Thursday, May 9, 2019

Is Africa Old News?

Is Africa's moment over? As missionaries raising support to return to the field full-time, we have the privilege of contacting American churches by the dozens every week.  We've become accustomed to all sorts of pastoral Christian lingo about why they are not interested in hearing about the ministry in Togo (and, lest we sound cavalier, we empathize with how difficult and sometimes disheartening it must be to feel a constant tension between a mission-minded heart and a budget that just doesn't seem to want to stretch one penny further).

Perhaps the most perplexing response we've received with some regularity, though, is that most African countries (Togo included) are fully evangelized and that their church only desires to hear from and partner with missions to new fields of unreached people groups.  While it's easy to understand the honorable intentions behind such a statement, the mission-minded American Christian church is perhaps short-sighted in such thinking.

In April, the Pew Research Center released a report showing that, by 2060, six of the top ten countries with the largest Christian populations will be on the African continent.  This is probably not surprising news to most who are even marginally engaged with national and international trends.  The rise of secularism in the historically Christian West seems to permeate the news daily.  The increasing representation of African and even Asian Christianity likewise occasional makes news, including earlier this year, when their allegiance to historic Christian orthodoxy blunted the advance of theological liberalism in the mainline protestant United Methodist Church conference.

This news serves as both an encouragement and a warning.  Our African brothers and sisters in Christ are poised to become, numerically speaking, a bulwark against insidious, creeping religious relativism.  Now, more than perhaps ever, the work being done by national leaders in conjunction with international missionaries is of first importance, as African Christians ready to take on an increasingly influential seat at the global Christian table.  Despite impressive numerical growth, though, African Christianity, including right here in Togo, is still spiritually immature and needs careful mentoring, discipleship, and theological training.

Christianity on the African continent is easily tossed about by the winds of syncretism.  Syncretism is especially a problem in a drop-and-dash model of missionary engagement, where the emphasis is on conversion numbers amongst unreached people groups, rather than the slower, more relational and less glamorous work of creating, maintaining, and replicating systems of discipleship and advanced pastoral training.  The other major threat to African Christianity comes from false teachers, especially proponents of prosperity gospel, which unscrupulously rides in on the backs of the work of previous orthodox missionaries who laid the groundwork for belief in Jesus, only for those beliefs to be hijacked and heretically corrupted in the name of personal gain, prosperity, and happiness.

Is Africa's moment over?  No, far from it!  In fact, it hasn't even arrived yet.  What that moment will look like and whether or not it will be to the advancement or detriment of historical, biblical Christianity, remains to be seen.  That, my friends, depends on the work being done, right this very moment, by nationals and foreign missionaries, throughout Africa, including Togo.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Living in the In-Between

I love watching my oldest kids growing into adults.  For too long, I was focused on what I was losing - my dependent child, gathered physically under my protective wings.  And don't get me wrong, letting go of that is HARD stuff.  I'm so grateful that I still have seven more kiddos to go, and I can't imagine what I'll feel when my last little ones approach that season.  But as the sadness recedes, I'm left with a sense of wonder, and a need to communicate the beauty of this season to my children.

Seasons of transition are hard.  Sometimes we have hour-plus conversations on how hard it is be in the "waiting period" of life - working towards a future that seems distant and somewhat hazy, but beguiling and enchanting.  In my new "advisory" role, as a parent of an adult child, I find myself dispensing sage truisms about keeping focused on the day-to-day and finding joy in the seemingly never-ending college days.  Ah, but then I realize I must preach those same things to myself every day.  How I need to be reminded most days!

Modern life often seems like a hamster-wheel of racing from one checkpoint to another. Life will TRULY begin after high school, after college, after getting a job, after buying a house, after marriage, after starting a family, after completing a family, after your last child leaves the nest, after retirement, after you get to the mission field.  And those are all potentially good and wonderful things.  God made us, unique amongst his earthly creation, with the ability to dream and plan  But how easily, in our corruptible earthly bodies, are our eyes and hearts turned away from The One Who Knows All Things as we ask him to proverbially hold our jackets while we get to work and that once we've just Arrived, we will be ready for him.  Of course, that's a lie, and a most dangerous one indeed.  We've arrived the moment we were given a regenerate heart! None of this human striving makes us one whit more precious in his sight.  And too often, if you are anything like me, the striving serves as a mighty fine distraction at best and at worst, a source of a low, but steady grumbling spirit that destroys joy.

Instead, sisters (and brothers too, although I do think this is often a weakness that women are uniquely drawn to) let us focus our hearts and minds on Jesus Christ and treasure his Gospel story above all other things.  Determine to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified every single day.  Let that be the water that slakes every thirst, the milk that nourishes your soul, and the wine that you delight in.

Photo Source

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Highs and Lows

Photo source

Sometimes, when we are having one of those "good parenting" days, we ask the kids around the dinner table about their day's highs and lows.  I think we first heard of that in some silly movie before we even had kids, but it must have stuck over all these years. 

