Congo Conviction

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by life? My trips over this past month have done that to me: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I’ve just gotten back from a preaching mission in the North Katanga Annual Conference of the UMC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the largest conference in United Methodism. South Carolina gets 16 delegates at General Conference. North Katanga gets 56! Bishop Mande Muyombo asked if I would preach at his first Annual Conference, and I was honored to say “Yes!”

My first mistake was to go entirely by myself. There was a reason Jesus sent out the disciples 2 by 2! My high school French and my minor in it at USC came in handy, but near enough! Dikonzo, my translator, was spectacular. When we landed on the dirt strip in Kamina after buzzing the goats off, I was greeted by the choir. Bishop Mande asked if I was ready to preach. I said, “Sure!” I didn’t think he meant right away. I had been flying for over 20 hours and was beat. But we immediately marched to the tabernacle where I “held forth,” as people used to call preaching. I preached and preached and preached the whole time I was there. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful no matter where you go!

I was overcome by the depth of spiritual dedication that I witnessed. These are people so poor in comparison to the U.S., but so rich in the things of God. They had walked miles and miles to come. They spoke French as their national language inherited by their Belgian colonial oppressors, but there were many tribal languages present. It was as if John’s vision of the church in Revelation 7:9-10 was a present reality: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’”

As I participated in the ordination of these dedicated preachers who live off $30 a month US, I was awe-struck by their depth of commitment.  The life span in the DRC isn’t great anyway, but for preachers it is years lower. They literally give themselves to the work of ministry. When these laborers in God’s vineyard answered the call, they meant it. You could literally feel the weight of their call. When they answered Wesley’s historic questions like everyone else in every other Annual Conference as one goes into ministry, I couldn’t help but think about early pioneer preachers who died young and penniless. I know there are clergy from other parts of the world who carry a load of student debt, but this was different.

They wore their worn clergy shirts with missing plastic tabs replaced by pieces of cardboard or just soiled tissue. It is the dry season so everything was dirty. It rains from September to May, but right now it is hot and dry. Nothing is growing. These poor preachers could teach every U.S. ordinand a thing or two about taking your vows seriously. There is no mocking of our Connectional Covenant, and the church in North Katanga is booming. Bishop Mande and his dedicated clergy and laity trust Jesus in the harshest environment.

Electricity only came on for a short period of time in the mornings and evenings. Mosquito nets were a welcome necessity to avoid malaria. Thank God for the UMC “Imagine No Malaria” project. Bishop Mande and his dear wife, Blandine, lost their oldest child to malaria. North Katanga’s conference headquarters is 16 hours from the nearest hospital. U.M.C.O.R. (United Methodist Committee on Relief) has a tiny clinic in Kamina with a 1950’s X-ray machine, but they need so much more. About $500,000 US will build a hospital, and donated used equipment is desperately need. I passed open sewers that flowed into creeks where women and children were washing clothes.

I saw churches crumbling on the outside, but alive on the inside. They were literally crumbling because the rainy season had wreaked havoc on the sun-baked clay exteriors. Most everyone has a pit near their thatched-roof shack. This dry time of the year is when everyone uses a broad hoe to pick out a 10 inch square chunk of clay to replace the deteriorating walls. It’s an endless cycle, but the Lord sustains the people. I went to one UMC and heard intercessors praying in every corner of the sanctuary which was bare bones, no chairs, and a makeshift altar. Their prayers filled the air with power that was greater than their circumstances, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a special burden to do everything that I can to change their circumstances. I am convicted!

Pastors giving their lives for $30 a month is unacceptable. What if we could sponsor a pastor and make it $100 a month? We could set up a direct transfer from the US to North Katanga with complete trust that everything would be handled on the up and up. These are great people. They trust the Lord. I’m thinking that we need to be the hands and feet of Jesus and put legs to our prayers and help them. I will know more on logistics and post them as soon as I can. Meanwhile, I implore you to be in prayer for the people of the Congo. God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing. We are so blessed in the U.S. We must share in the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, and learn from their utter dependence on God. Amen.

Advertisements

United Methodists and Missions

What do you want to happen in 2016? Get started now or it will never happen! I would contend that our whole year takes shape by what we do or don’t do in January. We set the stage for the whole rest of the year. If we want better relationships then start now. If we want a better world, start now. If our biggest desire is for a grand remodel on our homes, or the best family vacation ever, start saving now. We turn the calendar to inspire us to have fresh starts. One of the best ways to beat the after Christmas blues, is to start getting ready for the next one.

