From tragedy to tragedy,
Parts of a whole, you and me.
It all started at that tree,
Deceived into thinking we weren't free.
Thought we could evolve to something we couldn't be,
Left us where we are currently.
Spread like a virus in a family,
Now its infected all humanity.
No race immune, nor no country,
All you gotta do is read some history.
Yet one day out of eternity,
Love entered into this calamity.
Bringing truth in humility,
Honor, allegiance, and loyalty.
Strength disguised as frailty,
Revealing the God from whom other gods flee.
Tearing veils so we could see,
Breaking barriers so painfully.
Dying paid the ransom fee,
Came back to life in victory.
Calling out across the sea,
"I am the way" remains his plea.
Now it's up to you and me,
Follow him to new identity.
It's strange it's kind of an anomaly,
How the effects of the disease are most easy to see,
In those who are most different than me.
Rejected by democracy,
Mobs cried out defiantly,
Killed the one who holds the key,
Locked up in their insanity.
The day will come they'll bend their knee.
I remember the first time I saw the village on the shores of the lake. It was March of 2018. We had been on a small boat which was loaded down with cargo and passengers for hours on end. I had made myself comfortable on a 2x4 and Micah was leaning against some bags of grain. Many passengers passed the long hours sleeping with their colorful kangas covering them. I looked out and saw a rocky shoreline and farther up a tree line where tendrils of smoke rose above the trees. It was beautiful and remote. I certainly didn’t know what to expect that day as we got off the boat and began getting to know the people there. I certainly didn’t expect that I might call that place home.
This month our family went back into the village. This time our perspective had changed. Instead of it being a far-off rocky piece of shoreline, we knew familiar faces and names and had been praying for them during our time away. We had also recently made the decision to work there. This meant we, as a family, would learn their language and their culture. It was a huge step for us, but we all felt it was time, and had seen God’s leading in all of it.
Getting into this village is quite the journey. For the first leg, we took a bus thirteen hours across country. The next leg we boarded another bus loaded with passengers. This bus rattled its way down rough dirt roads which meandered through bright green tea fields with villages dotting the hillsides. After five hours packed in the bus like sardines, we made it into town. We knew that this might be the last time we would have phone reception for a while. We were surprised that within hours of arriving in this town friends from home, who as far as we were aware, did not know about our travels, began sending us messages asking how they could be praying for us! That sent a chill through me and reminded me of the Holy Spirit and how he binds us together in the Body of Christ. We were being upheld in prayer and that brought great comfort throughout our stay and during our return trip. The next day we climbed into a small car which took us down a steep, narrow road that descended towards the lake. Once at the lake the blazing sun reminded us of the heat of Dar es Salaam. Normally we would spend the night there before boarding a boat early the next morning to a village further up the shoreline, but instead we met a boat ready to leave, so after finishing lunch, we climbed in the boat and left that same day.
As we sat on the boat many thoughts ran through my mind. I knew we were headed for the place that might be our home. Its remote location seemed like such a challenge. What would God do? Would it even be possible? Would they accept us? So many questions, and only a verse to try to bring peace to them all.
“For we walk by Faith and not by sight” -2 Corinthians 5:7
As we got ready to exit the boat I tried to climb over the edge as daintily and gracefully as all the other women. Climbing over the edge of a bobbing boat, with a skirt, in knee deep water with a backpack, and trying to keep balanced while walking over wet slippery rocks is never easy. But eventually we were all walking single file up the path into the village. This time there were familiar faces. The children were shy, but they remembered Micah’s name from our previous visit, over a year before. As we walked uphill towards the guest house Micah was already asking me when he could go swim in the lake. Being there in that village, I saw an excited shine in Micah’s eyes. Free from the walls and confines of living in a huge city, this village with its many playmates, climbing trees and nearby lake was a dream for an eight-year-old boy. As we got settled into our tidy but small guest room, I was reminded how much Micah had grown since we had last slept in this very room a year and a half before. We had all managed to fit nicely on this same 6 x 5 mattress back then, but now we saw Micah’s long frame stretched the length of the bed. I spent the first night listening to the baying of goats in the backyard, the barking of the guard dog and watching the heat lightning reflecting off the wall. By morning I gladly escaped the tangle of arms and legs and the mosquito net to welcome in a new day.
