerically, Lee cites the following:

* Ratio of theologically trained pastors to people in the U.S.:            1:230

* Ratio of theologically trained pastors to people outside the U.S.:     1:450,000

This is a sad reality that many (including the folks over at The Gospel Coalition International Outreach [TGCIO]) have termed a “theological famine.” And lest you think these folks are merely foisting western church expectations upon pastors in the majority world, consider that “the number one need and request from missionaries, churches and pastors outside the U.S. is for pastoral and leadership training.” What I see in this statement is the fact that pastors in the majority world are simply saying the same thing I said 8 years ago when I entered pastoral ministry (and have continued to say ever since), “I want to shepherd the flock of God, but how in the world do I do it?” By God’s grace, Christianity has been established in the U.S. (particularly the Southeast) for long enough that the options for pastoral training and equipping have been virtually limitless for me. I can literally open my laptop to find a library of resources at my fingertips that most pastors in the world (or church history for that matter) could only dream of! This is an embarrassment of riches in the truest sense.

So what can we, who have so much, do to help those who have so little? Well for starters, consider praying for and giving to organizations like TGCIO. Here is a video recently released by TGC in which pastors John Piper and Randy Alcorn cast a vision for TGCIO’s “theological famine relief” campaign. Follow the relevant links here to contribute in any way you can. But your involvement need not be limited to helping from a distance. In recent years, a number of organizations have sprung up to meet this global need by mobilizing U.S. pastors, professors, and even laymen who have theological training to travel on short-term trips to share some of their wealth of resources with pastors in underserved areas. Although (praise God!) there are now many of these organizations in existence, here are some I highly recommend: World Hope Bible Institute, Training Leaders International, Reaching and Teaching, and Teaching Truth International.

Finally, as missionary with the International Mission Board, I would be remiss if I failed to reiterate the priority our organization places upon meeting this need. Under the leadership of president David Platt and Zane Pratt (Vice President for Global Training), the IMB has adopted a posture of prioritizing global theological education. Around 1997, the board made a decisive move away from training institutions (including seminaries and bible schools) and the negative consequences have been felt. As a result, the board has begun moving back toward this task by not reducing seminary personnel overseas and even appointing new personnel (like us!) to such posts with the hope revitalizing these institutions and emphasizing theological education throughout our organization as a whole.

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About 6 years ago, when I began personally to recognize this global need, I looked around at the ministry landscape to see who was addressing it and to be honest I almost threw up my hands in despair. But in God’s goodness, we have seen major progress in this area as ministries such as those listed above have raised up servants and resources to send to the nations to help ensure that none of our Shepherd’s sheep are left without under-shepherd, and particularly those who know how to shepherd in a way that is “after His own heart.”

Looking To The Fields

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Up to this point, much of our attention in life (and on this blog) has been focused on the logistics of getting our family moving toward the field. And while we would love to be on the ground getting started in ministry already, this time we have been given in waiting has provided us an opportunity to focus our hearts on the work to which we are headed. Much goes in to preparing for simply doing life on this field, but we must remember that we are not simply going there to “live,” we are going there to “work!”

Most of you know that our primary task in Zimbabwe will revolve around the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe (BTSZ). Our goal will be to come alongside those who are leading this institution to help continue building a convictional theological education and ministry training center from which hundreds (dare I say, thousands?) of men and women will be launched into Kingdom service through church planting and mission work all over Zimbabwe, Africa, and to the ends of the earth. We believe God is up to something amazing on this campus and through its leaders. Faithful national brothers with the support of steadfast missionaries have labored for years to bring this seminary to a place where it is firmly rooted in and built upon the inerrant word of God. This is precisely the kind of institution God blesses and uses to blaze the light of His Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Along the way, there are many US partners who have thrown in considerable effort to help make this institution what it is today. To list them all, there would be too many to number, but here are some for which I am especially grateful. First, the teams from Redemption Hill Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist Church who have come to do physical renovations on the seminary campus in recent months. This is not only an immense practical help, it is also a huge morale booster to those who are laboring to build the school organizationally. There is still much work to do and many needs that can be met on this front, but these faithful workers have made a huge dent in the task to be sure.

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I’m also incredibly thankful for the books recently provided by many donors through Book-Link International to the theological library of BTSZ. I was just informed this week that the crate containing thousands of volumes of theological and ministry materials has arrived on the campus and is now being processed into the library. You may recall from an earlier post the divinely orchestrated circumstances of this partnership. What a blessing this partnership has been and I am confident God will continue to use Book-Link and Olin Williams in phenomenal ways to equip those around the world He has called to preach His word and shepherd His people.

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Another huge piece of this puzzle has been the steadfast labor of the folks at World Hope Ministries International. God is working wonders through Stuart Sheehan and his team to establish World Hope Bible Institute programs all over the world, but particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past 3 years, the institute in Zimbabwe has served to bolster the training BTSZ offers, generate new interest in the seminary’s programs, and also forge partnerships that I am confident will bring health and vitality to seminary, the Baptist Convention, and all Kingdom work in Zimbabwe and surrounding areas in the future. By God’s grace, we will celebrate our first graduation of diploma students through this institute in mid-November 2015.

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Lastly, I want to mention and thank my alma mater, Southern Seminary. Without the investment of SBTS in me personally and also in the work our family is being sent to do, we honestly wouldn’t even know where to begin. From collecting book donations for our library, sending students on short-term trips to teach, helping raise awareness and prayer support, and even laying ground work for future partnerships between our seminaries, SBTS has been behind us all the way. And for this we could not be more grateful. Though an ocean away, the impact of SBTS on BTSZ will be long-lasting and palpable. Soldiers of Christ, we part to meet.

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BTSZ has a long road ahead of her, but with the investment and partnership of faithful brothers and sisters like these, I know God is going to do great things in and through this school. One of the privileges and responsibilities of serving overseas with our company is that of being a “mobilizer” for our stateside partners. I am thankful for folks like this who have made our job much easier because they are already “in motion” and making great strides toward our goal of building one of the premier theological schools and ministry training institutions in all of Southern Africa.

Pray for these 2015 students of BTSZ and those who are faithfully teaching and leading them. And please continue to pray for our process of getting to the field and joining these faithful ones in the task!

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