I Will Give You the Treasures of Darkness (Tanzania Part I)

Posted on December 28, 2011

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Sunrise in Africa after the Short Rains
Sunrise in Africa after the Short Rains

There are some who believe that our lives are defined by our mistakes. Our mistakes become who we are and how we will be forever known. It has been said that the mistakes we all make, the seemingly indiscriminate trials that are beset upon us and the hurts that are inflicted upon us, are our story.

Let me reassure you that while they are a small part of our story, they are not the entirety of our story. They do not have to define our life. Really they are not even the most interesting parts of our story. The really interesting part of our personal story is what happens next. How do we respond to our mistakes after we make them? How do we respond when tragedy hits us? How do we respond when others inflict hurts upon us? That’s when the audience leans forward in their seats, captivated to see, how we respond, how we move forward.

The truest measure of a person’s character is not whether or not they have made mistakes. We have all made mistakes and we will all continue to make mistakes, so long as we are alive. The truest test of our character is how we respond to our mistakes. Those are the really interesting and pivotal moments of our life story. I am discovering that the dark valleys of our life do not have to define us or defeat us. If we allow ourselves to see behind the curtain, the dark valleys are really places of learning and growth, but only if we do not allow them to keep us discouraged and overwhelmed by self-pity.

Sure, we all desire the mountain top experience, where we have peace and clarity, but the best fruit is grown in the valley. If we are to grow, each one of us will need to walk through those valleys of trial. Walking through those valleys can be the defining moments of our life, not because we experience them, but based on how we respond to them; how we move forward. If you are experiencing a trial, the audience is leaning forward in their seats, to see how you fight back and move forward. You are not alone; the experience is part of all of our stories. It is part of my story.

It is a quiet Wednesday morning and I have a few moments to myself to jot down some thoughts as I reflect back upon a most unusual December. December 2011 started with a surprise, last-minute ten-day mission trip to Africa, which stretched me in ways I had not fully considered previously. I survived the frenzied rush of Christmas; doing what I could to help make it a memorable Christmas for my family, even though I was out of the country until December 17th and now I have had almost two weeks to reflect back on my time in Africa, specifically in Tanzania.

The prior five years or so have been rocky ones for me spiritually. Several major experiences during that time have caused me to doubt the existence of God…at least a loving one, that is. I have witnessed the fall of seasoned saints, ones who should have known better. It made me wonder, if they were not safe from that type of fall after all of their years of walking with the Lord, then what hope is there for any of us? In the aftermath of one of these situations, I was forced to question the spiritual maturity of many of the followers of Christ, as I watched the enemy have a field day with the saints. Gossip, rumors, lies, demands for access to detailed information and personal satisfaction requirements were just several of the anti-Christian responses that emerged from God’s people.

In fairness, not everyone responded so poorly, but those few shining lights of Christ’s love were all but drowned out by the wave of noise and venom spewed by haters, gossip-mongers and liars within the church. So much misinformation was purposefully spread and unnecessary hurts inflicted by willing pawns of the enemy within the church, that it made me question the very institution of Modern Church. How far have we allowed ourselves to drift from the model of the Church as established by the founding fathers of the church?

At the time, I was serving in several areas of leadership but gradually stepped down from each after fulfilling my commitments. As I isolated myself from the people and areas of service which seemed to give my life purpose and provide a feeling of meaning and satisfaction, I entered into my own dark valley of testing. In hindsight, I had become very Pharisaical and judgmental. I was much more cynical of organized Church, Christianity (which I called Churchianity) and critical of the people that labeled themselves as Christians, but whose lives seemed to be so devoid of Christ, Christ like attributes and God’s purpose. I had fallen trap to the common ailment that afflicts so many within and outside of the church body.

One Lone Tree in the Serengeti
One Lone Tree in the Serengeti

As I floundered trying to make sense of a world that just did not seem to make sense, little did I suspect that this uncomfortable phase of personal detachment, isolation and questioning the foundation of my beliefs was actually part of the spiritual growth processes. Do not get me wrong, this is a dangerous time for believers, as many people walk away from God at this point in their lives and became obsessively hostile to anything that is even remotely connected with God, Faith, Church and Christianity. The greatest sadness is that they walk away from Christianity without a true understanding of why they are doing so. It’s like G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Without the spiritual strength, maturity and faithfulness of my wife and my ever-present concern for my children’s well-being, I know that I could have easily become lost and gone down a very dark spiraling road of which, I would not have recovered from; at least not before inflicting a lot of emotional pain onto others, friends and family.

As it was, I was already profoundly miserable in every aspect of my life, as I continued to isolate myself from others. This was true at work, home and at church. In my mind, connecting with others in any meaningful way, just seemed to require more effort and energy than I could muster. I felt empty, trapped and discouraged. This was especially hard for me, as I had always considered myself to be very social and enjoyed meeting new people. This continued for several years. Looking back, I can see that I was doing whatever I could to pass the time, frequently anesthetizing myself to the pain by indulging excessively and doing whatever I could to deadening myself to the passage of time. There did not seem to be any ray of hope on the horizon to look forward to, except perhaps the embrace of death.

Subtly at first, I began to become aware of small changes in myself. Usually, I was the first to toss out anti-church comments or point my finger at the many failings of the church but something started to change in me. During discussions with individuals who were making derogatory comments about the church and the lack of Christ like attitudes and actions of Christians, I found myself in the position of defending the church and Christianity. It was noticeable enough that I began to journal about it, to blog about it. Something was changing within me – something whose source was outside of me, because as detached and lost as I felt, I did not want to go back to the way I was.

I was in the midst of writing my first full length novel. The irony of which was that it dealt with the lives of four main characters. Through the seemingly indifferent harshness of the world, each character experienced a sudden and tragic wounding experience which was powerful enough to alter their basic goodness and desire to help others into a suffocating desire to protect themselves by adopting an attitude of detached isolation and indifference to their fellow men. At some level they each made the choice to place their own emotional safety above everything else, including the needs of others around them.

Sunset on the way home from the Serengeti
Sunset Leaving the Serengeti

The irony did not escape me for long, as I felt a deep personal connection with each of these characters. There were quiet moments when the stray thought would cross my mind, that if I could only finish the novel and help redeem each of these characters, then perhaps in that, I would discover my own redemption. I felt the inkling; the flutter of an emotion that I had thought was long since dead. I began to feel hope. There might actually be hope for me and in this; I began to make my own hesitant and awkward attempts to reconnect with God.

Enter into this personal drama a co-worker of my wife, who had started an outreach ministry to local pastors and leaders around the world, was planning a trip to Tanzania, Africa to help establish a small Bible College in Mwanza. He was going to be spending most of his time with the local believer who was going to be running the college and jumping through the governmental bureaucracy and filling out the necessary legal paperwork to make it official. He needed someone to travel with him who had a teacher’s heart and would be willing to handle the teaching sessions at a two day training event they were planning. The trip was coming up quickly and all other individuals associated with his ministry, were able to join him.

While the prospect of the experience appealed to me, I was flooded with questions and doubts. Was I really in the right place spiritually; not to mention emotionally, to be effective in ministry?

To be continued…

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