We spent the next two weeks looking for a house that would suit our small family. Several options presented themselves but none of them ended up working out for one reason or another. In the past, we’ve always seen God’s handiwork in the houses we've lived in and their locations. No matter what country we’ve lived in, He has always been faithful. We knew the location of this next house needed to be around people so we would have opportunity to build relationships and learn language. We also knew we at least needed a cement floor and a private bathroom. Throughout our visit we continued to look at different options and discussed and prayed over them. We knew the house was waiting somewhere. During our stay at the guest house I was able to take advantage of mealtimes to learn how the people prepare their fish for frying and how they process their cassava into flour. The cook, a beautiful young mother in her twenties, was very friendly and often gladly explained different words in the local language. She helped me with an audio recording of different greetings they use throughout the day. I was surprised by how honest she was with me as she shared some of the struggles that she had been going through recently, and I was able to get a glimpse into the needs of that place. Often in the heat of the day we found reprieve in the shade and spent time discussing things. How thankful I am for our years spent in Swahili study and how it helped us communicate with these people.
Micah went down to the lake twice a day to swim with his new friends. We went down to watch him and were encouraged to hear his Swahili coming back. Throughout our visit he would often ask me the meaning of this word or that. The children in the village learn how to swim at a very young age and by the time they reach Micah’s age they are experts. A few of them began teaching Micah how to swim and do tricks in the water. I went down to the lake each day with my basin of dirty clothes and sat at the waters edge washing clothes with the other ladies. I never realized that washing clothes could be relaxing and enjoyable, but down at the lake there was a cool breeze and the water felt good lapping playfully at my bare feet. Many evenings I went down to the shore to watch the sun set and watch Micah take one last dip before dinner. The sun cast its glow over the clouds and the reflection on the water took my breath away. I spent most of my visit just trying to wrap my mind around the reality that this place along with its beauty and challenges might end up being our home. Challenges, yes, there were challenges. During our visit Neil came down with an infection and before we knew it, we were heading up the mountain to the village clinic. We had expected to find a house, but we didn’t expect to try out the local clinic. We came away from the experience aware of our physical frailty and God’s faithfulness, and more than ever feeling relieved that people were praying for us. Eventually we found the house, which would fit our size of family well. There were four small rooms, two on each end of the house with a living area in the middle. There was an outdoor kitchen, which is common here. The house itself is situated on a hillside and is a short walk from the lake. The terrain around the house is rocky, with pathways winding this way and that. Mango trees spread their shade over house rooftops and pigs lay in their shade. During the morning when the people are in their fields working the neighborhood is quiet but as the afternoon approaches and the sun begins to go down, music can be heard playing from speakers and lively laughter and chitchatting voices signal the time for socializing has begun.
Once we decided on a house and Neil began feeling better, we started making plans to return to the city. This time we decided to go back a different way. Instead of taking the boat we opted on a hike up the mountain. We started off early on a Saturday morning. The air was cool and still the shadows were dark. As the path grew steeper, I began tripping on my long skirt and realized why I was struggling so much. I have often hiked steep terrain back home, but never while wearing a skirt. As we climbed up a nearly vertical trail, I watched Micah effortlessly scamper up ahead of me, chattering endlessly about the amazing view and as always, asking questions about this or that. Eventually I had to stop walking and bent over double, gasping for breath, I begged him to stop asking me questions because I was just trying to survive! As the morning light of dawn began steeling over the lake the view was astonishing. Far below us lay the village where we had just come from, and out across the vast expanse of the lake I could see mountains rising above the far shoreline. During our ascent we came across several locals heading down the mountain. They balanced huge baskets loaded down with plantain and cassava on their heads, and I was impressed by how they managed to gracefully descend the steep trail with such loads while wearing kangas, their traditional wrap around.
An hour later we arrived at the top. A couple motorcycles with drivers were waiting for us there. We’d called them the evening before. They lashed our packs to the back of their bikes, and we climbed on. Micah and I on one, and Neil on the other. Micah sat on my lap between me and the driver. I held him securely between my arms. We flew down steep valleys and climbed high over three mountain ranges. Many times, we had to get off and walk up by foot because of deeply rutted muddy areas. As we neared the top of the last mountain, we followed a narrow curve around where we came out into full view of a fertile valley far below us. The clouds, which seemed surprisingly near, were parting in some places, letting the dawn of morning stream through which shone down into the fertile green valley in shafts of golden light. I gasped in awe at the sight which laid out before us, even while I gripped the driver tight along with Micah, holding on for dear life as we descended the last mountain, praying for safety under my breath and all the while wondering what eight-year-old gets these kinds of experiences! I pondered how God would use these moments in his life. At the end of that motorcycle ride we met a bus which would begin our two-day trip back to the city.
