See How it Grows

“The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.” —Billy Graham

My memories of sitting in concrete-blocked rooms watching grainy slide shows of obscure places around the globe are many. Missionaries often came to our church seeking to tell the story of their work in India, Tanzania, Kenya, etc. Often, they came to thank the congregation for its bountiful support of their work and to share the needs of their community. And as a pastor’s kid, I was privy to these stories, enduring hours of them on cold metal folding chairs that gave my bottom pins and needles even as I wanted nothing more than to fall asleep. I guess the descriptions of other worlds were so distant from my own, or perhaps it was that hubris of childhood that refuses to see much beyond the tip of your own nose, I just couldn’t relate, get caught up, feel taken in, or otherwise… well, care. The clothes were pretty… all those bright colors… but the buildings looked so shabby and dirty. Ugh. And yet, I remember being in awe of the missionaries themselves. They often spoke with a lilt so unlike the clip of an American tongue, a gentleness that bespoke a patience and endurance of such monumental proportions one knew it was God-spirited and more than likely unattainable for the rest of us. And the missionaries would come to dinner at our house and talk more, at which point I excused myself to play Legos or Barbies. Enough was enough.

I was reminded of this when Uncle Lee and Aunt Anne arrived at our house last Wednesday… weary, worn, weak from lack of sleep… and yet so full of thoughts and pictures and stories just bubbling from their lips even as their eyes slowly inched toward half-mast. After 40+ hours of wakeful travel, their bodies were confused, cramped, and craving true rest. But their spirits were full, bursting even. One doesn’t spend 18 days in Africa, delivering over 250 lbs. of medicines and medical supplies, visiting villages, schools, and churches, meeting people, making connections, and exploring God’s great creation and not feel a euphoria, a changing, a shifting of internal paradigms. And this time, I was a sponge soaking up every tidbit, reading between the lines, painting pictures in my head like a profile artist listening to a description of a perpetrator and turning it into a comprehensive image. Stay tuned. The stories will come!

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African art and Tanzanian coins… a la Joseph

Then, my son announced that he had set up a store where we could buy “free products.” Wouldn’t we please come? We took a break from the story telling to wander to his store in the back room where he had a number of drawings… some were “American paintings” and some were “African paintings.” We perused the art and made our selections. Uncle Lee offered to pay for his in Tanzanian currency… a couple of pence, a mere fraction of our dollar. And then he sought to share with Clara and Joseph the art of bartering, the traditional method of buying and selling in Tanzania. I was amused by this real life lesson for the kids. Money from another country? Bartering? Foreign ideas for us but the only reality on the other side of the world. A real-life civilizations class. So much more tangible than the slide shows of my youth. Dear Joseph, however, wasn’t having it. “I’m not that kind of storekeeper,” he asserted and left the room. Bartering and Tanzanian coins were not as interesting as a round of Angry Birds, after all.

I don’t recall how old I was when we attended the Global Missions Conference at Wittenberg University in Ohio but it was probably during my later elementary years. For a week, my parents attended seminars and meetings and worship services celebrating the spread of Christianity around the globe to the far reaches and the four corners. We tasted food from other cultures, saw the dress, learned the games, spoke bits and pieces of the languages of peoples around the globe. This was my first lasting glimpse into the fact that the world is more diverse than I can even imagine. And my first substantial realization of my parents’ hearts for the rest of the world. My dad has never traveled to Africa or Asia and yet during his pastoral career he took great pride in leading congregations that gave heavily to missions work in far off places. A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with him about missions. I shared with him how someone had recently asked me how I felt about the increased emphasis on missions at church. The question stunned me. Mission work is the natural outpouring of joy and the natural response to God’s bounty. Or as a young lady explained in church yesterday, “Mission work isn’t just for the experts. If I know one amazing thing about Jesus, I want to share that. If I know 100 amazing things about Jesus, I want to share that!” So, why would a church’s emphasis on missions be disturbing to me? It kind of all clicked in an instant. The countless hours of watching slide shows, time with visiting missionaries, even my recent study of the book of James… it was all part of God’s amazing foundation laying, prepping me for today, when I find myself writing for a missions group and anticipating the time when I too will go on a mission trip.

