Saturday, April 21, 2018

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ― Arthur C. Clarke

                 The internet, through Facebook, Google+, Snapchat, email, and Google itself, has allowed me to get in touch and stay in touch with family and friends as well as making new friends I’ve never physically met but with whom I can still forge some pretty strong bonds.  One such man died recently and I grieved as if we had been in close physical contact for years, but we had never even met.  I can stay in touch with family (I’ve got twelve cousins in just one family and they’ve got children, grandchildren, and beyond), friends with whom I’d lost contact, former students, former teachers, and others.  I am friends with a woman in Scandinavia yet we’ve only been in contact through an affordable watch forum on the internet (she does read the blog) and others all over the world who know about my work here and my health problems.  That is just pretty darn amazing.  I laugh at the old cell phones on dated movies, but the reality is that technology has really increased our capacity to “reach out and touch someone” to quote an old telephone ad.  We were friends with some Anglican missionaries who retired and moved back to England many years ago, yet I stay in touch as he reads the blog, comments, and sends prayers and financial support from time to time.  Karen had kids she taught as five-year-olds who are now college graduates and married with children—and who kept up with her on the internet.  One such student got in touch from back in the sixties that Karen taught in kindergarten in Abilene, Texas.  I remember her because both her parents were blind, and one Christmas, as I was the Santa at Sears, I drove out to her house and surprised her with a home visit (I had warned the parents in advance).  I keep in touch with couples whose marriage I performed or whose babies I baptized (or both—marriages came first).  There are folks I worked with in the Singles Ministry who are now quite happily married and still remember our quiet times together.  I wished someone in the U.S. happy birthday the other day and she replied in Swahili and good Swahili at that.  I get blown away by little things like that.  
                    The point is that in spite of the fact that I am living in the bush in equatorial Africa, I am still in the living rooms and hearts of people whose lives intersected with mine in many forms.  My spirits are truly lifted when I hear from those far away but close to me nevertheless.  I cannot begin to thank you enough for keeping me from feeling really alone, isolated with the new title "widower."  You have brought me into your own circles (except for those who have “unfriended” me for some miscommunication or bad joke I posted—sorry, really) and I am truly grateful to still be a part of your lives.  It’s hard to be lonely when every day (internet and power permitting) I hear from family, friends, and those with whom I connect if only electronically.  No matter how we reach out to each other, I want you to know that I feel your hugs and love.  I couldn’t be doing what I am doing here without you.  God bless you.