We have been back in the city for a little over a week now. I’ve mulled over the trip many times in my mind thinking about the blessings and the challenges. On one hand I’m excited about what God will do. He is always at work. On the other hand, I faced some realities that will be difficult. The lack of quiet privacy that I so value, the absence of fans and electricity that gets me through the heat of the day and helps me sleep at night. The knowledge that the food in the village is much different than what we are used to and the lack of variety. The reality that travelling in and out of the village takes stamina and strength, whether it be by bus, boat or motorcycle. Knowing that we’ll be away from larger health care facilities. And finally, gearing ourselves up for yet another move just sounds exhausting. As with our other moves, we have entered the period of the “lasts.” The last time I will see this, or the day we will have to say goodbye. The sound of our voices echoing off empty walls always brings back that familiar dread of transition. The other day we bought some coconuts at the market. Micah looked up at me with a big grin and asked, “Mom, can I have the water from it?” “Of course!” I replied. There are some things we really enjoy about living here in this city. One of those things are the coconuts that grow along the coast. The coconut peas I serve over rice, the coconut milk I grate and squeeze by hand, and the lazy hot afternoons spent on the front porch carving out coconut flesh. For the remainder of our walk home I began mourning the loss of coconuts as there’s not a lot of coconut trees on the shores of the lake. Then I remembered our previous move and the things that would become our new favorites. Back then it had been the avocado tree in our yard, the baby chicks and their mother’s proud strut as she led them around our courtyard. The view of the mountains surrounded by lush greenery-all seen from our front doorway. The new friends we made. All would not have been experienced had we not let go of the things back home or in the city. New experiences, new opportunities to grow as an individual and as a family. New depths to trust God in. In this new transition from city to village we are reminded again to let go of those mourned for things, to grab onto that which we cannot see, that which God has prepared for us. It is a difficult thing to exchange a tangible well planned out life with grocery stores, a neat and tidy schedule, and a house humming with electricity for a life filled with the unseen, the unexperienced, and the unknown. A life of casting ourselves ever more into him out of necessity. A life of finding fulfillment not in what can please the senses, but in following the Savior into whatever role he would have for us. As I’ve struggled to enter into the unknown and a life without modern convenience, I recently came across 1 John 2:15-17, which reads:
“Do not love this world not the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave.” (NLT)
So, we are pleading with God to change our desires and cravings. Give us vision for the Kisi people, give us passion and love for our future neighbors, and give us the ability to forgive each other and ourselves when we mess up. We look forward to a new kingdom and a day when there will be no more goodbyes, no more transitions, where the weak will no longer suffer. This hope gives us strength.
Now I saw a new heaven and new earth, for the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold I make all things new.’ - Revelation 21:1-5
Little gods all lined up,
Screaming at you as you wake up.
Innocent as they might seem,
Lulling you into a bad dream.
If you let them soon they’ll start,
Taking little bites out of your heart.
They won’t stop until their done,
Leaving you heartless and numb.
If you feel it there’s still time,
Though uphill you’ll have to climb.
Smashing idols sounds like fun,
But you’ll need help from someone.
Someone made you out of dust,
He’s the one that you must trust.
Breathed life into you from above,
He’ll heal your heart with his own love.
One heart is all you’ve got,
And with his blood that heart’s been bought.
When you wake up remember him,
Give him your heart, his song you'll sing.
The old shepherd sat on a rock, looking out across the barren landscape. He shielded his eyes from the glaring sun and turned his head to keep the wind from blowing grains of sand into his face. He looked out again, scanning the hillside for his flock. Large boulders and small bushes dotted the landscape, with occasional tufts of grass growing where the topsoil had been eroded away. His flock was spread out across the hillside, diligently searching for the greenest blades of grass. A mountain towered above him and his flock, its shadow inching toward him as the day wore on. His mind started to wander; he hadn’t always been a shepherd in this remote wilderness.
He thought back to the day he’d first arrived in this desert. He’d been on the run, carrying little more than the clothes on his back. He remembered how thirsty he’d been after walking through that barren country. That day he had called out to a God whom he didn’t really know. It’s true he had some vague memories of his mother telling him stories about this God, she had said that He was the one their ancestors had worshiped. But he hadn’t seen his mother in years. Even so, this God was somehow different than the gods he had been raised with after being adopted into his new family. Maybe that was why when he really needed help that fatal day he had called out to Him, and He had answered and led him to a well there in the desert. There, he had met his future wife, the one who was now the mother of his children. He smiled to himself as he thought of how simple events could forever change a person’s history.
He was thankful that he’d found a family to take him in, though at first he’d had his doubts about their hospitality. When he arrived at the well that day, he’d found some other shepherds harassing her. Never afraid of a fight, he’d fought them off and helped her water her flock. Then she’d just left him there at the well, wondering where he would sleep that night. He remembered feeling relieved when she came back later and invited him to her father’s house. Now, she was his wife and the mother of his children. His mind drifted to his kids. How different their childhood was from his own. He’d been raised on some of the finest foods in the world, prepared by servants and served on elegant dishes, complete with flavorful seasonings. He had watched the most famous entertainers perform and had rubbed shoulders with celebrities. He’d studied in the best schools and under the most qualified teachers anywhere in the world, yet his sons already knew more about shepherding than he did when he first arrived at this far off corner of the world. Its true they’d never been entertained like he had, and that they ate meat from their livestock cooked over open fires, served with sour milk, and their palates had never tasted the rich variety of foods that had been so common to him when he was their age. His mind continued to wander. He didn’t miss those foods anymore; he’d already grown accustomed to the simplicity of his new life.