At Compassion Tea, we talk about planting seeds. We talk about our tea, we talk about the greater purpose of our tea… to provide medical care to people in Africa who would otherwise not have any. We plant seeds of information, of personal stories. Whether those “seeds” fall on deaf ears, on the rocky soil of good intentions that lacks the substance beneath to follow through, or on the fertile soil of support, we don’t know, can’t see until later. It’s the same with raising children. My parents exposed me, planting the seeds of a love of missions, and even though it took a while, it grew into something. My kids are getting exposed through my writing and through the travels of Uncle Lee and Aunt Anne, through family members who support mission work around the world, through our own purchasing choices. We’ll see how it grows!

But I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed!

“But I don’t wanna go to bed!” Sound familiar? Irritatingly, we have this conversation nearly every evening. Usually, it revolves around the fact that the kiddos want Mama to read another chapter of the book we’re reading together. Right now, we’re reading The Chronicles of Narnia series, and quite frankly I could stay up all night reading these books. Nevertheless, that is not wise for any of us.

Over the weekend, Clara uttered her little nightly complaint once again and I found myself launching into a mini tirade about the privilege of going to bed. I expounded on the beauty of her warm, soft bed layered with clean sheets and quilts and fluffy pillows, in a dry room, safe and snuggly, loaded with stuffed animals, soft classical music playing in the background. Kind of makes you want to curl up right here, right now, doesn’t it!

Did you see the photo shoot that made the rounds of Facebook and other social media outlets recently? The one focusing on children around the world and their treasured possessions? Many of the children are posing on or near their beds. Take another look! Here’s the link.

Reading through posted comments is one of those vacuum cleaner activities… I hate it but I get sucked in. So, I read through some of the comments. Many were complimentary of the photography; some commented on the similarities between countries while others were shocked/disturbed/amazed at what was considered a treasure. And then there were a few snarky comments regarding the photographer’s choice of subjects… particularly regarding the photos from Malawi and Kenya. Why choose only “the most heart-wrenching” subjects? There are wealthy Malawians and Kenyans. Why choose these subjects? Why choose only a seemingly wealthy child in India? Why not visit the slums of Calcutta? Or the cardboard camps in Honduras? That probably has more to do with access and money more than some grand social engineering on the photographer’s part. But I think the point has been lost. There are children around the world living in grand luxury and children around the world living in abysmal circumstances, children with amazingly comfortable beds and children with a cot or a mud and straw mattress or nothing, children with hundreds of toys and children with 1 or 2.

Then there are the children of Uganda. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 children have been stolen from their homes in the middle of the night, have been enslaved by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, and have been orphaned by the 20 + year war he perpetrated on the country of Uganda. Do you remember Joseph Kony and the Invisible Children video calling for his arrest that went viral last year? He’s still out there. According to the Invisible Children website, he is moving north toward the Sudan where he is finding more friendly governments, but he remains at large in the Congo. And in his wake, he has left thousands of children. Some children join their parents on a daily hike to the nearest city… sometimes over 10 miles away… so they may sleep in the streets, protected by the largeness of the city, and avoid being abducted. Others have been uprooted from home all together, living in dire refugee camps. Other children have escaped from the LRA but live with the terrors of being abducted in the middle of the night; of being beaten nearly to death; of having to kill brothers, sisters, parents; of being used as sex slaves; of being a tiny soldier. There are children who have returned home to find no parents, who are heading the household at tender ages, responsible for the food and safety of the smaller siblings. I’d like you to watch this video. In it, a boy is crying because he is the head of his household. He went to the well to get water for his siblings. The other children at the well pushed him and he wasn’t able to fetch water for his family. He has a mat and no blankets for his family to sleep on. His 4-year-old sister is lame and requires care for even the simplest of things. The boy is 12. At 12, my daughter hopes to purchase her first phone and get her ears pierced. While she will have responsibilities around the house, she will certainly not be responsible for running the household. This boy’s story breaks my heart. And this is just one story. One horrific, unthinkable, unbelievable, mind-blowingly sad story. (stay tuned)