Sunday, April 30, 2017

“If a clean heart wears dirty clothes, it will still look clean! If a dirty heart wears clean clothes, it will still look dirty!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

                     I’ve been thinking a lot about what our worker, Francis, said to John the other day when he told John that “God has seen your heart.”  He was telling John that God doesn’t judge on what does or doesn’t get accomplished—God judges on what is in your heart.  God is not counting how many orphans we feed every day—He is looking into our hearts to see if feeding them is important to us.  God doesn’t care how many people go to your church, God cares about what is in the hearts of each and every one of them.  Numbers have never mattered, but the purpose of your heart has always and will always matter to God.  When I was being interviewed to see if I was fit for ordination, I was asked what I thought should be done to stop the decline in membership of the United Methodist Church.  My reply was, “Why are we counting?” You see I thought that having active, vital, and authentic churches was more important that the number of people on the rolls attending them.  The committee didn’t like my answer, but I suspect God did.  You can live in a big house, drive an expensive car, and belong to all the best clubs and still have the heart of an authentic Christian—and God will know if you do.  You can give all you have to the poor and still be soaked and stained in sin.  It isn’t about how much money you have or don’t have—it’s about your attitude toward it.  Remember the Olympic runner in Barcelona who fell and whose father came out of the stands to help him limp across the finish line dead last?  Many do remember that moment because it wasn’t about winning the race, it was about the desire in the hearts of both father and son that mattered.     
                              It isn’t about whether or not you have the certificates or credentials that this world considers important; it’s about whether or not you have the heart to do what God requires of you.  You can be rich or poor, highly educated or illiterate, male or female, fat or thin—none of these matters to God as much as what He sees in your heart.  Is your heart His?  Does Christ abide there?  Do you care for others more than yourself?  You can feed the hungry and clothe the naked and still displease God if you are doing it for the wrong reasons.  Some practice Christian charity to call attention to themselves, to make themselves look better to others, or to detract attention from the money they spent self-indulgently.  Here, only about $100 will feed 100 orphans every day for two months, yet Americans spend over 370 million dollars every year—on Halloween costumes—FOR THEIR PETS!  That’s right $370,000,000.00 per year on pet costumes in just one country while children are starving all over the world.  Do you have to ask what God thinks about that?  The words that our worker, Francis, spoke to John brought him comfort and brought a smile to my face, but those same words should strike fear into countless folks who call themselves Christian because God has seen their hearts as well.  God can see and has seen what we often wish to keep hidden, but nothing is hidden from God.  I am actually thankful that God can see into my heart because even though I fail at many things I attempt in His name, I know that God knows that doing His will is my greatest desire.  I don’t always succeed, but success is not what He measures, for God rates desire higher than accomplishment.  If this is true (and it is) what is a person to do?  Simple, ask God to “Create in me a clean heart.”  If asked sincerely, it will be done.  It’s been done since the time of David and will be done until the end of time.  You can count on that.  You can also count on the fact that Francis was telling the truth when he said, “God has seen your heart.”  Amen.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ― A.A. Milne

                     We have sliced cheese again!  Those of you who don’t live in developing countries really don’t know what it is like to not have some very simple things whenever you want them.  We have gone without bacon for six months at a time, sliced cheese for three months, Coke Zero for two months, and occasionally there is no diesel available for two or three days.  Just yesterday there were no potatoes at the market—all of Bunda was without potatoes!  They said maybe tomorrow?  Can you imagine not being able to buy a common vegetable, order a pizza, pick up some milk, or even put gas in your car when it’s empty?  All those things happen to us from time to time, and there are some things we will just never get.  There are no fast food places, no convenience stores, and the closest restaurant is ten miles away with only fish, chicken, and beef on the menu.  We do not go out after dark, the roads are closed, and there are no street lights or store lights.  During the last elections, we shut ourselves in for a week having stocked up in advance to avoid the violence that was expected (never came to Bunda).  We do a lot of things that we used to do in the States, but there are a lot of things we will never do again.  It’s just not in the cards.  Karen was sewing and needed a needle threader—not available here.  So, we ordered one from (we have to get everything from there as we have no credit cards and Amazon will take payment from my bank account) and had it shipped to my daughter-in-law in New York City.  She will wait until there are several things we have ordered to arrive to make up a package and will then mail it to us.  We will get the needle threaders approximately six to eight weeks after Karen needed them (we have them now).  Can you imagine having to wait that long?  For anything?  
                  What we have discovered is that we can do without a whole lot especially since everyone here is in the same boat.  If there is no diesel for us, there is no diesel for anyone.  If our power goes out, so does everybody’s.  We used to love to go camping where we had to do without lots of things, and yet we loved it.  We are camping out here, but we don’t have a dirt floor (although all of workers do) or a canvas roof.  We have people who shop for us, cook for us, clean for us, drive for us, take care of the grounds for us, wash our clothes, iron our clothes, and when asked will wash our hair or massage our aching feet, and we are very grateful.  We pay all our workers and teachers from three to four times the national average and pay all of their social security and health insurance as well.  How much does it cost to pay for five full-time workers and their social security?  About $600 a month is all—for five full-time workers.  That wouldn’t even buy us one week in a retirement home in the U.S., but here, well, our workers don’t just work for us—they are like family.  They pray for us when we are sick.  They come in on their days off to make sure the dogs are fed or to bring us the medication we need.  We support their children’s schooling (it’s not free here), rejoice with them at the graduations, and always give them money for the families of their neighbors who die (at least one or two a month).  They all have biosand filters and we are working on getting them solar power (lights and phone charging) in their houses (two now have it).  They are very grateful and they show it.  Of the five, three have been with us for ten years or more and the other two for at least four years.  If John turns his ankle, they will carry him back to the house.  We couldn’t be in better hands—thank you, God.  So, we who have so little in some ways are rich beyond belief in many, many others.  It really doesn’t take too long to adjust from a world where “That microwave is too darn slow!” or “Why is every bank line I get in the slowest?”  We don’t get same day delivery on anything (even malaria takes eight days to hit).  The thing is that when you live like we do, it is very easy to focus on what is really important—and it’s not convenience.  It’s all about seeing smiles on the faces of the people we help and who help us.  It’s about relationships—you know those things that are beyond price and that make living worthwhile.  The pictures I like to see best on Facebook are those where families and friends are together.  That’s what’s important.  Our definition of “family” here goes way beyond those that share DNA or last names.  I think most of you know what I mean.  Next time you are in a hurry and angry about traffic or lines, start naming each and every person you are glad God put in your life.  That kind of gratitude will put a smile on your face and lighten your heart.  You won’t stay angry long, and you can take that to the bank.

