Sunday, August 20, 2017

“The question is not if you will be cured, but how to live when you are.” ― Joseph Conrad

              This won’t be much of a blog, but I can’t sit up for very long just yet.   The doc said it was an almost fatal case of malaria, but I suspect every case of malaria you survive was an almost fatal case.  The problem for me was it hit at the same time as two other infections, one from a broken tooth, and another internal one—both undiagnosed but treated now.  I can’t ever remember being that sick and rather hoping the almost wouldn’t have been included, but God seems to have a lot of work left for me to do.  No rest for the weary.  I am somewhat better although very, very weak as malaria destroys red blood cells, so it’ll be a while till I’m back to as near normal as I get.  I’ve got an appointment at the missionary dental clinic in Mwanza on Wednesday, so I’ll get that bad tooth cut out then.  Something else to anticipate with joy.
             The case before the High Court of Tanzania had a three-day negotiation period that ended on Friday and left the judge angry at those suing our church.  He declared that on the 19th of September he would issue his final ruling in our favor.  He kept challenging those suing us to show him in the Bible where they were right and correctly told them that they were after money and money alone.  He was mad, but that worked in our favor.  We will no longer be bothered by the Kenya church or its ministers here, and they can not ever bring suit again.  Cost us quite a bit, but hey, what can you do?  We triumphed and that was the important thing.
                I’ve got to brag on my son John, who went without sleep for several days to make sure I had everything I needed and took my medication on time.  Didn’t even run from the room during the vomiting (rather a lot of that this time).  Then, last night, he made a fantastic tomato soup from our local tomatoes that was just perfect for my weakened system.  He kept me supplied with apple juice, brought in another fan to keep me cool,  and checked on me almost every fifteen minutes.  Pretty proud of that boy.
                  Thank you very much to all those who kept me in their prayers.  It meant a lot to know how many cared and prayed and commented.  I am honored and humbled by your caring.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

“The more we seek to bless others, God will provide for us and open more doors to accomplish His will.” — Fritz Chery

                             I guess the real test isn’t how many read yesterday’s blog (and there were a whole lot), but how many are still here reading today’s.  I truly believe that many, many churches can and do please Christ with their response to His call.  I will not be one of those who only criticizes without offering a solution or at least one example of one.  I truly believe that one way to please Christ with how your church operates is to adopt what I call the “Z” plan for church maintenance and growth.  The “Z” is for Zaccheus who was a hated tax collector yet Jesus blessed him and ate in his house.   What Zaccheus told Christ he would do would be to give half of everything he had to the poor.  Jesus didn’t ask him to give it all and was very pleased with the half Zaccheus offered.  I call this the “dollar in/dollar out” method.  If your church has a budget of $400,000 a year, then $200,000 a year should be going to feeding the hungry, helping the poor, supporting missions, and other projects that give instead of take.  This is really not new.  Almost seventy years ago, a very large church in Houston, Texas, wanted a popular preacher to come to their church as senior pastor.  He said he would if they would adopt the “dollar in/dollar out” finance plan.  They did and still do today, decades after that pastor has passed away.  There are other churches who give even more than half to expand the Kingdom and care for those in need.  However, there is a church today planning a 90 million dollar building and justifying it by saying that over the next hundred years they will have given over four billion dollars to the poor.  Of course, that would mean that they were giving around 48 million dollars a year now, but they’re not.  Their financial justification is based on what we would call a pyramid scheme.  They’re hoping that in over a hundred years their church would grow to such gigantic proportions that the giving would increase exponentially, but that doesn’t happen, ever, and never has. 
                   Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of air conditioning and heating and paying pastors, but not if the vast majority of the budget goes just for that.  If a church wants a new four million dollar organ and is willing to raise eight million so they can spend four on the organ and four to help others—that’s fantastic.  It’s even wonderful if that’s the only way to get people to really give generously.  Christ didn’t care how Zaccheus got his money, but Christ was pleased that half of it was going to help the poor.  Sadly, some churches spend more on sheet music for their choir than they do on missions, or food pantries, or well, you get the idea.  Nothing wrong with choirs and music and handbells—if an equivalent amount is going out to those in need of the basics for living and to those in need of hearing about Jesus and being welcomed into His Kingdom.  Churches should not exist just to make the members feel comfortable about their lifestyles.  I’m not even sure that Jesus would have been pleased with church buildings, but if that was the way that His followers were serving others and loving others and giving half of all they had to the poor—He would be pleased indeed, I think.  It’s never been about how much you have or your church has.  It’s all about what is done with the blessings you have or your church has.  If the church is just spending the vast majority of its money on itself, think for a minute about the parable of the talents.  What if the guy who got five talents spent it all on a grand house for himself?  You think he would have been treated any differently than the guy who hid his one talent?  I don’t think so, and neither do you.  It is in service that we find the true joy of Christ and the reward for which we do not have to wait.  God bless you, if you are one of those who find your true joy in serving others, in loving others, and if you are able to forgive and to pray for those who hurt you.  You will not be welcomed into the Kingdom when you die because you are already in it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.” ― Stephen Colbert

