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

Posted on December 30, 2011

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The Bismark Rocks

The Bismark Rocks (Lake Victoria)

For all my myriad of faults, when I do commit to a work, I am invested in going the distance. So when I formally confirmed that I would be going to Tanzania, come hell or high-water, I was going to find myself in Africa. It was then the problems began to pile up. The ‘old’ me would have expected this, but as I mentioned previously, I was just getting my spiritual footing again in the area of service. I should have been familiar with this ‘cause and effect’ process by now, but apparently I had become spiritually rusty as of late.

The principal is this. Whenever someone decides to take a step of faith, the one thing that you can count on happening is having problems begin to surface. It seems as if the entire world, previously occupied in a plethora of various disparate pursuits, is suddenly focused solely on providing reasons for you to second guess your step of faith. Then the excuses needed to extricate yourself from the commitment you made, begin to add up. It’s the Death of the Vision principal. God gives you a vision of something amazing that you can accomplish or be part of and immediately afterwards, the world conspires to killing the vision. At that point, you can give up and walk away; many people do just that BUT if you move forward in faith, believing and holding true to the original vision, the vision which had previously died is miraculously resurrected. Frequently it comes back in a manner that you would not have previously guessed and occasionally it comes back even bigger than the original vision.

When I first got saved, I had an opportunity to participate in a mission trip and be part of the crew of a large tug boat which each summer sailed up the west coast of Canada. They stopped at many remote Native American villages and held week-long Kid’s Crusades. Most of these villages were extremely remote and could only be accessed by boat or sea plane. I was very excited about going on this mission trip, but I was young and did not have any savings or surplus cash. At the time, I was working as an automobile parts driver for a Nissan / Volvo dealership and basically was living paycheck to paycheck.

As things worked out, I was able to go because somehow I managed to save up enough money to pay my way. It’s amazing what you can do by living off of pasta and rice. Everything was going well until two weeks before we were set to depart Seattle. I was sitting at a stop light waiting for it to turn green when I got rear-ended by a young teenage boy driving with his girlfriend. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except he managed to hit me hard enough to crack my rear axle. This meant that I couldn’t drive away after the accident and that the car was toast – a complete loss, but wait, it gets even better.

When the police showed up, as I mentioned I could not drive away from the scene; we both received tickets for $500 for not having insurance. Hey, I was young and foolish at the time, but remember, I was the one stopped at the red light. I never received any compensation from the boy, though in truth, I did not have the heart to pursue it. Brian, from Sedro Woolley, Washington (you know who you are), know that I forgive you and absolved you from all prior obligations to compensate me for my loss. I hope that if this message reaches you, it will finally alleviate the burden of guilt and shame that you have no doubt had to shoulder for these many years.

The combination of factors and costs effectively killed the vision of me going on my first mission trip, by consuming all the money and resources that I had saved up. I was devastated, but was encouraged by several more seasoned saints to not to give up hope. A few days later a generous anonymous gift was donated in my name and was sufficient to cover all of my costs for the trip. The original vision was restored miraculously. As I reflected back on that experience, I began to understand that God does not necessarily want us to send ourselves places and take the glory for it. He wants to provide for us, so that He alone receives the praise. I was taught that if it’s His Will then it’s His Bill. After that experience, there were no lingering doubts in my mind ‘Who’ it was that was sending me on the mission trip. It certainly wasn’t me, as I was completely broke.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro

So here I was a couple of decades later, trying to mentally prepare myself for this African odyssey which was ripe with ambiguity. Ambiguity is fine, so long as there is a method for illuminating and creating order out of it, but in this case, the details were completely out of my hands. I was being asked to do one thing that had always been a challenge for me and that was moving forward without having all the answers. As I mentioned before, I like over preparing and establishing a structure or framework to work with – basically setting the foundation. In this case, I was not able to do that. I was going to have to just trust that my travel companion had it all worked out. This was not going to be easy for me.

The excuses to forsake my commitment to go to Africa continued to come in. The first was airfare. Apparently overnight the price for airfare from Seattle, Washington to Mwanza, Tanzania had jumped up over $1,000. Now, while I am not financially in the same position that I was when I was 24, I certainly have more costs, responsibilities and commitments today, like a family that enjoys eating, living under a roof with electricity and heating, using their cell phones, having new school clothes, being covered for their medical and dental expenses, etc., I was not prepared for an unexpected increase of a thousand dollars on top of the already unbudgeted expense of the entire trip to begin with.

The more I struggled with the increased cost of airfare, passport, filtered water bottles, etc., the more I began to feel like I should probably just bow out gracefully and give up the idea that I was going to Africa. A host of other concerns soon joined in the chorus of lame justifications for me to not go. I would have to be gone for the first half of December, away from the family, work was stressful, too much ambiguity regarding the trip made it seem unorganized, the additional costs were going to have a severe impact on my Christmas budget with the family, concerns about my spiritual readiness continued to surface and on top of it all, I had no details of exactly what was expected of me when and if I ever made it to Africa.

