Sunday, February 18, 2018

Why is 'Work' a Bad Word?

These memes make me realize I live an odd life.

For missionaries, salary has never been connected to quantity or type of work. In fact, we don't technically receive a salary, but a stipend that comes from church donations. Since most of my adult life has been spent as a missionary, this is normal to me, but sometimes I remember that it's actually rather odd.

Haven of Peace Academy, where I am now serving as elementary school principal, is an extremely high quality institution. I would argue that we offer the best education in Tanzania (admittedly I am biased!). We have almost 400 students (K-12), three full science labs, a 25-meter swimming pool, a huge new library, and just broke ground on a performing arts center.

HOPAC has 500 students on waiting lists. This week, I am in the process of giving assessments to children who want to start kindergarten in August. We have over 60 applications for a class of 23, and there would have been more, but we made December 31 the application deadline. Other schools similar to HOPAC have huge billboards around the city, but HOPAC never needs to do a speck of advertising.

But what's odd about all of this is that HOPAC doesn't pay most of their teachers. In fact, because it's a non-profit school, it's not legally allowed to pay anyone except Tanzanian citizens. Most of the teaching staff are missionaries. We get some help with housing, but no salary.

So that means that when I took this giant job, Gil and I knew that we would still be living on the same stipend as before. Our standard of living wouldn't be increasing. But that wasn't an issue, because our work here has never been connected to our salary.

Most of the staff I work with are living the same way. In fact, for couples where both spouses are on staff, it actually costs them to work at HOPAC, since two-parent working families tend to have more expenses. Even those teachers who are Tanzanian, and thus allowed to receive a salary, could be earning a lot more if they were working somewhere else.

So all of this begs the question, Why on earth are we doing this? Why did I apply for this position when salary wasn't a part of it? Why are most of the teachers I supervise volunteering for this job?

It's because mankind was created for work.

Work came before the Fall of Man, not after. Adam was given a job in the Garden. And there's no reason to believe that in Heaven we're going to sit around on clouds all day. We'll be working. Indeed, the sweat and pressure of work is a result of sin, but not work itself.

True, many times we need to understand the value of rest--that's another conversation. But often, we also need to understand the value of work.  And not just because work is how we eat and pay the mortgage, but the intrinsic value of work--even work we are not paid for.

I lean towards capitalism, so I understand the value of getting paid for a job well done. I know that for the vast majority of the world, if you want to eat, you need a salary. Volunteering usually is not an option. But there is something incredibly freeing about working in a job where salary isn't connected to work, and it's taught me a lot about work's value.

Perhaps part of the reason why it was no big deal to take this position, knowing there was no salary, is because I've been working without a salary for years now. Isn't that what a stay-at-home-mom does? Raising children, volunteering in ministry, creating a home--all of those things are most definitely work, but none receive a salary.

As Christians, should we be equating the value of work with the salary that goes with it? Or can we see work as God meant it to be?

Work is Redemption. Creating music, feeding children, sweeping the floor, caring for the sick, fixing the leaky pipe, plowing the field, cutting hair, coaching the team. All are ways that we redeem a broken world. All are a privilege.

Yet our culture communicates to us that the only purpose of work is to earn money. And that the real goal of life is to earn enough money so that we can entertain ourselves with vacations and Netflix and baseball games and retire as soon as possible.

So often we forget that we have been created for work. 

I think that embracing this is what makes HOPAC such an extraordinary place. Of course, on a very practical note, volunteer staff are what make HOPAC so affordable for so many families. It's the reason why our fees are half to a third less than any other comparable school in Tanzania. But probably more important is that the staff knows that there is a greater purpose in what we are doing. None of us are in it for money, power, or position--because it's just not there. We are called to love and serve Jesus--and that makes all of us incredibly devoted to our jobs and students.

I'm especially privileged right now because I get to do a job that I adore. Of course, sometimes work is drudgery, and I've been there too. But as Christ-followers who are corporately working together to redeem this world, should we try to do the least amount of work we can get away with? Should it always be about money? Can we instead see work as a way to use our talents, a way to serve others, and a way to bring redemption to the world?

Somebody needs to create a meme about that.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

When Did the Church Decide that the Best Way to Attract People is By Looking Perfect?

Am I the only one paranoid and cynical these days? Is every man an abuser? Is every church hiding something?

I think about my upbringing and I realize that I was one of the fortunate ones. My parents were emotionally and economically stable. They disciplined me (I was not an easy kid), but loved me and never went too far. They sheltered me but weren't afraid to talk about hard things.

The various Christian communities I grew up in were full of warmth and affection. Hypocrisy was rare; I was never asked to keep secrets; I was never abused--not even close.

And I took it all for granted. I assumed that was the norm. Shocking stories were, well, shocking. In general, I believed that Christians and churches and mission organizations were morally upstanding and safe. Why shouldn't I?

