Encourage Yourself in the Lord

Ups and downs in life are inevitable. Some days, I feel at the top of my game spiritually. I’m up early praying and reading my Bible. I see God answer those prayers. I feel close to Him. Other days, I get up later than I want to, go through the day feeling spiritually drained, or end up regretting missing out on what I see (in retrospect) as “God opportunities.” Practically speaking, maybe I go to bed tired and wake up tired and feel irritable all day. Maybe I successfully hold my tongue when the volume from our nine children increases beyond my tolerance level, or when I hear their cross words and they refuse my kind correction. Or, maybe I don’t hold my tongue, and then all of us feel bad for a while until I sit them all down and apologize. Some days I am productive and feel good. Other days, I just hope no one comes to the door (unfortunately, that rarely happens around here!).

None of us want to be “people-pleasers,” doing what we do to get accolades and pats on the back. But,  the Bible does tell us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” and to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We all need a boost from people around us sometimes, and I think God knows that we need other people to come alongside of us to help us be our best. But in the day-to-day grind and the ordinariness of everyday, there are few people who do that for us with any consistency. Frankly, much of what we do is unseen by others. We live largely independent lives and often just don’t cross paths with people. And maybe you’ve been in the same position as me on occasion: when you do get some words of encouragement  (“Your children are so well-behaved!,” for example), all you can do is think to yourself, “Yeah, they should sit at our supper table for a few nights, then they’d hear how often I have to correct things like feet on the table, eating with fingers, not washing hands with soap, over-indulging in food,” etc., etc. Even what is meant as encouragement, when turned over in a negative mind, can have the opposite effect and we end up meditating on all we wish we could change.

Spiritually speaking, there are going to be times when you lack a mentor who can challenge you and encourage you to stay strong in your walk with the Lord. One of my dearest sisters in the Lord never let a conversation end until she asked me, “What are you reading during your devotional time?” or, “How is your prayer life?” I really loved that about her and, as a result, I’ve always tried to have interactions that SPEAK life rather than just TALK ABOUT life. I try to be consistent with prayer and reading, but let’s face it, we all go through times where we get busy and don’t have regular time for that (even worse if it’s purposely so, because we don’t really want to hear from God…ouch!) If you don’t have someone who knows where you’re at and can provide some accountability, it’s often hard to get back on track. Whether practical or spiritual encouragement, let’s face it: Encouragement is so necessary, but often so absent.

Over the years, I’ve learned something important about both my walk with the Lord and my parenting journey: neither are going to have the outcome I desire unless I encourage myself in the Lord. I can’t depend on other people, my own emotions are often deceitful, and circumstances are out of my control. The only sure thing I have, the only thing I can depend on, is God and His Word. So when I need encouragement, that’s where I have to go. And if I don’t, it’s as Hebrews says–it’s all too easy to become “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (see Hebrews 3:13).

bible_transparent_208I remember being a young Mom of three and sitting in my prayer closet during the wee hours of the morning. I don’t know exactly what I was crying to God about, but that’s what I was doing. And then I opened my Bible to 1 Samuel 30 and read of the distress of David: the Amalekites had destroyed his city and taken his wives and daughters captive, along with the families of all his men. The people talked of stoning him. And what did he do? He “strengthened himself,” or “encouraged himself in the Lord.” (verse 6). What does this mean? This passage doesn’t specify, but if you read the Psalms, you can see it. Even when things wee at their worst (perhaps especially so, in fact), David meditated on who God is: the goodness of God; His love; His faithfulness. He remembered how God had worked on his life: rescuing him from his enemies, keeping his promises, working all David’s circumstances for his good and for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. David also, even in his angst, put his hope in God and in His Word. He trusted God and believed He would see God’s goodness. He knew God would be faithful to His Word, so he focused on that rather than on his circumstances. This is what I have tried to train myself to do over the years (though I still have times when I’m not as good at it as I need to be).

And this is how we must encourage ourselves in the Lord when we don’t have others to share our burdens, when we stumble and don’t have someone to steady us, or when we get discouraged and need to re-focus. God is there. He sees and knows. He is our Helper in times of trouble. Hid Word does not return void. One of the best things I’ve done is to memorize God’s Word over the years. Reading is good, but memorizing is even better. I actually haven’t devoted much time to Scripture memory in recent years, but I was very faithful to it during my early years as a Christian and it has served me well. When I am discouraged or struggling and need to hear from the Lord, He speaks to me–usually through the Words that have been memorized over the years. And I am encouraged in the Lord. I put my hope in His promises.

Do you have a Scripture that you faithfully pray over your family, or a “life verse” that you remind yourself of regularly? Are you “encouraging yourself in the Lord” through regular times of reading and prayer? Are you reminding yourself often of what God has done in your life, trusting that He’s still at work in ways you don’t see?

 

“Dirty Dozen” shopping list

After making it through our 30-day Local Food challenge, and deciding to make it a bit more permanent (but also a little more flexible), I’ve decided that I really like the simplicity of buying only a short list of food items each week and eating simple, somewhat repetitive meals. Granted, when the Sweazys came over for supper last night and the subject of furlough came up, we suddenly began discussing all the favorite eateries we might like to visit if we ever went back to America. Yeah…moments of weakness, but I digress.