                        In reference to the above quote, it’s obvious that Mr. Colbert has not had access to that fifth and long-missing gospel from the New Testament.  You know, we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Gospel of C.A.  The C.A. stands for Church Administration.  This gospel negates much of the other four and includes statements from Christ about how important it is to have air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter.  In the C.A. gospel there are parables about stained glass, comfortable pews, adequate and well-lighted parking, and allusions to (since there were no orchestras or amplifiers in that time) having great music available as well.  This is not to mention good salaries and benefits programs for the pastors, as well as the absolute need for all churches to support church leaders who have no congregations but are essential for good church administration.  Now, all of this takes money, so this missing gospel also spells out how to make appeals and do bang-up fund-raising campaigns.  It was placed fifth in the New Testament because the church leaders who “found” it after about six hundred years of having just the four realized it should come last as it was the most important.  
                                          If you think it’s hard to love your enemies, you’ve never had to work on a church committee, or tried to bring about change to a church that has been doing business the same way for hundreds of years.  I had a District Superintendent that I really liked who had this plaque over his desk, “For God so loved the world, He did not send a committee.”  “Love one another as I have loved you,” is what Christ commanded us.  Of course,  maybe I’m not remembering properly, but it seems to me that it was common for members of the same church to have greater difficulty accepting and loving one another within that church than loving those in foreign lands.  Do I have it wrong?  Do all churches sail swimmingly along with no hatred or divisiveness among their own people?  I seem to recall that in one church I served, people who wanted to feed the homeless and use church equipment that was just sitting idle during the week had to fight for two years to make that happen with completely donated food at no cost to the church at all.  I am proud that they fought and persevered, but should it have been so hard?  I remember a staff meeting when someone wanted to know how to keep the homeless from trying to eat on Wednesday nights with the regular congregation.  Thankfully, those who were serving the food, just served them with smiles and greetings.  However, I am sad to say that there were several staff who saw that as a problem.  Apparently, that “I was hungry and you fed me” only applied on certain nights.  I also remember a staff member being upset over a homeless man taking more than one free Bible from a table full of free Bibles.  A man in the church would give 1,000 Bibles every year to be given away, but we had staff who wanted to guard them.   Something seemed very wrong with being upset about that.  
                                     I wonder what Christ would think of the things that are fought over in our churches?  The good and great churches fight over how best to expand the Kingdom and serve those who are in greatest need.  Many, many churches operate food pantries, free clinics, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, children’s safe houses, and St. Stephens Baptist Church in Kansas City is a great example of that.  Also in Kansas City is a Methodist Church that embodies (in my mind, at least) all the wrong things about Christianity.  That makes me very sad, but it warms my heart to see how many Methodist churches respond so quickly to floods in Louisiana and tornadoes in Indiana and to people in crisis.  Every church has within it the soul of Christ, but some work very hard to keep that spirit caged up.  When the worship service sets your soul free, when being in church every Sunday provides you a mooring point around which the rest of your week has meaning, when your Sunday School class challenges you to be a better woman/man and a better Christian—you’re in a good church.  But here’s what you probably don’t want to hear, it’s not someone else’s responsibility to make your church an active, vital part of Christ’s mission—it’s yours.  If your church spends more on air conditioning and heating than it does feeding the hungry and helping the homeless, that’s a problem—and it’s yours.  If you can put on that yoke of Christ and can change your church, you can change the world and the face of Christianity in your community.  God puts a lot in our hands.  He will give us all we need, but we have to initiate the work.  We have to seek, knock, ask, and pick up our crosses.  Sometimes, our mission field lies within the walls of our own sanctuaries.  When we begin to witness for Christ to our own churches, then, He will lighten our load, light our way out of the darkness, and fill us with grace and joy.  And that’s the truth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

