Days and Words and Hearts

chairs in a circle

These days have been filled. My home has been filled with visitors. Chairs filled with faces. The air filled with words. I listen to the words that come from the faces in the chairs, and what I hear is hearts. I think we suppose that words come only from the mouth, but they really come from the heart. Each face is a heart, and each word is entry into it. Heart faces speak words.

Seeking. Hopeful. Impoverished. Broken.

They don’t say these words, but it’s what their words are speaking. I don’t know what to say to such big words, but I know all words must become subject to one Word. So I find myself searching this Word.

What I find is my own seeking. My own hopefulness. My own poverty and brokenness.

I find myself in Jeremiah 18:4 at the potter’s house, and the vessel that he was making from clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he made it over, reworking it into another vessel as it seemed good to the potter to make it.

And I hear the one Word speak, can I not do with you as this potter does? … I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you and continued My faithfulness to you. Again I will build you and you will be built (Jer. 18:6, 31:3-4).

I find my own need of rebuilding and reworking, but I also hear one Word to govern my needy words.

So, I pray.

I pray for Seeking One. Hopeful One. Impoverished One. Broken One. I pray for words.

Hearts filled with blood give life to bodies. Hearts filled with this one Word give life to souls. But, hearts filled with fat sentence death to bodies. How many people have their hearts filled with words that are silently constricting the blood flow so that their soul will perish?

Only God knows.

But, I play nurse and seek to hear symptoms so that clarity might be given to the essence of their disease. The disease of humanity apart from this one Word. In this nursing, I find that souls are simpler than bodies. Bodies need many different treatments, but the life of a soul is found in One. One Person. One Word. I pray that One Word would govern their words. I pray that One Word would fill my words. I pray that One Word would fill their hearts.

So, I fill my days. I fill my house with visitors. My chairs with faces. Seek to fill the air with One.

 

In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. (John 1:1)

 

 

 

 

How to Deal with What We See

pool-01

As we move about the city, whether walking or riding, we see so many things. On the way to the church there is a little pool on the side of the road. Water collects there, either by way of a broken water main or because it’s just a natural place for water to collect. It’s dirty water no matter how you look at it.

Every time we pass that place we see soapy kids, still half-clothed, splashing around and bathing. We see women washing clothes, cars parked to be cleaned, plastic water bottles being rinsed out to be used again, buckets, and even wheel barrows, being filled. Basically anything you can imagine doing with water is being done there.

It’s an unforgettable sight.

 

Man carrying water in a wheel barrel

 

Coming back to Malawi this year I was once again overwhelmed by the sights. I thought that this year would be easier. I thought I would be ok with the “what we see” part of Malawi, but I was wrong. The imagery is still just as powerful as ever. I can’t remember how I dealt with it last year, but maybe that’s all part of the plan.

A few days ago I was surprised by something curious. In the midst of one of these very sights, I stopped for a minute because I sensed a feeling I had felt before. I asked myself, how is it possible that I have joy? Of all the times and places, how is it here and now that I find my heart filled with joy? I think I’m learning that I don’t have to be happy with what I see in order to experience joy.

II Corinthians 6:10 says, “As sorrowful, yet always always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.”

Ministering to all aspects of peoples’ lives is the most humbling experience of my life. I certainly don’t have any strength to be here, but the joy of the Lord has become my strength. Everyday we see the poorest people we have ever seen, but joy lets us see these very poor people as possessing all things.

PHOTOS: Walking Lilongwe

Lisa

These are just a few images from the area that Lisa and I live. Keep in mind we live in a nice part of town. Click on any of the images to see the full size version.

This is Sir Glyn Jones Ave. in Lilongwe. 
There you see two mini-busses passing each other. It’s a miracle that they are not constantly smashing into each other. This road is usually much more busy. 

MainStreetLookingUpThis is same street
Looking up the street. People are always walking along this road, some riding, and others taking a break.

This is the same street again. 
A couple of people walking along the side of the road

Side Street

A Church Door 

This is the Church gate
It’s more welcoming than you might think. Here security is always welcome.

Small Church
Most little churches are not this quaint, I appreciate the traditional look every now and again.

Tree Roots
The only other place I’ve seen roots like this is the Amazon jungle in Ecuador.

Bike Rider

Lisa
Outside the new Tea Garden just before our Tuesday staff meeting/date.

Tea Garden
Creative way to use old glass bottles

Why I Missed Malawi

malawi travel

I had the chance to greet some people from the church and the Bible college today, and the one question I was asked over and over was, “how was your holiday?” Little do they know that home, the USA, is no holiday, but this, Malawi, is the holiday — if you like your holidays served with a side of running stomach.

One thing I’ve noticed is that people here assume we are escaping from this place when we go home, but that’s not the case at all. Both places have difficulties. The challenge in any place is what you do with the difficulties, but there is certainly no escape.

Other people loved greeting us with just one word, “missing.” That says it all. I find it hard to believe that anyone besides my mother would miss me, but she has to miss me, it’s her job. I think the missing is genuine though, so I’ll accept it and move on.

