Friday, March 12, 2021

The Kids Are Back

        The kids are finally back from quarantine! This news brings so many positive implications that I thought you might like to hear some of them. First of all, Snoden doesn’t have to take parcels of food door to door to feed them any more. Now they’re coming as a group each day. Susan makes a huge pot of breakfast porridge and they sit on mats eating together. This is a significant time saver since there are ninety of them. It also means the preschoolers can have class again. When they’re not in school many of them stay at home alone. Now they’re spending their days at Snoden and Susan’s house again. One little girl is actually living with them. Her uncle died, and the village saw the Kagalu family as next of kin. High praise indeed! Also, now that Snoden is not spending his time driving from house to house, he can focus on finishing the wall around the property. 

You’ll be seeing videos on raising money to recommit each child to our feeding program for another six months. We do this at intervals in case the price of food fluctuates or one of the kids moves, both of which happen. This time around, we’re asking for $25 more per child in order to offer a more varied diet. We want them to have eggs and milk, for example, and we would like to add more vegetables. 

We’re also raising money to buy new uniforms for each of the preschoolers. This is about much more than just giving them new clothes. It also means their security. Because most of them walk to school alone, the bright orange and blue uniforms identify them as ours and sends a message to would-be predators that these kids are cared for and protected by someone. Snoden has also pointed out that the orange shirt helps the adults find a lost child. They sometimes wander off the path on their way to school and get lost in the tall maize. When this happens, it’s much easier to spot a bright color among the stalks. They get new shoes with their uniform, too, which guards against infection and critter bites. 

As always, thank you for supporting these kids. We constantly have in mind not only survival but a bold and promising future for each of them. We don’t want to just feed them but to give them a well-rounded diet. We don’t want to just educate them but to teach them God’s ways. We don’t want to just raise them up but to equip them to be future leaders. Through Christ, we are making this happen together. Thank you!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Thank You, Team Malawi!

        Malawi is still Malawi without our presence, but we’re involved now more than ever in the development of one small village and the care of ninety of its children. Your prayers, encouragement, and monetary gifts remind us that we are a team and that God is still very interested in using us all to serve these precious souls halfway around the world. Thank you for looking outside yourself and your own problems. Our world has never seen a crisis quite like the one we’re in right now, but we believe God is doling out special blessings on those who choose to trust Him with their own lives and continue to help others. 

Thanks to you, we recently bought a car for Snoden to transport the children to and from the clinic when they’re sick. Because of the government mandated quarantine in the village, he was also able to use that car to efficiently deliver food parcels directly to the kids’ homes. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have eaten every day. That car was broken into right outside Snoden’s house during the night in an attempt to steal it. Thankfully, his dog barked and the thief ran off. There’s a brick wall that has been started to surround the perimeter of the two-acre property where the preschool and Snoden’s home sit, and we’re working to finish that as soon as possible. This is a huge project for the ministry and we are still needing funds to complete it. The school has since reopened and the kids are coming back to the property—all the more reason to finish the wall and protect the children from harm. It won’t necessarily mean an end to criminal threats, but it will certainly help.

Snoden and Susan have been running the program by themselves since we left, and they’re tired and sometimes discouraged. Feeding ninety children and educating forty is a monumental task for anyone, but these two also just recovered from malaria. They’ve expressed feelings of being overwhelmed. We recognize they need encouragement, and John started planning a trip to visit them. He was going to travel alone since our kids are in school right now and desperately need a period of stability, and it would be cheaper, quicker and easier to make that trek alone. But, it doesn’t seem to be time yet. Apparently, the COVID scare has the locals spooked. Snoden believes we wouldn’t be welcomed right now. They think white people coming into their village are bringing the virus. We’ll give it more time and keep praying for discernment as Snoden tries to educate the people in the village about how the virus is actually spread and the relatively low threat it poses. 

In the meantime, many of you here have joined us in supporting the children of Malawi. It’s been amazing to watch how God puts our situation in the United States into perspective when we focus on kids on the other side of the globe. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we recognize that having food to eat every day is a blessing and we are thankful. Instead of worrying about getting the virus, we recognize that we have access to clean water and medicine and we are thankful. Instead of fearing that someone will break into our home and steal from us or accost us on the street, we recognize that we are secure in our strong houses and cars, and we are thankful. Praying for others in poverty and need allows us to see clearly the many blessings we have been given. Thank you for agreeing with us that we have enough to share and don’t need to fear or hoard our resources. God bless you for your faithfulness and trust in Him. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Ridiculous Grace

        When I consider what’s going on in the world today, I have some strong ideas about how most of it should be handled. Am I alone in thinking this way? With the internet and social media, we can see what’s happening in most parts of the world at any given moment, so it’s easy for us to criticize the way situations are being handled. We might think we have the corner on the market for making good decisions because we’re Christians and we have God’s best interest in mind. But what if God is the one making these decisions we don’t like? The news serves to highlight the great chasm between what’s taking place and what we think should be. God has a word for us in the book of Jonah—another human being who thought he understood world events and how they should be handled. 