Friday, April 28, 2017

“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” ― Steve Martin

               Sadly, the puppy didn’t make it, but as John was telling Francis that he was sorry for all the work he had Francis do since the puppy died, Francis just put his arm around John and said, “Mungu aliona moyo wako” which means, “God saw your heart.”  Amen.  We need a little laugh right now, so:

               The sign in the window read:  ”HELP WANTED - Must be a speed typist and have computer skills. Successful applicant must be bilingual. We are an Equal Opportunity Employer."   A short time later a German Shepherd dog trotted up to the window, saw the sign and went inside. He looked at the receptionist, wagged his tail, then walked over to the sign, looked at it, whined and pawed the air.  The receptionist called the office manager. He was surprised to see a canine applicant but as the dog looked determined he was shown into the manager's office. Inside, the dog jumped up on a chair and stared at the manager expectantly.  
               The manager said, "I can't hire you. The sign says you must be able to type."  The dog went to the typewriter and proceeded to quickly type a perfect business letter. He took out the page and trotted over to the manager, gave it to him, then jumped back up on the chair. The manager was stunned, but told the dog, "That was fantastic, but I'm sorry. The sign clearly says that whoever I hire has to be good with a computer."  
                The dog went to the computer and proceeded to demonstrate his' expertise with various programs, produced a sample spreadsheet and database, and then presented them to the manager.  The manager was dumbfounded! He said to the dog, "Look, I realize that you are a very intelligent applicant and have fantastic talent, but you're a dog. No way could I hire you."  
               The dog jumped down and went to the sign in the window and pointed his paw at the words, "Equal Opportunity Employer."  The exasperated manager said, "Yes, I know what the darn sign says.   But the sign also says you have to be bilingual."
     The dog looked him straight in the eye and said, "Meow."

As Art Linkletter used to say, “Laughter is the best medicine.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face. ” ― Ben Williams

One of our working dogs dug herself a meter-deep hole the other night, crawled in, and gave birth to a single puppy.  John got her hole fenced in yesterday so the other dogs would leave her alone (see picture at right, her hole is under the bush) and so far, the pup is doing just fine.  Reminded me of a great story which follows:
A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He painted a sign advertising the four pups, and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his yard. As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt a tug on his overalls. He looked down into the eyes of a little boy.  "Mister," he said, "I want to buy one of your puppies."  "Well," said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat of the back off his neck, "These puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money."  The boy dropped his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket, he pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer. "I've got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?"  "Sure, that's enough for a look," said the farmer.  And with that he let out a whistle. Here, Dolly!" he called.  Out from the doghouse and down the ramp ran Dolly; followed by four little balls of fur. The little boy pressed his face against the chain link fence. His eyes danced with delight. As the dogs made their way to the fence, the little boy noticed something else stirring inside the doghouse. Slowly another little ball appeared, this one noticeably smaller. Down the ramp it slid. Then in a somewhat awkward manner, the little pup began hobbling toward the others, doing its best to catch up....  "I want that one," the little boy said, pointing to the runt.
              The farmer knelt down at the boy's side and said, "Son, you don't want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would."  With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down, and began rolling up one leg of his trousers. In doing so he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a specially made shoe. Looking back up at the farmer, he said, "You see sir, I don't run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands.”  With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup. Holding it carefully he handed it to the little boy.  "How much?" asked the little boy.  "No charge," answered the farmer. "There's no charge for love."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

