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.

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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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Posted in Thankful Thursday, Weekly Report | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

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.

Posted in Missional Monday | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

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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The Most Successful Ministry Failure Ever

When Seth and I were seeking counsel on whether or not to return to our suddenly-shockingly dangerous mission field, one counselor made some pithy statements that stuck with me; and I’ve ruminated on them since.

That meeting was quite humbling, because the take-away main point had to do with how unnecessary we are. We really needed convincing on that point! 🙂 When we contemplated leaving Africa, we couldn’t get around the “need” for laborers in our field.

Ours is a pioneer mission field. Swiss Presbyterian missionaries laid a wonderful foundation in the last century by translating the entire Bible, translating hymns and inventing a musical notation system for a hymnal, starting schools and hospitals, and building Presbyterian churches. Unfortunately by the ’50s,  they were going liberal in their theology and lost the Gospel; and by the ’60s, the missionaries were gone.

We, along with our teammates, and a national pastor or possibly two, are the only true churches with a Gospel witness in about 2.2 million Tsonga people in South Africa, and 3.1 million more in Mozambique. Truly the laborers are few! Who else, we wondered, would go through the struggle to learn this African language that had no language school? Learning the language and culture was an investment we weren’t going to easily give up.

And we hadn’t been “successful” enough yet to leave! Our infant church needed us. It wasn’t ready to stand on its own.

But this counselor wanted to make a point even more important than our need for humility (and yes, even he, I think, would concede that our field does “need” laborers), and that is, that our children also needed us–parents, alive and whole, whose eyes could focus on them, and not always be focused on the ministry–in fact, that our children needed us more than the ministry needed us.

I know, this isn’t really rocking your world yet, is it? Duh, no brainer. We’d all say our family is more important than ministry

But then he mentioned a Scriptural example that gave me a new flash of understanding, that set that truth in a clearer light for me. Are you ready for some easy Bible trivia? See if you can answer this question, the question he posed to us when we were busy arguing for why we were needed in Africa:

Who did Noah take on the ark with him?

Noah's Sacrifice by Jacobo Bassano

Noah’s Sacrifice by Jacobo Bassano

The Bible is clear– “Noah, the eighth person,” it says.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. ~Heb. 11:7

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. ~1 Pet. 3:20

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly. ~2 Pet. 2:5

And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. ~Gen. 7:1

And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark… ~Gen. 7:7

The new, interesting thought to me was an analysis of Noah’s “ministry” successes. Peter called him a “preacher.” I’ve heard some sermons or children’s presentations that mention him preaching to the ungodly for over 100 years. Dramatic recordings usually have Noah pausing in the middle of building the ark to preach a sermon to unbelievers in evangelistic 21-century style.

I’m not sure if that preaching was the same as what we think of today when we think of preaching. But at the least, we know that his righteous lifestyle was counter-cultural, and that preached. And his building of the ark, motivated by fear grounded on faith, spoke; that also was counter-cultural, and this “preaching” condemned the world.

And what does he have to show for his evangelistic efforts?

“Nothing,” most of us would respond.

And there’s the rub, the immediate rebuke: nothing??! Saving his family is nothing?

But I’m pretty sure that if Noah were reporting to supporting churches after twenty years of service, he’d have lost support. If he were trying to raise more support in his 87th year of service on his oh-so-very-needy field, he wouldn’t get it! If ministry successes were based on numbers, and let’s admit it, we all do assess our ministry successes this way to some extent, we wouldn’t support Noah, the eighth person, today. Wow.

Noah's Ark Mural by David Jermann

Noah’s Ark Mural by David Jermann

But was he a failure, then?

Ezekiel implies he was one of the best, listing him in a group of three along with Daniel and Job. And what of Jeremiah, preaching for fifty years, with only three converts mentioned?

No, Noah the eighth person was righteous, and one of the most obvious marks of his righteousness is that his “house” got on the ark with him. In a day when evil abounded, and every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually, Noah saved his family. His family got on the ark with him.

What about you, dear missionaries and preachers of righteousness? Who are you gonna take on the ark with you? It can be so hard to balance the needs of ministry with the needs of family. My husband tried to think through the difficulties of obtaining this balance here.

For those all-out, die-hard missionaries who can sometimes run over people in their zeal, let’s get this one point from Noah’s example:

In the eyes of many, his “ministry” was a failure; but he saved his family. And God called him righteous. The eighth person was a hero of the faith.

Noah's Daughter-in-Law in the Dovecote by Mary Jane Q. Cross

Noah’s Daughter-in-Law in the Dovecote by Mary Jane Q. Cross

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And Let One Interpret

I am so excited about something that won’t be in my life anymore. Not because I don’t like it, but because I’ve finished it! Last week I finished translating the last lesson of our Sunday School curriculum into Xitsonga. I started this project over six years ago and finally have finished 212 lessons from A Beka Book’s elementary Bible curriculum. Earlier I had translated 32 lessons with Firm Foundations, a chronological approach from New Tribes Mission.

I usually spent three to four hours per week in translating a lesson plus review questions, then another hour or so picking out a memory verse for the week, making memory verse visuals, and practicing teaching the lesson. I am very excited to have some more time in my week now that this lengthy project is finished! I am also happy when I think about national teachers being able to use these materials in the future when we have hopefully moved on to another church plant.

Once at a college graduation I attended, a man was awarded an honorary doctorate for having written curriculum for eight semesters of a one-day-per-week seminar. I tickled my fancy, awarding myself with an honorary doctorate for finally finishing this accomplishment. 🙂 Not tooting my own horn, just enjoying finishing this “chapter.” Oh, the work missionary women do that will go unheard of, unsung, or unnoticed. (By the way, much of what I write could apply to pastor’s wives as well.) So share with me, are you working on any projects on your field right now? Have you finished any projects that excited you? I’d love to hear about it!

Decorating Valentine's cookies at a Sunday School party

Decorating Valentine’s cookies at a Sunday School party

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