Yet, there was still something unsettling within him. The memory of his mother’s God would not die away. Was this the same God as his father in law’s God? They did share a common ancestor. But deep down, he knew he was different. All throughout his life, he’d wondered what his purpose was. He’d never really fit in back in the country where he was raised, despite his adoptive family’s efforts. But when he’d tried to help out his mother’s people, they had rejected him and tried to turn him into the authorities. Now, in this wilderness, he’d found a home with a new family, but even yet, he still somehow felt like an outsider. “God, who are you and what do you want with me?”
Suddenly, as he sat there, the sound of crackling brought him back to the present. He looked out again across the hillside, and there, tucked away underneath the mountain, was a bush which had burst into flame…
A few lines scratched in the dirt, a couple of towels, old shirts, or rags, and the kids are ready to play. For the time being, we’re staying at a guest house, and the back yard is full of banana trees, papaya trees, a fishpond, gardens, chickens, ducks, a couple cows, and clotheslines filled with drying clothes. It all makes for a good game of capture the flag, as there are plenty of hiding spots allowing for a fair amount of sneaking, but still enough open space to be able run. Like most games, there’s a certain amount of strategy involved, and the kids are always trying to get the grownups to play. There’s been a few times where they’ve succeeded, and sometimes it’s me who joins in.
Sometimes, I don’t pay attention to the little things, things like what the flag is. I know the object of the game, and I know all the rules to the game. I’m a little faster than most of the kids, and a bit sneakier. Yet is seems that every time I overlook this one little detail of the game (what we’re using for the flag), I never end up finding the flag, no matter how fast or sneaky I am. I’ll sneak around the back of the house, undetected. I’ll move over to the banana trees, scouting out the area. I’ll see several old rags, draped over a branch here or a tree there. I look across the garden to the clothesline. It’s full of towels, rags, and old shirts. I start to calculate the odds of picking out the right one, then I’m detected. I run back to safety, no closer to getting the flag than I was before.
Recently I got the chance to visit a neighboring country. While I was there, I met many different people from different countries who had a lot of experience playing a whole different kind of game. I met people who had experience ministering in cross cultural contexts. I met other people who had experience working in their own cultural context. They discussed together the object, the different factors, and some of the details of ministry. I felt privileged to be there and to be able to learn from their experiences. I was reminded that it’s important to know what the flag is, to know what we’re aiming for and what steps we’re taking to get there, in order to accomplish our objective. I was encouraged that even when things look impossible, like Moses we can see the invisible as we walk by faith holding on to what God has said in the Scriptures.
While I was there, I also visited a couple villages. Square mud huts with thatched roofs, spaced out with fields of beans, corn, and cassava in between them. We followed the narrow dirt road across creeks, cutting a straight line through the fields, then finally split off from the road onto an even narrower path leading to a cul-de-sac at the edge of a village. We were met by two families from the team there who prepared dinner for us, and although they didn’t speak English or Swahili, we were able to communicate with them through our translator. Later, their western co-workers arrived, and the next day they took us around the village. They showed us the translation work the team has done, and we got to see the translation being used in several places. One of these places was a small mud brick building with its thatched grass roof overhanging the entrance. We ducked down and stepped inside were met by a small crowd already gathered inside. They sat on wooden benches, but they had brought in plastic chairs just for us. We sat down, our eyes adjusting to the dim light filtering in through the small windows. One of the crowd, a teacher, sat in front and read from Luke 16. Some questions and discussion followed, all in their native language. The teacher had taught himself to read, but not everyone is able to do that, especially those who don’t already know how to read in the trade language. But the team was trying to help with that. The next day we walked into another dimly lit brick building, this one with a blackboard at the front. Next to the blackboard stood a young teacher holding a stick and pointing to the letters on the board. Facing him sat a group of around ten students, sitting on wooden benches. “Mwo, wo, wu, wi…” the voices of the students joined in unison as they repeated what the teacher pointed to with his stick. This was just one of several groups who are learning how to read and write. Several of the students have already gone on to read whatever materials available, including the translation of the Scriptures. The teacher himself had just learned how to read less than a year prior, and now he is teaching others. After visiting the class, it was time to say goodbye to the team we’d just met, but we left feeling encouraged having learned a little more of what the flag could look like.