“We need much less than we think we need.” ― Maya Angelou

                                  Many people think that we live a hard life here in Africa having to make many sacrifices.  The truth is that we feel guilty for having as much as we do compared to the people around us.  If you are happy with what you have, you will always be happy.  If you can only think in terms of what you want, what you think you need, what you think will make you happy—you will always be miserable.  I had a friend once who wanted to be an attorney.  He would say if only I could get into law school then I would be happy.  Of course, he got into law school, but what he said then was if only I can graduate, then I will be happy.  He graduated, but then if only he would pass the bar, then he would be happy.  He passed the bar, but then only if he could be hired by a big firm then he would be happy.  Then he needed to make partner to be happy.  He was both the most successful and the unhappiest man I have ever known, accomplishing so much but never enough.  Too many of us are like that, thinking “if only” I had this or that, lived here or there, worked at this or that—then and only then would we be happy, and so there are millions who have more than 90% of the rest of the world has but are unhappy and miserable most of the time.  Sad, isn’t it?  When we read of someone complaining about not having the latest iPhone, or the speed of their internet, or—well you get the picture.  We call these “First World Problems” because when survival is your first hurdle, and then getting basic education for your children comes next, you don’t worry too much about which cell phone carrier gives the best deals, or whether your neighbor has a nicer car than you do.  When you are happy with who you are, where you are, and what you are doing, you have very few down days.  St. Paul, in all his wisdom, tells us to be content with what we have.  He was and is right.

Monday, August 14, 2017

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

                                   Back when I was in my twenties, we didn’t trust anyone over thirty, and I truly didn’t expect to live to thirty-five because of Viet-Nam, Nixon, the Civil Rights Movement, and because we were hippies.  The picture at the right is from 46 years ago in 1971 (stamped on the photo is APR 71).  My wife, my only son at the time who was three (now 49 and the vice-president of Spotify), and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and camped out along Bright Angel Creek for a week.  We took two days to get down and two days to get back up, and our three-year-old Chris hiked every step of the way (which made a lot of older hikers very mad as he would pass them singing as he went).  In the picture, we are sitting in Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the canyon, and, as it was April, it was snowing on the rim about one mile above us.  At that moment, we thought and believed we could do anything, and, as it turns out, we could and did (maybe not everything, but a whole lot of exciting adventures).   We have no regrets and know that all of the things we did, both good and bad, are what made us who we are today.  
                                    I was 59 years old when we came here to Africa in 2005 and really didn’t expect to live more than a couple of years as my implanted defibrillator would quit working in 2006, and we could not afford the $50,000+ operation to implant a new one (no insurance, and no money for airfare back and forth to the U.S., etc).   However, God intervened, and I am now on the second defibrillator (with a second wire into my heart) to have been implanted in Nairobi, Kenya.  It will keep me going until 2020, and then we will see.   So now, I am 72 (73 in November), Karen is 74 and we are still beginning new projects as well as maintaining all of the other ones we started twelve years ago.  No, we don’t and can’t move as fast as we once did.  Yes, there are days that pain keeps us both down for the count, but we still think of ourselves as modern pioneers.  Of course, we don’t get to drink Starbucks or eat Krispy Kremes or stop by KFC for dinner on the way home, but we have internet, running water (hot and cold) in the house, and now glass in all our windows, so as far as we are concerned, we are in tall cotton.  We both know that there are many physical things that could be fixed easily in the U.S. that will probably kill us here, but we are here to stay until God calls us home or we become totally useless to God, the churches, and the people we serve.  I don’t see that day happening anytime soon.
                              We have lots of wonderful memories of many wonderful friends with whom we keep in touch by Facebook, Google+, email, and Hangouts on our computers, and who still help us with our mission work.  We can still sleep sixteen and openly invite anyone who wants to come do mission work with the added perk of having a safari through the Serengeti National Park.  Yes, we both feel our age and the days of getting out of a chair without pain and accompanying noises are far behind us, but we are in a culture that respects elders and are greeted many times a day with the English equivalent of “respected and wise elder.”  It’s not so bad.  The quote above is very apt, it is when you stop pursuing your dreams that age conquers you.  I’ve searched the Bible backwards and forwards and there is nothing in it that says you get to quit loving and serving others because of your age or position.  Their is no retirement from Christian service and never has been, though some have chosen that option.  Moses was eighty years old when he led the Hebrews out of Egypt.  Happily, that’s been done, so I don’t have to worry about anything quite that epic.  We will just keep feeding our orphans, starting churches and schools, providing biosand water filters, and educating children of all ages.  Turns out we have lived a whole lot longer than we thought we would, but we are not ready to quit, not just yet.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

