Things we take for granted…..

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I just re-tweeted the following post from Noel Brewer Yeatts, the founder of CauseLife:

“How much are you willing to spend on water? In Guatemala, the cost of water can be more than the average person makes in a week.”

That post reminded me of an event that happened as we were getting ready to leave Uganda in 2006 and return home from a short-term missions trip.

After spending three years in Kenya, Fanta Citrus sodas had become one of my favorites, and I wanted one more before leaving Uganda, so I went into the small restaurant at the Entebbe airport to order one.  I paid in Ugandan shillings, and since I wouldn’t be needing them anymore, I told my waiter to keep the change and to use it for himself. Now mind you, it wasn’t much, I don’t even remember the exact amount, but it was less than a dollar.

He suddenly got this huge grin on his face, and he said, “Thank you, I can now buy water for my family for ten days.”

It was pretty hard to swallow that Fanta Citrus after that.  How much is water, much less clean water worth to you?

My ‘radical’ experiement

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I just finished reading David Platt’s book, Radical. If you are a christian and haven’t read it, you need to do so as soon as possible.  If you enjoy your comfy, middle-class, American life, then you DEFINITELY need to read the book, just be warned, you’re not going to like it, which is even more evidence that you need to read it.

After selling almost every personal possession that we owned in 1999 as we prepared to head for the mission field, I know what it means to give up ‘everything’ in the world’s eyes to answer God’s call on my life. Here I am 12 years later wondering how I got back to the place where I use my salary, or wondering how I’m going to pay for my children’s college as excuses to live the ‘safe’ life. Even though we probably give more money to missions and ministries than we ever have, that is not enough. That’s easy, it’s the giving of myself, my time and my abilities and spiritual gifts that I’m hoarding.

At the end of Radical, David writes about a year-long experiment, which I highly encourage you to partake of. I plan on doing that myself. I think my experiement may be slightly different, but David’s experiment gave me some great ideas, some which I will take as he wrote them, and others I will modify to cover the ‘blind’ spots in my life.

Read the book, prepare to be challenged, and then embark on your own experiment to turn your own world upside down as you answer God’s call on your life.  Oh….and feel free to ask me how my own experiment is going!

Missions : What is your role?

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This week is Missions Emphasis week at Liberty University. That along with a message by Steve Saint last Sunday night at Thomas Road Baptist Church, and several other things that the Lord had put in my path this past week has led me to write this post. Those of you that really know me know that I am passionate about missions and helping to educate believers that all of us have a role to fulfill in the Great Commission. This post is based on an outline that I was privileged to help teach a few years ago at Rainbow Forest Baptist as part of their Missions Institute.

There are five basic roles within missions and much like spiritual gifts and love languages, we may fulfill more than role, but there is likely a primary role that you are being called to. In my own life, I’ve seen the Lord move me through various roles, not because my passion changed, but because the Lord moved me, geographically or otherwise through several of these roles. Here are the five roles, followed by a brief description of each one.

  • Mobilizer
  • Sender
  • Intercessor
  • Goer
  • Greeter

Mobilizer
A mobilizer is one who trains, mentors, encourages others to go. This is one of the roles that I am currently playing. I love talking with folks about missions and fanning the flames in their hearts to be goers, whether short-term or long-term. “Going” is never easy, and the body needs mobilizers to make sure that those who go are as prepared as possible before they go.

Sender
A sender is someone who ‘sends’ those who go. This can be someone who financially supports missionaries, but more importantly it is someone who not only gives financial support, but prayer support prior to the missionary going, and while the missionary remains on the field. As a former missionary who relied on faithful financial and prayer support, I can testify to the fact that this role is vital to the success of missionaries on the field. If you are called to be a sender, educate yourself on the culture(s) where your missionary will be living. Once they are on the field, find out how you can support them while they are in their country of service. Small packages, letters, reading material that they may not be able to get, church bulletins, etc., can be a huge morale booster!

Intercessor
An intercessor is a prayer ‘warrior’.  We all know who these folks are! I will admit this is the role that I have the hardest time fulfilling, but I am so thankful for those of you who fulfill this role. We had several precious saints filling this role while we were on the field, and again, I can testify to the impact that these intercessors and their prayers have on missionaries in the field. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that while on the field there are days where the busyness of the day starts before you have time to get alone with God and start your day as you should. There would be days where it would be lunch time and I realized that I had not had an opportunity to spend some quiet time alone with God, but had encountered situations earlier in the day where I needed to be Spirit-filled, and where I needed Godly wisdom, that I’m sure came about as a result of an intercessor, somewhere, praying for us.

Goer
These are the individuals and families who “go”. I’m going to tell you right off the bat….we are ALL called to be goers. That does not mean that we all need to go to Africa, Asia, South America, etc.  However, each and every one of us has a mission field, and it starts at your work place, your neighborhood, your family. If you won’t “go” locally, you shouldn’t “go” globally. However, there are those of us who do need to go globally. The going is not about a place, it is about an obedience to God’s call. God doesn’t need any of us to do His work, but He allows us to be used by Himself to make disciples of all nations. Don’t limit God by saying, “I’ll go if You send me to <insert your favorite country/continent here>”.  Going is not about you, it’s about God. Go wherever He sends you. I firmly believe that God will honor your obedience in ways that will absolutely blow your mind.