I’m still pretty surprised that we seem to be doing so well on plus-or-minus 12 grocery items per week. What I think of as our “dirty dozen” includes staples from our grain storage: maize, beans, and rice, as well as items we can easily buy at the local shops: baking powder, salt, eggs, and milk.  We go to the market once a week for the remainder: tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, and cabbage.  We’ve ended up making somewhat permanent exceptions for the following items, which we pick up in Kitale: a few seasonings (Italian seasoning, chili powder and cinnamon); Ghee or margarine; quality vegetable shortening (the locals call it “cooking fat,” and though we can buy it at the our neighborhood shops, it’s a bright yellow, sub-standard variety and I just can’t bring myself to use it unless I absolutely have to); and cocoa (for our morning hot chocolate, which is one of the few ways we get  milk into our diet on a daily basis…we have to boil it but then can’t refrigerate). We’ve gotten a little more flexible after the 30-day challenge and also occasionally have spaghetti…and pizza was a must-have for Hannah’s recent birthday celebration. I’m also trying to get fruit  once per week at the market, since the avocadoes and bananas that had been coming to our door somewhat regularly have now been out-of-season for a while.

Along with wanting to eat more locally/more inexpensively/more simply, we’ve also (within the past couple of months) eliminated beef and store-bought chicken from our diet. This was a decision made in light of Biblical teachings because of the culture we find ourselves in. We either slaughter a chicken or buy pork from the local butchery once a week, and recently we found a good source for mutton that we’ll probably have now and then.

Our “dirty dozen” shopping list and the resulting simplified food menus  have been good for our food budget but more than that, beneficial in reminding us that what we were once used to in terms of meals are certainly not “normal” to the vast majority of the rest of the world. It has also been a very helpful spiritual discipline in terms of conquering the flesh. We want to continue to challenge ourselves to be increasingly less indulgent in terms of food so that we will not find ourselves slaves to our stomachs. Throughout this process of streamlining, I have found myself thinking often of Finny Kuruvilla’s words in King Jesus Claims His Church (p. 205):

     The world and the media exert considerable force on our minds. Unless we are consciously resisting its pull, we will be prey. The world promotes stimulation and thrill-seeking through the palate. The world chases after a new delicacy and flavor with nearly every meal, fostering the lust of the flesh. Thus while all foods are clean and to be received with thanksgiving (Mark 7:19; 1 Tim. 4:4), believers should be content to eat simple and repetitive meals. This battle is more easily won if addressed early; one’s tasted are developed in childhood. Insofar as possible, parents should provide simple, nutritious meals that emphasize vegetables, legumes, and while grains, rather than fats, meats, and sweets. Restaurant patronage should be minimized to teach children contentment with simple home cooking. Few people think of these disciplines as connected to spiritual victory, but they surely are.

     …The connections between food, self-discipline, and spiritual power are profound.

They are profound, indeed…

“I shined the light, and the man fell down”

david and violetThis is David, along with his wife, Violet, and four of their six children. David is a pretty big guy. Our two oldest boys were testing his strength this morning, and they found it amusing that he could pick up 13 year-old Jonah with one arm and hold him in a seated position on his bicep.

I’m not sure how long David has been a part of our fellowship…maybe six months? He and Isaiah somehow became fast friends when Isaiah was overseeing a bunch of guys (including David) as they dug a local fish pond. In fact, the effort to communicate with David (who speaks very little English) was what made Isaiah functionally fluent in Swahili.

David had been living somewhat far away when he responded to the message of the Kingdom and was baptized. That, combined with the fact that he struggles with reading (as far as we know), made for a slow process of discipleship. At one point, the church elders had to address a significant issue with him, but he showed sincere repentance and one of the next steps was a willing move to a location closer to the fellowship so that he could grow stronger spiritually. He lived right across the path from us for a while, was forced to move, and then found another place across the main road. There are several brothers who live near each other there, so it’s a great way for them all to mutually encourage one another. The accountability has also been good for David.

One thing we’ve all noticed about David is that he’s a really good Dad. His children obviously love and respect him and he’s cared for them well as his wife has recently struggled with illness. However, Isaiah (who spends a lot of time at David’s house) did report that David has a bit of a temper when the children misbehave.

Sunday at our communion meal, a large group of about 20 adults ate together and then were encouraged by our brother Sam to examine ourselves in preparation for sharing in the body and blood of Christ. This is always a quiet and introspective time and although public confessions are encouraged, they are somewhat rare. Such a thing is just not a part of African culture. This week, however, was an exception. Many stood to confess and share their struggles and ask for prayer. David was one of them–the first time he’s publicly shared during our fellowship meal.

The night before, he had been sleeping at his home farm some distance away. He still has a house there, which has a sleeping mat and a few other things in it because he stays there when it’s time to plant or harvest beans or maize. Although a vacant house is usually an invitation for robbery or vandalism, David’s brothers live close by so there have thus far been no problems. However, on this particular Saturday night as David was sleeping, he reported that he was awakened by some unusual noises outside the house. He went out with his spotlight and found nothing, so returned to bed.

