Posted By . to Salado UMC Kenya Mission Trip at 8/26/2010 02:25:00 PM
August 16, 2010
“God Is Working, Again!”
I just finished another church meeting! As a pastor I do lots of those in the course of a month and year. There was a time when I dreaded them and saw them as just another necessary means to an ends of doing church business. That all changed for me in the fall of 2006. I had been assigned as an interim pastor to a small, rural congregation that had experienced its share of hurt and struggle in its faithfulness to be a viable family of faith. There were several reasons why they had struggled in years past. Some of those reasons were theirs and others had to do with decisions and events outside of their control. Anyway, both had taken its toll on this family of faith. When I went to become their interim I, too, was pretty beat up. I had just left a job I loved as the Chaplain of the Methodist Children’s Home in Waco for 12 years, I was going through a divorce from my wife of 25 years, and my best friend had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Needless to say I didn’t bring that much to the table for them. I was broken, hurt, angry, guilty, disappointed, betrayed, with little confidence and not much of a self left. This interim was all that was available to me so I girded up my loins and accepted the appointment because when it all comes down to it I am a United Methodist pastor and I go where I am sent and called.
The first sermon I preached I broke down and cried through most of it. Actually I cried through most of the first few I preached there. I just couldn’t get through it. It was all too close and I was too raw. I think they were beat up pretty bad too and they just seemed to understand and let me go with it. After a few Sundays I began to find my way there. Their acceptance and love me as I was, broken and all began to heal me. I think God might have used me to help begin healing them too. I don’t really know what happened there but all of a sudden there began to be an excitement about being at church. It even began to find its way into church meetings. Can you imagine that? All of a sudden I began to realize that every time the church met it was an opportunity to sense and get a feel for where God was moving and sort of join in with what God was doing among us there. Attendance at everything began to grow. People didn’t want to miss out on that next opportunity in whatever form it was sensed and expressed. We began to learn that church meetings could become more than they had ever been for us. Our perspective changed and we all enjoyed being together as the family of faith. We began to realize the power of such opportunities and the partnership God was forming with us and between us. And all the while this was all going on we just began to become healthier and whole again as pastor and church.
I just left a mission faire meeting tonight in the library of our church. As we met I sensed that same excitement there. Before that the expansion committee met about the progress and ongoing work with the Vicky Sartor Memorial Youth Activities Center. As we discussed the plans and thought about what God would be doing in and through that facility as it would be used for ministry that old familiar feeling was there again. You know that feeling! That feeling that comes over you when you know that what you are doing somehow is of God. I sensed it tonight at our church in of all places two church meetings. I can’t explain its presence here this evening anymore than I can explain what happened in a small, rural church between a family of faith and their pastor. All I know is what I felt and knew in my heart. I have finally realized what makes such experiences possible in our lives. Why it is God of course. When God is present there are no words that can adequately describe what that is like. God was here again tonight. And God will be here again in the morning. We proclaim that sacred truth each Sunday. We are not alone. God is with us. Thanks be to God!!! You see in the final analysis that is the only truth worth knowing! Such presence can transform anything and anyone, even a church meeting! God is with you. Do you know that? I sure hope so because such knowing will lead you to places you never thought you would go to do things you never thought you could do. Just ask Moses, or Jacob, or Saul, or Esther, or David, or Mary, or Peter, or John, or Paul, or anyone else that came to trust the presence of this God who is working and who will never stop!! God is working, my friends, again!!!
I will see you on the road,
“To continue the journey of seeking, serving, and sharing God’s love.”
Salado United Methodist Church
I have asked Grady Newton, a member of our church and a member of our last Kenya mission trip, to write for the blog-site this week. I hope you will read what he has written and allow God to speak to you through a fresh experience and perspective inspired and empowered by a journey after which no one is ever the same again.
I will see you on the road,
Hurled Over a Distant Ocean
Experiences on a mission trip to a third world country take time to digest and sort into a language that can be empathetically deciphered by those willing to listen. One can only highlight parts of days, pieces of conversations, and images that will be forever embedded in the observer’s memory. Some images are merely interesting; some quite novel; some echo haunting, black clouds of injustice, poverty, and hopelessness; and some gloriously reflect the smiling visage of God. Kenya is a proud, magnificent, lumbering beast. She is pierced with jade and gold jewelry of past civilizations, tattooed with waving banana forests and cool blue mountains, fed by free roaming lions and giraffes, scarred by civil unrest, shackled with corruption, yet fitted with an elaborate headdress of knowledge-hungry citizens. She ambles forward through a maze of English and Swahili syntax and collides head-on with Western culture.
Her myriad needs are apparent and beg for redress.
So why would anyone want to leave the security, safety, and comforts of small-town, USA to travel so far to an unknown place to see strange sights and people? For me, I can only state two reasons: 1) precisely to follow my own innate yearning to leave the security, safety, and comforts of my small home town to see strange sights and people and 2) to heed the nudging voice of God to… just go.
I heard of a traveler besieged and robbed on a distant highway in a distant land. Passersby ignored his torn cloak and moans of pain. We know the story. It is about caring for a neighbor. A Samaritan walked along the same road, saw the man, bound his wounds, attended him to the next town, procured a room for him, and lent him money against his return.