Greeter
A greeter is someone who welcomes missionaries home, whether on furlough (or home assignment), or if they are returning permanently. As someone who seriously struggled with reverse culture shock upon returning home, individuals who served as greeters upon our return definitely made my initial transition at least much easier. Many missionaries return to no house, no car, no job and the last thing they need to be concerned about after numerous hours of travel with likely their only belongings, are life’s basic needs. When we returned we were welcomed home to a fully stocked missions house where we were allowed to live rent free for up to six months. They made available a car for us to use until we could gain transportation on our own.  Wow, what a blessing that was!

In closing, I want to recommend a book entitled, “So Send I You”, by Oswald Chambers. Those of you familiar with “My Utmost For His Highest” will see that many of those daily devotions come from that book. It is a book that changed my life, and speaks directly to discerning God’s call on our lives. Get it, read it, you will never be the same!

So what role(s) is God calling you to fill in regards to missions? Are you blooming where He has planted you?  Time is short my friends, let’s put our hands to the plow and get working, for His glory!

Africa tale #3 – Aftermath of that first visit.

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I know very few people who after going on their first missions trip, are not forever changed. If it doesn’t change you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person, it just may mean that ‘going’ isn’t how God wants you to be involved in missions. There are many ways to be involved in missions, but I’ll save that for a later post!

The 1996 Uganda trip was my first missions trip, and it left an indelible mark on my heart and my life forever. The problem was that when we returned we had like 10 days until it was Christmas. After seeing what we had seen, and living in the bush for several days, I really wasn’t in the mood to celebrate in the traditional gift giving. Sure, I understand we were really celebrating the birth of our Savior, but the whole ‘materialism’ side of that holiday just grated on me. As my family so often reminds me, it was probably the worst Christmas we ever celebrated as a family.

Everyone needs to understand that when you return from your first missions trip, there WILL be an adjustment period. Quite honestly, it doesn’t get any easier with subsequent trips, and after living in Kenya for three years, well, I’ll save that for a later post, too.

Some of the adjustments to my life were good, things like thinking twice about buying something I didn’t really need. Looking at things we normally throw away and wondering could someone else use my ‘junk’? It didn’t just impact me, but it impacted our whole family. We became more sensitive of those around us who we might be able to bless by passing on slightly used clothing or other possessions.

One adjustment that I viewed as a negative was the fact that I could NOT help the whole world, or solve every problem. Honestly, I still fight those feelings. There are days that I wish that I was filthy rich, yeah so I could have a nice truck or something, but so I could give so much more. This morning I was reading Hudson Taylor as my devotional, and he said, “Only become givers, and it is immaterial whether you have five loaves or five hundred; the larger number would no more suffice, apart from divine and multiplying power, than the smaller”. Pretty powerful thoughts.

We (and that includes ME), HAVE to understand that we need to ‘bloom where we are planted’, and be faithful in what God has called us to, wherever he puts us. It’s not about quantity, it truly is about obedience and giving and doing as the Holy Spirit leads.

However, by far the biggest adjustment I had to deal with was the sense that God was calling us to Africa, at some point in the future. I shared that with my wife in our kitchen one night, and her exact comment was, “you can go on all the short-term trips you want, but I’m not moving to Africa.”

Be very careful telling God what you will or will not do for Him! Little did either one of us know at that time, but less than three years later we would indeed sell or give away almost everything we possessed and move half way around the world to start a new chapter in our lives.

Next post… The start of the most incredible and crazy journey I have ever experienced.

Africa tale #2 – First visit to Uganda continued.

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While we were in Nakagunju one night sitting around the fire, Web Carroll began telling us stories of his 40 plus years of ministering in Uganda. As he was telling a story, a lady walked by, and he told me mid-story, “Ed, when I finish, remind me to tell you about the dress that she is wearing.” He finished his story, started another, and at some point I did remind him to tell us the story about the dress.

Web started by asking, “what does that fabric the dress is made from look like?” I said, “it kind of looks like a Burger King or McDonald’s uniform”. Who knew I would be right, or at least close to being right. Web said that back in the 70s, McDonald’s had ordered a LOT of this new fabric and created some prototype uniforms that they debuted in California. Well, the public hated the new uniforms so McD’s now had many thousand yards of fabric that they didn’t know what to do with. Anyway, Web ended up being the recipient of that fabric and he said, nearly every woman in this region of Uganda had a dress made out of that fabric at some point!

Wow, a ‘mistake’ by McDonald’s was used by God to clothe many Ugandan women, and some for many years, because when we saw that dress it was probably close to being 20 years old. I know that on this first trip, all of us took more clothes than many of the people we ministered to had ever owned. After one crusade, Robin and I both came back to camp shirtless because we had seen two men whose shirts were so tattered they no longer even served any function as a shirt. Actually as we all left, I think we each came back with only the clothes on our backs.

