Our Epic, Whirlwind Visit to Zimbabwe

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A typical Zimbabwean homestead

Thursday evening we packed as much of the car as we could. I had been planning and packing little by little all week, choosing clothes and food and sundry other necessary items to take along. I had been to Mozambique before in 2005, but I was newly married then, with no kids and very little experience to inform my very few expectations. I told Seth there are positives and negatives to crossing the border and traveling as a now experienced missionary with kids. The positives are that I am now more knowledgeable and experienced to know what to expect and how to prepare. The negatives are that I am now more knowledgeable and experienced to know how expectations are not enough preparation, and further, to know more specifically the fears of the dangers and risks involved in taking a family into Zimbabwe.

There were a lot of things to be concerned about, such as car problems, safety on the road (a Zimbabwean family in our town church just had a tragic car accident with fatalities traveling to their home in Zim earlier this year), malaria, sunburn, picking up strange diseases or viruses, toilet and hygiene concerns, drinking water, car problems, and logistics of the trip to the Great Zimbabwe ruins. But my greatest concerns were the border crossing and the police traps inside Zimbabwe.

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I had to laugh–our first view of the police was at a construction point in SA before we even crossed the border.

The border crossing was so memorable in 2016 for Seth because at one point he almost fainted from heat, dehydration, a 10-hour ordeal in line with the stress of angry officials. I hoped that the crossing wouldn’t be that difficult this time, and it wasn’t. Both crossings (the SA side and the Zim side) were fairly quick and painless entering the country. On our way back home on Monday, the SA side had a hiccup when their computer system went down. We had to change lines twice, which is a shoving, pushing affair we always lose out on with five little ones to try to batter through the mess of people. After an hour and a half we got through and were home! The kids were tired of waiting, but I was happy. It could have been so much worse.

My next greatest fear was the police traps. The last time Seth went to Zim, he was in country for 30 hours (and probably only half of that was driving; the rest was at the funeral for the aforementioned tragedy); he was stopped 29 times by the police and “fined” several times for various “offenses.” I want to point out here that corrupt government officials are a big contribution to why Africa is poor.

On this trip, we counted 22 police traps, but only got stopped 5 times, and “fined” only once! This was because, even though we’d bought all of the things required for our vehicle, the “reflective stickers” we put on the back of our car per their requirements didn’t have a “honeycomb” pattern, and because our reverse lights “didn’t work,” which of course they did, we knew, and the next policeman didn’t fine us for them. Then since we paid in SA Rands, the policeman made us pay at an exorbitant exchange rate. We had to sign a device, but he only listed the amount as $20, so the extra money from the R320 we gave him went right in his pocket. Seth evangelized him after paying.

They were going to fine us two other times, but Seth begged for mercy, and they gave it to us. So we didn’t run out of money. I was concerned we would run out of money for all of the bribes fines, and then Seth would be put in prison. No joke. That was my greatest fear. Praise the Lord, that didn’t happen. In fact, we believe having children with us helped us get through more police traps without harassment. Logically, that should happen. They shouldn’t terrorize tourists, right? 🙂

I cannot describe in one blog post all of the pictorial images needed to give you a good impression of a modern African country. But I will try to give you just glimpses. When we crossed into Zim, you could immediately see evidences everywhere of the deterioration of the country. I was also worried about taking the trip right now, because for the last two years, Zim has been going through economic crises and riots reminiscent of their troubles in 2008, but not quite as bad. Their troubles recently hit a peak, and we weren’t sure if petrol could be found everywhere. So we stopped for petrol (and the toilet) wherever we found one, and we managed just fine. We never ran out of petrol…until the end. I’ll get to that later. *roll eyes*

After the border crossing, you cross a big bridge over the Limpopo River, the boundary between SA and Zim. (I talked about it more here.) I took a video, but my blog doesn’t support videos. Passerbiers could walk on another bridge. Many had loads on their heads. One of the pastors we were visiting said you could hire men to help carry loads for you. The river does have crocs and hippos, but we didn’t see any.IMG_4234

For several hours we drove to Wastemore, one of our LBI graduates who is planting a church in his rural village in Zim. Zimbabwe’s scenery is majestic in the huge rocks everywhere, including underground. Otherwise, close-up it’s not very pretty. Dry red or brown soil, little vegetation, unless you count all the thorn trees and bushes. There were cows and goats roaming all over, even on the main road; several police traps; and school children walking or being escorted home. Wastemore met us at a little assortment of shacks and shops. He then directed us several kilometers back a dirt road to his home. Seth had written down detailed directions from his last visit, so he tried to remember the way on his own and got it almost completely right.

We drove to Wastemore’s son’s high school to meet his son, who is about to graduate and is interested in being trained for the ministry. He stays in a hostel close to the school and apart from his family during the school week and comes home on the weekend. Then we went to Wastemore’s house, which is situated on some neat rocks. The boys had brought a soccer ball as a gift for Wastemore’s second son and some of the orphans he cares for, and they played next to a massive rock that slopes gradually out of the ground where Wastemore’s church (named Rock Baptist Church, can you guess why?) meets.

I expected chickens, goats, and cows, which were there, but I was shocked to see that Mary (Wastemore’s wife) also kept a flock of American turkeys! She cooked us turkey for dinner with their typical southern African staple food, maizemeal mush, which we ate in the dark around a fire with our hands, and it was so delicious! Then we treated them to s’mores.

After an encouraging fireside conversation when the kids were in bed, and a virtually sleepless and rainy night (funny story!), a yummy breakfast, and packing up, we were off for our trip to Great Zimbabwe. The sun came out in full force for our entire tour of Great Zim and then dissolved into rain again a few hours after we left. I praise the Lord for His kindness to make that tour possible! That was a highlight of the trip for me and something I’d wanted to do for a few years ever since I realized we’d be covering it in history this year.

