Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lord, bring us to a good land!

God continues to show us that we are following His lead in this work in Zambia. As He confirms our steps and guides us along the way, it encourages us and reminds us that this is not a work of our own making. We are simply cooperating in the work that HE has already planned, initiated, and is bringing to completion. We are privileged to play a part in it – but it is His project, not ours.

Our friends, Mark and Betsy Meyer, are on their way to Zambia. One of the tasks they hope to accomplish is the securing of the land for the Hope Children’s Center. We believe that we have found the ideal plot of land. It is close to the town market. It is just down the path from a school for the children. There is a small river on the land which maintains water even in the dry season – perfect for irrigating the gardens that will feed the children. There is even a small orchard of fruit trees surrounded by a shelter belt of evergreens – a sweet and nutritious treat for the kids!

When we first walked on it, Navice’s wife lifted her hands in praise and said, “This is it! It is Canaan land!” We all shared her joy and stopped right there to thank God for leading us there and asked Him to provide us that land for the Center.

While the purchase of the land seemed to be in our grasp, it wasn’t long before we hit a snag. The owners doubled, and then tripled the price. We were discouraged to say the least. But Navice has continued to be our eternal faith-filled optimist. Set-backs are part of life in Africa and it takes far more than this to discourage him! He knows God is in this and trusts that He will either give us that particular plot – or lead us to something better. I love that – and his faith inspires me.

And so today as I bid Mark and Betsy good-bye, I turned to my Bible and came across this passage…
Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and revering Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
(Deuteronomy 8:6-9)
Though this promise was given to the people of Israel long ago, it reminded me that God can provide such things for His people. It reminded me of His goodness and generosity toward us. And the picture these verses paint formed a picture in my mind of what I long for Him to provide for our Zambian friends.

Will you pray with us for God to provide and secure the land we need for the Hope Children’s Center? Pray that it will be a lavish expression of His goodness to take care of His people. Pray that it will cause even the unbelievers around to exclaim, “God must be in this!” And pray that Mark and Betsy will have the deep sense of trust that God is leading them (on behalf of all of us). I can’t wait to see what He has in store!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Remembering to be Merciful

Jesus set a pace for us. In fact, before He was even born, the pace was set. His entrance into our world was an expression of extravagant mercy. As Mary pondered the coming of her Divine Son, she sang a song - and it was all about mercy.

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has been mindful
of the humble state of His servant.
(Luke 1:46-47)
Mary sings of the One who "has done great things for me" - the "me" being a poor, unheard-of girl quietly worshipping God while living in the obscurity of Galilee. People in that day wouldn't have been able to find Galilee on the map any easier than we can find Zambia.

Mary sings her song in grateful awe at this God who extends mercy, lifts up the humble, fills the hungry with good deeds, helps His servants and always, always remembers to be merciful. The God of the universe has not forgotten her.

Those of us who follow Christ should have this reputation with the poor. Jesus set the pace - and He beckons us to follow Him, to mimic His example in this world. I long for the people of Zambia to cry out to God in song. To worship the One who has not forgotten them.

God, help us to be merciful as You are merciful. May our Zambian brothers and sisters proclaim,
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me --
holy is His name!
Luke 1:48-49

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Journey to Hope

My first trip to Zambia, Africa occurred in April of 2007. But the journey actually began several months prior. God brought the convergence of two voices to set my course for Zambia. Though I didn’t know it at the time, God was about to unfold a series of life-changing events that have continued to this day.

The first of these voices was an unlikely one: Bono. Yep, an aging rock star was the first compelling voice that set my course for Africa. In an interview with Bill Hybels, Bono spoke with quiet-yet-passionate conviction about the plight of Africa. And he used passages such as Matthew 25 (about the “sheep and goats” judgment) to call God’s people, the Church, to action.

I was shamed by the fact that this man was using the Book I was very familiar with to open my eyes and point out what Jesus was clearly calling His followers to. Bono didn’t chastise or mock my hypocrisy, he simply asked the Church to hear from Jesus and act.

Bono’s voice got my attention, but the second voice God used was a far more compelling one: Jesus. I began to re-read several passages and was especially caught by Luke chapter 10 (the story of the “good Samaritan”). Here Jesus finds Himself being questioned, even tested, by an “expert in the Law.” As Jesus turns the questions back on the “expert,” he displays true orthodoxy – he knows the Word and can recite well-rehearsed answers to Jesus without even a pause.

The expert knows the whole Law of God and proudly (and correctly) sums it up by saying that we must love God and love our neighbor – thus “doing” what it takes to inherit eternal life. Bingo. Pure orthodoxy. Couldn’t have said it better myself. The problem – this man isn’t “doing” it, he just knows the right answer.

Jesus is well aware of the duplicity reigning in this man’s soul, and so he tells a story to paint a picture of what it means to actually “do” love for a neighbor (the Good Samaritan). And He concludes with a call to “show mercy” to our neighbor and then commands the man, “Go and DO likewise.”

So there I was. My “neighbor” in Africa was dying on the side of the road and in desperate need of help. I was sitting on my orthodoxy, passing on by, not DOING a thing about it. And so I called my friend Mark Meyer.

Mark had visited Zambia with several people from Cornerstone Church in the summer of 2006. His heart was moved with compassion and so he returned several months later to visit a few of the pastors he’d befriended there. Coming back to the States he was more convinced than ever that we needed to help. I asked Mark to take me to Zambia.

Mark and his wife Betsy took me to Zambia in April 2007. I met the courageous pastors there and saw the thriving Zambian church trying desperately to care for the overwhelming number of orphans left in the wake of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and malnutrition. I saw with my own eyes countless “neighbors” in need of mercy. And I determined that I would not simply turn a blind eye and pass by on the other side of the road.

Two subsequent trips to Zambia have followed with more to come. In these visits I have encountered some distasteful things. The path to showing mercy is rarely a yellow brick road. I’ve chased a rat from my room, slept in a tent in freezing (no, literally freezing) weather, discovered a used condom at my feet in a shower, and on top of all that, I’ve gone without coffee for weeks at a time.

But these things pale into insignificance and even bring a smile to my face, because I’ve grown to love Zambia. Not the climate or the living conditions – I’ve grown to love my neighbors, the people of Zambia. And in loving my neighbor and showing mercy to him, I’ve grown to love God with a renewed passion and commitment to “go and DO likewise.”

On my most recent trip (January 2008) my friend, Zack Ludwig, and I were able to find land for the future Hope Children’s Center of Serenje, Zambia. Cornerstone Church is giving me the privilege of leading the charge on behalf of our church family. It is an aggressive vision which will require hard work, a lot of money, and perseverance. But it will carry the sweet reward of following the compelling voice of Jesus!