Another day, another trip to another village. This village was dotted with clean, neat square houses with hip style thatched roofs overhanging the mud brick walls by about four feet on all sides and held up by wooden poles. This overhang covered a patio area which extended around each house. In between the houses were fields made of light sandy soil ideal for growing cassava but not a whole lot else. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed into a guest house where we got cleaned up and ate dinner. The next day we went out to meet with some of the people from the village. First, we met with some kings who told us about the time when the team first came. They told us how they had moved in and sought help in learning their language, and how they had provided people to help them learn. Later, we met with a teacher and a translator, and they told us how they learned how to read, and how they now teach others in the same way. They also explained to us the process of how they translate, and all the steps and people involved. Later that same afternoon, we went and visited a group of people gathered under the shade of a large tree and sitting barefoot on straw matts. One of them sitting in the middle read from a small booklet, a portion translated from the first book of Moses. Others took turns reading as well, and they discussed briefly what they read. When the teaching was finished, they held out their hands and took turns talking to God asking him to help a sick woman in their midst. This was just one of several small groups there who have learned through the Scriptures how they can talk with God. The team there now is mostly made of locals, and despite setbacks and challenges, they want to continue teaching and translating and bringing the Scriptures to others. We spent another night in the village, and the next morning it was time to leave again and begin our trip back home. Here, I’d learned yet a little more of what the flag could look like, and that while some of the surrounding factors and details may not all be the same from place to place, the objective doesn’t change.
Since then, I’m back at the guest house, reunited with my family. Just like in capture the flag, I’m seeing how knowing your surroundings in ministry is important, knowing your team is important, knowing what the flag is is important (what you’re aiming to do), having a strategy helps, and of course knowing the objective is important. Things like speed and sneakiness are only important if the other things are in place. And despite all the strategy in the world, if we can’t see the invisible and fix our eyes on Him, it’s not going to amount anything.
Listen as the earth cries out,
Put your ear down hear it shout.
What once was brown now starts to sprout,
It calls out for a crown,
What's it all about?
The barren earth, dusty and dry
Just like my heart,
Listen to it's cry.
Where did it start?
What's the reason why?
As it all falls apart,
Am I left to die?
Dry as sand and hard as rock,
Cracked to pieces, under lock
Out of the ground as hard as stone,
A plant sprouts up, I'm not alone.
It reaches up, in the wind it's blown,
It doesn't break till it's all grown.
There's talk of justice, talk of love,
Righteousness, sent from above.
Fulfillment of promise,
When push came to shove,
Covered by the wings of a dove.
The roots reach in, penetrating
Exposing all my secret sin.
The lost is found,
A new feeling, I'm coming round
The broken branch, broken no more,
The earth knows what you have in store.
In the wall you've made a door,
You picked me right up off the floor.
Some say that you're to far away,
For you to ever hear me pray.
They said you're too much Deity
To ever care for you and me.
Who told them that I'll never know,
They listened to their hearts of woe.
Shut out the sound of earth and sea,
Amongst themselves they couldn't agree.
They fought for power and control,
Their own glory strove to show.
Used to call out in the night,
But didn't bother in the day.
Didn't see a wrong to be made right,
Thought that they were made that way.
Won't give up without a fight,
Against the wind it's hard to sway,
The current carries me away.
Hold on! Hold on! The branch does say,
Come on in into the light,
In the darkness please don't stay!
The light, shine it on me bright,
Mold me just like you mold clay,
Take me from a place of fright,
I'll soar with you in perfect flight.
One day soon the birds will sing.
And in my ears this song will ring,
A song of greatness of the King,
Justice, love, kindness he'll bring.
Righteous, He'll encompass everything.
Today was the day we thought we'd be saying our goodbyes and heading back overseas. Our goal was to get back, begin forming a team, and start planning our next and hopefully permanent move to where we would begin learning our next language in order to translate and teach. Yet, plans change, as they often do. We've had to put these plans on hold for at least another few months, Now we're hoping to travel in late Spring. So instead of saying goodbyes and boarding airplanes, we spent the day resting trying to recover from a nasty flu bug we each picked up last week, making a puzzle, and staying home from school (Micah's first snow day). While we may feel some mixed emotions, such as disappointment, relief, you name it, God is still teaching us that it doesn't matter where we are, he'll be right there with us. As someone else who learned this lesson once said, "for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content." "For He Himself has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you." "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
“Fish and chips, onions and garlic,
our mouths are salivating!
All we have is simple manna,
Moses, can’t you do something?”
“God, what did I do to deserve this?
I can’t take it anymore.
Why don't they go find another,
how did I end up their mother?”