“Getting through the red tape here is like hacking a path through the Amazon forest. By the time we go a hundred yards, the undergrowth takes over again.” ― Edward Luce

Shaban is off on a ten-hour bus ride to Dodoma to get some more of Karen’s paperwork done for her labor permit.  John and I have ours, but Karen’s residence permit doesn’t expire until July, so we started working on her labor permit in January.  The red tape here is frustrating, time consuming, and costly, but what can you do?  After Dodoma (our legislative capital), Shaban will travel to Dar Es Salaam to do more paperwork on said labor permit.  He should be finished by next Monday or Tuesday when he will fly back (you can’t fly to Dodoma).  We are very appreciative of all his efforts on our behalf.  Can’t imagine how we would have gotten by here without his help.  When we first came, we only needed a residence permit.  Now, we have to have a labor permit, a residence permit, and a national identity card.  Each of these has to be paid for with American currency whether you are Australian or German.  Total cost is about $800 per person which is not too bad, but our Australian missionary friends have a family of seven—so that adds up.  Still, so far we’ve been able to meet all the government requirements and see no problems with continuing.  Just another of the inconveniences and costs associated with serving as missionaries in a foreign country.  
We’ve learned to roll with the punches and come up smiling no matter what the obstacle.  For twelve years we’ve gotten along with no dishwasher, no washing machine, no dryer, no vacuum cleaner, no microwave, and none of the other electrical things so common to most of you like: crock pots, electric toothbrushes, electric razors, fast food, pizza delivery, and all the little things that make your lives easy and fun.  We do all right and are not suffering at all.  It’s hard to miss things that no one has, and, after over a decade, we’ve forgotten what most of that stuff was like.  We do have birds singing to wake us, no road noise, no sirens, and the sounds of little children laughing and singing every day.  I look out my window and see a mango tree full of fruit, bananas growing on the tree, and occasionally watch cows and goats walk past us on their way to find grass and water.  The pace of life here is very, very slow, and it feels really good.
We just learned that our oldest son, Chris, and his wife are coming to see us for a couple of weeks in July and that they are bringing my younger sister who has never been to Africa.  You can imagine our excitement at having English-speaking guests who are also family.  The only downside is that they know all my stories, so I’ll have to listen instead of talk for a few days.  They will first safari through the Serengeti, so my sister will have lots to talk about and lots of pictures to take back to Houston where the wild animals are Astros, Rockets, and Texans.
              That’s all the news from Bunda in equatorial Africa for now.  Keep us in your prayers as we pray for you every day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

“There is only one difference between a long life and a good dinner: that, in the dinner, the sweets come last.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

                                  Living a long time is not necessarily a good thing.  In Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” there is a rarely read section about a floating island called Laputa.  On this island, Gulliver sees a child with a birthmark in the shape of star, and the people around him are crying.  Gulliver asks why and is told that the birthmark means the child belongs to a group called the Struldbrugs.   Gulliver is then told that these people never die—they live forever, therefore the need for crying and sadness.  Gulliver cannot believe this.  He thinks living forever would be a great blessing and says so.  He is told that this is not the case.  A Struldbrug lives so long he sees everyone he loves die, wives, children, friends, all pass away while he goes on.  Soon, he doesn’t want to even be around other people because if he gets close to them, they die, too, and he is saddened again.  In the end, these Sturldbrugs become hermits and never come around other humans, such is the curse of immortality.  Swift makes a point that all of us who have lived a long time (I consider 72 years a long time) already know.  My father, at 85, used to complain that he had watched his parents, brothers, all but one sister, aunts, uncles, and even some nieces and nephews pass away.  He outlived all of his close friends with only my mother beside him as he lived the last years of his life to die at 89 (a month away from 90).  He understood the point Swift was making, as do I.  Karen has lost her parents and one brother plus all her aunts and uncles.  She has also lost close friends who died too early.  Karen and I have seen our parents, all aunts and uncles save one, and many, many friends, former teachers, former professors, all shuffle off this mortal coil to join that eternal band beyond our reach.  It should be enough to make us bitter, depressed, and not wanting to get close to people—except we have children for whom we live—and we have a call from God to answer: to plant seeds, to save children’s lives, to feed orphans, to help the weak, and so we do.  It is sad to see so many go before us, but there are so many who are coming after us that we do them a great disservice if we do not do all that we can to make their lives better.  We don’t want to live forever, but we do want to live for others until the last moment which God decides.  And that is just what we shall do.  Saw a Facebook post that said if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger then we should both be able to bench press a Buick.  My cousin said that in Karen’s case, she could bench press a Hummer.  We will not live forever, but while we are here—we will live for others.  That’s God’s plan.