Some time later, he was abruptly awakened by some more noises. Though nothing obvious, he knew it meant trouble. He said that he got out of bed and stood by the window. (His house is a mud-and-stick construction with one window and one door, which is typical in our area.) Soon, water began to seep in around the window and he guessed that there were three men outside trying to break through the wall and enter the house. He simply waited quietly in the dark with a fimbo (a straight club with a large round ball on one end, which can easily finish someone) and a flashlight in his hands.

Eventually, one of the men worked his way in, leaving his two friends outside. David reported that he struggled internally; his strong reaction was to beat the man and cause the robbers to leave. (You must understand that here, robbers don’t just come to steal and then quietly leave. In the face of any opposition, they typically have and use machetes or knives to defend themselves. It’s kill-or-be-killed, since any robbers caught in the act are typically subject to vigilante justice, often having petrol poured on them and a match lit.)

However, David said, he had “another voice” telling him not to follow his natural reaction. Instead, he quickly positioned himself in front of the broken-through wall and shined his spotlight in the face of the intruder. In his own words, he “shined his light, and the man fell down!” He told the man, “You will not get out of here!” and tied his hands together. He then called his brothers, and the men all stood watch until morning, when it was determined that the man was a neighbor and should be freed without repercussions. His friends had already fled.

I wondered, if David had not sinned against the man, why was he standing to confess? And then he admitted that he felt that his feelings of anger were sin and he was asking for forgiveness and prayer.

After the Communion meal, we talked as a family. Marc wondered aloud if, when David said, “he shined his light and the man fell down!,” that was an African way of confessing that he had turned on his flashlight and then beamed the guy in the head with the club. (This is not a big stretch if you understand the differences between our Western-style of communication and their Eastern style.) So he sent Isaiah to David’s house to “confirm.” As it turned out, David did, indeed, refrain from doing harm to the man, choosing instead to “love his enemies” and “not resist an evildoer,” as Jesus had commanded. The intruder, expecting to break through the wall into an empty house, was probably just greatly surprised to find that he was not alone. Given David’s size, I can understand his reaction.

With the struggles we sometimes face in the lengthy and difficult process of discipleship, David’s testimony of this weekend stands as a great encouragement not only to us, but to our entire fellowship. It demonstrates the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of Jesus’ teachings and God’s upside-down Kingdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us walk in that truth, even when our flesh would prompt us to do otherwise. Join me in praising God and in praying for David and others in our fellowship here who are striving to enter the narrow gate and follow the path that leads to eternal life.

Family Challenge: Eat Locally

When we first moved to Kenya, one of our greatest challenges was adapting our appetites to the food that was available locally. (There’s a whole chapter dedicated to this in my first-year memoir, The Kingdom of God is not About Eating and Drinking.) Though contentment with our diet was difficult during year one, it was somehow achieved during year two, although we still did make some concessions. Items you might not find on our neighbors’ tables would include spaghetti; Ramen noodles; chicken, beef, or pork a couple of times per week; and (occasionally) oatmeal for breakfast or pizza for supper. Eventually, we conceded to purchasing Ghee (clarified butter) during our trips to Kitale, as a healthier replacement for the yellow “cooking fat” and margarine available locally. We felt OK about “extras” like vanilla and vinegar, also only available in town. All in all, we were pretty pleased with our menus, the resulting budget, and achieving that sometimes-elusive “balance” that being a mzungu in Africa (and particularly, a Kingdom Christian in Africa) seems to require.

Somehow, during the past six months or so, we’ve begun to feel like some of what we’ve allowed/excused in our eating habits has crossed the fine line into over-indulgence. I’m not sure why or how that happened. It may have to do with the fact that there are now two new “Super Stores” in Kitale that cater to wazungu like us. And if it’s available somewhat locally, then it must be OK, right? At least, that’s how we ended up reasoning. Also, in hosting a steady stream of visitors earlier in the year (and wanting to accommodate their American appetites and show them hospitality that they would appreciate), perhaps our appetites learned to re-appreciate a more expanded palate? But, we were left with the nagging feeling that we’ve made concessions that perhaps were not best for us, practically or spiritually. I can never read Jesus’ teachings in Luke 6 (verses 24-25) without some serious self-examination:

But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry…

We have the option to eat what and how we want because we are rich. Perhaps not any longer by American standards, but certainly in comparison to our neighbors here. And we have tried very hard to live in light of that reality and walk in obedience to Jesus. It is, however, a continual challenge and we feel that the balance has swung too far in a direction we don’t care to go. So we’re making some changes once again…

As a family, we have decided to take a 30-day challenge: eat locally. And by “locally,” I mean what is available in the half-dozen shops in our area–not in the large village market, and definitely NOT the “big city” of Kitale.  We talked about what that would mean, the sacrifices we would need to make…and wondered, could we really do it? I’ll admit, I struggled with making the decision, feeling like we’re sacrificing good health. Because frankly, some of our neighbors’ health struggles that we commonly see in the clinic are caused by nutritional deficiencies, and certainly their immune response to illness is often compromised by the same. So, I asked myself, if we eat more like the locals do, will it be harmful to our health, and (if that is the case) is it really good stewardship to move in that direction? However, I do believe that if we are striving to be good stewards and live Christ’s Kingdom teachings to the best of our abilities, He will certainly provide us with “daily bread” that will meet all our needs.