I talked with my travel companion to get some clarity on the details of my involvement in this trip. It was at this time that I was notified that not only would I be teaching at least two full days of training sessions, but that I would need to develop the content for those sessions. Now I am sure that people will think that I was completely over thinking this, but I really struggled to wrap my mind around this. As a teacher, I have found that your teaching is more effective, if you know your audience and can tailor it to suit them. If I was asked to develop curriculum for local children, teens or adults, it would not have been nearly so stressful. After all, I was familiar with the culture that they grew up in and to a certain degree understood their mindset. This was completely different. I was being asked to develop curriculum for people of a culture and lifestyle that was completely foreign to me and I was being asked to do it within a short timeframe.

Home I Stayed at in Mwanza

Home I Stayed at in Mwanza

I think I was just numb and feeling overwhelmed but just rolling with it. I thought, my traveling companion would be with me. He had been to Africa before. He knew the people we were going to be staying with and he would be there to bail me out, if I really started to struggle. Besides, I was just going to back him up and support him, right? The problem was that the more I learned about the trip, the more anxious I became. At some point it finally dawned on me that I was not going to just be offering moral support for my travel companion, but that I was going to be spending the bulk of my time in Africa, teaching on my own with only the help of a translator whom I had not met yet.

Okay, now I was starting to really panic. I had less than a month to put together about eight hours of content for local pastors and leaders; whom I had never met previously and had little familiarity with any specific issues or concerns that they might have. My panic was further heightened when it was casually mentioned that one of the local bishops was going to be attending my classes. The pressure was increasing and clearly the situation was spiraling out of control. The first test of my faith had begun and I was not responding to it like a well-oiled faithful follower of Christ. Clearly, I was more than just a little rusty.

The culmination of everything finally drove me to my knees. I confess that prior to that moment; my prayer life had grown pretty anemic and half-hearted. Oh, I still prayed, though I was not setting any records for frequency, length of time and depth, but I did still check in from time to time. As I struggled to move forward, I had to relearn yet another spiritual principle which I had forgotten. The source of a Christian’s spiritual vitality, nourishment, peace and strength is found in drawing near and abiding in Christ. God is the fountainhead, the source. We are the vines and he is the branch. If we become disconnected from the branch, then we are cutoff from the source of our spiritual nourishment; we not only cease to grow, but we begin to wither and die.

I am not proud to admit that for a Christian, I was a pretty shriveled up and dried out one. I was being reminded how extremely vital it is that we remain connected to our spiritual fountainhead. It is so crucial to our walk that God will often allow adversities to enter our lives, with the sole intent of allowing them to drive us to our knees so that we can reconnect with Him. I am sure that He would prefer that we just came to Him on our own volition, but the reality is that most of us don’t honestly turn to God until we have exhausted all other avenues of aid.

My mother was a wonderful person, but she was extreme proud (picture an Italian, French-Algerian Jew raised as a Catholic). She was an amazing person who sacrificed her life for the benefit of her children, but oh was she stubborn. It was not until she lost her health due to Multiple Sclerosis that she truly took her faith seriously and not just culturally. I guess that God (and my mother, if you could ask her now) figured that a few years of suffering on earth, was but a blink of an eye in the span of eternity and a small price to pay for awakening her to her spiritual condition. It was difficult for us, as her children to understand it at the time, but the thought that our mother was in the presence of the Lord now and would experience an eternity of perfect health makes it easier to deal with.

I am learning that God desires a closer walk with us. He faithfully pursues us and will use whatever circumstance in our lives to woo us back to Him. We must want to come to him; He will never force us. It’s only then that we begin to experience His peace and we begin to remember His faithfulness time and time again, in our lives. The Bible calls us leaky vessels. That’s a kind way of saying that we forget things. When we reconnect with God in meaningful ways, our lives, the world around us, is all put into proper perspective. Only then can we experience His peace and His joy even in the midst of the storms of life.

I guess you might say that I have some control issues to work through. This experience and those which confronted me in Africa seemed specifically targeted at restructuring to a healthy place, my need to be in control and my re-learning how to trust and to follow without having to call all the shots. That’s the challenge for anyone who has served in leadership for any length of time. Can we be re-taught to find satisfaction and fulfillment in just following; in being willing to become the servant and not having to be the leader or be up front? It seems contradictory to life as we know it, but Jesus’ defining glory, the pinnacle of His greatness was revealed in his willingness to take on the nature of a man, so that he might become the servant to all.

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Our glory is found down that same road, though it is a fraught with peril and a dangerous path to take. It offers nothing but the promise of continued cuts, scrapes and bruising to our ego, our pride and our selfishness. As such it is no wonder that there are so few who seek to follow that road to its end; choosing to find greatness in laying down our life, our rights and embracing the role of a servant. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

To be continued…

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