 Missionary life for sure often seems like a life of mountain top highs and darkest ocean depth lows.  The highs seem fairly obvious: cross-cultural experiences that broaden your perspective and your wisdom (hopefully!), witnessing the dramatic triumph of light over dark, reliving the childlike joy of a new believer, and so on.  The lows, though, are perhaps less obvious, but they are real.  They include having to live out in a very real way that family cannot come before ministry, that the saying that "home is where the heart is" is trite and untrue (my heart, I can see, over the years will be splintered apart into tens of pieces as my family grows and spreads), and sending out seventy-five emails a week to pastors and churches and being told over and over again that they are not interested in hearing about the Lord's work going on in Togo (an odd choice of phrase from a pastor, if ever I've heard one).

None of those lows are probably surprising to the person who's been on the field or who closely follows missionaries.  But we seem to have a newer (or at least more widespread and popular) low: being a public enemy.  In the wake of the death of John Allen Chau, the young American missionary who attempted to make contact with a remote and hostile people group, it has become clear that more Americans view missionaries as dangerous fools.  My first reaction to the criticism (even coming from fellow Christians) was one of bewildered hurt.  Gone are the relatively recent days when missionaries were recognized, even by ostensibly secular sources, as a force for good in the world.  But I've found that once I moved beyond my feelings of personal ego, that this opposition reinvigorates me for the task at hand.  If my work disturbs and bothers the world, it means that it matters! May the weak-willed, people-pleasing, half-hearted milquetoast Christian who seeks to live biblically without offending a modern secular culture be gone forever. Instead I pray to be a warrior fit for service to Christ.

          Through You we will push back our adversaries; Through Your name will we
          trample down those who rise up against us.  Psalm 44:5

So, paradoxically, that which, at first glance, seems a low, turns out to be a high - a renewal of spirit and courage and a recommittment of mission.  Praise God for the work of His faithful, his human army, that through the ages, from the earliest martyrs down through the present age, encourages us by their righteous example to drop to our knees in prayer and then stand up again outfitted for battle.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What's True in the Light is Still True in the Dark

The difference between darkness and light is hard to describe without alluding to, well, dark and light, day and night.  Perhaps because God has never made a more viscerally relatable theological concept.  Being in a town in a underdeveloped part of Africa has illuminated this to me in a way that I might have never understand in my American life.  You see, the dark of my suburban America, well, it just wasn't that dark.  There were street lights every couple of yards.  Entertainment options abounded after the sun went down. This was not a natural light, but it was a light nonetheless.  The implications of that artificial light and it's false sense of security is a whole other blog post to itself, and one that I won't explore here.  Right now, I'm in a place where, when it's dark, it's DARK.  A world which I'm coming to know and find unique beauty in during the day is a world that, quite honestly, scares me in the dark.  In the dark, you see, the bugs come out.  In the dark, you must carry a flashlight everywhere to watch for snakes.  In the dark, even though I know there is a wall around my house and there are no lions anymore in Togo, there is still a fear of what lurks in the utter blackness that engulfs you no more than a few feet past your eyes.  In the dark, we've had our home broken into, twice, including once while we were asleep, oblivious to the danger.  This stark contrast between my perception of my existence in the light of day versus the dark of night (and some insomnia, thank you, aging mind and body) has driven me into the scripture.  It's led me to be reminded that I was once a child of the darkness, trapped in the fear and uncertainty and danger.  Mortal danger, nay, IMMORTAL danger. 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:12

And it's also shown me my greatest and only hope, that I have been saved out of the reach of that darkness.  That I've been brought into the light, into the glorious brightness and transparency of never-ending day - through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into into his marvelous light.  1 Peter 2:9

And, praise be to God, this is not just for me.  It is for all who are called, for all who are chosen by the Father to be seekers of the Light.  Because the Truth is the same, even in what appears to us to be blackest, deepest night.  The War has been won.  Darkness has been defeated; it is in its death throes.  We must then labor faithfully at the task God has appointed us to, eagerly anticipating the glorious dawning of the perpetual Day that awaits us.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more.  They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.  Revelation 22:1-5

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Missing Christmas

I've been behaving like a spoiled brat lately.  I've been pouting about being hot and sweaty but most of all, about not being able to observe all of my multitudinous holiday traditions.  I've spent more than a little time poring over photos from Christmas's past on my phone and watching others holiday prep on social media.  It's been making me cranky and irritable for the last few days.  I prayed.  I asked others to pray for me, to take away this unholy desire for security and comfort that gripped my heart.  Thank the Lord I serve a God who answers prayer.  And His answer came in the form of a prayer request for someone else, someone who doesn't even know me.  A woman at the hospital just lost her seventh of eight children.  After losing her husband earlier in the year.  Her only surviving child is handicapped.  Her grief is beyond measure.  How can I dare to preach the goodness and grace of the God of the Bible to such as these?  People who have experienced searing, brutal loss that puts missing Christmas trees and delayed moments with family (family that are still very much alive!) into its proper perspective.  Missions work is HARD work.  It will often leaved you drained and overwhelmed.  But one of its blessings is the stories you hear and the way that God weaves those stories into my own life to change me just as much as the people we are evangelizing. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Something Was Missing...