We missed Malawi, too. Of course, there is so much we didn’t miss. I won’t start my usual list at this point — ok, just one: mosquitos. As I sit here on my wicker couch, one just got me on the big toe. I hate those little things.

Now that I think of it, I didn’t actually miss anything about Malawi. If I’m being honest, I didn’t even want to come back here. I could go on and on about all the things I didn’t miss about this place, but, when I stop to think about it, I can’t think of one thing I did. Maybe real sugar Coke? But, you can get that in the States now.

I guess the interesting thing about the day we live in is that everything is about what I want or don’t want. Well, if that’s the case, I don’t want to live here. But, here I am, of free volition, back in Malawi, and so grateful I’m here in this place I don’t want to be.

A Franciscan Nun named Mary Kerr said this, “To understand the Bible’s use of the word ‘meek,’ we should picture a great stallion at full gallop. At his Master’s voice, he seizes up and comes to an immediate halt. He stands holding his great power in check, listening for the next order.”

I think of myself more like a donkey ready to carry some tourists on a walking tour down the Grand Canyon, but still standing, in check, listening for my next order.

I’m learning I don’t need my life to be about what I want to do, where I want to be, or who I want to become. I don’t need my life to be about doing something I don’t want to do, either. I just need to be in the place that God has for me to be. When I get my orders, then I’ll run as fast as I can knowing I’m doing what the Master has called me to do.

The great stallion is still listening for orders when he is at full gallop or when he is stopped. I would like to think that in both cases meekness is the picture.

Matt

The Simple Life of a Missionary

MeAndIssac

Who knew missionary life would be so easy and so difficult at the same time? It’s the personal challenge of living in a foreign place and dealing with very different people, but in that place and with those people we are doing something so easy, we are making friends.

Well, it was our last Sunday in Malawi, for 2015. Everyone thoughtfully greeted us and wished us safe travels. We have an amazing church. To think that just nine months ago we did not know a single Malawian person, and today we know so many; and greater than that, we now have so many Malawian friends.

 

Lisa with friends - missionary life

 

 

This is the secret to missions, and really why we can all be called missionaries. Missions is not figuring out what is wrong with people and then telling them about it. It’s just simply being like Christ in whatever place we are in. Christ made friends and made disciples and ultimately gave his life for them; can we not do the same?

I don’t have to change who I am to be a missionary. I don’t need to be more spiritual. In fact, I don’t need to be spiritual at all. My life is submitted to God each and every day, and I expect that anything that follows is all Him.

In missionary life, we show people Christ in our lives, without even knowing it.

What ends up happening is that we show people the Christ in our lives without even knowing it. We show people grace, and we give people truth. We live such a liberated life that people cling to us in hopes that some of us will rub off on them, and it does.

 

Evangelizing at the Post Office in Lilongwe

 

On several occasions over the past nine months, this blog has chronicled our personal sense of being unqualified to live the life of a missionary. We have come to realize that we were actually the most qualified people all along. To be receivers of the grace of God was the only qualification we ever needed.

Some of the greatest missionary names we can think of today went out without an understanding of grace. Many of them paid a dear price to learn it, but once they did, the world was truly never the same.

Mr. Damasek

 

The truth is that being a receiver of grace makes us givers of grace. It’s not I but Christ that lives within me. I can’t think of anything the world needs more now than the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. Missionary life is receiving so much of God’s love and grace that we have no option but to give out the same thing we have received.

What is a missionary, and am I one?

Lisa and ladies

As I sat with a few ladies in the home of one of the women in our church, laughing and crying and sharing life, I couldn’t help but pause in the midst of it to observe the scene before me. We sat in an 8’x8’x8’ “living room” with white walls, long past their pristine beginning, in red upholstered chairs with oak arm rests and legs, like you’d find in a doctor’s office waiting room. There was a mini fridge in the corner and a 12” analog television, complete with bunny ears, and a small DVD player attached to it sitting on the floor.

 

In the opposite corner from the mini fridge was a pile of plush blankets piled on the floor, arranged as a crib, and a wooden mobile suspended from a beam in the ceiling, that twirled in the breeze that occasionally let itself in through the open front door. To be honest, most of these things don’t stand out anymore when I visit someone’s home. What is more recognizable is the heart beating behind the tenderly arranged blankets and carefully arranged furniture.

 

As I sat in my red upholstered doctor’s office chair, I listened to the heart wrenching struggle of its owner over the last few months. She held her active, attentive, wild-eyed four-month-old daughter as she told the story, all the while the little one’s entry into the world being the cause of her mother’s anguish.

Her mother had had a cesaerean section to deliver her. The active youngster was oblivious to the fact that her mother subsequently underwent five additional surgeries and procedures to amend the complications that followed the botched incision that ushered her into the world.

As we all listened, silent and riveted, to the account of this woman’s chilling month long stay in the hospital, she said something that caused a mist to form and swell in my eyes. She recalled one evening during which she arose from her bed to use the bathroom. As she made her way down the hall to the nearest shared patient bathroom, she hugged her chest and prayed,

“Touch my soul and heal my body. Even though there are relatives that could take care of my baby, I want my daughter to feel my love for her one day, so touch my soul and heal my body.”