After Great Zim, we had to travel back down almost to the border, then take another main road northwest to visit Justice and Jastone, twin brothers who also graduated from LBI. We had a lot of trouble finding the turnoff to their road, especially since it was after dark and raining again by then, but we eventually met Jastone who directed us back several kilometers down a dirt road, through interesting territory, and very “interesting” bridges to Justice’s home.

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This one was actually on the way to Wastemore, but a typical example. Actually, many weren’t this built up.

What a blessing to see the Christian worldview informing these two brothers’ families. It was exciting to see their homes and their work. They about doubled the size of their home recently, with bricks made by hand, mainly for our visit. We felt very honored, especially by the new bathroom they installed just to care for our hygienic needs more comfortably! They don’t have running water yet but were expecting it this last week as a company was scheduled to come drill a borehole (well) for them. (another long story)

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I got the baby!

I have also been waiting all year to meet their new baby! They have had trouble working out the paperwork and passport for him to visit SA, so I was thrilled to get to meet him. He is wearing hand-me-downs from my boys in this Sunday morning picture. I really tried not to overpack. Thinking (and researching) that it would be hot for our visit, I brought only one long-sleeved shirt per child, and one blanket per child. But it was cold and rainy that night! I’m so glad I at least brought that extra shirt per kid. I almost didn’t.

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Carson, below, Colin above

Ladies and gentlemen, can you imagine a five-hour church service? Many people were staying with Justice, including his brother and his family. The brothers had combined their two churches (stationed two villages and several kilometers apart) for the day’s baptismal service, so Justice kept many of the guests in his house. After feeding the lot of us in the morning, several people walked to church (which meets in a public school nearby), while I drove the mothers and babies. Somehow when almost there, Carson (5 yo) got lost. I found him 20 minutes later, far down a dirt road, crying in front of another school. Poor baby. “I thought I would never see you again,” he sobbed. I was almost in tears as well. I was so glad to be reunited with him! We then gathered the search parties and began church.

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Service in a school classroom. There’s Fancy, behind the chairs.

A couple of bullet-point memories of the church service:

  • They ran Sunday School into the worship and church service with no break.
  • Two sermons, one by each man. Jastone taught the Sunday School sermon on baptism. Justice preached the main sermon.
  • Tons of babies and toddlers alternately cried, slept, and ate (less of this) throughout the day.
  • The church service was followed by an almost-hour long session of baptismal testimonies, translated for Seth’s sake, so he could approve if they were ready. Seth understands Venda pretty well, and I even caught some of the sermon’s Venda, even though it’s been years since I studied Venda.
  • Fancy: the German Shepherd we gifted to Justice was humorous. She had to be dragged in and laid down in the back to keep her from terrorizing shepherding the goats in the area. That was a kind of funny element to the church service. Ita vita!
  • We enjoyed their God-honoring music.
  • They let the kids out for the testimony time, but no one supervised them. I went out with them, and, dredging up my very rusty, crusty, in-the-dregs-of-my-brain Venda, I managed to run some games in the, by that time, full-on sun. We played Freeze Tag and North-South-Central. It would have gone much better had I remembered more of my Venda.
  • By now the kids were all tired, hungry, and thirsty.
  • We walked, far or close depending on your perspective, to the river for baptism. This river was nicer and deeper than our SA Elim or Valdezia rivers for baptism. Seth was asked to do the baptisms.
  • One toddler screamed (it was hilarious, not pitiful, really) while her mother was baptized. Her mother, by the way, gave the best baptismal testimony Seth has ever heard. How refreshing!
  • A LOT of the church members and guests then came to Justice’s house afterwards. The teens were scheduled for a Bible quiz competition. (something they learned from our old youth groups!) 🙂
  • The boys enjoyed a soccer ball we brought for Lisa’s nephew, and then I managed to get it away for the girls to play “Box Ball,” a mix between netball and Frisbee soccer.
  • That evening, Lisa and Mamsi, the wives of Justice and Jastone respectively, cooked for about 40 people impromptu, as all of the youth and children, and many adults and guests, stuck around until they were fed. I have to admit, that I think this is another reason Africans are poor; but also, this is a respectable element in their culture from the view of the hospitality shown.

When everyone had gone, and Seth had driven Jastone and his wife and several others, including the new puppy we gave Jastone (she goes by “Sheba,” and she vomited all over our car just before they arrived in Jastone’s village!), to Zezani, and then returned to Whunga where Justice lives, we treated them to s’mores as well. Both Justice and Wastemore care for several “orphans.” (Most of them still have parents, but for different reasons, are cared for by these pastors.)

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Sleeping arrangements. If there’s a next time, Seth and I are investing in an air mattress. We’re getting too old for this.

The next morning, the kids and teens headed off to school, and then Lisa made us a chicken and vhuswa (maizemeal mush) breakfast. I got a tour of their garden and yard and learned a lot about their goals and entrepreneurial projects to support themselves. We talked about homeschooling, which they desire to do. It was all very encouraging and eye-opening. We drove about 5 k’s to get drinking water, and then walked to get non-potable water at a well not too far away. I was sunburned Saturday at Great Zim and was feeling the effects of the hot sun, especially after my time in the sun on Sunday.

We sadly left Justice and Lisa, who begged us to come visit her again soon. We then drove to see Jastone’s town-village (I’m not sure what to call it, since it looks like a village to outsiders, but it is built up more than a typical village in a semblance of a town, with some shops in the center, a petrol station, and houses close together) of Zezani. Here I was greeted by an over-friendly drunk. Bars are the majority of the small assortment of shops there. Mamsi has opened a daycare center in a back of the family shop and helps to support the family with this business. Jastone keeps pigeons! That was interesting. They are just for pleasure, not business.

On our way back to the “highway,” we got pictures at a baobab tree. Southern Africa is famous for these, but you don’t really see them until you get close to or in Zimbabwe. If you go too far south into SA, you don’t see them. They look like huge upside-down trees, with their roots sticking out, as often their leaves don’t show well. We saw a really nice one on our way to Wastemore, with a hollowed-out section at the bottom so large you could walk through it hardly having to stoop, but a police trap was set up right by it, so we didn’t want to stop there for photos!