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We’ll be eating more cabbage soup…

So here’s what “eating locally” means: No beef. If we’re having meat, it’s going to be a chicken we slaughter ourselves. Menu staples are rice, potatoes, cabbage, milk (1-2 L per day), eggs, maize, and beans. Fruits in-season are bananas and avocadoes, though they will be “out of season” for at least a couple of months here-and-there. We also score yellow cherries once in a while. Local shops sell flour, baking powder, salt, margarine, and cooking fat. One of our neighbors just started a little business of roasting peanuts–that’s good protein we would not otherwise have, and it supports a brother in our fellowship (win-win!). Currently we are eating fresh corn from the garden (though it will soon be dry enough to shell), and we also grow our own sukuma (kale), spinach, onions, and pumpkins (that’s Micah’s crop and we pay him 10-20 shillings per pumpkin, which to  a seven year-old is very exciting!). 

While we’ve agreed that we want to only eat what is available in our local shops, we are making a once-weekly trip to the village market to buy the bulk of those items, since economically and practically it makes more sense. For example, we can buy margarine at the shops here, but only in the smallest of quantities, so we’ll be getting a larger size at the market. We can get potatoes and cabbages locally, but not always in quantities necessary for the size of our family, and certainly the potatoes and cabbages are larger and “nicer” at the market. So that’s one concession we’re making, but I think it’s reasonable. We’re also adding three items from the market that are not generally available locally: garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers–in the interest of health.

Based on what we have locally available, our menu options are fewer and not-so-varied, but certainly this is good for our appetites. My only real “complaint” (and I’m certainly not complaining) is that our menu is pretty high on the carbohydrates. But maybe that’s OK and it’s just my American sensibilities that are offended by the perceived lack of “balance” in our diet. There’s probably more balance than I think, and perhaps God is giving us just what we need. All in the name of learning contentment with what He provides. All in all, I definitely think this is do-able, and very good for our family.

Since we have eight children (some with rather entrenched preferences in regard to food), we’re trying to move forward with everyone on board, and we want there to be agreement that this a good thing for all of us, both practically and spiritually. While some are more enthusiastic than others, we’ve all agreed to local-food-only on the basis of a “thirty day challenge.” We’ve just finished the first week, and we’ll evaluate in a few more weeks to see what everyone thinks about continuing. Personally, Marc and I hope that everyone will see that it’s a good thing and will be happy to make more permanent adjustments. On the other hand, perhaps some changes will need to be made. We’ll see…and we’ll keep you posted!

 

“How are you Loving your Neighbor?”

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Peter’s recent baptism

During our Sunday morning fellowship, all the men are free to share  as the Holy Spirit leads.The interactive service is usually encouraging, often interesting, and sometimes just l-o-n-g. In African culture, wazee (old men) are respected, and since our church boasts many of them, it’s not uncommon for all of them to feel compelled to say “something.” This week, one of our newly-baptized wazee, Peter (I think he is about 80 years old), sang us a worship song, which brought a smile to my face.

However, mostly I am still thinking about what Nashon shared…wish I had a picture of him to show you, but the fact that we don’t might tell you something about how shy he is. Marc sometimes takes him along for assistance with translation, and if he’s struggling with words or if something strikes him as humorous, he often gets a hard-to-control case of the giggles. Nashon is (I think) 23 years old, which here in Kenya is still considered a “youth.” (A youth can actually be as old as 30!) But his challenge to all of us during this week’s fellowship showed a wisdom that perhaps even the wazee would envy (though I’m sure they would never say so).

Many spoke about loving one another this week (must have been a Holy Spirit theme) and I don’t think I could even summarize all of what Nashon had to say, but really, it was only one statement/question which made me think, and perhaps even challenged me:

People find it easy to love someone who is far away. But you, how are you loving your neighbor?

And isn’t it true? When we lived in America, it was “easy” to send money to this cause, that person…all good, and certainly something we should all do. I’m not knocking financial giving. But at the same time, I could be challenged to love those closest to me in practical ways (even my family members) when I had to see all the attitudes and behaviors in them that I didn’t like, deal with situations that weren’t easy or comfortable, and see in myself all the areas needing improvement as a result.

How often do we all willingly give or do things for others who are “far away” (i.e., perhaps not intimately involved in our lives), but neglect to really love (in word and deed) those closest to us? Why is it that others so often see our good sides, while we “let it all hang out” at home and let those we’re supposed to love the most see us at our very worst?

As a fellowship, we got back together at 6 PM for our communion meal. Our brother  Sam opened up the fellowship by sharing a bit, and I don’t know if he meant to continue on the morning’s theme, but he also talked about loving others and wondered,

If someone went and talked to your neighbor, what would he say? Would he say that you are a Christian?

It’s true that we all will only stand before God in judgment and that no man can know another’s heart…but at the same time, a tree is known by its fruit. The people we are closest to are the ones who should be witness to our “fruit.” And they are, whether it be good or bad.

You, how are you loving your “neighbor”? If someone went and talked to your neighbor, what would he say?