God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn people of His impending wrath. Because he hates the Assyrians for their ungodly living and doesn’t think they deserve the opportunity to repent, he ironically refuses God’s mandate and instead takes a boat in the opposite direction. A cataclysmic storm rages, causing the men on board to discuss whose god must be offended, while Jonah sleeps like a baby below deck. They wake him, and he identifies himself as a Hebrew who worships the very Lord who made the sea and the dry land. (That seems like an interesting proclamation for someone who’s directly disobeying the One he claims to serve.) After some deliberation, Jonah offers himself up to be sacrificed overboard for the greater good of the crew. The big fish comes along to swallow him, not as punishment from God as many children’s accounts portray, but as a provision of God’s sovereignty. God isn’t finished with him yet and uses the fish to preserve his life. Make no mistake about why Jonah is eventually spit up onto dry land. He doesn’t repent. That’s not the reason. Again, there’s great irony in the fact that he’s running from God because of his disdain for God’s grace towards disobedient people. He grudgingly goes to Nineveh, after all, and sounds the warning. Then God does what Jonah dreads most; He forgives the Ninevites. Not surprisingly, Jonah sulks off to a lonely place, mourning the fact that the world doesn’t make sense and God isn’t doing what He should. Even less surprisingly, God graciously causes a huge vine to grow up and cover him with shade and comfort while he feels sorry for himself. Then, in a gesture that reveals the essence of the whole quirky narrative, God takes the vine away and reveals the ugly truth about Jonah’s callous heart and our sinful human nature, namely that we tend to trust more in our own sense of justice than in what God says is right, and we tend to care more about our personal comfort than the destiny of lost people.

So, I ask myself, “Do I really trust God to do what’s right with this world, with this country, and with my family, or do I believe I know better?” Also, “Am I willing to let Him use my life to reach the lost, or do I feel entitled to the comforts and routines I’ve established for myself?” And, possibly the most difficult question, “Do I identify myself as one who serves God even when there’s a limit to what I’m willing to do for Him?” The good news—and there’s always good news when we’re talking about God—is that the theme of the Jonah story is God’s enduring patience and ridiculous grace for mankind. We may not be able to understand why things are the way they are or what God is doing about it all, but we can be sure that it certainly comes from a place of love. God has a plan for this world, and He is perfectly capable of achieving it. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Malawi 2021

        The work in Malawi continues to thrive, though our family will have been away for a year in March. With help from friends and real-time video, we moved out of our rental in Lilongwe and sold or donated most of our things. It was an emotional process. We stored several trunks we expect to eventually retrieve. I’d like to say we’ve rolled with the changes, but much of the past year has been spent grieving the abrupt transition forced on us when the borders closed. Malawi was our home, and we had planned to stay to see the work through to the end—whenever that might be. 

In the meantime, we’ve been communicating with Snoden and his family, who are amazed at what God continues to do to improve their lives and the lives of the kids in the program. Snoden, Susan, and their two children live on the property we acquired before we left. They currently feed ninety children every day from their own kitchen. That’s almost twice the number we had when we were there. Forty of those kids stay after breakfast for preschool, and Susan teaches them all with the help of one other lady. We’re happy to report that the city has piped water out to the village, meaning the kids can wash their hands more often and stay hydrated. Before, it was a thirty-minute walk to the nearest well. They also now have solar powered lights, so they’re not completely dependent on the sun for visibility. There is even a wall under construction to surround the entire property, which will protect the children and the ministry’s assets. Most recently, Snoden purchased a car to transport sick children to and from the hospital. We were concerned when the borders closed that the ministry would suffer in our absence. Quite the contrary! God has blessed our initial efforts and your generous donations incrementally. 

We’re so very thankful that you’re partnering in this effort with us. We’re constantly encouraged by your care and generosity towards this mission, and we believe God wants to not only continue it but also to develop and expand it. While we’re happy that ninety kids are being fed every day, we want them to eat more often and a wider variety of foods. They currently eat a nutritional porridge once a day. We’re also happy that forty kids are being educated, but that ends with preschool. We want to teach more children, and we want to be able to educate them past preschool with a quality education from a godly perspective. We don’t want to just do some good, we want to do the best we can for these kids. Our prayers are focused on growth and development. We believe God has more blessings in store for the children of Malawi, and we believe He delights in our working together towards the goal. 