I was awestruck. She had the most tangible, albeit desperate, reliance on something so much bigger than her. Not just something, someone.

In the modern world of healthcare I come from, complications can always be fixed. The bill always gets paid. People always go home “better” than when they arrived. Here, none of those things are guaranteed. Complications have an uncertain outcome, there aren’t insurance companies to ensure you get the treatment you need if you can’t pay for them, and people very often go home worse than when they arrived.

What is to be done?

There aren’t enough non-profit organizations, wealthy benefactors, or social programs to assist every single family and person that has a need, health wise or otherwise.

The only answer is in that Someone. The only Someone that intimately knows every one.

I don’t know when the term missionary was invented, and for all intents and purposes, it can be a great word to categorize what in the world we are doing here in this third world country. But, I feel like somewhere along the line it became a term for someone who can meet the needs of the needy, or at lease attempt to. And, in an indirect way, I think we may be doing that, but it certainly doesn’t describe what I experienced sitting in that little “living room” with those precious souls listening to a real life horror story.

Even though I had visited her in the hospital, and was now sitting across from her in her home, I had been utterly powerless to help or change her situation. Ignorant of her options and the extent of the facility’s resources, I couldn’t help with her surgical complications; and, having no source of my own income currently, I couldn’t make the slightest dent in her nearly $4000 hospital bill, which is nearly five times the average household income for a Malawian.

So, what kind of missionary am I then? I’m not the kind that can meet the needs of the needy, apparently.

On the way home from my visit with this walking miracle, the echo of the Apostle Peter’s words in Acts 3:6 resonated through my mind.

“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.”

As we walk the dusty streets and bounce around in dilapidated old minibuses from area to area in Malawi, we are living our lives relying and leaning on that Someone, the Lord Jesus Christ. We have nothing of any worldly value to give anyone, but what we do have, we give without reservation.

When we were about to leave this courageous woman’s home, her husband thanked us for giving our time to visit. All I could say was that I knew the only way to safely keep my time was to spend it. Spend it with people. Spend it listening and loving. Spend it without reservation.

I’m not sure if I am what would be defined as a missionary, but I know that what happened in that woman’s home was real and unforgettable. So, if that is what being a missionary is, then count me in.

Stories: Jack Phiri

Jack Piri

Jack Phiri according to me.

Upon meeting him you get the sense that every wrinkle on Jack’s face tells a story. His life must have been an interesting one. How he ended up here, with us, is a mystery. Sometimes you don’t need to know every detail to know a person; their face says it all.

His eyes are always filled with compassion (I guess after having ten children in one of the poorest places on earth you might learn a thing or two about compassion). His clothes are mismatched, old and worn, but he brings such dignity to them that they might as well be right off the shelves of a the finest New York City department store. His English is incomprehensible, but it always makes me laugh (apparently when he speaks in his native tongue he can’t be understood either). We all have our quirks, but what really matters is our character. Jack is a man of great character.

This year he made the trip to Zambia for the Greater Grace Conference, ZamCon. He sat quietly, hands folded, and in his suit, for the entire 12 hours. In his own way he was excited, like kid on the way to Disney for the first time.

In these difficult third world places people don’t grow old, they never get the chance. Jack, at 65, somehow managed. He is the oldest full time Bible College student in Malawi. Bible College seems more of a beginning for him. I asked what he wanted to do after Bible College, and he said simply, “I’ll go wherever God takes me”.

He is another example of one our beautiful brothers in Christ here in Malawi.

Post-Dated Three Weeks Ago…How Do I Still Have Doubt?

I’ve seen the vision and witnessed the provision and faithfulness of God, yet I still doubt.

How is it possible to still have doubt?

Unfortunately, I believe this is the nature of man. Why do we continue to go to church week after week? Yes, obedience is part of it, but another part is that it is so easy to forget. If truth could be placed efficiently in our minds, life would be easy, but it can’t be. Truth has to be beaten, molded, and shaped in us until it’s no longer possible to get it out.

Israel, God’s chosen ones, witnessed more of His great power than any of us ever will and still doubted. So, how can we manage not to doubt? Our task is just as great today, our enemy is just as strong, and, truthfully, we are just as capable of doubting.

So what hope is there for us?

I think Israel never realized that their doubt was not the end. There will be doubt. People are evidence-based, and we expect to see to believe. We will inevitably doubt ourselves, our pastors, our friends, our families, our circumstances, and, eventually, even God, but this doubt is not the end. It’s part of the life we choose. The walk of faith is a life that believes what it cannot see. It’s a life that has to learn to see in ourselves, in others, and in this world what God sees and then act on it. It’s rare, and it’s difficult. How many Israelites went back to Jerusalem with Nehemiah? One percent, I think? Only one percent said doubt would not be their end. Of course there will be doubt, but doubt will not be my end.