Africa Devos, LAST ONE!: Re-entry

This is Vena, wife to Wilfred Rugumba (who directs Mercy Childcare Ministries), and her younger son, Joshua. Amazingly, I just got to see them IN the U.S. last weekend!

This is Vena, wife to Wilfred Rugumba (who directs Mercy Childcare Ministries [MCM]), and her younger son, Joshua. Amazingly, I just got to see them IN the U.S. last weekend as they have been visiting churches/groups informing them about God’s work at MCM. I love this pic–they’re both as cute as can be!

You are about to re-enter the United States. This can be a difficult transition after being in Africa. Though you long to see family and friends and you want, too, some of the comforts we’re accustomed to, it’s not a simple adjustment. You will probably see “stuff” differently. We have three general temptations as we return to the States: 1. We try to forget, particularly the difficult feelings/thoughts we experienced; 2. We look down on others for not feeling as we do about Africa and providing for the poor; or 3. We feel guilty.

Katie writes about re-adjustment difficulties in chapter 7 (see page 121 in particular). You may want to re-read that chapter. Bottom line, though: you HAVE to stay close to Christ during this transition time. You have to take all your confusion and frustration and guilt to Him. He has a good work to do in you through all this. Go to Him.

Commit to praying for each other,

Commit to getting together to pray for your African brothers and sisters.

 

May God use all that we’ve experienced to help us to…

See/know Him more clearly

Love Him more dearly

And follow Him more nearly.*

Day after day.

 

*prayer by Richard, Bishop of Chichester, early 1300s

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Africa Devos: The Diversity of God’s Callings

We cannot rank the work God calls different believers to do. It’s easy to put Katie Davis and people like her on a pedestal, but when we do this we diminish what others are called to. Watch fellow believers around you today (especially your team members). Some of them are particularly gifted to meet new people, to reach out to others no matter what they look like or how clean—or not—they are. This meeting and greeting actually brings joy to people gifted in this area.

Others of you are gifted at processing what we are experiencing. You pray and think through how we can apply what we are learning to our lives back in the U.S. You help others to process.

Some are great advocates. You already have plans for sharing what you’ve seen here with friends at home and spurring them on to give and be involved.

Encourage and celebrate this diversity of gifts. Don’t think of your particular gift as higher or lower than others’. We are ALL part of God’s plan—and we don’t control it. Don’t question how He has made you. Just lean into Him and what He has put before you right now—on this trip and at home. You will find that He has work planned for you that is tailor-made to use your unique gifts.

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. How do you feel you are gifted in general?
  2. What do you feel are your roles right now in the particular stage of life you’re in?
  3. How can you recognize the gifts in others and then encourage others in their gifts?
  4. Read the last two paragraphs on page 108 of K from K. THAT is what God wants to do in each of us through our particular gifts.

Africa devos, cont.: BIG and small

Aunt Josephine (right) and Suzanne (left) spend their days taking care of babies and toddlers. It probably doesn't feel very significant many days--but it IS. Thank you, dear ladies, for your selfless, redemptive work.

Aunt Josephine (right) and Suzanne (left) spend their days taking care of babies and toddlers. It probably doesn’t feel very significant many days–but it IS. Thank you, dear ladies, for your selfless, redemptive work.

On page 101 of K from K, Katie writes this: “Every day, we have a choice. We can stay nestled in our safe comfortable places. … Or we can take a risk, do something to help someone else, make a person smile, change someone’s world.”

God has used Katie to touch the lives of many, many people. We see this as ‘bigger.’ But no less of a calling is when God calls us to meet the needs of ONE! We see this example in Scripture. The shepherd went out in search of the one lost lamb. The widow swept her house top-to-bottom looking for the one lost coin. The angels rejoice over one lost sinner who turns to God. Do you feel overwhelmed by stories like Katie’s? Do you feel like there is no way you could do something like that? Are your “dreams” smaller? Maybe you’re supposed to care for “one.” Your life—with all its moments—has been planned for YOU, with your gifts and background in mind. Lean into the God who planned not only your life but YOU—and He will lead you into your BIG “calling” one step at a time.