Friday, April 20, 2018

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” ― C.S. Lewis

               Yesterday, I was looking through my pictures and found several of my friend Gary Lunsford when he was here in Tanzania.  Gary passed away recently, and I think of him a lot.  One of our guest cottages is named in his honor/memory.  We did a lot together in Christ's name, he and I.  In 2001, we co-led a mission trip to the Peruvian Amazon to build a church in the jungle on the banks of the Amazon with nineteen people including four middle-schoolers.  It wasn’t easy as everything had to be brought to the site by boat and then manually hauled up the steep bank.  When we were planning the trip, a man showed up eager to volunteer until he learned there would no place to plug in his Skil saw in the rain forest—never saw him again.  We all learned a lot that trip, and our first lesson in humility came when we told the villagers how we planned to build their church.  Of course, we had not consulted them about anything and were building a church we liked.  What a blow to our egos when the headman told us they didn’t want a floor in their church.  It was at that point that we reluctantly stopped everything and asked the villagers what they wanted.  It was a far cry from what we had been planning, but it was everything they wanted—and they got it the way they envisioned it.  It was also a lot easier to build, and a lot of the supplies were available in the nearby jungle.  I still remember seeing Dr. Whitaker walking out of the jungle with one end of a long tree trunk on his shoulder and a big smile on his face.  The church plan was simple: no floor, no windows, just a low wall to keep the large animals out and a high, thatched roof so lots of air could flow through.  When the rains came in that part of the Amazon, they came straight down, so the high roof kept the worshippers dry—as they knew.   When the church was finished, one of the group (not me, sadly) had the great idea to begin the very first service in the new church with a foot-washing ceremony.  All of the members of the mission team (most of them from Central UMC in Fayetteville, Arkansas) would take turns washing the feet of every single villager as they entered the church.  Several of the villagers brought their large cooking pots for us to use for the foot washing.  This made some of the younger children very afraid because they thought we were going to cook them as we put their feet in the pots.  I think there were a couple that simple wouldn’t allow their feet to be washed, their fear was so great.  Another lesson learned.  Still, it was a beautiful way to begin the life of that church and it touched every member of the village and every member of the mission team.  Foot washing is one of the oldest forms of showing humility there is, and it is one Christ practiced Himself.
                  The night of Last Supper, Christ performed an act usually performed by the lowliest of the servants of the house.  Jesus got up from the meal. He wrapped a towel around His waist. He poured water into a large bowl. Then He began to wash His disciples’ feet. He dried them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. In those days, foot washing was needed in every home. The streets were dusty and dirty. Roads even had garbage and waste from the animals that traveled up and down the same streets. People in those days wore sandals without socks, and their feet could become very dirty.
           Usually, the lowest servant in the household was expected to wash the feet of guests. Having your guests’ feet washed was a way to show honor to your guests.  Christ wanted to show His disciples that He was not placing Himself above them but was there to serve them.  This was the Son of God, so naturally Peter protested, but Christ told him that if his feet weren’t washed by Him, then Peter had no business being with Him.  How hard it is for us to accept our true strength which lies in our humility.
                  In her book “The Joy of Loving” Mother Teresa gives several examples of how to show humility which we should all carry with us the next few days.  She said we should:  “speak as little as possible of ourselves, mind our own business, not want to run other people’s lives, avoid curiosity, accept contradictions and correction cheerfully, to pass over the mistakes of others, to accept insults and injuries, to accept being slighted and forgotten, to be kind and gentle even under provocation, not to stand on our own dignity, and to choose always the hardest path.”   
                   We all know people in high places who are humble, and we almost uniformly admire and respect them for it.  Jascha Heifetz, whom some regard as the greatest violinist to ever live, used to walk onstage to thunderous applause, and he would always look over his shoulder to see who was getting such a great response—never thinking it was for him.  Oh, to have such humility.  Christ doesn’t want you to hog the spotlight, He wants you to shine it on the good works that have been done in His name.  And please, don’t judge your own importance by the way your dog reacts to your coming home.  Dogs, being better humans than humans, love you in spite of everything.  Not everyone can love so unconditionally, but boy, is it good to have a dog wagging their tail when they see you.  You work hard to be humble all day long, and I pray you get to go home to a dog that loves you (sorry, cat people).  In the meantime, do be kind to everyone you meet.  It's what Christ would want.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” ― Henry Martyn

                    Not all that many years ago, then Pastor Festo (now Bishop Festo) started a new church in the little village of Kabainja.  We had only been there once and that was after we had gone to Festo’s village of Karikakari, so we only the knew the way from Karikakari to Kabainja, but John had marked it on the GPS.  We went back several Sundays later to hold the very first service there.  We left the road and were driving across the barren landscape following John’s directions from the GPS.  At one point, he said turn right here, and I said, “Where?  At that donkey over there?”  But, I turned and we crested a small hill and there, under a lone, spindly tree with tarps spread out on poles, were about 150 people waiting to have worship in the middle of nowhere.  In reality, this spot was only one kilometer from the village, but where they wanted their church.  We had the services with great music because Festo had brought his entire choir (seven kilometers away) to sing and dance.  The services included baptism and Holy Communion, so they lasted several hours.  We did the baptism first, and I personally baptized 82 people.  After I would baptize them, they would go to Karen and she would lay hands on them and bless them with big smiles all around.  Later, we had Holy Communion and invited everyone there to participate.  The church at Kabainja now has a building they built themselves and over 200 active members.  This was the second church that Festo had started after Karikakari.  He has now started seven churches and is the bishop of this area of the Mara Region.  He continues to be one of the real servants of God here and a good friend even though he speaks no English and my Swahili is still on about a fifth-grade level (I preach in it and no one complains about my mistakes).  Festo is one of the reasons we have grown from four churches in 2003 to 28 churches in 2018 and from 200 members to over 4,000.  We have had some bad pastors who have hurt the church (all moved on, quit, and one even left the country) but the church has always been able to survive and even thrive because of the truly good men and women (we have several female pastors and Festo’s sister is in seminary at Arusha) who serve God with no pay but with great love and dedication.  We are proud to have been a part of this expansion of the Kingdom, but I’m too old now to go out in the bush and baptize that many people at one setting any more.  I also have quit baptizing because it is important for the pastor of the church to have that bond with the congregation.  While I was baptizing (over 500 individual souls), I would ask what name the person wanted for his/her baptism and at least six were baptized with the name “Wiggins” at their request.  No one calls them that and it is only one name on their certificate, but it did make me feel good.  Now, there are three schools bearing our family name and one named for my sister (St. Penny's), one for my mother (also has a church named after her), one in honor of my Aunt Amelia (she wanted it called St. Teresa’s and so it is), and one honoring an uncle I never met (St. Charles’s School).  We forget what amazing changes have taken place because it has been over fifteen years, but you just can’t stop the work of the Holy Spirit once it takes hold.  I am very confident about our case before the Tanzanian High Court (we will hear the final ruling tomorrow after three years) because God is with us.  If God is with us, who can be against us?  You can take that to the bank.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