I have found that one of January’s biggest temptations is to think about our needs before anything or anyone else. The winter months put us into survival mode and it leads to selfishness. For instance, many people just got over the hump of paying last year’s pledge to the church so they’re not that compelled to think about doing it now. The reality is, however, that if we want a great 2016 we have to think about giving our lives and resources away now. Jesus in Luke 9:24 said, “Whoever wants to save his or her life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” So start the year off right by asking how you will give yourself and your resources away for Jesus. Don’t wait until the fourth quarter. Do it now!

Of course, the question arises, “To whom should I give my resources?” A wealthy man asked his pastor what he should do with his intended bequest of $50 million. This faithful church member knew that his pastor would be able to help him decide where to leave the money. The pastor reminded the man that the man had served on the hospital’s board of directors for years so it might be the perfect place to give the money. The man only half-way nodded in agreement, leading the pastor to suggest another place. “What about the local university?” the pastor asked, knowing that this philanthropist dearly loved higher education. The man replied, “No, I don’t think I’ll leave the money to the hospital or the university. They’re great institutions, though. I’m going to leave it all to my church.” The pastor asked incredulously, “Why?” The man’s response was amazing: “If I give all my money to the hospital or the university, they won’t build a church. But if I give it all to the church, they will build a hospital and a university.”

He was exactly right. History proves it! There are over 70 United Methodist hospitals in the United States and hundreds more overseas. There are 102 United Methodist colleges and universities in the U.S. and hundreds more around the globe. Claflin University, Columbia College, Wofford College, and Spartanburg Methodist College were all founded and continue to be supported by United Methodists in South Carolina. Duke and Emory are two other United Methodist institutions that are in nearby states and fit in both categories as hospitals and universities. Give to the church and missions will follow. Over and over again, Christians have given themselves to Christ and to the world. We have been blessed with Jesus’ example and admonition, “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

This coming weekend at St. John’s we will host a “Missions Impact Celebration.” We will hear missionaries from nearby and faraway. They will share compelling stories of what God has been doing, and it will be up to us to be partners with them. Our church gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions. We’re doing what Jesus dared in Matthew 28: 19, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” What we often leave out in our quoting of this Great Commission is the next verse, Matthew 28:20, “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In my mind there’s a direct correlation between these two verses: discipling includes obedience. Whoever said that the church is a “voluntary society” missed this correlation. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he or she must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” In other words, discipleship is a daily matter between you and God. This coming Sunday, you get to prove it as you make your pledge to our above-and-beyond mission partners.

Another passage of Christ’s comes to mind in Luke 6:38, “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” A farmer had a cow who gave one pail of milk each day. The man invited guests for a party. In order to save his milk for the special occasion, he refrained from milking the cow for 10 days. He expected that on the last day the cow would give 10 pails of milk. When he went to milk the animal he found that she had dried up and gave less milk than ever before. Simply put, “Hoarding doesn’t help!”

Tim in Nica

 

Bugs, Windshields, and World Communion

The Bug Pit with John

Mary Chapin Carpenter is one of my favorite songwriters and performers. She has great lyrics and is a superb musician. One of her songs, and, of course, one I can’t remember right now, says that we all have days when we feel either like the bug or the windshield. Yesterday was one of those days for me. Every now and then I feel like checking my teeth to see if there’s a bug stuck in there. I have brushed them over and over again so I’m pretty sure I’m safe, but I’ve thought about what happened yesterday a lot.

Word of caution: This isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. We had a meeting yesterday and several of us afterwards went to a local restaurant for fellowship and a nice meal. Well, all was fine until I had finished half my salad and there it was: a living crawling fly underneath a bit of salad dressing. That has never ever happened to me in a restaurant. They brought me another salad and with more than a little trepidation I ate it. Then our entrees were brought out. Guess what? One of our group got a steak and there were two hairs mixed in the au jus. Two different people at the same table with two horrible incidents was enough to finish off our appetites and get all 4 of us a free meal. The manager said in his 30 years this had never happened. Lucky us!

We didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I thought to myself and said it out loud, too, “It will be a long time, if ever, before I come back to this place!” Then as I have pondered this over the course of this day I have become grateful. We did have food to eat and there are those right now who have nothing. In Nicaragua a few weeks ago I didn’t get freaked out as we ministered in the trash dump or when the bugs attacked us like fresh meat while we were digging the medical incinerator at the clinic. How fortunate I’ve been to live in a country that is so blessed, and to have a job that gives me the resources to even eat in a restaurant. When you’re hungry and thirsty your cleanliness standards don’t much matter. It’s called survival.