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. What do you think is “big” to God? Where does “big” start?
  2. Read Matthew 25:21, 23. How does that relate?
  3. On page 181 Katie hints at the fact that often this life of hers is not easy. Sometimes she may not even feel like it’s very fulfilling. It can be very tedious and repetitive. WE see redemption written all over Katie’s story, but sometimes she may wonder if she’s doing any good. Redemption doesn’t always “feel” purposeful or good. It’s often messy. Sometimes it feels like we are spinning our wheels. Ask God for glimpses of the bigger picture, for patience and endurance to continue till you catch a glimpse. Continue in the good work. Read page 204.
  4. Could it be that every moment has something “big” in it—we just miss it b/c we’re looking through the wrong eyes? He created every moment for a purpose, not just the ones we consider “big.” How is God using you now?

Africa devos: Desperation

My daughter, Emily, and her friend, Rita, whom I have known since she was around four.

My daughter, Emily, and her friend, Rita, whom I have known since she was around four.

How do we learn to be desperate for God when we live in abundance? Katie Davis wrote that during her semester at college in the States, she missed this most of all—the constant recognition that she needs God. Perhaps on this trip, you are realizing you “need” Him more than usual—or at least you recognize your need more easily. Most Christians acknowledge that we cry out to God most fervently when they are going through difficulties and trials. Could this mean that Africans, in one way of looking at it, are more spiritually blessed? Think of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and (if you have the book Kisses from Katie), read Katie’s words in pages 25-27.

Let me put a twist on this: though I “see” more physical need when I am in Africa (and that pushes me to pray and weep more), the spiritual need is just as great–perhaps greater–here in the United States. I meet almost no atheists in Africa. Many are not following Christ, but they DO believe in a powerful, Creator God. That is in great contrast with our spiritual culture in the U.S.

Many years ago I went on a trip to Argentina. One of the team members was a believer from Latin America. I was blown away with his ability to share Christ–lovingly, passionately, yet gently–with people he’d only just met, with people he’d approached on the street. “How do you do that?” I asked him.

“I see dead people,” he answered (this was well before The Sixth Sense came out, so he wasn’t trying to be funny).

He explained. “If I truly believe that people without Christ are dead–are separate from Christ–and will eventually spend eternity without Him–then my desperation for them increases. I see them as dying people–in as great a need as if they were bleeding or starving–and I am motivated by that to help them.”

If we could see spiritual need as if they were physical–like great gaping wounds or skin pulled tight with starvation–we would have greater desperation. We would see our own spiritual need–that without Christ, we, too, are in a state of decay.

 

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. Read page 131-132 of K from K. How does this relate to Paul’s statement “When I am weak, then I am strong”?
  2. Is wealth a blessing or a curse?
  3. In what way is it potentially easier to depend on God in difficult circumstances or in places of physical need?
  4. How do we begin to understand and then see our spiritual needs as greater than physical needs?

Africa Devotions, cont.: Not “right/wrong,” just different

These girls from Katanga LOVED the camera!

These girls from Katanga LOVED the camera!

One of the first lessons cross-cultural travelers need to learn is that cultural differences are not usually “right” or “wrong.” They are simply different. Every culture—including our own—has both “good” and “bad” things about it, “beauty” and “ugliness.” As we learn to break through cultural divisions through genuine friendship with people of other cultures, we will begin to more clearly see our own culture’s “beauty” and “ugliness.”

One of the hard parts of Kenyan and Ugandan culture is the number of street children and orphans. Another is the many children who die from preventable causes. These problems seem overwhelming.

But there is also beauty. Often the people who have absolutely nothing (especially by U.S. standards) welcome others into their homes and into their lives in extraordinary ways. They share in ways U.S. citizens find shocking. They embrace a different pace of life and a strong commitment to community, and they place much less value on appearances. In these same countries are people (like Mary and Wilfred) who love orphans and street kids with their whole hearts and do all they can to help them.