Meet Silas…

We met Silas pretty much on day one when we moved to the village here in Kenya. He owns a shop just across the street from our house, where he lives and works with his wife, daughter, and newborn baby son.

Though we didn’t know it from the moment we met, Silas was eventually identified as that “man of peace” that would be instrumental in expanding the Kingdom of God in our community.

2014-06-24 17.24.31Recently, we helped Silas to purchase a piki piki (motorbike), in hopes that a fledgling business as a boda boda (driver) would help provide more comfortably for their family so that Silas would be more free to invest his time “on the mission.” Most recently, he coordinated many of the brothers (under the direction of Charlton Sweazy) to construct a home for a widow in our fellowship. He also regularly shares the Gospel of the Kingdom with visitors to his little shop, runs patients to the local clinic under Wanda’s direction, and visits satellite fellowships that are still in need of teaching and discipleship. If there’s anything to be done, not only do we trust Silas to do it, but he is always willing.

If Silas has a fault, it’s his memory. Rumor has it he suffered a head injury as a youth and was never the same (though we’ve never confirmed that to be true). In any case, he often confuses the English words “remember” and “forget” and he’s always “remembering” something–which is really “forgetting.” So when you call him to pick you up on his piki piki, he sometimes gets distracted and then “forgets to remember,” or “remembers to forget.” In other words, multiple phone calls by way of reminder are often necessary. And sometimes he shows up at the door and, after greeting and small talk, when asked if he needs something, he may stand there with a dazed look for several minutes before, with a shake of his head, he says, “Oh, yes!” and then proceeds with the reason for his visit.

We love Silas!

Riding on the piki today behind Silas, on my way to a women’s meeting, reminded me just why someone like Silas is such a gem. For starters, let me compare him with many other drivers at the boda boda “stage” in town (the place where you can hire a driver from a sea of motorbikes). Many of them are drunkards (not necessarily abstaining in order to pursue a living as a driver). Some are just plain rude and crude. Then there are those who lack not only a desire for safety but common sense as well. Couple that with dirt roads where potholes are the rule rather than the exception, impromptu speed bumps pop up unexpectedly, and pikis share the road with animals, pedestrians, bicycles, the occasional car, and other unsafe pikis often driving at high speeds, and a ride into town (or even a couple kilometers to a women’s meeting) can be downright scary.

I meditated on this as I rode peacefully on the back of Silas’s motorbike this morning. Needless to say, Silas is as straight-laced as they come. He drives at a moderate speed and even slows down for speed bumps so I don’t fly up off the seat. I smiled when we came upon a little girl, maybe a year old, sitting in a little pothole in the dirt path we were driving on. I wondered what Silas was doing as he stopped and beeped his horn, since the house we were at wasn’t our final destination. Turns out he just wanted to get the attention of the girl’s mother, who was busy doing her wash in the courtyard.  They had a short conversation, and then Silas said to me, “Yeah, many drivers they go too fast and they might not see her.” True enough!

I called him to come pick me up as I thought our meeting was wrapping up, since for him it was about a 15-minute ride and I didn’t really want to wait around. However, as it turns out, our closing prayer time went on longer than I thought it would and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Silas pull up on the path outside before we finished. He ended up sitting there for about 10 minutes and I wondered what was going on when I saw him turn around and disappear down the path the same way he had come. To my amusement, when I exited the house I found him giving one of the neighborhood little tykes (about 2 years old, maybe) a spin on his piki, safely situated on the gas tank in front of him. Needless to say, the boy was smiling from ear to ear.

I apologized for making him wait and said,”Those Mamas prayed long today!” To which he simply laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s like that.” (That’s one of Silas’s favorite phrases, which he uses liberally and sometimes in a way totally unrelated to the conversation.)

To my surprise, one of the Mamas from the meeting begged a ride home, since it was on our way. Without missing a beat, I got squashed between her and Silas like a mzungu sandwich. Ordinarily, having a piki driver practically in my lap would make me uncomfortable, but knowing that it also  made Silas uncomfortable actually made me feel better. I noticed that he scooted up on the gas tank as far as he possibly could to create more space for me. 😉

So now you’ve met Silas and gone with me a  morning errand on the back of his piki. …”It’s like that.”

More than “church”

Being part of the Body of Christ means more than just meeting Sunday-to-Sunday. We’ve long known that, experienced it in our home fellowship in America, and have only prayed for it here. It has been greatly encouraging to see our little fellowship flourish during our Sunday meetings…but this past week, we’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work, enabling all of the brothers and sisters here to function as a true body of believers. Unfortunately, it took some trials and struggles for everyone to see it, but God is just that good–even when bad things happen.

For example, it came to Silas’s attention that Patrice has been going to stay at a neighbor’s house every time it rains (and that’s a lot during our current “rainy season!”) But Patrice has had health issues and lack of work which made it financially impossible for him to repair the thatch. He finally came into some work and Silas took charge with some “tough love” (because apparently he knows that Patrice isn’t always wise with his money).  He commandeered Patrice’s earnings, put his punda (donkeys) and cart to work, and went to town with Patrice to buy some iron sheets. Henry, our neighbor, got involved, and eventually a plan was made to not only re-roof but re-build Patrice’s house. Of course, Marc got involved, buying nails and bringing his tools so that the convening group (which included Patrice’s unbelieving family members) could all pitch in and help. (You can see some of the photos on Marc’s Facebook.)