I could feel my relaxation hit right after we got into Messina, the border town of SA. I was sleepy on the last hour home to our town of Louis Trichardt. You have to cross a mountain range to get back to our town. It’s situated beautifully, directly behind the town of Louis Trichardt. At 3 k’s up, just as we started to come down the mountain, we ran out of petrol! Seth literally coasted the vehicle all the way down to a petrol station at the bottom of the mountain. I could NOT believe he made it. I thought we’d have to slow down too much at a couple of turns or a stop sign and be stuck. It was hilariously awful. But we made it!

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We were exhausted from our trip, as evidenced here by my two youngest. I spent Tuesday sick in bed. I have a condition my mom calls “colitis,” which has never been professionally diagnosed. Basically, after a stressful time, I experience a lot of pain right above my stomach, which can cause stomach flu-like symptoms. I realized how much stress as well as adrenaline I was running on during our trip when the attack on my health Tuesday, right after I relaxed, made it impossible to homeschool or do my other duties. I was back up working on Wednesday, but still popping Ibuprofen. That to say, I don’t plan to do another Zim trip for a long time, if ever. It was amazing, and I’m so glad I got to go! But it was also difficult and very stressful. Just being the minority and the constant outsider trying to cope and fit in is tiring. But it was also a great blessing.

We hope we were able to encourage these men who are sacrificially working in hard places when they could have had nicer jobs and homes in SA. We were certainly encouraged by their faithful work in the ministry, trying to plant churches in their home villages and languages, and caring for the orphans thrust upon them. Both Justice and Wastemore had a family devotion time at night, and both showed thoughtfulness in their hospitality towards us. Please keep these families in your prayers, that they would be encouraged in the Lord’s work!

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The Ruins of Great Zimbabwe

All year long I have hoped that we could go to Zimbabwe as a family to visit the ruins of a medieval structure called “Great Zimbabwe.” We covered it in our ancient Africa studies recently in history, and since we only live an hour away from Zimbabwe in South Africa, I thought it would be such an amazing field trip to visit the ruins. If we lived in America, we could go on so many field trips while learning American history. We don’t get that here, but we DO live near to Zimbabwe, so I jumped at the chance for a school-connected field trip.

I did not know how difficult or expensive it would be to get there. I had an idea, but as we got closer to the trip, I got more and more nervous about the logistics. We even canceled the whole idea earlier this year when it looked like our finances wouldn’t allow it. But then, a former LBI graduate of ours who is planting a church in Zimbabwe asked Seth to come baptize some new believers for him, and our financial situation was looking up a bit, so I plucked up my courage, and we went. What an amazing trip!

Even as we approached Great Zim, I was almost in tears wondering whether or not we could actually enter the site. It was raining that morning as we approached. 😦 And Seth had warned me that if the entrance fees were too high, we wouldn’t pay to see it. But the fees were reasonable, about what we thought they might be when we’d tried to research it in SA, and the rain quit. It worked out so perfectly, praise to the Lord! We even paid a small extra charge for a guide, which made the visit way better, since we could understand what we were looking at. I will try to post soon about the rest of our trip, but I promised some fellow homeschoolers to share pictures of our visit to Great Zim, so that’s all I’m going to explain in this post.

Here is the sign at the paypoint, hanging between two flags. As you can see, the sign mentions several other similar ruins across southern Africa. I didn’t know how many other sites are connected to Great Zim. I’d heard of one in SA, Mapungubwe, which I’d like to visit sometime as it’s in our northern province; but Great Zim is the biggest and best. The others, from what I hear, are only related in building style, but the ruins are very small.

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There are four major parts of Great Zim to see: the king’s fortress on the mountain, the Shona village model, the museum (I couldn’t take pictures in there), and the queen’s city at the bottom of the mountain. We began the tour by walking down a path that led to the mountain, where we saw the beginning of the ruined walls, which led up quite a climb to get to the top of the king’s fortress. It was steep in some places, and there were no guard rails at the top–just ruined walls. Sometimes I wished I had leashes to attach to my kids’ belt loops so none of them would fall down the mountain. Americans would probably be sue-crazy there. We did it, admittedly worriedly, with a 2 year old (though we often looked like the last picture here of Seth)!

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If you look closely, you can see the walls to the left of the high rocks.

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Catch the baby!

From the top, you could look down and see the ruins at the bottom where the king’s (about 200) wives lived. These are the famous ruins in many of the pictures, which they say were actually for the head wife, the queen. I’ll show more pictures of these later.

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The walls of the king’s fortress as well as the queen’s city were very high, up to 11 meters. There were all sorts of tight passages and cave-like crevices. In one of these pictures, the king’s bodyguards would protect the stairwell, and only one person could fit up the stairs at a time.

Archaeologists believe eight kings ruled here. Each time a king died, they destroyed the cooking huts or other living quarters for that king and rebuilt new ones. Here is an example of a cooking hut they found.

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The next few images show one of the most interesting sections to us as missionaries, because it showed African traditional religion. The sangoma, or witch doctor, would summon the spirits and become possessed in this outer chamber, then would cross into this open sitting area, where he would prophesy or do rituals for the king. This open assembly area was also used for civil proceedings and judgments.

There were, if I remember correctly, eight, but maybe fewer, carved wooden birds that were used by the sangoma in this area that had some type of religious significance. They were a symbol somehow having to do with demonic power given to the king with the help of the sangoma. These birds are carved differently but in a similar style. They are no longer there on the mountain, but most of them are down in the museum. I was not allowed to take pictures of them there. But I did take pictures of souvenirs elsewhere that show the style of the bird images. You can see on this huge rock hanging above this assembly area the beak of a falcon-like bird pointing towards the left, with the face and neck part coming down below. The country of Zimbabwe took their name from these ruins and has this bird symbol on their flag.