As Katie Davis (of Kisses from Katie) lived in Uganda, she began to have a more critical view of American culture, specifically of our materialism. (Read page 23 of K from K). When we (as U.S. citizens) encounter developing-world cultures, some of us feel the same way Katie did; others feel more tempted to defend U.S. culture and find fault with the third world. Both are normal reactions. We need to be gracious with each other as we process the differences, and we need to be honest with God as we wrestle with this. There are no easy answers.

But in the middle of our wrestling, we can hold tight to a beautiful picture God gives us in Revelation of people from every tribe, nation, people, and language gathered in equality around His throne in joyous worship (Rev. 5:9 and 7:9). Someday the titles “haves” and “have-nots” will be obsolete, and we will have complete, perfect unity.

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. How do you feel about the differences between U.S. culture and other cultures you’ve experienced?
  2. How do we let go of cultural differences and see people from different cultures as simply another expression of God’s incredibly creativity—another facet of His image?
  3. How does the passage in Revelation bring us hope as we continually process these issues?
  4. Pages 219-224 of Kisses from Katie: How does God’s picture of the body of Christ—the family with brothers and sisters—fit into Katie’s insistence that we should treat everyone God brings into our lives like family?

Kisses from Katie devotionals

DSC_0028Before we went on the trip to Africa, Dave asked if I would write devotionals for the team to use while on the trip. We had asked the girls to read Kisses from Katie, a wonderful book about a girl from the suburbs who went to Uganda after she graduated high school and who now, in her early mid-twenties, has adopted 13 Ugandan girls and lives there full-time. I used Scripture and Kisses from Katie and wrote short devotionals that, I hoped, would cover at least some of the issues and opportunities for growth we would encounter in Africa.

Well, I think doing the devotions IN Africa was fine, but, for me, they seem more necessary back here in the U.S. As always after I return from being in Africa, I feel like I’m stuck in no-man’s land, wondering… well, lots of things.

I don’t know if these will be helpful for anyone besides me, but over the next few days, I’ll be posting the devotions, which I’ve adapted to fit a broader audience. Some are pretty short, but all have discussion/for-thought questions.

 

Everybody Act Medium

Pastor Chuck Swindoll once told a story about some kids who built a clubhouse. They put a sign on the outside that read, “Nobody act big; nobody act small; everybody act medium.”

Those kids knew that harmony and fellowship aren’t possible when people think they’re bigger than others OR when people believe they’re lesser.

But when people view themselves—and everyone else—as “mediums,” equals, there can be fellowship.

Looking from God’s point of view helps us to understand ourselves as “mediums.” Though WE see our human distinctions of wealth, class, education, strength, and beauty as really important, God doesn’t. We all “rate/rank” the same with Him.

Questions:

  1. Read Philippians 2. Paul takes the idea of “medium” to another level. He says to think of others as “better than ourselves.” What does this look like when we’re working/living alongside people from different cultures/backgrounds?
  2. How do we look for similarities rather than differences?
  3. One generality about the American mindset is that we consider ourselves the heroes. This is a particular temptation when we are entering into situations with people poorer than we are. How can Philippians 2 help us to relate correctly to people in these situations?
  4. What are some ways we see Katie doing this in the book? What can we learn from her example? (page 7 “…saw myself in those little faces”  and page 12 “This is the place where…”)

 

Final days in Uganda

playing with babies while others painted

playing with babies while others painted

Wilfred and his wife, Vena, left for the States this past Tuesday, leaving us in the very capable hands of Angel and Rachel. Before he left, he and Dave talked about the painting he wanted us to complete at the babies and toddlers’ home: two accent walls, a mural (of our design) on one of the accent walls, and the entire living area (a BIG room). He wanted us to paint it in a gloss coat rather than the current flat paint so the walls could be cleaned.

Dave looked over the entire job and said, “We’ll try, Wilfred, but I am almost certain we will not be able to complete all of this. That’s a lot, but we’ll do what we can.”