“Go get ready for some dinner, you’ll eat meat for thirty days.”
“But God, maybe you don’t realize, we've got a lot of mouths to feed.
Even counting all our livestock, I still think that more we'd need."
“Jesus, don't you see the time?
Don't you see it's getting late.
Everyone is getting hungry,
How long will they have to wait?"
"Why don't you go buy them dinner,
Maybe you could find some bread?"
"Did you hear what Jesus said?
He wants us to buy them bread.
If we worked for half a year,
I still don't think that we would clear."
"Hey Jesus, I just found someone
He has bread and fish with him,
Five loaves and two fish to be exact,
But I think we'll need more than that!"
Lord, What exactly are you doing?
I'd like to know my whereabouts,
The disciples faith was growing,
Yet even Moses had his doubts,
I remember all you’ve done,
But each new day I have to eat.
You’re the God who stopped the sun
Who made our enemies retreat.
You were stronger than the Pharaoh,
The water listened to your voice,
Yet your eye is on the sparrow,
Now you leave me with a choice.
I've seen your beautiful creation,
And you've given me your Word,
So when I come across temptation,
To believe just what I see,
Lord, Remind me all I've heard,
I choose dinner, you and me.
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." - Psalm 23.5
Elaborate cathedrals, ornate mosques, ancient temples, and magnificent churches, structures like these, built with the finest materials, and crafted by the most skilled craftsmen, are found throughout the world today and symbolize peoples’ dedication and respect for their God. From ancient times, civilizations have used all their skill and expertise to create engineering marvels for their respective deities. From those times until now, people flock to these magnificent buildings to come and meet with their God.
There is a story of one ancient King who wanted more than anything else to build a temple for his God. This king had come from humble beginnings, and had no doubt spent many a night out in the elements, swatting mosquitoes or trying to keep the rain from running into his tent, before his fate suddenly changed, and he found himself living in a luxurious palace. He recognized of course, that it was God who had placed him where he was, and perhaps that’s why he felt the way he did when he saw that his God had no permanent house, nothing more than a tent to stay in. The story goes that this king summoned a prophet and told him his concern. The prophet agreed that this was a great idea and told the king to do whatever he had in mind. But later that night, the prophet had a dream. God appeared to him and reminded him that he’d never lived in a permanent house and that he’d never complained about it either. Then he told the prophet to go and tell the king that instead of him, one of his descendants would build a temple for him, and although he didn’t specify whom, he gave us a pretty good hint when he said that “he would secure his throne forever.” Yet, despite the hint, most people thought the prophesy was fulfilled when the king’s son went on to build a marvelous gold covered temple. This temple completed, the people continued to travel to this holy site to meet with their God. But the story wasn’t over, nor was the prophesy complete.
A thousand years later, a young teacher, passing by the site, commented that if anyone destroyed this temple, he’d build it again in three days. Most of the people around him once again didn’t catch the hint, but instead thought that he was crazy. It took this young teacher’s brutal death and the events immediately following it for people to finally understand what he was talking about. Finally, people started to understand that this young teacher was the one who would rule forever and would build the temple that the ancient king had wanted to build. This was a revolutionary concept for people. This young teacher was way more than just a young teacher, he was a temple in which the God of his people lived.
Throughout the world and throughout the centuries people have gone to buildings, groves, hilltops, and other sacred places to meet with their gods. Now, God had come in a human body to meet with people. But this was just the start of something incredible. After the temple of God was destroyed and then raised to life again after three days, he returned to where he had been sent from, but not before promising his people something spectacular. God was just getting started building his temple. This temple would be different than any human structure, and even after two thousand years it is still under construction. Built on the foundation of the young Teacher, intricately connected and intertwined throughout the centuries, it is a living, moving, and breathing temple made up of people from all walks of life coming from distinct and diverse cultures, so different from one another, each member having his own unique background and coming through his own unique circumstances, yet all stitched together into a great and awesome temple in which the same God of that ancient king has promised to live.
“If someone overpowers one person, two can resist him.
I was driving down the interstate, cruise on, a full tank of gas, and radio blaring. “I’m okay,” I remember thinking, yet I was still a little nervous. There was something unsettled deep within me. I tried to drown it out through the song on the radio. “It doesn’t really matter how hard you try…” “It might be nice to have people, but I don’t really need anyone” I mused, “besides, I’m going with the flow of traffic here, I’ll be fine.”
That was me, a year before I met two people who wouldn’t leave me alone. My life seemed to be going fine, I wasn’t always super happy but it wasn’t like I was depressed either. I was trying to find the status quo, a simple version of the American dream, after all I didn’t want to disappoint myself by setting the bar to high, and I was on my way. Things were pretty much under control. I had minimized the risk of failing by downsizing my expectations. I was going with the flow.