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At one place, the guide showed us where they believe the kings are buried. Sadly, though much of southern Africa claims to be Christian, theirs is a nominal, syncretistic Christianity, mainly prosperity gospel, which still fears the spirits and tries to utilize the power of the spirits to enrich their lives. They just tack on the name of Jesus as one more power to conquer their problems in life. Our guide was a first-class example of this African need for Reformation.

He claims to be a Christian (Seventh Day Adventist), yet he whispered while talking about how when archaeologists began to dig where they thought the kings were buried, they heard strange voices, felt a great fear, and strange things happened, so that they gave up digging. He showed a great reverence and fear of the place and didn’t want to speak loudly there. Soon he believes, there are plans to call sangomas of great power to help them access this tunnel in a way that they may be safe from the curses or demons connected to the burial site, so they may discover what’s down this tunnel. When we gently challenged his inconsistent beliefs, he maintained that even though he’s a Christian, we should still be afraid of the power those spirits exercise over their areas, and must access them in their way, by appeasing those powers in their own ways. We encouraged him to fear God only.

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Here he did a funny thing. He sat in this little cave and called loudly, “Wife #99!” It echoed off the hills in the distance. It was humorous to imagine the king calling his wives in that way, by number, down in the queens’ village.

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We had finished our tour of the top fortress, which was my favorite part, though the queen’s place was more stunning visually. We hiked back down and headed to the Shona village. We were running short on time, and considering we lived in a Tsonga village for nine years, and had stayed the night before and were staying the following two nights in a Shona village, we moved on to the next parts. Shona is the language of that area of Zimbabwe, and their ancestors were the builders of Great Zim. They had some hand-crafted souvenirs for sale here; you can see the bird image in some of the items.

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We quickly headed over to the queen’s houses. It began with some outer ruins, and then you come up to a circular wall 11 meters high at the highest point. This was the amazing part. There are two concentric passageways, one along the outer wall, one inside; they surmise that the girls were allowed to use one passage, the boys the outer, to come inside for “premarital classes.” In conjunction with this supposition, they believe the circular tower was a symbol of male domination. Ahem.

Some of the inner walls were taken apart and moved elsewhere. Some whites came in later and wanted souvenirs or to find out if there was gold there. Gold was traded here to Portuguese or Muslim traders for items. They have found beads and other items to show this was the queen’s palace. To prevent someone taking apart the circular tower, an archaeologist dug down underneath it, and came up underneath to prove that it is solid inside. It is not hollow and couldn’t have gold in there.

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Circular tower from passage view

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Tower from inside view. There was a lot more open space inside than my pictures show.

Finally we exited the queens’ homes’ ruins. As we were exiting, there was a large open space with big stones sticking out of the ground. It looked like tombstones, but they surmise that these were a sort of sundial. We exited and went to the museum next, where they housed some artifacts, most importantly, the wooden carved birds from the king’s mountain home. It was a lovely visit, even including the extremely bold monkeys creeping up on us as we ate sandwiches at the car before we left!

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Sundials?

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Exit

I was so blessed to have the opportunity to see history up close, and I hope you all enjoy these pictures as well.

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2017 New Year’s Goals: February

I am so surprised that I am already writing about goals for February. I feel like there should still be two weeks remaining in January!

Clearly, I didn’t meet my goal of blogging more (yet)! Some other goals weren’t met, but lots of them were, so I’m not discouraged. I would love to hear about anyone else, if you made goals for this year, and if you are still trying to reach them.

My Word for the Year

I’m trying to grow in HOPE this year. I have not done well at memorizing the book of 1 Peter so far in January, but I have taught three times this month on 1 Peter. I was not expecting to start the ladies’ group in Elim until February; but we already met once in January, and I taught an overview of 1 Peter. I taught twice on 1 Peter in a different ladies’ group that meets weekly here in the town of Louis Trichardt where we live now. 1 Peter is an excellent book to equip the ladies with a strong theology of suffering. Some of them have gone through so much pain, and I’m excited to share HOPE with them. I’m learning so much. I absolutely love this part of my job!

In February: I will teach five times total on 1 Peter. My goal is to study and organize those lessons well and begin memorizing 1 Peter more consistently. I need to plan time on Thursday and Friday afternoons to study for the lessons. For memorization, I want to listen to 1 Peter read to me from an app three to four times per week, and take some time Saturday mornings to practice quoting it. I also want to read the first section of chapter 1 from Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on 1 Peter, Be Hopeful.

Personal Goals

A lot of my goals have not happened whatsoever this month, mainly because I have been so busy trying to organize our homeschool–room, bookshelves, curriculum, everything. We started our school year in January, two weeks ago. But for three years, I haven’t cleaned up from the previous school year. I moved twice in 2015 (the last move was only thirteen months ago). I did some schooling while traveling on the road in America. My homeschool curriculum storage situation was a wreck. I had a desk piled with papers from the last two years from two kids, all subjects, that needed to be sorted through.

I have cleared off the desks now, but those papers were only moved to a box, still a wreck, still waiting to be organized. I wanted to prepare for certain subjects this year, in which I knew I was using a new-to-me curriculum and would need to read through it to understand how to teach it. I did do that. So most of the subjects and notebooks for this year are ready now! On top of all of that, we have puppies to care for, and two sets of guests that wiped out whole weekends of needed time to prepare for our year. We were glad to have them. I’m just explaining, I guess to myself, where the time went and why a lot of my personal goals simply could not happen in January.

Spiritually:

I have not kept up with my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year schedule, but I’m not giving up! Because it’s a 5-day schedule, I have some days for catching up, so I’m going to keep trying. I have listened to some of the second Bible reading plan I mentioned (reading through the major narratives of the Bible), but not all. I will drop that plan and just stick to the first one. My little non-readers are doing well at listening to their Bible stories every day before breakfast.

I still need to work harder at memorizing 1 Peter and reviewing Philippians.