Britta with a couple of the little ones

Britta with a couple of the little ones

We had good reason to be proud of our team of girls (we’ve had good reason this entire trip) because they completed the entire job. Some girls played with and cared for babies and toddlers (keeping them away from the painting areas); some painted; some planned and painted the mural; some cleaned paint drips (Deb Smith was on her knees for probably three hours!); some cleaned rollers and brushes so they could be used for different colors. In the end, it was completed! They worked HARD!

naptime!

naptime!

We wanted to get the job finished, but we also wanted to give the two ladies who work round-the-clock there to have a bit of a break and a fun day, so when lunch time rolled around, Angel, Lauren, and I went down to the nearest chapatti stand (a pancake/crepe made from flour, oil, salt, and water and fried on a griddle [don’t hold me to that recipe; I’ve only watched them do it]) and made the cooks’ day. Their eyes grew a little round when we said we need FORTY rolexes (that’s egg fried with salt and chopped vegetables rolled [hence the name] in a chapatti), but you could tell they were a little excited to make such a big sale. One guy began making more dough by hand, up to his elbows in it as he kneaded, and another began chopping veggies and then frying eggs with them. The main guy had on a pristine Starbucks apron J and thanked us for our patience.

Deb's knees were red by the end of the day b/c she spent so much time on them! What a trooper!

Deb’s knees were red by the end of the day b/c she spent so much time on them! What a trooper!

While they worked on the rolex, the three of us walked down the road to find a fruit stand. We bought two big bunches of mini bananas for about $2 and then bought several sodas for Aunt Josephine and Susanne as a special treat. When we got back we picked up our hot, steaming rolex and took everything back to the home. The babies and toddlers ate nearly as much as the adults, and the mamas shared the extra sodas with the kids and by the end they were sticky, almost comatose but happy messes. The girls on baby duty pulled their mattresses into the main room and lay down with them so they could take naps. One girl said she lay there looking into her baby’s eyes and began praying for him—for his future, for his health, for his relationship with Christ and even his future wife.

the mural the girls painted on one of the walls

the mural the girls painted on one of the walls

Dave was still trying to get enough cash to pay for the guesthouse so I went downtown with Angel to visit ATMs there. We rode a mutatu (like a mini-bus), and I had fun watching all the different passengers. Then I had a new experience: I’ve always ridden bodas (motorcycle taxis) while wearing pants (so I could straddle them). This day, though, I’d put on a skirt because I’d thought I was going to the hospital with the new baby, so I had to ride sidesaddle. I’ve always admired how the women balance so gracefully, but I have an even deeper appreciation now. I was a little hunched over from gripping the underside of the seat–probably not graceful at all!

Christy with Susanne and Aunt Josephine, the two ladies who selflessly care for these little ones day in and day out.

Christy with Susanne and Aunt Josephine, the two ladies who selflessly care for these little ones day in and day out.

Angel and I caught up with the team at a game they played that afternoon. Though a “football” match played by an official girls’ team had certainly drawn crowds in Kenya, the Kenyans weren’t really surprised. It was very different in Uganda. We often had to convince people that they really played. We didn’t play any “official” matches in Uganda simply because there aren’t any girls’ teams to play, and when we told people the girls played “football,” the Ugandans assumed it was a genteel version of the game. So when the girls played a friendly-but-competitive match against some of the older boys at Mercy Childcare home and their friends from the neighborhood, the guys were really surprised. “They really play!” they said, and we would laugh, nod, and say, “We told you.”

the whole painting/baby care team--after the project was finished!

the whole painting/baby care team–after the project was finished!

So the boys had told more of their friends, and some of the guys from church wanted a final match on Wednesday afternoon. They played on a field near Light the World church and had a great time. Fortunately I was finally able to catch up with another friend, Ronnie, who helped care for Patrick before we adopted him. So fun to connect with him and hear what he’s been up to. When Jody lived in Uganda, she cared not only for Patrick but also for another baby named Grace. When Jody left, Ronnie continued to check up on her and, eventually, when her home situation grew worse, he moved her into the home he shares with his mother. Then he moved in another child.