For many in the world the US is the windshield upon which everybody else has gone splat! Most Americans consume so much more than anyone else on the planet. We are gluttons of natural resources. I know we have our own poverty-stricken people right here at home, and we must do something in the name of Christ to help! I’m going to keep doing my part and I’m going to pray for forgiveness for getting freaked out by a fly and a couple of hairs. I should be more freaked out by the millions who are hungry and would have gladly eaten every morsel last night. I guess I’m saying I would rather be the bug than the windshield when it comes to being victim or victimizer. I’m not trying to bash America, and I’m going to be more vigilant about checking out restaurant’s ratings when I walk in the door. Better yet I’m going to think and pray about and give to those people here and abroad who don’t have government regs about sanitation or don’t even have a choice about where or what they eat. World Communion Sunday isn’t the same everywhere, and I’m convicted to do something about it.

Radical Love

Little Boy at Clinic

I’ve been reading David Platt’s book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. In the context of having just gotten back from impoverished Nicaragua, this book has me really thinking about the US, our hedonism, and maybe, just maybe, the obsession with metrics in United Methodism.  How much does our desire to be big in numbers align with Jesus?

 Jesus was a small church pastor not a mega-church one! He pushed people into radical discipleship by making it difficult to be a follower, not easy. Remember Jesus’ words about “Foxes have holes… but the Son of Man has no place…” or “Take up a cross and follow me.” Church history tells us that for the first 400 years of the Church, an average of 1,000 Christians died every day for the faith. That is staggering!

 Jesus, no doubt, ran off a few more people when he said things like “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor,” or “Eat my body and drink my blood.” Wow! Think how these phrases translate in our modern US context. Sell what you have and give it away, and Bite Me! It’s like what David Platt heard from his preaching professor, “Tonight my goal is to talk you out of following Jesus.” It is a scary thing to actually follow Jesus Christ. It is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart.

 Think about this event from John Wesley’s life: “He had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she only had a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left. It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: “Will Thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?’”

 What did Wesley do? He figured out how much he could live on without extravagance. When his income passed that level he gave the rest away. At one point Wesley was making over $160,000 a year in today’s dollars but he was living off the equivalent of $20,000. Amazing! How different would the world be if we did the same thing? How different would Nicaragua be? How different would the US be? Sounds radical and sounds like Jesus to me!

A History Lesson on Love

Taking a Bite Out of the Crime of Poverty

It’s been 5 days since I came back to the US after a mission trip in Nicaragua. We stayed in Ciudad Sandino outside of Managua. We dug trenches, medical incinerator holes, made pavers, laid pavers, worked with children at the trash dump, worked in a clinic at Nuevo Vida and on top of a mountain named El Porvenir. I am still sore from swinging a pickaxe and keep waking up at night thinking I’m still in Nica! What a trip! I’ve been on mission and church trips to Bulgaria, the West End of Grand Bahama, the Philippines, and Mozambique, but Nica’s poverty is the worst and it’s so close to the US.

Nicaragua is the poorest country in the western hemisphere with neighboring Honduras a close second. The sad thing is how the US caused and perpetuated some of the poverty. US Marines occupied the country from 1909 to 1933 and about the only good thing they brought with them was baseball, the national sport. Gen. Sandino led an insurrection against the US that was successful but then he was assassinated by a right-winger that the US supported, Samoza, who took over and his rule was continued by his son and grandson for nearly 50 years. His downfall was sealed after the 1972 earthquake that destroyed 90% of Managua. Not only were the poor neglected but Samoza also neglected to prop up his fat cat friends with immediate action to restore infrastructure needs for big business.

Then Daniel Ortega and the FSLN came on the scene. FSLN stands for the Sandinista Front for National Liberation. Revolution gripped the country and the good old USA supported right wingers or “Contra’s” with weapons and mercenaries. Reagan said if Nicaragua went communist they could be in Texas in 48 hours. Lots of luck. The roads aren’t that good! Remember the movie “Red Dawn” with Patrick Swayze? Nothing but propaganda. Iran-Contra ring a bell? What’s with the USA casting aside our own revolutionary beginnings to prop up right wingers and try to control people outside the US as a way of protecting people within the US? I know one problem and it’s popping up right now in Nicaragua. When you trade in one set of fat cats, you usually get another set. The Sandinista’s, named for Sandino of the 1930’s, brought great reform to the country, but now Ortega and the FSLN want to change the constitution with upcoming elections to allow Daniel Ortega to run for more terms than are allowed. Sound familiar? Power begets power and the love of power once again seeks to trump the power of love.

Someone once asked another person what is the difference between capitalism and communism. The other person answered by saying, “In capitalism, man exploits man; in communism, it’s the other way around.” I want to laugh, but it’s not funny. The message to me is that no matter what you call the party or group in power, there’s going to be corruption and too often we just end up trading one set of power brokers for another, and who does it hurt the most? The poor!

So we went to Nicaragua to build, help the sick, to witness in Jesus’ name, dig, make brick, and maybe do a little penance for the Spanish and the US. I have the blisters and disturbing images of poverty to prove I/we need to do more. We have to prove that the power of love is greater than the love of power.