Reading:

Oh, how I wish I could manage the time to read more! I did read a bit this month, but not nearly enough. In February I want to get through some sections of Be Hopeful by Wiersbe; The Three Mrs. Judsons, which I am reading with Seth before we begin To the Golden Shore, a biography of Adoniram Judson (you can get the audio of the former read to you for free on Librivox!); Don Quixote; and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green (this is for Caleb–I’m trying to read some of his books before he gets to them in homeschooling).

Blogging:

Obviously, I didn’t blog outside of my goals’ post in January. We’ll see if I can do a little better in February? No promises. 🙂

Fitness, health, and beauty:

I still need to get in bed by 10 PM and wake up at 6 AM. I did this about half of the time in January. But then I pulled some late-nighters trying to get some work done while everyone was asleep, and to make up for all the lost time with guests and ladies’ Bible studies, etc. But no matter what needs to get done, I need to try to get it done before 10 PM. I am struggling with a not-so-nice cold, which is all the thanks my body gives me for abusing it so.

In February, I also need to track my calories on My Fitness Pal every day. I did okay with my paleo diet in January. I did cheat often towards the end because we had guests, and it wasn’t working out well to eat something different. But now that I’m no longer doing paleo, I need to really count the calories.

Organization and renovation in my home: I am excited that my parents are coming to visit, for the first time in a decade! So I have some items on my list that I think should be done before they come.

Ministry

In January, all that got done from my massive to-do list were beginning the ladies’ Bible studies for the year, organizing three different Sunday Schools’ curricula (and teaching two of them), and scheduling the songs for worship through June. Thankfully, my expectations were not high. I didn’t expect to be able to pursue some projects until I had first organized my life a little better at home. Little by little, it will all get done. “Nibbled to death by ducks,” is the way a famed educator whom I love says it. I just need to keep doing little bits and not give up.

Family

I have decided not to blog about these. I am happy though, that blogging about my goals at least reminds me of the goals I wrote down in this category so I can still be intentional about doing them. I do know that in February I need to rethink through a system of home management, specifically in the chores and cleaning department. So that will take some time to organize, but hopefully it will save time and make our house better in the future. I read some parts of Large Family Logistics in January and got some ideas from there.

Homeschooling

I got a lot done in this category in January (in spite of unexpected distractions)! One of my challenges was to create a schedule–to consider how to shuffle all of the kids and their subjects, and how to help my oldest child become more independent in some of his subjects (and which ones). I still have many things on the list, but only some must be done in February. Of course, once I actually began homeschooling, almost all of my free time for planning or organization disappeared. So now I am not sure from where the time will come to organize the other items remaining on the list, but I will keep chipping at it.

Here are some of the things I must do in February:

  • complete reading list for the school year for Caleb and Colin (we read books that coincide with our history topics)
  • decide how much of our art curriculum to use; make copies where needed
  • make an assignment checklist for the kids to keep them focused on their tasks and encouraged to be more time-conscious (so they have more time for play!)
  • make portfolios from the last few years
  • store away textbooks and teacher’s manuals unused this year (that are piled all around my bedroom…)
  • plan for activities scheduled in the curriculum; gather or purchase supplies
  • get our music CDs for music appreciation into the computer and tablet
  • choose and print out some poems for our memory review notebook
  • print out some science printables for our human body study
  • plan a scope and sequence for Tsonga (our modern language)  Seth is teaching the boys, but Seth and I both feel that we need to make a plan to teach this better, not so haphazardly.
  • print some handwriting review worksheets
  • prepare a kindergarten program–Scripture memory, read-alouds daily (The basics are covered with ABeka, but I want to make sure I take time to read aloud to them from picture books. I am considering using Five in a Row [a literature-based social studies curriculum for 4-8 year olds], so I still need to plan which activities I would do for that curriculum.)

It would encourage me to hear about your resolutions or goals if you made any! My sister has a link-up here for anyone else blogging about their goals this year. You can join any time.

Posted in Goals Report | Tagged | 4 Comments

2017 New Year’s Goals

I haven’t blogged for over a year, so I’m sure this may be a surprise to my friends and subscribers. Since the title of this blog post is New Year’s Goals, perhaps you already have a clue as to one of my goals for 2017! And, since I’m posting it a bit late (already January 3), perhaps it’s also obvious that I struggle to find time to do that goal–blogging. I do hope to update you soon with an overview of 2016; but for right now, I’m just going to share my goals for this year, as well as more specifically for January. Probably most people won’t be too interested, I’m sure; but blogging about my goals helps me take the time to organize my life, and my husband was happy with the results in 2014. 🙂

I typed up a document with all of my goals, which ended up being a humongous glorified to-do list. In the end, it was almost seven pages long, single-spaced! Unbelievable. How did it get so long? Well, I categorized my life into personal, ministry, family, and homeschooling goals, and then I broke each of those categories down even further into sub-categories. Since I included lists of books I want to read, chores for my kids, home renovations, ministry ideas, and tons of children and subjects on the homeschooling list, my list got longer and longer. I won’t share all of that with you, just the general ideas.

My Word for the Year

The idea of picking a word for the year to define your New Year’s goals was a new fad to me a couple of years ago, but I’ve loosely kept with the idea. I don’t find it very specific or measurable, however. How do you know whether or not you attained any success with your word? So I use it now as my spiritual goal for the year, basically a character trait I want to work on. This year, my word for the year is HOPE. I want to focus on living with a more positive, hopeful attitude. I will be teaching through 1 Peter in a ladies’ Bible study this year, as well as memorizing 1 Peter; so I will try to read through Be Hopeful, a commentary on 1 Peter by Warren Wiersbe, in my devotions this year.

Personal Goals

I have too many personal goals. 🙂 I already know I won’t be able to do them all this year. Some are crafts or new skills I want to learn to do. A homeschooling mother of a large family doesn’t really have the luxury of time to learn lots of new skills. So I will hold loosely many of those goals and just try to chip away at them whenever I have time. At least if I list them, perhaps I’ll eventually get to them: photography, drawing, calligraphy, journaling (nature, Bible), sewing, learning another language, learning new hairstyles, and some random projects around the house.