Ronnie, Em, and I

Ronnie, Em, and I (while Angel and I were downtown earlier this day a woman selling crafts on the street dropped these beautiful blue beads around my neck. When I protested, she said, “but I like you!” Angel then bought some from her.)

Ronnie’s story—told simply and without any fanfare, full of his joy over getting to be a dad to these two kids—reminded me of something Wilfred said to Dave a few days ago. They were talking about the book Kisses for Katie and all the work Wilfred and the other pastors at Light the World had done, beginning when they were only 19 years old. Dave said, “Wilfred, you could easily write a book!” Wilfred laughed and said, “But what we do is just normal. It’s simply what we’re supposed to do.”

Shelby and little Scovia--joyful together!

Shelby and little Scovia–joyful together!

Wilfred, Ronnie, Deo, Vena, Angel, Rachel—this week our girls have gotten to see young Christians who are “simply doing what’s ‘normal’ for those who say they follow Christ, who do ‘what they’re supposed to do.”

Wow!

We finished the game and went back to the guesthouse, where we ate another of

Em with Rita, one of her friends from the orphanage

Em with Rita, one of her friends from the orphanage

Mama Cici’s wonderful meals. Then it was packing time. The girls had several items of clothing, etc, that they wanted to give to the wonderful women who cared for us, so we made a pile in the courtyard and then enjoyed watching them try on different dresses and skirts. Christmas in July, and their joy was infectious. What added to the fun was that little Scovia from the orphanage (she’s six but has CP and is the size of a three year old) spent the night, and she is a bundle of laughter, so she had us in stitches.

Angel, Dave, and I--last morning together

Angel, Dave, and I–last morning together

The next morning we drove one last little time down the deeply rutted red roads to visit several of the older orphanage kids at their school. Then we made a quick craft shopping run, grabbed some lunch, and then headed toward Entebbe (the airport town).

In Entebbe we made one detour at my request. A dear friend of mine, Florence, had just lost a baby at 7 months of pregnancy and was still at the hospital in Entebbe. I was able to visit with her for a while and meet her husband (they’ve been married about two years), and I was able to introduce her to Dave and Emily. We chatted and prayed, and then we had to leave.

Rachel

Rachel

At the airport we said our final goodbyes. I will miss my Angel. I will miss Rachel. (I’m grateful for Facebook!)

Thank you, Lord, for this amazing trip, and the opportunity to re-connect with so many beloved friends from my earlier time in Uganda. May the entire trip be used for Your glory in the lives of everyone it touched.

Living in GRACE

We leave for a trip to Africa on July 7. Dave and I will go with 12 girls from his soccer team, our oldest child (Emily), one of his assistant coaches, and two soccer moms to Kenya and Uganda.

Dave gave each girl going on the trip a copy of Kisses from Katie, and he asked me to write devotions for each day of the trip using Scripture and sections from the book.

“I would love to,” I told him.

Well, I still “will love to,” and I probably will post many of them here on the blog, but I have to admit that the book sent me into a spiritual funk for about a week—sorry for the silence.

Kisses from Katie is the story of a young suburban-raised girl who decided to visit Uganda during Christmas break of her senior year in high school. Then she just had to go back after graduation for a gap year before college. (I know, this sounds eerily like the story of Jody—who rescued our PJ). Katie’s “job” for the year was to teach kindergarten, but she soon felt led by God to rent a house, and abandoned children began showing up on her doorstep. She is now in the process of adopting 13 Ugandan girls and lives full-time in Uganda, coming back to the States only for visits and fundraising purposes. Her life is filled with sharing Christ—through words and actions—with the poorest of the poor.

I’m not doing enough. I’m not doing enough. This nasty chorus ran rampant through my mind as I read the book—though I knew that was not Katie’s reason for writing it and I also knew it wasn’t good theology.