Then I met her. She was wearing a red skirt and a white shirt, with long brown hair and big brown eyes. Everything about her was unique, and she piqued my curiosity. Of course I was too shy to go up and talk to her, that would mean putting myself in jeopardy of failing, but I did do things to try to get her to notice me. About the same time, there was someone else trying to get me to notice Him. Up until then, I’d heard a lot about Him, I’d studied about Him in class, I’d read a book He’d inspired, and I’d enjoyed how creative and thoughtful He was. I’d even believed in Him to take my sins away and get me into heaven, but somehow I didn’t know Him. That was about to change.
A few months later…
Unnoticed, the volume on the radio had lessened. There were people talking, and I wasn’t as lonely. I was more aware now, like a driver who has just had a close encounter with a deer. We were visiting, the three of us, the conversation going from light hearted jesting to serious discussion and back again. “Don’t go there,” the girl would say, “By trying to protect yourself by avoiding others, you’re actually hurting yourself. Besides, Jesus loves you, why should you be angry?” Sometimes, I was like the two voices were one. I wanted to listen. I had been afraid, but they had pursued me. I didn’t run. How could I have missed Him before? After all I’d studied about Him, all I’d read. The sound on the radio was barely audible. My foot on the gas pedal… somewhere back there I was no longer on cruise control.
It was sometime during that year that I decided to pull off of the interstate. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do so, it was more of a gradual change. My desire to follow my new friends had subtly grown stronger than my desire to maintain the status quo. It was easy for me at first, I was enjoying spending time with them. It wasn’t long though, until I realized now I had to worry about oncoming traffic. Still, the discussion in the car kept me alert. As we talked together I felt more and more sure that I was on the right road. I didn’t really know where this road would go, but I guess I hadn’t really known where I was headed on the interstate either, I’d just figured I’d be okay since there were lots of other cars going that way. Then, unexpectedly, I found myself talking to myself. “Where did she go? What did I do?” I had come to a fork in the road. “Do I go back or should I press on alone?” “Aren’t you forgetting someone?” I heard a voice. “All those times we spent together, was it just because of her? Will you keep following me down this road even if it means going alone?” He asked. “As long as you go with me, I’ll keep going.” I decided. “Okay,” He said, “Why don’t you stop and pick her up, she’s just up the road.” And so it went. That happened a few more times, but each time my resolve grew stronger to see where this road went. I wanted to keep following Jesus, I didn’t want to go back, I wanted to see what was around the next bend.
Three years after I’d met the girl, I asked her to marry me. She agreed, and that led to our toughest time yet. We were engaged for a year, and the road we were on seemed to be constantly under construction. The conversations between the three of us, and at times the two of us, became much more honest, and they started boring down beneath the surface. At this time, I was learning who she really is, and I was also learning who He is. It was like all the things I’d learned about Him were puzzle pieces in a box, facts in history, yet as I began taking them out of the box and searching for how they fit together, a beautiful, powerful, yet kind picture began to emerge. The first step in getting to Him was realizing that I could get to know Him. In fact, as I started putting the pieces together, I realized that He wanted me to get to know Him, and that has been part of his plan all along. Of course, that’s why He’d been speaking to me, I just hadn’t known it was Him. I was no longer studying facts about a historical figure, I was reading letters from a living Savior. His words began to sink into my heart and continued to change me. I found they gave me strength to love the girl, even as she struggled to find her way.
The next year, we were married. She was now my wife. The new proximity brought with it new challenges. She, who had been influential in getting me to turn off the interstate, although perhaps unwittingly, now wanted to live on cruise control. It was like we had each done a 180, and we were now on opposite sides of the spectrum from when we’d first talked. We met somewhere in the middle, and we managed to make it through that first year. Meeting in the middle doesn’t always imply unity, however, and in this case, it was more out of necessity than anything. Four years after our first meeting, we were further apart than ever, and it was usually just the two of us talking. Changes in life often bring with them the opportunities to develop new habits, yet instead of using this change to focus on building a strong relationship among the three of us, we coasted, and it wasn’t always pretty. Yet thankfully the third person among us, the one usually forgotten, Jesus, is not just beautiful, powerful, and kind, but also patient, and a little bit jealous. I think He missed those conversations among the three of us, and He was about to give us another chance by bringing another change into our lives.