There is a road closer to our homes. Across the access road paralleling Interstate I35 is an oozing hot asphalt street leading to a trailer park. A middle-aged man walks the road who has not worked in three months and can no longer afford cigarettes, a change of underwear, or a meal for his four children. Neither is there a gesture of hope for his anxious wife. Oh yea… he is there….a neighbor…
Another dusty road meanders through the Kenyan hillsides…. The road is deeply furrowed by two-wheeled ox-driven carts…A 15 year old head of the household stands with his three little sisters in front of their splintered wood and corrugated tin shack. Both parents have died of AIDS. The girls sleep together on a tattered blanket on the dirt floor. The boy [GLN1] rests in an adjoining room in a hammock. A wire strung across the room serves as his closet. A tiny family room houses a homemade wooden table and two rickety chairs. Nailed on one wall is a faded portrait of Jesus. Facing their shelter is a small two-room wooden plank shed. The left side shelters two goats, and the other serves as a kitchen. In it, a dirt mound is topped with scavenged pieces of lumber and bush twigs for fire. A dirty black pot sits on dead ashes. The boy must find some bananas today. A calm but unsure look resides upon his face.
Oh yeah… he is there…across an ocean and across a continent…still a neighbor…
We cannot always pick the persons we encounter. Do miles or language or race or economic situation bar us one from another? Are my neighbors only in my community?
What are we to do? What does God expect? In a sweeping simplification, Jesus commanded three things: 1) love God with all your heart,[GLN2] 2) love your neighbor as yourself, (Matt.22:34-40) and 3) go and make disciples of others who will do the same. (Matt. 28:16-20). Other passages echo the message very clearly:
“The king will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers, you did for me.’”
And from Jeremiah 22:16,
“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.
Are not neighboring disciples near and far away?
A recent journey to Africa found ten travelers and myself
near Meru, Kenya. Three dusty, bumpy hours of inching along a lonely, rocky road had rendered our bones shaken and our mouths dry. After maneuvering across one more jagged ravine dotted with straggly, thorny bushes, we came to a halt
atop an arid, rocky hillside. Nearby, a large, round cinderblock water tank proudly rose against the vast horizon. We were heartily greeted by a few neatly dressed men and about a dozen bare-headed women adorned in multi-colored dresses and elaborate necklaces. They sang us two songs in Swahili as they swayed and clapped in unison. We mingled awhile and talked briefly with those who could communicate in heavily accented English. Hitherto unnoticed, a very black complexioned man announced himself wearing crinkled denim blue pants, leather sandals, a sweat stained red and white striped shirt underneath a dusty, worn, dark blue sport jacket.
Bare-headed with a bent walking stick, he looked like someone had randomly glued rusty wire on his face…. Another neighbor?…Another neighbor…”We had”, he emphatically and boisterously claimed, “been placed in the leather pouch of David’s slingshot by God and hurled over a distant ocean” to land on this particular piece of parched land to stand in front of his gleaming black eyes. He thanked the visitors from Grapevine who had provided funds for them to build a water storage tank and pipeline. He welcomed his curious visitors from a strange town called Salado. His friends and relatives had prayed, and God had answered. He assured us that seven kilometers into the distant spring-fed hills and seven more back to their arid, rugged countryside is a daily trek dutifully made by the women of his community to retrieve water for their families. However, the pipe from the hills to the water tank had been trampled by elephants, and there was no water. He unashamedly and humbly beseeched us for money to repair the pipe and erect an electric wire around the tank so the elephants would not damage it. He confidently stated that his faith would surely see his village through to the day when they could turn the spout from the tank and fill their buckets to the rim with fresh water and in turn fill them with the Holy Spirit and thankfulness for friends so far away who had become partners with them in the name of God. Then he backed away behind his friends and disappeared over a rocky hill… Yeah, he’s our neighbor too.
So, what now?
Rather than being overwhelmed by the immense magnitude of the poor and needy, let us act individually and collectively to joyously respond to God’s command to love and care for our neighbors both at home and abroad.
To do that, we have to take an honest look at our own position in society and decide if we are able to leave our comfort zone and truly act on behalf of our neighbors. Perhaps a few words from a classic hymn can joggle our consciences:
“Are ye able? Still the Master
whispers down eternity,
and heroic spirits answer,
now as then in Galilee.
Lord we are able. Our spirits are thine.
Remold them, make us, like thee, divine.
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
A beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.”
It was Martin Luther King Jr. who stated that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Technology has made people aware of the cesspools of poverty around the globe. So let us roll up our sleeves and act. Each of us can make a difference in some way. Henry Van Dyke said “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” Let us heed the wisdom of Proverbs 21:13 … “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”
Perhaps an old African saying might be appropriate here:
“If you think you are too small to make a difference,
try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito.”
Poverty and its wretched effects on people worldwide will undoubtedly never be completely eradicated. But God is love and hope.
Therefore let us ponder the words of Helen Keller: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
My hope is that each of us will become more aware of our needy neighbors both near and far. Let us find the courage to reach out to each other in compassionate faith.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
Amen and halleluiah.