But there are other personal goals that can’t be given up. They must be worked on constantly, whether I’m busy or tired or not.

Spiritually:

I want to read my Bible daily. I hope to read through the Bible twice this year, using a 5-day reading schedule chronologically through the entire Bible, and a major narrative schedule.   I hope to listen to the latter schedule on audio, and it’s not the entire Bible, so perhaps it’s misleading to say that I’ll read through the Bible twice this year. But audio definitely helps a busy mom. I think it counts! I use the YouVersion app for an audio version, or Faith Comes by Hearing, which also has a podcast for the New Testament called “You’ve Got the Time,” in both ESV and KJV. They even have a kids’ podcast of major stories of the Bible, using the ESV dramatized. I will use the second schedule for my younger non-reading children for their personal devotions.

I still need to make a daily prayer list to help me pray more consistently. I want to memorize 1 Peter, and brush up on Philippians, which I have memorized, but have some trouble spots. I would like to start Scripture journaling, but I don’t have time this month to start, nor the materials.

Reading:

I have a list a page long in my document of reading goals. I have no idea where the time is going to come from, but I need to read! I love reading, so it’s no chore to me. Perhaps I’ll do a separate blog post for these goals, if I have time! haha.

Blogging:

I really desire to do more blogging again, but it’s taken me a year to catch up from 2015, a completely crazy year, and I don’t feel caught up yet. But my original goals for this blog haven’t changed, and I do want to keep up with the different categories more frequently. Again, I’m not sure where the time is going to come from for blogging, but I am really going to try. Other goals are more important to me, however, so as I mentioned earlier, when you feel like life is a state of triage, blogging tends to go by the wayside.

Fitness, health, and beauty:

In order to accomplish a lot of my goals, I need to get in bed by 10 PM and wake up at 6 AM (which will hopefully allow me to…)

  • exercise a few mornings (or evenings) per week
  • track how much I’m eating on My Fitness Pal every day
  • do a 21-day paleo diet (I’ve already started this; I’m 4 days in)
  • practice new hairstyles–only one ponytail allowed per week

I also have several items that I need to organize or renovate in my home. When your many children are home all day, and you move twice in one year, your lists get very long, very quickly, in both categories!  Yes, some of the renovation can only happen when you have funds, but organization can and should be done whenever possible. Some of these items are more involved, so I have a separate list entitled “projects” that will take some time.

Ministry

We are working with two churches, and sort of a third. I know I need to explain this all clearly, but not in a goals’ post. Here are some of the items on my to-do list:

  • a large Sunday school curriculum printing project
  • teach two ladies’ Bible studies, one on 1 Peter, one on Philippians
  • organize a schedule to call or SMS, and pray for, ladies
  • hostess some ladies or different families, at my house, or take them out to dinner
  • make and sell more lip balm
  • compose catechism songs for our Tsonga catechisms
  • plan outreach activities, such as VBS
  • plan a music ministry for two churches

This all needs to get done this year. Some items are more immediately necessary than others.

Family

I wrote down goals for my marriage and for each of my children, generally, spiritually or emotionally, practically (life skills), and educationally (for that child’s homeschooling year). A lot of these are more personal, so I probably won’t take the time here to share them, except for in an general overview to remind myself to do them.

Homeschooling

We homeschool according to the calendar year, so I start this month. Wow, I have so many things to do! I will be homeschooling Callie and Carson as well this year. I homeschooled them together last year in a mom-made K4 program, but this year we will need more time to do an official kindergarten program. Colin and Caleb will be in third and fifth grades, respectively, and I will have a toddler around to worry about as well. I expect this year and next to be my hardest years of homeschooling. Please pray for me!

My homeschooling to-do list takes up almost three of the pages of my huge New Years’ goals document, so maybe I shouldn’t include that as part of my New Years’ goals. But it’s going to take me most of January, or even beyond, to finish that to-do list; so for January, I plan to focus mainly on the homeschooling list, and leave a lot of these other goals until February. I am still trying to do some of the others, such as the spiritual, many of the health/fitness/beauty goals, and some of the reading, blogging, and ministry goals.

It would encourage me to hear about your resolutions or goals if you made any! My sister has a link-up here for anyone else blogging about their goals this year. You can join any time.

Posted in Goals Report | Tagged

His Rich Love Exceeds Our Praise

Come thou fount of ev’ry blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise!

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Happy Thanksgiving! Today we planned to meet with our teammates for a Thanksgiving celebration, but we canceled when we heard that one of their children was ill. We have had illness sweep through our family since the end of July, and it has been exhausting to have so few days of health. So we didn’t want to chance getting sick again. Here’s how we spent our Thanksgiving day on foreign soil.

I heard that there were turkeys at Woolworths, so Seth ran out and bought one. $18.50 for an almost 9-pounder. It was worth it! I spent the day cooking: made the turkey of course, a 3-layer “pumpkin” cake (I used butternut) with maple frosting (I didn’t have cream cheese for it, but the butter frosting was still very good!) using two cake pans and a pie pan since I don’t have three round cake pans (Caleb promptly dropped the pie pan and it shattered all over the floor during clean-up tonight–he’s my “accident boy” but also my best worker, so how can I complain?), mash and gravy, dinner rolls, cheesy broccoli, and sweet and sour cabbage. (I know that’s a weird item for Thanksgiving, but today was a study in improvisation!)

IMG_1252 IMG_1253In the morning the kids watched a little story about the Pilgrims’ journey on the Mayflower, and we had a serious Candyland competition. In the afternoon, I cooked and cared for the baby, and Seth took the kids on a hike on a nearby forest plantation. They came back exhausted and hungry.

IMG_1287 IMG_1263 IMG_1279The electricity went off for an hour and a half while I was cooking. We planned to spend our evening playing the board game Settlers of Catan after a time of prayer and praise. But even though it’s an American holiday, life goes on as usual for all of the Africans. We’ve gotten two hospital calls today, and the latter ended up changing our plans.