Another thing that struck me while there was how happy the Ugandan people were, when they had few personal luxuries. They truly were content with their way of life and their relationship to the Lord. In Philippians 4:11-13 the apostle Paul says he was content, whether he had plenty or was in need, because he could do everything through Christ Who gave him strength. I saw that demonstrated time and time again not only on this first trip to Uganda, but every day for over three years while we lived in Kenya.

That came from a total and utter dependence upon God to provide for everything; for their next meal, for a place to live, for some sort of work, for school fees for their children. Many of us Americans think we have faith in God, but I suggest that many of us really don’t know what true faith is. Hudson Taylor, the 19th century missionary to China said, “It is easy with money in pocket and food in the cupboard to think that we have faith in God.” I can honestly say that my faith in God has never been stronger than the year leading up to our moving to Kenya, and the three years we were there. In fact, it’s something I’ve been struggling with recently, because many times I feel that I’m living the ‘safe’ life, rather than faithful life.

Next African tale…. the aftermath of that first mission trip.

Ugandan children – 1996

Africa Tales #1 – How it all began.

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Well, I can’t just start spewing out stories about Africa, without first talking about how it (my love for Africa) all began. Back in 1996, our pastor, Rick Via, had just gone into full-time evangelism and was planning his first missions trip. He had been in contact for years with a missionary named Web Carroll (a personal hero of the faith to me), who had been ministering in Uganda for 41 years. Rick started with a small group of six; himself, his son Jared, me, and three other guys (Tim, Mike and Robin). When he asked me to consider going, it was one of those rare moments, where there didn’t need to be any prayer, but instead I instantly felt the Holy Spirit say, “go”. I had no idea what that meant, or how I was going to pay for the trip, or what to expect, but I knew I had to go.

 So, I started making preparations, and the Lord provided in a way that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. I won a JetSki that I had no where to ride, from a local radio station, that I didn’t even listen to! I sold the JetSki and made enough to go on the trip and even pay off a few bills. Needless to say the guys at the secular radio station weren’t thrilled to advertise my intentions to sell the prize to go on a missions trip to Uganda!

We started our trip in Entebbe. During the day, we would hold impromptu mini-crusades at different parts of Entebbe. My primary role on the trip was as the ‘worship leader’. We would pick a spot and then I would start playing my guitar and leading the group in a couple of songs, and soon a crowd would gather. Then one of the other guys would deliver a brief message, we would have an invitation and move to the next spot. In the evenings, we held much larger, organized crusades and we each took turns sharing a word, giving an invitation, etc. We also did hut-to-hut and village evangelism, and saw lots of decisions for the Lord. After three days in Entebbe, we went to meet up with Web Carroll, Godfrey Wanamitsa (who is my ‘brother from another mother’) and their team in Jinja, and then proceeded to the ‘bush’ at a place called Nakagunju.

We spent the next several days sleeping in tents, taking “bucket baths” outside of the local church, and just living amongst those precious Ugandans. We held a pastor’s conference in the mornings, we would eat lunch, then take the pastors out and go hut to hut, witnessing to the villagers and inviting them to come to the afternoon crusade. We had many opportunities to lead individuals to Christ during those wanderings. Many times we found ourselves quite a distance away from the crusade site, because some lady would want us to visit her home and speak to her father or her husband.

My most memorable encounter was with a man named Moses. I was witnessing to a small group of folks and Moses walks up and grabs me and starts literally pulling me toward his home, saying he wants us to come to his house. I politely told him that as soon as we are finished, we would come to his house, which we did. So, I’m sitting in this small, one-room mud hut and Moses’ only belongings are a straw mat, and a small kerosene lantern, and the clothes on his back. I start sharing the Gospel with him, and when I begin to tell him about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, he says, “like this?”, and he pulls out a tract, exactly like the ones we had been handing out. When I looked at it, I realize that one of our team, Tim, had already witnessed to this guy earlier, and he was now seriously under conviction from the Holy Spirit, so I had the privilege to lead him to Christ. When we were finished, I asked him if I could take his picture. My intent was to have a copy made for Tim, since he had been the one to plant the seed. When I got back to camp and told Tim, he said he had taken a photo of Moses, too. Tim said he met Moses on the road with a cigarette in his mouth and a Coke bottle full of home-made liquor and that he was pretty drunk and not really interested in what he had to say. By the time I saw Moses, it had probably only been an hour after Tim’s encounter, and he was definitely paying attention as I shared with him.

When Tim and I got back to the States and had our photos developed, we both were in awe when we looked at the before and after photos of Moses. There was a physical transformation that could have only happened through the life-changing power of Almighty God. I think about Moses often, and hope and pray that he has continued to walk with the Lord.

So, my first missions experience was an incredible one, and I earnestly believe it was because the Lord wanted to stretch me and to develop in me a love for missions, and a love for Africa and His people there. That is how it all began for me, and next time I’ll share a bit more from that 1996 trip to Uganda.

 

 

 

(L) Godfrey Wanamitsa in 1996 and (R) My son, Aaron, Godfrey and me in 2006