We both saw the “road ahead closed” sign at about the same time. We had been talking in the car about a possible change of direction, but now we were sure, a detour it would be. We turned off the paved road we were on and for the first time felt the crunch of gravel underneath our tires. Coasting was no longer an option, as we were now driving slightly uphill. Animated conversation filled the car, “where would this road end up?” “Is this a dead end?” “Will we have to turn around?” “Trust me,” He said, “You won’t have to turn around, I know where this road is taking you.” We continued on driving, putting more and more distance between us and the familiar hills behind us. Many thoughts filled our minds. We knew we would miss the many people who had shared in our lives. We would miss the places where we used to hang out, where we made our first memories together. Yet, we knew we were heading in the right direction. With mixed emotions, we drove on. Eventually, the road led to a blue mountain lake nestled underneath a granite wall, with pine trees dotting the near shore. It was beautiful, and sitting around a fire later that night, we thanked Him for leading us there.
During the years that followed, we continued to grow in our appreciation for Him. I had gone from knowing about Him to knowing Him and from knowing Him to trusting Him. It’s funny how I’d had no problem trusting Him with getting me into heaven after I die, yet it took me so long to trust Him with my life while I’m still alive. In our minds we always want to think the worst yet seeing how He led us to that beautiful place inspired confidence in Him, and we could trust that He really did want what is best for us. We developed better habits, and we once again grew closer together. We made friends with new people, they welcomed us in and we learned from each other. We still had times where one or the other of us would struggle, but slowly we were learning how to fight for each other. We’d seen how Jesus had fought for us, instead of kicking us while we were down He’d extended his hand to us, and He was teaching us how to be a team together. Now, instead of turning on each other when things got difficult, we were learning how to watch each other’s backs. This would be crucial for what came next, as shortly after a new baby got added to our team, we’d make another turn, and we’d once again be driving into the unknown.
If that experience were a lake, then this next experience would be an ocean. In fact, we crossed an ocean in order to get there. Here, we were starting out brand new, armed with the promises that He was with us and the memories of how He’d been faithful to us in the past. The first few months, we flopped around like fish out of water. We didn’t know what to do and things were spinning around us at crazy speeds. We had rich conversations almost on a daily basis, but even those didn’t keep us from foolish decisions and fighting against each other. Forgiveness was an essential part of those conversations, and it no doubt got us through many difficult times that first year. That was still before it got hard though. Our second year started off in a valley filled with sand, houses, and colorfully dressed people, all speaking so fast we kept getting left behind before the train even left the station. Our first night in that place God blessed us with the gift of laughter, a tired ‘are we out of our minds?’ kind of laughter. Still, He was with us, and He gave my wife a promise from His word. That promise kept us going when everything else said ‘turn around now.’ Our conversations thrived here, the intensity was pressing the three of us together. Seventeen months later, we moved out of that valley remembering it as “the valley of blessing.” Sometimes blessings can still wear you out, however, and that’s what happened to my wife. We were about to head into a new phase.
Travel by bus is a lot different than travel by car. In a car, you have a certain amount of freedom over your situation, you can listen to whatever you want to, you can stop for food when your hungry, and you can stop to use the bathroom when the need arises. In a bus, you are at the mercy of the driver. Sitting in the back of the bus, with dust coming in between the cracks, the bus bouncing up and down, my stomach growling and my lips dry (my remedy for the infrequent bathroom breaks), the interstate sure seemed a long, long ways away. Still, I didn’t miss it, as I was enjoying talking with God right there in the bus. I needed Him to lead us to the right place again, and He did. This time we didn’t move into a valley, we moved on top of a hill. Here we could enjoy the view and feel the fresh air on our faces again. He always knows just what we need for each phase of the journey, and that was what we needed. It seemed like our list of needs just kept getting longer though. We were over our heads right from the start. Actually we were over our heads ever since we crossed the ocean. There were many times I felt like we were swimming away from shore instead of towards it. Well at this point we couldn’t see the shore anymore, and we were getting tired from swimming. Now we had to fight for each other, all three of us, if we were going to make it there. Sometimes days would go by, even weeks, where one or the other of us would get hit. Jesus never gave up on us though. During this time we were learning something else about Him. He has enemies, and they hate it when we’re together. They’ll do everything they can to divide us in hopes of conquering us. They focus all of their energy on destroying His plan. In this battle, however, we found that we also had allies, other people who were following Him just as we were. They joined us in our conversations and together we found strength to keep going. We found that by going by bus, we had lots of company.
We might be back on this side of the ocean, but the road we’re on still feels a little precarious. In some places its more of a path than a road. Large rocks litter the trail, and large portions of gravel have been washed out by the rain. We still need to talk together a lot, the three of us, to keep on the right trail. At times we’ve gotten off track, but when we go to Him He takes us back. If we look down over the edge we can get a little queasy, yet the view is amazing, especially when we look back over where He’s taken us. We still don’t know where this path is going to lead, but we do know that its bringing us closer to Him, and we’re privileged to be on a journey like so many others who have chosen to walk by faith in Jesus instead of living for the status quo.