Please join us in praying for development and expansion for 2021. This is not something we can do on our own and certainly not from halfway around the world. This is also not something Snoden and Susan can do without help. This is going to take a miracle, and that’s exactly what we’re asking for. If you’re up to the challenge of joining us in this endeavor—or continuing, as the case may be—the rewards will certainly outweigh the sacrifices. We expect to see great things from the small work we all started together just a few years ago. We believe God can and wants to use our faithfulness to not only change the lives of a few kids, but also the fate of their village and their country. We won’t quit this effort just because we’ve been moved to a new location, and we certainly expect to make a visit as soon as possible. Thank you, on behalf of the forgotten children of Malawi, for staying in it with us this year. God bless you!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Hard Pressed

        My mom’s wedding ring was a gold band with a single two-carat diamond. I thought that stone was the most beautiful thing on earth, the way it shined with all the colors of the rainbow in just the right light. I used to turn it around on her finger and ask if it ever got in her way. Did she take it off every time she washed her hands? What was it made of? She told me it was basically the same material as coal, just pressed harder. It was so hard, in fact, that our turntable had a diamond needle, so when my parents turned Carole King up nice and loud and the huge console shook our pier and beam house, the tiniest sliver of a diamond from deep in the ground was making that happen. In a way, I really was feeling the earth move under my feet.

One hectic day, every member of our family was involved in turning the house upside down, looking for that diamond solitaire. It had come loose from its setting, leaving nothing but little gold prongs reaching out for something to grab. We ransacked drawers, upset furniture, and dug out planters. We stripped the beds, shook out laundry and, yes, even inspected dog droppings. My mom continued searching, long after the rest of us gave up. She was heartbroken but decided it wasn’t meant to be and finally quit looking. Days went by, then weeks. Later, when my dad opened the sliding glass door that had been sticking for too long, he decided it was time to fix it once and for all. He took it off the track, oiled it, and started to put it back on when a kaleidoscope of brilliance hit my eye like a sunbeam. “It’s there! Mom’s diamond!” Sure enough, it was sitting in the track where it had apparently been the whole time. A local jeweler nestled it back into the prongs, and it was as good as new. 

The most amazing thing about that incident is that even after weeks of being stuck in the track with a heavy door grating back and forth over it, there was not a scratch on that diamond. As it turns out, that thing about diamonds being made from pressed coal is not entirely true, but it’s fair to say that coal and diamonds are both carbon based and that diamonds are created under intense heat and pressure. So, as this world heats up and we undergo pressures like never before, consider what God can do with us, carbon-based humans. Unlike a rock hidden deep beneath the earth’s crust, we have not been left alone to bear the burdens of this world. Jesus has promised to be with us. Have you ever noticed that some of the strongest people are the ones who have been through the worst situations? God can use anyone, but I imagine he finds those who stand up under the heat and pressure of this world especially useful. To gain strength through perseverance and be used by God may not be fun or glamorous, but it’s ultimately more beautiful and valuable than any diamond in the world.

Monday, December 28, 2020

What Now?

        It seems like an understatement to say that this has been a very bad year for a lot of people. Most of us can hardly wait for 2021 so we can put it behind us. I’ve seen t-shirts, coffee mugs, and even Christmas decorations to that end. We want it to be over. But will the calendar really make that much of a difference? When we tear off that last page on New Year’s Eve, won’t people still be wearing masks and social distancing? It seems the world has been holding its breath to get to January 1, but I doubt we’ll wake up to any substantial changes overnight. When that realization hits home to a world desperate to escape the trials of 2020 we may be forced to ask, “What now?”

Sure this year’s been miserable, but it hasn’t been the worst year of everyone’s life. Severe illness or the death of a loved one mark other years as far worse for some. On the other hand, blessings of marriage, the birth of a child, or financial gain have actually made 2020 a good year for certain people. But for Christians the answer to, “What now?” should be the same in any given scenario. Hebrews 12 declares, “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” From losing a loved one to welcoming a new baby, mourning and celebration are tempered in Christ when we look to him for our next step. Our joy and sadness find a common home in Jesus, where He wants to make use of our situation to His glory and our ultimate good. 

We simply cannot know what God is doing through the events of our lives, but we can be sure that He has a plan. For instance, Ruth could have had no idea that suffering the loss of her husband and displacement from her homeland would lead her into the lineage of the Messiah, but she was faithful nonetheless. Conversely, Solomon was given more riches and wisdom than any other man in the Bible, but after basking in the Lord’s goodness for most of his life, it eventually went to his head and he turned away from God. Until we recognize that every event, blessing or tragedy, is subject to God’s authority and intended for his sovereign purpose, we will continue to be frustrated when things don’t go our way or forget Him when they do. We will search for the next step rather than allowing God to guide our paths.