There's nothing quite like Sunday, is there? The day is glorious, as it should be. My heart is just so full as I leave corporate worship. Recently, as I considered that, I wondered how I might make my own personal worship, bible reading, and study capture some of that. I quickly realized that an element that was missing from my personal time with God was music. And not just background music as I go about a task (although that's wonderful, and a way I bring a soothing spirit of peace into my home when tensions tend to run high, like during the morning getting-to-school rush or the "witching hour" right before dinner), but thoughtful singing where I reflect on the words. Have you incorporated music into your personal worship time? How do you do it? I can do something as simple as pick up the hymnal and play and sing, or I can use my phone and find a song on YouTube and use that (I admit, that works nice when the babies are napping). Lately, I've just been finding that Speak O Lord by the Gettys just puts me in the right orientation to God. What are your favorite personal worship songs?


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Introducing Baby Boaz

Our precious eighth child and fourth son, Boaz Laurent, arrived on Friday, April 14th at 3:24 pm.  He weighed in at 8lbs 3oz and was 20.5 inches long.  His birth story began on Thursday evening.  I finished up my last teaching appointment before starting my maternity leave at 7:30pm.  At 8:30 I felt like I just needed to take a walk.  It was getting dark and it was pretty cold, but I felt like it was a good idea.  After a 30 minute walk, I felt restless but settled into bed and felt drowsy enough to put down my book and try to go to sleep.  That wasn't happening though, and as 11:00 approached I felt increasingly restless and uncomfortable and decided to take a shower just in case.  I felt like maybe this was going to be the night...  And then I fell asleep.  Well, that was disappointing.  But around 4:00 I woke up again to some painful contractions.  I woke James up at that point and the contractions persisted for a good hour, about 7-8 minutes apart.  We called my doctor's answering service and they suggested going to Labor & Delivery, but shortly afterwards, the contractions fizzled back out.  So, at 5:30 James and I headed out for another 30 minute walk in the neighborhood, this time in the light rain.  That kept them going for a while, but again they faded out, so we got the kids ready for school and decided we could just head to my scheduled 9:20 appointment and speak to my OB.  We packed up our hospital bags just in case and headed downtown.  At our appointment, oh glorious news - I'd made progress from 2.5 centimeters dilated last week to 4 centimeters.  That, combined with my sporadic contractions and bloody show, was enough for my OB to say the magic words "Why don't you head on over to Labor & Delivery and I'll meet you there during my lunch break?".  We were SO excited - this was exactly how I hoped this baby's delivery would go, slow and controlled.  So, we went across the street to the hospital, got checked in and the IV started (no 30 minute drama this time, she got it in right away, which was crucial if I was to get the epidural I so wanted this time) and moved from triage to our room.  Contractions were sporadic and weak, so we walked the halls for an hour or so.  After that, my OB popped in and asked if I was open to her breaking my water and I said absolutely.  As soon as that happened (about 1:00), the contractions started almost immediately.  I asked for and received a perfect epidural within 30 minutes of true labor starting (yay!).  Unfortunately, at that point, my perfect labor took a bit of a detour.  Baby wasn't responding favorably to my contractions.  He showed serious decels through the duration of every contraction - his heart rate getting down into the 50s.  His recovery after the contractions was good, but it was easy to see that, as shifting positions didn't help, the room was getting a bit tense.  After about an hour and a half of this, I begin to feel real fear, something I've never experienced during a birth.  I remember praying hard - promising God that I no longer cared if they had to do a c-section, even under general anesthesia, none of that mattered so long as my baby was fine.  Fortunately, my doctor has a very calm personality, and prevented me from panicking too much.  She did, however, want me to start pushing a bit prematurely (I was about 9 centimeters) and get the baby delivered.  That's how I knew that, although the staff was all very reassuring, they were concerned.  The pushing was intense, moreso than some other labors.  I had to work really hard this time!  After about 20 minutes, the OB called for the vacuum (baby was just super displeased about this whole process).  But I was finally able to get him under the pelvic bone on my own, and pushed him out about 5 minutes later all on my own. The epidural did wear off during that phase, so I was so lucky (haha) to get to experience the whole ring of fire again.  He came out much more purple than any of my other babies, and his apgar scores were the lowest too, a 7 and an 8.  You could tell the whole process of labor and birth was difficult on him.  He was born with a nuchal cord (cord wrapped around the neck), which is pretty common and usually not much of a problem, but in his case, it absolutely was a problem - it had been badly compressed during every contraction, especially as he moved down.  I'm so grateful that this was not my first baby, because it would have ended in a true emergency c-section because I wouldn't have been able to have the fast labor that I had.  I can see in all of this story so clearly the hand of the Lord.  He ordained that I would have a weird labor pattern of fitful stops and starts that has never happened before.  He knew that Boaz needed to be born now, and that he needed to be born in a controlled but fast manner.  As I write this, I tear up a little still, one month later, out of gratitude for God's goodness that brought this much-loved baby into the world safe and sound.  He is good, always.