The lady who stayed with us last year, who got married and is now expecting her second child, called me. She’s gone into early labor and needed advice to go to the hospital. I don’t think she’s too terribly early, though, but anyhow, please pray for her. And a former LBI student, whom we haven’t heard from in a few years, called saying that he was in a car accident and is at the hospital, and he asked for a visit and some food and clothing. The accident was terrible. We were reminded to be grateful for our safety on the roads here. So many accidents here end in fatalities because of slow emergency services and not enough medical services.

IMG_1282 IMG_1264Tonight and last night around the dinner table, we shared things for which we were thankful. Last year at this time, we had no idea how much our lives would change in one week’s time and over the following year. Wow, so much has changed!

We’ve never worried about money in the past, but because of so many changes, this year we had some worried times. But God has met every need and many wants. He has given us physical blessings in abundance.

But even more importantly, I was thankful tonight for His “rod,” if I can call it that. I am not sure that He has been chastening us this year, but whatever you call it, I am thankful for the trials we have gone through. We have grown spiritually because of them.

Romans 8 tells us that He works all these things to our good so that we can be conformed into Christ’s image. Even a criminal attack or a severely broken arm or transplanting my family several times when they are already unstable–these things that we might naturally think are not good–are good if they make us more like Christ. We just need to see it through God’s eyes. He is doing good to us when He helps us to grow spiritually. He is showing great lovingkindness even in the bitter medicine He gives us to heal us from our ravaging diseases (sins). I am so thankful for His loving, teaching hand, even when it is heavy.

IMG_1277I read this poem by William Cowper the other day and was blessed by it, especially stanzas 3-5. This wonderful post at the Baptist Missionary Women blog explains so well how my gratitude has grown since becoming a missionary!

Seth and I were moved to tears of gratitude tonight at our dinner table at God’s incredible physical and spiritual blessings to us this year. We finished our time of prayer and praise by reading this poem by Isaac Watts, a paraphrased poem of Psalm 103:

1  The Lord, how wondrous are his ways!
How firm his truth! how large his grace!
He takes his mercy for his throne,
And thence he makes his glories known.

2  Not half so high his power hath spread
The starry heav’ns above our head,
As his rich love exceeds our praise,
Exceeds the highest hopes we raise.

3  Not half so far hath nature placed
The rising morning from the west,
As his forgiving grace removes
The daily guilt of those he loves.

4  How slowly doth his wrath arise!
On swifter wings salvation flies;
And if he lets his anger burn,
How soon his frowns to pity turn!

5  Amidst his wrath compassion shines;
His strokes are lighter than our sins;
And while his rod corrects his saints,
His ear indulges their complaints.

6  So fathers their young son chastise
With gentle hand and melting eyes;
The children weep beneath the smart,
And move the pity of their heart.

PAUSE.

7  The mighty God, the wise and just,
Knows that our frame is feeble dust;
And will no heavy loads impose
Beyond the strength that he bestows.

8  He knows how soon our nature dies,
Blasted by ev’ry wind that flies;
Like grass we spring, and die as soon,
Or morning flowers that fade at noon.

9  But his eternal love is sure
To all the saints, and shall endure;
From age to age his truth shall reign,
Nor children’s children hope in vain.

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The Racist Missionary

Jonah is an anomaly.

His book is unique among the prophets because it is entirely autobiographical. He did not desire the incredible ministry successes he experienced. God took the initiative to show His grace to the Assyrians by sending them a missionary. Jonah was not merely apathetic about this, he was antipathetic–he did not want that ethnic group to be converted. They were a different skin color, language group, and geography from him; and their culture was vastly different. He wasn’t interested in their conversion.

And after ten years on the mission field, I can see that Jonah was not the only missionary to struggle with racist feelings.

What, a racist missionary? Isn’t that an oxymoron? How could a racist be a missionary? Well, emotions of bitterness and cynicism towards the people on your field don’t come all at once. Missionaries don’t ever go to the field thinking that they could even become close to being racist! After all, they’ve given up everything because of their love for another people group, right? Nevertheless, negative emotions towards the very people you want to love can creep in over time after many adverse culture-shocking experiences. (Look at the results of “culture stress.”)

jonah gourdJonah is a good bad example of NOT loving the people to whom you are sent. Thus Jonah’s story is a great starting-place in a biblical discussion of racism. Jonah was “very angry” when God showed mercy to the Ninevites. So God used an object lesson of a quick-growing, then quick-dying gourd, with some gentle questions, followed up with a gentle, insightful rebuke to show Jonah that his hatred towards the Ninevites was wrong.

And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?

And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:  And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

~Jonah 4:9-11

Who are these persons that God is talking about? Who cannot tell the difference between their right and left hands? Isn’t it the children? In other words, some litmus tests of whether you are racist or not are the following:

  • if you are unable to show love towards people from another ethnicity
  • if you wish for genocide including the children
  • if you believe that a person from that race cannot be converted, or
  • if you believe that all the people in that culture are only bad, thus even the children have no good potential.

I still remember a defining moment for Seth and me as new missionaries. We had just moved to a rural village in South Africa and were visiting neighbors in an attempt to meet them and learn their culture. We came across an old man who had been almost raised by Swiss Presbyterian missionaries who pioneered missions to the Tsonga people. They had sent him to school abroad, and his English was excellent.

Trying to answer his wife’s questions as to why we were there, we began evangelizing, assuming that they knew basic ideas of salvation and the Gospel because of their background as staunch Presbyterians. Imagine our surprise when his wife inquired what we meant by “salvation.” She queried, “You mean, baptism?” Startled, Seth began expounding the Gospel. Her husband cut us off with an eye-opening statement: “Oh, you’ll never get them to understand details like that. These people will never get the details.”

The Gospel? Details? Sadly this man was a living example of his own stereotype.

I remember another shocking scene in my first year here. Our landlord came over drunk one night to visit with us. I will never forget him pouring beer on the hood of our pick-up truck for his pet monkey to lap up, while saying, “This chimp is smarter than any of those * blacks.”