“God answers prayers, but He doesn't always answer it your way.” — Lou Holtz

            I am living proof that God answers prayers as are many of you.  Still, it didn't surprise me when I saw a post on Facebook the other day asking if I believed that God answered prayers.  If so, I was to share the post (I do—but I don't share posts when commanded to do it).  No one should have to ask if God answers prayers because God always answers prayers.  The reason there is any doubt at all is because often the answer is no, or not yet, or not in the way you expect it.  We can usually deal with the “no” and most of the time, the “not yet” but if the answer doesn’t come in the way we expect, we tend to believe that God didn’t hear our prayer.  Let me give you an example that may clear this up a bit.
          When my brother-in-law, John, was around six, he was always getting into trouble for leaving the refrigerator door open. This was back in the 1950s when refrigerator doors didn’t shut themselves and air conditioning in a home was a rarity.  John loved to play outside, and the west Texas heat didn’t deter him even a little. However, he did need constant watering which led to frequent trips inside the house to get water out of the jar in the refrigerator which meant opening the door frequently and his parents didn’t like that.  So, taking a three-foot piece of aquarium tubing, he stuck one end into the bottom of the water jar, taped the tubing to the inside wall of the refrigerator, then ran it around the edge of the refrigerator and taped the other end to the outside  wall of the refrigerator and closed the door. Now he could suck on the outside piece of tubing and get water from inside the refrigerator without having to open the door.  It was clever, and it worked. For several days, he played, drank, and didn’t get into trouble. One Saturday though, his father (a practical joker of the first order) watched as John ran in, gulped water through the tubing, and ran back out. As soon as John was outside, his father opened the refrigerator and took the tubing out of the water jar and put it into the orange juice carton and closed the door.  It wasn’t long before a thirsty little John came running back in for a quick drink. He took a big gulp and spewed orange juice all over the kitchen, sputtering and gagging. His father found this incredibly funny (and it was, sort of), but John was fit to be tied.  It wasn’t that he didn’t like orange juice, or that it wasn’t good for him, but he expected water and got something else. It was not getting what he expected that caused him to think he had been poisoned.
           Most of us are like John and the orange juice when it comes to prayer. We pray for what will give us the same kind of relief that John got from his drink of water. But God doesn’t work like that. The orange juice was a gift from God and a good thing, but it wasn’t what was expected.  We so often pray for relief but expect water when God sends us orange juice. God is not playing practical jokes on us, but rather is the Good Father who knows what we need more than we do.  Most of us truly believe that God answers all our prayers (which is true), but most (if not all) of us are not ready to receive the good things God sends because they don’t fit our expectations. 
           How many of you can honestly say that God has not always provided what you needed? Seriously, has God not given you all you needed?  Maybe not all you wanted, but you have always been given what you required.  Oh, maybe not in the form you expected, but as you look back, you can see that you did indeed get what you needed. Sometimes the things that look like the worst possible things that could happen to us are in reality the best possible things that could happen.  A man serving a life-sentence in prison once told me that going to prison was the best thing that could have ever happened to him.  He found God and was converting other prisoners—and he was happy.  Hindsight shows us God at work that we couldn’t see at the time.  When we are earnest in our prayers, God is earnest in reply. Our prayers are like that piece of tubing. They connect us directly to God. If we trust, we take the big gulp—it may not be the water we expect, but it will always be what we need.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.” ― Mandy Hale