Sam lives in the center of our village, where the road is going to be widened and many shops are threatened with extinction, including his. The day came this week when action was forced; Sam needed to demolish his shop and so did many of his neighbors. Isaiah got his schoolwork done in record time early one morning so that he could bring all of our tools to town and help out as many people as possible. (Of course, doesn’t every young man long for the opportunity to demolish stuff?) He and Sam worked together on his shop and one other before illness got to Isaiah. He’d been feeling a little under-the-weather in the morning and by noon couldn’t do any more, so he unfortunately had to come home. But, according to Sam’s testimony at church this week, not before a surprised crowd of piki drivers and other bystanders and all noted that the mzungy had come to help, free of charge. Apparently, it caused quite a stir. We pray it would be a testimony to God’s glory!

On Friday afternoon, Isaiah had just crossed the road to go visit Silas at his shop when he heard that Charles and Ester’s son, Benja, had been hit by a piki. (Benja is only 6 and a frequent playmate of our kids.) The driver immediately brought Benja to the hospital and came back for Charles, who was working right next door building the Sweazy’s house. Isaiah called me and asked if he could follow with Silas, so they came and got Marc’s motorbike and some money (just in case it was needed). I convened the children and we all sat down to pray. Amazingly, the piki driver stayed until treatment was finished and paid the bill himself (this is highly unusual for Kenya). We praised God for that provision, and for the unity of the body in response to the emergency. We also are thankful for answered prayer, as Benja lost a tooth or two (which are still baby teeth, anyway) and suffered no more than a very fat lip and a couple of other bumps and bruises.

Not more than hours later, Ester herself fell ill in the middle of the night. She asked her oldest daughter and a neighbor to get Pastor Masika (Henry) because Charles was at work (he is a night watchman). In her testimony today, she related that she was shivering violently and unable to walk. She had severe shortness of breath such that she could barely talk. Henry spent quite some time with her praying, and Ester reports that she felt a great relief of burden as a result. After he left, she was able to sleep in peace. However, the next morning, the symptoms returned. Getting her to the hospital was a cooperative effort, as there isn’t much available at 6:30 AM and when Charles and Silas tried to put her on a piki they found it impossible, since she had no motor ability whatsoever. To get from her bed to the door, she had crawled on hands and knees. Marc called a contact in town who had a car, but due to the road-widening it was unable to be moved. He then called Sam and asked him to go to the stage (where cars and bikes convene, waiting for passengers), and ask one of the cars to come pick up Ester. He was on his way, but before he completed the errand Silas ended up hailing a car that was driving by and was willing to bring them to the hospital. Funding was provided to meet the emergency, Marc put out a prayer request on FB (to which many international brothers and sisters responded), and we prayed as a family. When they arrived at the hospital, Ester was given an injection (not sure of what) and she says after a very short time she began feeling healed. The doctors could find no physical explanation for her serious illness, so they simply sent her home. And she came to church praising God this morning! We trust that her “mysterious” healing was the work of God, and give Him thanks!

Seeing the unity of the brothers and sisters here is just awesome. Each person is contributing to the needs according to their gifts and abilities, anxious to take part in the Body of Christ in love and service. One day this week, for example, Silas and Patrice came to cut and stack the remainder of our maize harvest, since Marc’s schedule was pretty full with travel and teaching. Patrice also happily stopped over here a couple of times (after a full day’s work on the Sweazy house) to fix some maize stands that had fallen. It has been a great joy to see, and participate in, what God is doing through Kingdom community in Kenya.

Sunday: Home Fellowship and Baby Dedication

On Sunday a small group met at our home for fellowship. We’re “supposed to” convene at 8 AM, since some folks still go to other church services later in the day but of course, THIS IS AFRICA. We finally got started at almost 9:00. Even so, our time together was a blessing.

We’ve tried to open our home for fellowship before, but at the time we were still the new wazungu in the community, so it was far from being true ekklesia–we attracted lots of folks interested in seeing us and our home, and having chai and something to eat. It didn’t take long before we abandoned that and started building relationships and focusing on disicpleship. We then began to meet with a very small group for a meal and mutual encouragement on Saturday evenings. That morphed into a more “open” service on Sunday morning, which includes committed followers of Christ as well as serious seekers (one of whom was baptized after meeting with Marc for most of last Sunday after our fellowship time).

This group, meeting now for a couple of months, has really been a blessing to us. Far from being the wazungu-centered gathering that it was initially, there is lots of interaction and participation. Our neighbor, Henry, pastor at a local church, usually opens us in prayer and filled in with a teaching a couple of weeks ago when Marc was away.  Sam and Patrice offer a welcome, encourage testimonies and praise reports, and ask for prayer requests. They also share short teachings or encouragement from the Scriptures. One will share in Swahili, and the other translate into English. They do this pretty seamlessly now, whereas at first there was a lot of whispered communication and fumbling for “what next.” Florence is a gifted singer and almost always leads us in a song of worship at just the right times. All the children who come are learning to listen quietly and be respectful of our time together.