After years of ministering to a pagan culture, missionaries can get very discouraged from witnessing repeated sinful behaviors. They can get bitter from attacks or disappointments by untrustworthy people. They can become cynical, wondering if fruit is real or how long it’ll last this time. Harmful generalizations are made: “These people are all like that. They will never get better.”

Missionaries to less civilized people groups eventually have to deal with the question, “Why are these people like that?” When a missionary hits that disillusioned stage of being so frustrated, it seems that two paths lie before him. He can explain the deficiencies he sees in another culture in one of two ways:

He could say that those people are like that because they are inherently inferior. They are simply unable to become an enlightened, Christian culture. He could become like our landlord, bitterly saying that the people have no more hope than animals. In other words, he could become a racist.

We have decided to take the second path, however, which explains stereotypical problems of another race with this answer: The Devil has blinded their culture for so many thousands of centuries and they have had so little common grace given to them, that they need a lot more time and work of the Holy Spirit to reflect Christianity in their culture. (2 Cor. 4:4) In other words, it is Satan we are fighting, not people.

Missionaries need to guard their hearts and thinking about pagan cultures. If you don’t believe that cultural sins and deficiencies are strongholds of Satan, and that these are spiritual issues deserving of your empathy, you will become a racist missionary, constantly embittered and frustrated instead of responding with compassion. Because if the answer is not that the Devil has a stronghold in that culture, then the answer is that those people are just inferior, inherently, for centuries. And that is racist.

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The Most Undesired Ministry Success Ever

Soon after thinking about a summary of Noah’s ministry, I recalled a sermon my husband preached at a supporting church on the book of Jonah. We had fun contrasting the two “ministries.”


Noah

Mission field: the very wicked people of the world
Message: total destruction
Converts: only his family (eight people)
Reaction: a sacrifice of thanks

Jonahjonah2

Mission field: the very wicked people of the capital city of Israel’s enemies
Message: total destruction
Converts: everyone, from the greatest to the least
Reaction: anger, wishes to die


What fantastic irony! Can you think of two more polar opposites in Scripture? Noah preaches and prepares an ark for salvation but sees no fruit from his efforts outside of his family. But he praises the Lord for their salvation, this little fruit that came from his long ministry.

Jonah, on the other hand, doesn’t want to see the salvation of the Ninevites, even though he himself has been so miraculously saved from a watery death. His sermon is as short and perfunctory as can be (eight words in English), and yet he has incredible success in a mass revival that involves even the beasts fasting and wearing sackcloth!

Jonah by George Frederick Watts

Jonah by George Frederick Watts

His angry reaction is even more incredible. I mean–what missionary doesn’t long to see a revival like that? We can’t even tell if he made it the three days the Bible says it took to cross the city before repentance falls on the people. But he is angry at God’s great mercy, at his goodness. His emotions are extreme: “It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.”

He spits out his prayer, which with your permission, could be summarized in modern speech, “I knew you’d be like that! You know… GOOD. I’d rather die than see this!”

We can learn so much from the book of Jonah. But for now, what can we learn from a comparison of Noah’s and Jonah’s ministries? I think we can be encouraged by the answer to a natural question that might come up when comparing the two ministries.

Why was Jonah’s ministry so successful, though so vehemently undesired, when Noah’s ministry was dry as a desert? (That is, ahem, until the waters covered the earth.)

There is only one answer. I’ll use Jonah’s words:

SALVATION is OF THE LORD.

That is the only explanation for such vast differences between the two ministry results, especially when we consider that Jonah actually worked and prayed against the salvation of the Ninevites!

Look at all the actions the Lord does in the book of Jonah:

  • He calls Jonah. “The word of the Lord came unto Jonah…, saying, ‘Arise, go.'”
  • …the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea…
  • …the Lord…which hath made the sea and the dry land…
  • …the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.
  • [according to Jonah] “He heard me…thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep….Yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.
  • And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
  • And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go…and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”
  • And God saw their works…
  • And God repented of the evil that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not.
  • He gently questions Jonah, “Doest thou well to be angry?”
  • …the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief.
  • But God prepared a worm…
  • …God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun…

After being attacked by criminals, a few pastors asked if I was struggling to believe in God’s goodness. Honestly, at the beginning, I wasn’t struggling very much on that point. I knew God was good, if for no other reason than that He saved our lives!

jonah gourdActually I admitted that where I struggled to believe in God’s goodness and love towards us was in the extreme difficulty and scant results of our evangelism efforts. I am sure many missionaries can relate to struggling with a feeling of bitterness towards our Lord. “I gave up all ___ for You, and where are You? Why aren’t You blessing our ministry? Where’s the fruit?”

This is actually nothing but a feeling of entitlement that God owes us certain glories for what we’ve sacrificed for Him, an expectation of a certain minimum of results. But hasn’t it been said so many times in the Bible, that God is the One responsible for our ministry successes?

  • “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
  • “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
  • Even the pagan sailors whom Jonah sailed with admitted, “…thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee.”

It is initially discouragingly humbling for us to realize that it is not our charisma or plans or goodwill or activities that effect revival. It is the wind of God blowing where it will.

But there is one thing that we can do, that we must do, in order to see God’s hand at work. We must go. And we must preach.

jonah preachingWhy God, with all of His amazing power and mercy, has chosen to use such a weak tool as the foolishness of preaching, is a mystery to me. But He told us to go, and He said that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and He said that they cannot believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear without a preacher. So…

…don’t be discouraged by the truth that God is ultimately responsible for the salvation of souls on your field. Let that truth encourage you. He said He would do it. It may not be as immediate as it was with Jonah; in fact, it could take quite a long time, but He will go with you, and He will build His church.

And what should be our only response?

Definitely not anger:
“Why are You doing it this way?”

But gratitude and humility. Embrace humility:
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?”

And gratitude:
“You saved me and included me in Your plan of salvation for the Tsonga people? Thank You, Lord. You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.”

Salvation is of the LORD.

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