“Wherever you travel, appreciate the culture and beauty of the people and the place.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

                         There are always cultural differences that take a bit of adjustment to accept when you live for a long time in a foreign country.  There are some that are very hard to accept, especially for Americans.  We have always been used to doing everything for ourselves.  When we moved from Arkansas to Boston, I rented the truck, packed the truck, drove the truck, and unloaded the truck.  I didn’t want to ask for help from anyone, and didn't—it was the way I was raised.  Here, we pay people to help us and if we insist on doing things ourselves—we are insulting our workers and making them look bad in the eyes of their family and neighbors.  Just carrying in a package from the car is a job that they take pride in doing and are upset if we insist on doing it ourselves.  Picking up a broom makes them feel like we don’t like their work or are getting ready to fire them.  It’s hard getting used to having people inside and outside the house all the time, but even harder to let them do everything.  They insist on cleaning our suitcases if we are going on a trip.  They love for us to joke, tease, and laugh with them, just don’t do their jobs.  
                                In this culture, the women curtsy when they hand you something or take something you are handing them.  That was and is very hard for me to accept.  If you are with a man who likes you, he will grab your hand and walk hand-in-hand with you as an expression of his respect and friendship.  Boy did that come as a shock the first couple of times, but I’m used to it now.  This is a culture that wants to please almost everybody, so you get lied to a lot, but they don’t see it that way.  Yes, your car will be ready in one hour (which means maybe one or two days).  This is also an event-driven society and not a time-driven one.  If someone says he will come at ten and doesn’t show up until four, that is just fine because he did come after all.  A meeting that starts at ten won’t really get going until around 11:30, and they are fully aware of this.  When setting a time for something, they will ask if it’s “British Time” or Tanzanian.  British means exactly when you say and not an hour or two later.  Greetings are very important and are never relegated to a simple “hello” but involve several expressions with smiles and hand slaps.  Every worker comes by to say good morning when they arrive and good-bye when they leave.  If they are younger than you are by a good margin, they say “Shikamoo” which literally means “May I sit at your feet” but is generally a sign of respect for your age and wisdom (this is a cultural difference I really like).  You are expected to say “Marahaba” in return, and it is an insult if you don’t.  
                          Being overweight here is a sign you are blessed by God and not sick.  I once told a Tanzanian man I needed to go on a diet.  He looked at me with a shocked expression and said, “Why?”  The women in our area all wear dresses of beautiful colors and carry things on their heads—big heavy stuff, too.  Perhaps the hardest adjustment involves crying and sadness for males.  Males are not allowed to cry.  If I cry, the males around me will tell me to stop and will wipe the tears from my face.  Females are expected to cry, but every man has to be John Wayne.  Now, if you can’t cry, how do you express your sadness or fear?  By laughing, and that is just weird.  A man will tell you of a tragedy and laugh.  If you are really mad at a man and yelling at him, he will laugh.  Now, in America, laughing at someone who is angry with you is considered a very bad insult—but not here.  We’ve been here over twelve years now, and some of these still make me queasy, nervous, or confused, but here we are, and we are not here to impose our culture on theirs.  On the whole, I find their culture wonderful and the stress on family, relationships, and the respecting of elders very satisfying.  We could and should learn a lot from these gentle, caring, and loving people.  They take their Christianity very seriously and want to hear more about Christ than you could ever tell them.  I’ve included several photos on Facebook and two here with the blog.  We do love what we do here.  Except for the malaria, AIDS, the poverty and disease, it would be paradise—and in a lot of ways, it is—even with the bad stuff.  We feel we are blessed to be here and blessed by the Tanzanians who surround and support us.