                   Dr. Chris came by to check on me this morning, even though he had worked all night and had patients waiting for him at the clinic.  I thanked him, but he said not to thank him for doing what God had asked him to do and that he did out of love.  That shut me up and reminded me of a true story (hard to believe, but it is true) about one person helping another one.  Here it is:
                 One day a man saw an old lady, stranded on the side of the road, but even in the dim light of day, he could see she needed help. So he pulled up in front of her Mercedes and got out. His old Pontiac was still sputtering when he approached her.
                 Even with the smile on his face, she was worried. No one had stopped to help for the last hour or so. Was he going to hurt her? He didn’t look safe; he looked poor and hungry.  He could see that she was frightened, standing out there in the cold. He knew how she felt. It was those chills which only fear can put in you.
                He said, “I’m here to help you, ma’am. Why don’t you wait in the car where it’s warm? By the way, my name is Bryan Anderson.”
 Well, all she had was a flat tire, but for an old lady, that was bad enough. Bryan crawled under the car looking for a place to put the jack, skinning his knuckles a time or two. Soon he was able to change the tire. But he had to get dirty and his hands hurt.  As he was tightening up the lug nuts, she rolled down the window and began to talk to him. She told him that she was from St. Louis and was only just passing through. She couldn’t thank him enough for coming to her aid.  Bryan just smiled as he closed her trunk. The lady asked how much she owed him. Any amount would have been all right with her. She already imagined all the awful things that could have happened had he not stopped. 
                   Bryan never thought twice about being paid. This was not a job to him. This was helping someone in need, and God knows there were plenty, who had given him a hand in the past. He had lived his whole life that way, and it never occurred to him to act any other way.  He told her that if she really wanted to pay him back, the next time she saw someone who needed help, she could give that person the assistance they needed, and Bryan added, “And think of me.”  He waited until she started her car and drove off. It had been a cold and depressing day, but he felt good as he headed for home, disappearing into the twilight.
                  A few miles down the road the lady saw a small cafe. She went in to grab a bite to eat, and take the chill off before she made the last leg of her trip home. It was a dingy looking restaurant. Outside were two old gas pumps. The whole scene was unfamiliar to her. The waitress came over and brought a clean towel to wipe her wet hair. She had a sweet smile, one that even being on her feet for the whole day couldn’t erase. The lady noticed the waitress was nearly eight months pregnant, but she never let the strain and aches change her attitude. The old lady wondered how someone who had so little could be so giving to a stranger. Then she remembered Bryan.  After the lady finished her meal, she paid with a hundred dollar bill. The waitress quickly went to get change for her hundred dollar bill, but the old lady had slipped right out the door. She was gone by the time the waitress came back. The waitress wondered where the lady could be. Then she noticed something written on the napkin.  There were tears in her eyes when she read what the lady wrote: “You don’t owe me anything. I have been there too. Somebody once helped me out, the way I’m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, here is what you do: Do not let this chain of love end with you.”  Under the napkin were four more $100 bills.
                  Well, there were tables to clear, sugar bowls to fill, and people to serve, but the waitress made it through another day. That night when she got home from work and climbed into bed, she was thinking about the money and what the lady had written. How could the lady have known how much she and her husband needed it? With the baby due next month, it was going to be hard . . .  She knew how worried her husband was, and as he lay sleeping next to her, she gave him a soft kiss and whispered soft and low, “Everything’s going to be all right. I love you, Bryan Anderson.”

Monday, April 16, 2018

“Anyone can give up; it is the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would expect you to fall apart, now that is true strength.” ― Chris Bradford

                    When I was growing up, if I got into a wrestling match with my big brother and he was winning (almost always) and I couldn’t take it any longer, I would shout, “Uncle!”  I don’t know how or where shouting “uncle” became the word to acknowledge defeat or at least the unwillingness to continue, but it was part of my background as it was of my wife’s and my sons’ world.  Watching a show on television the other day, I learned that in another part of the world when one man was ready to give up, he did not shout “uncle” but instead shouted “Sufficient!”  That seemed pretty funny to me but then shouting “uncle” must seem strange to a lot of folks as well.  Then I got to thinking about the sacrifices we make as Christians, as parents, as husbands and wives, and as friends.  There have been many, many times when I would have cried “sufficient” if I thought it would have stopped whatever bad thing was happening.  Sadly, it is not for us to say “sufficient” to God and then relax knowing that our struggle for Him is over.  No, in the world of the Christian who has devoted life and all to the service of our Lord, it is never appropriate for us to call “sufficient.”  That is the province of God and God alone.  
                      There have been many times over the past few months and especially the past few days when I would have loved to cry, "Sufficient!"  But that's not my call to make.  Perhaps the hardest thing about accepting Jesus Christ as Lord is that we give to Him and Him alone the power of when to say, “Sufficient.”  He has said that to many, to Mother Teresa, to my father, to my beloved Karen, to people you have loved, and even to His own son.  It is not for us to worry about when the fight is over—for that is God’s call.  We don’t get to “throw in the towel” when we have promised and declared that “The Lord is our shepherd” and that we will follow where He leads whatever the cost.  It has been, and is, a hard thing for me, but it has always been the right thing.  He is my Shepherd and I follow where He leads even into the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil, for He is with me—and with you.  My life may not always be an easy one, but it has always been blessed—and continues to be.