Our time of testimonies is a special blessing to me, as I love to hear what God is doing in folks’ lives. Last week, Ester, a relatively young believer who had been very sick over the previous week, shared a testimony that still makes me smile when I think of it. (You may remember that Charles and Ester were recently married at our house.)  She said something like, “Last week satan was trying to push me down. I was sick and discouraged and I knew I needed to pray. Nobody taught me how to pray, but I learned! And now God has delivered me, and I feel like singing!” And she proceeded to lead us in a very exuberant song, with a beautiful smile and an absolute glow about her face. God is good!

After our fellowship time this week, Marc and I were slated to attend a baby dedication ceremony at the home of a neighbor, one I met through the Department of Public Health during our recent children’s clinic. We were told it would begin at 1:00, but then Rose (who was going with us) said it wasn’t “really” until 2:00. She was supposed to pick us up but by the start-time still hadn’t arrived and wasn’t answering her phone. We knew the location wasn’t far but weren’t exactly sure where we were going. Hating to be late, we decided to wing it and ask around. Fortunately, Silas was coming in just as we were going out and he commandeered a child escort to take us to our destination. (Silas has been drying his maize on our lawn and wanted to get it re-bagged before the afternoon rain, otherwise I’m sure he would have gone with us himself.)

So we arrived at the dedication on “African time,” which was great because we got to slip into some unobtrusive seats in the back row. (There were rows of narrow benches set under a tarp, which was just a bunch of burlap sacks sewed together.) But not for long. Once the organizers realized we had arrived, we got escorted  right to the VIP seating in front. I understood about 1/4 of what the Master of Ceremonies was saying, which I thought was pretty good. The speeches were all peppered with a whole lot of Bwana asifiwe (“Praise the Lord”). About midway through the celebration, just as the baby (Simon Peter) made his appearance at the front (though “appearance” is a relative term, since he was abundantly swaddled in about three blankets), it started to rain. Hard. We were at the edge of the tent and needed to push our chairs in a little to avoid getting wet. However, there were holes in the burlap sacks and, though we tried to maneuver around them, there was no safe location. Eventually a big gusts of wind threatened the stability of the tent at various locations, so men scurried around with sticks and tried to prop it up. Others got more burlap sacks and tried to cover the audio equipment, as it was large enough of a gathering to require microphone and speaker.

It wasn’t long before everyone realized that we’d need to move indoors. Transporting a group that size, plus equipment and seating, in driving rain, was very interesting.  About 120 of us stood crammed into a room approximately 14’x16′ feet, with a small path through which the benches were brought in and re-arranged. Somehow we fit enough in that everyone could sit down. Everyone was amazingly adaptable to the change in plans, the slight discomfort, and the fact that nearly all the guests were wet. There was even good humor about the few times that the host’s pigeons (also flying around inside due to the rain) perched atop some of the guests’ heads.

The dedication included prayers, gift-giving, lots of wimbo (song), and the interesting tradition of passing the little baby around, to be held by every guest in attendance. Marc tried to get a picture/video of this, as it was a very happy event with lots of singing, but unfortunately there was no lighting in the house (save what came in through the open door), so photo ops were limited.

Most were excused after the formalities, but the “VIPs” stayed behind in the house. With just a bit more re-arranging of furniture, we were served chai, rice (from a 5-gallon pail) and beans, mandazi and chapati.

The walk home was fun, as many locations in our narrow path had been flooded out, but we were just in time for dinner. Thankfully, I had made a small batch of granola earlier in the day (intended for the next day’s breakfast), but it and some bananas made a good supper, since I didn’t really have time to prepare much else.

After a day like this Sunday, we can’t help but be thankful for the continually developing relationships within our community, and for what God is doing. Bwana asifiwe!

Family Game Plan: Clinic Day

Up until now, my de-worming clinic effort has been conducted fairly quietly. (I wasn’t even sure that the majority of the children knew that there was something going on.) So today we finally had a “family meeting,” and I explained that I was going to be working at the church tomorrow to provide assistance to children and families in our community. I asked the kids if they thought they could do anything to help, and if they would be interested in serving. I was pleasantly surprised with the response, as they all agreed that they would like to be involved.

Of course, Isaiah and Jonah have already been of help, going to town to pick up supplies for me. They went on Tuesday to get the medicine and some rubber gloves. Today I realized that the older kids taking  tablets might want some water to drink, and we all agreed that a candy upon leaving would be a nice treat for the kids. So, the boys went back to town today to get a new pitcher (ours having lost its cover long ago and recently sprung a crack anyway), some paper cups, and bags of candy. Unfortunately, our neighborhood chemist was unable to procure the cups and there’s no where else in our village that has them, so I texted Marc a request to pick some up in town on his way home–he’s visiting a house church pretty far away in West Pokot today. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get them, but if we have to resort to washing and re-using regular cups that’s okay, too; only a minor inconvenience.