What dug my spiritual funk deeper was the fact that I had bought a rug for the living room the day before beginning the book. Like we needed a rug, I thought as I read about Katie raising money to pay school fees for the children in her village. I should have sent the money to World Vision!

(BTW, I felt quite a bit better about the new rug when we spread the old rug out on our grass for the yard sale we had last weekend. Sunlight exposed a LOT more than my living room lamps did. The all-ivory rug may have worked for the empty-nesters we bought the house from, but with our six kids, their friends, our dog—yeesh!)

As I read further, I defaulted to guilt wallowing, and God felt very, very far away.

I know now—and knew then—this kind of guilt is not from God, but I was stuck and digging in deeper. Saturday morning, I woke tired, glum, discouraged already. But this was yard-sale-for-Africa day, filled with opportunities to meet neighbors, make new friends, share life.

Oh God, I prayed, I don’t have the strength for this, and I am so spiritually bankrupt right now. I can’t do this. But rather than drawing me closer to God, my prayer made me more convinced of my failure.

But a beautiful thing happened as the day went on. One of the soccer moms came and helped, and we had genuine fellowship. I met a lovely little woman from Syria who asked me to pray for persecuted believers in her native country. Before she left, she pronounced Christ’s blessings on us and our trip. I met another neighbor, large with her third child, who had moved in just that day down the street. I liked her; Dave hit it off with her husband; Em was ready to babysit. Dave had fun conversation with our next-door neighbor when he asked, “So why are you going to Africa?”

As soon as the yard sale was over, though, the cloud descended again.

All week Dave gave me funny looks when I answered, “Fine,” in response to his, “How are you?” Finally, on our early Sunday morning run (yes, we’re running again, and, oh, I am so sore!), he didn’t let my “Fine” slide by. “No, you’re not,” he pressed. “What’s up?”

“I’m missing God,” I cried. “I just feel like I’m not pleasing Him, that I’m so filled up with self I’m missing Him. I’m trying and trying, but all I can think of is what I’m NOT doing, and then I feel guilty and farther away than ever.”

Dave didn’t let that answer slide by, either. He pushed quite a bit on my faulty theology—and I said, “I know, I know! My head sees it, but what do I do with my heart?”

What ultimately led to a breakthrough was this question he asked: “If you’re so far away from God, then what was going on yesterday at the yard sale?”

That stopped me. I’d gone into the yard sale with dread, with a lack of strength and purpose—with guilt at my attitude.

But somewhere during the day, I’d forgotten ME. I’d forgotten to try so, so hard. I’d let go of guilt and let others minister to me (oh, how Christ works through His body!), and in the process I was able to share myself with them and others. I’d felt joy and peace—and I know where those come from. (Galatians 5:22)

Later on Sunday morning, when I had a few quiet minutes to be still, I wrote in my journal: “If MY doing never truly accomplishes anything—for myself or anyone else, then why do I try so hard? If I really believe that my ‘righteousness is as filthy rags,’ then doing more in my own strength, out of my own guilt, accomplishes no good.”

Not long ago, I listened to a sermon by Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Portland, about the importance of the Gospel in our lives AFTER salvation. He said something like this: We Christians have little problem seeing our need for complete grace for salvation, but then we act as if we have to accomplish the Christian life on our own. We need the Gospel just as much after salvation as we did before.

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabus are speaking to people who have just trusted Christ. The two missionaries “urged them to continue to rely on the grace of God.” (emphasis mine)

It’s so, so easy to abandon grace in our daily lives. My tendency is to forget that I have no ability to please God on my own; I feel I must do more, do more, do more to make Him like me. What heresy! And it has such terrible results: guilt, broken sleep, fatigue, a broken spirit.

I wasn’t relying on God to work in me and through me last week. I put far more responsibility on myself than He ever wants me to have. HE guides; HE convicts; HE leads and directs.

I must live in the Gospel:

I need rescuing, every day, often from myself.

And my God is a God who saves.