The year 2021 holds great promise, but not because it means an end to the trials of 2020. Instead, it is another opportunity to surrender our agendas to God and His plan for our lives, regardless of our circumstances. It doesn’t mean we can’t lament the direction our world is headed, and it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the good things we have in our lives. It simply means that we ultimately accept whatever God wants to do with us because we trust that He’s involved and in control. It means that we acknowledge His plans as greater than anything we could dream up and that we’re willing to be participants in His divine blueprint. 

Try this in 2021: Every time you find yourself thinking, “What now?" go to God with that question and then listen for the answer. Whether it seems like something that might take you far away from home like Ruth or bring you earthy benefits like Solomon, go ahead and submit to the prompting. God is still writing His story and you’re in it. You could end up with an entire chapter named after you or you could be an example of what not to do, but asking God, “What now?” while you still have breath in your lungs will ensure that you’re at least in the book. Those who wait to ask that question on the day of judgment will find their names in a different book and most assuredly will not like the answer. Take heart. The God we serve not only created time and will one day culminate every year, good or bad, into one perfect moment where He will make all things new and incorruptible, but He also loves us so much that He won’t do that until every nation has had the opportunity to hear and respond to that good news. (Matt. 24:14) So when you ask, “What now?” don’t be surprised if God prompts you to share that hope with someone who needs to hear it. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Burden of Happiness

The United States was founded on the idea that people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I’ve always felt that I live in the best country in the world—especially after spending time in a few others. However, with the current political climate, I sometimes wonder how much longer I’ll feel that way. I know I’m not alone when I ponder the dramatic changes that have taken place in our nation since those words were penned in the Declaration of Independence over two hundred years ago. Our founding fathers were obviously seeking to establish a government that would complement biblical principles, but I wonder if they didn’t inadvertently contribute to our divergence from those same principles with one imperfectly chosen word. I love this country and don’t want to undo our foundation in the slightest way, which is precisely the reason I bring this up. Perhaps in order to maintain the intentions of our founding fathers, we should consider the possibility that “happiness” has a different meaning today than it did then.

The American dream is wrapped up in the idea that we want to achieve happiness and that, left to our own devices, we can. The colonies were desperate to slip out of King George III’s tyrannical grip, so it makes sense that happiness should be a tenet of the new government, but I don’t suppose the signers of the Declaration would have chosen that word if they could have imagined what its pursuit would look like a couple of centuries later. To them it would have meant the opportunity to make laws and use taxes to benefit their own communities, raise and educate their own children, and worship God however they chose. Can you imagine what they would have made of the very idea that, in order to pursue happiness, a child would be able to choose her own gender and a woman abort her own baby if it made her happy? Clearly not. The idea of happiness might have once been equated with a principled life, but it has somehow come to mean feeling good all the time—an impossibility, the pursuit of which has made us nothing less than crazy. Maybe the “pursuit of joy” would have been a better choice of words because, while joy is not completely synonymous with happiness, there can be no real happiness without it.

The good news is that joy is found in Christ. He never calls us to happiness, which can actually be quite a burden. New parents say about their baby, “Whatever he does, I just want him to be happy.” That’s quite a calling for the child before he’s even old enough to know what it means. What if he grows up to be a servant of God? Is happiness the standard in that job? If it is, I’m doing something wrong. I’m often sad because of the number of people who reject Jesus. People say God wants us to be happy, but maybe they’re confusing God’s call with the American dream. God calls us to joy. Happiness is experienced when our circumstances make us feel good, but the joy of the Lord is a permanent state of being when we have Christ living in us and can be present  even in the worst of circumstances. I find great relief in the fact that, while I appreciate the freedom to pursue happiness, God does not expect it from me. Ecclesiastes 7 says, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” True joy comes when we fellowship with Christ’s suffering. It reminds us that He is in charge and that all is well, regardless of our physical circumstances. When we experience financial problems, relationship issues, or even a worldwide health crisis, we don’t also have to face the burden of feeling happiness in the midst of the struggle. Maybe it’s un-American to be unhappy, but it certainly isn’t ungodly. For those of us in Christ, happiness is a byproduct of joy and comes in delightful and surprising waves like sprinkles on a cake, where joy is the whole cake and happiness is the sprinkles. If we’re able to release ourselves from the burden of the pursuit of happiness, we will certainly find it in the joy of the Lord.