So here’s the game plan we agreed upon: as people come into the clinic tomorrow, the younger children will act as “greeters” (all the African Mamas love greeting the little wazungu!). I’m sure blond, chubby little Enoch (age 2) will be a favorite. The trick will be keeping him out of trouble, so Rebekah is the designated greeter and “baby watcher.” Isaiah is going to staff the table and determine ages of children and the necessary doses of medicine. (Children under two take only half of the “single dose” bottle of liquid. If tablets, ages up to 4 take one, ages 5-12 take two, and 13+ take three). Rose and I will oversee and assist with medicine distribution. Deborah and Hannah will serve water to those who want it, and Jonah is the self-appointed “candy man.” If the littles start getting into too much trouble, they’ll either go outside to play or go home with one of the older kids (it’s particularly convenient being right across the street!)

Today I need to make up some sort of sign to announce the clinic. Publicizing an event like this is one of the challenges, as it really only happens through word-of-mouth, and I don’t know how effective we have been/will be with that aspect of it. However, from what I gather, things like this end up like Field of Dreams (“If you build it, they will come.”) I’m hoping that as a small number come in, it will attract others and the word will quickly get around. We’ll see…

The kids are already asking if they can come help with the larger clinic in the village center. That would be a logistical challenge, considering our family dynamics and the fact that the only method of transport is piki piki (motorbike). So that remains to be seen. But as to tomorrow, everyone is excited and ready to go!

Farming God’s Way and Kingdom Driven Ministries

We have a solid first-tier of disciples here in Kenya (small in number but mighty) and a handful of others who are coming along, slow but sure. It is time to help them run with the vision for expanding the Kingdom of God. But just as we wazungu utilize the Two Kingdoms tract and the pamphlet of the teachings of Jesus to simplify the process,  they want to, too. That costs money, of course. We receive donations that fund this, and we also are able to offer  financial gifts to kick-start or expand businesses, provide food and medical care, subsidize funeral expenses, and whatever else seems needed at the moment. These folks are so hand-to-mouth that to be able to engage in Kingdom living and giving on this scale seems like an impossibility, and Kingdom Driven ministries (in the form of missionaries living here, anyway) isn’t going to be here forever. What then?

And so it begins: we’re taking what we’ve done here on the ground in terms of “making disciples who make disciples” and trying to make it self-propagating (i.e., not reliant on a constant influx of Western money). Marc is, of course, primarily the one involved in making this happen and he’s trying to begin with projects that will be successful, will replicate, and are not too difficult to implement. He’s looking at all of the strengths of the current discipleship here, determining what level of involvement they want in a project, what their giftings are, what the various returns on investment will be, and so on. (God is really utilizing the project management skills that Marc honed as a professional in the US!)

First up: buying large bags of dry beans. Right now they sell for about 100 KSH per kilo, but in a few month’s time they’ll be up to about 140, and in just shy of a year they might go as high as 200 KSH, if past performance is a reliable indicator. I don’t know how many kilos we’ve bought so far (I’m a blogger, not really involved in the operations!) but currently it’s stored in our office. Kingdom Driven Ministries has purchased a very small plot of land locally to build a storage building, but that can’t be completed until after the maize is harvested, in a couple of months’ time. Here’s what it looks like:

beans

Also, Marc has had a vision for teaching and equipping locals with the Farming God’s Way agricultural method, but he also wants to utilize it to profit the ministry so that the funds can be used to support Kingdom expansion and meet practical needs within the community. Project Number Two: KDM has leased a plot of approximately a half-acre, which will be farmed for maize and beans beginning early in 2014. An immediate need is to prepare the land by gathering large amounts of appropriate mulch. In a place where you very rarely get something for nothing (and where wazungu generally get charged double the usual going rate), Marc was thrilled a few days ago to get offered a free supply of non-flowering grasses from the property of a local muindi (person from India). He immediately mobilized several workers–one volunteer manager, a couple of Kingdom Christians who were in need of work, and several others from the community. The first day, we paid from our personal funds to gather some more mulch for our own garden (which this year functioned as a Farming God’s Way test plot). Today and tomorrow is earmarked to collect for the KDM field. For about $15 per day, we can gather as much as we want (mulch is free, only a daily wage is paid to the workers, at the rate of about $3 per person per day). Since the field we leased is currently home to someone else’s maize, we’re storing the mulch in our front yard.

mulch on bike

Isaiah is providing labor (50 KSH per day, 1/4 the adult wage) and assisting by running loads of mulch from the field to our yard on his Suzuki. Silas is using Marc’s Yamaha. Together, they keep things moving pretty quickly.

mulch pile

Jubliee (age 4) is not much help, but she feels very big standing on top of the growing mulch pile.

The kids are having a blast tumbling on it, throwing it around, building things with it, and whatever else they can think of. We’re excited about what it will do for funding future missions, not to mention how it is currently profiting our local community by providing several days’ labor for quite a few people. We are thankful that the Lord has provided a free source for this necessary ingredient for successful farming, which could have potentially been very costly.

We trust you are rejoicing with us in seeing how God is moving in East Africa for Kingdom expansion! We appreciate your prayers, and if you wish to donate to this or other work, you can do so here: www.kingdomdriven.org/donate. To give specifically to this project, you can give a general donation and earmark it with a note upon checkout, such as “Farming God’s Way project.”

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