But like I said, I was one of the fortunate ones. The older I've gotten, the more I realize that the wholesome and moral picture-perfect life was just a veneer. That lurking beneath the surface of Good American Christianity was far more cancer than I ever understood.

For too many, this realization has caused them to abandon not just the Church, but Jesus as well. Should we be surprised? After the talks about purity rings and modest skirts, church leaders were grooming little girls. Families were taught to pull their children in tighter and tighter, shielding them from the evil out there, while failing to acknowledge the evil within. Bruised men and women were told to forgive and forget. And wickedness was covered up by manicured grass and hearty welcoming handshakes. Why are we surprised so many have left?

When did the Church decide that the best way to attract people is by looking perfect? It certainly didn't come from Jesus, who got down in the dust with the adulteress, and chose the tax collector and the fisherman (not the rabbis) to be his disciples.

Some churches have tried to be more down-to-earth. The pastor ditches his suit for jeans and the music team brings in drums and huge "Come As You Are" signs are splashed across the entrance. But maybe the watching world isn't so concerned about jeans and slick music and modern-looking buildings as much as they are about authenticity.

Authenticity is a popular word these days, so I am careful how I use it. I don't believe that we should be saying, This is the real me, so deal with it. But I do believe we should be communicating, This is the real me, and that's why I need Jesus. There's a big difference.

What happens when the Church preaches forgiveness at the expense of justice? What happens when a church claims love and unity as values but all the faces and ages look the same? What happens when the vast majority of the church's energy is expended only for the people inside its own walls? We can smile, offer free coffee in the foyer, and parade around our well-behaved children, but will we really be living out the gospel to a broken world?

We don't want to recognize our wretchedness because of pride. We cover up sin to protect our reputations because of pride. And pride is the antithesis of the gospel! 

Why do we so often try to look perfect? Understanding the gospel must start by recognizing our depravity. If we're already pretty good people, then what's the purpose of grace? And why on earth then did Jesus need to suffer and die for us?

I've lived long enough now that scandals, even within the Church, no longer shock me. But I am consistently discouraged by the stories of churches covering them up. As Rachel Denhollander brilliantly said, "The gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection."

You can lock up a few evil people, but you can't lock up everyone. As the cancer in our churches continues to rise to the surface, let us not simply pull it out, but look at where it's rooted in our own hearts.

Friday, February 2, 2018

So You Want to Cross Oceans and Cultures. Are You Ready?

Is your passion for the glory of Jesus Christ stronger than anything else?  Do you believe in the depths of your soul that he is the greatest treasure of the universe, and that heaven and hell are real?

You may envision the glory of adventure, you might be full of noble good works, and maybe new challenges thrill you.  But all of this will be crushed under the magnitude of the difficulty of learning another language, the isolation of being away from your home and culture, and the tears of your parents….or your children.

It’s got to be about Jesus, not you.  Not your fulfillment.  Not your vision.  Not your success. Ultimately, it’s got to be just about him.

If you are married, is your spouse steadfastly unified with you in this passion?  In work such as this, there is no such thing as a spouse that is along for the ride.  After Jesus, prioritize your spouse.  If God wants you to do this, he’ll make you united in your vision.  Or at the very least, he’ll give your spouse the willingness to humbly seek after that vision.

Are you willing to submit yourself to stringent accountability?  Hundreds of people will be keeping you accountable.  Every church who puts your picture on their wall.  Every person who writes a check each month.  Every child who prays for you at bedtime.  All of them will expect you to live a life of integrity and humility.  All of them will be expecting to hear from you regularly.  Are you—or are you willing to become—a good communicator?  Are you willing to vulnerably share with people beyond your group of close friends?  Are you even willing to share your life in front of large crowds?

Are you adequately trained?  Good intentions are great, but they are not enough.  You can have the most willing, servant-like heart, and yet be more of a liability than a help overseas. Do you have a valuable skill to share?  Education, business, agriculture, linguistics?  If you are planning to be a leader, administrator, or church planter, have you proven yourself first in your home country?  Are you an avid, dedicated student of the Word of God?  If not, then now is not the time for you to go.  Get trained first.

Are you willing to be more teachable than you ever have been in your life?  Forget everything you thought you knew about people. Be ready to reconsider what church looks like, what productivity looks like, what wealth and poverty look like. You’ll be starting from scratch with an entirely different worldview, and even right and wrong won’t seem so black and white anymore. Think every aspect of your theology is set in stone?  Get ready to have your world rocked.

Go here to read the rest.  

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Come Grocery Shopping With Me

Thought those of you on the other side of the world might be interested to take a trip through my grocery store with me.  Grace took most of these pictures, so some of them are kind of random....but maybe that will entertain you.  

My grocery store recently acquired a whole fleet of these car carts.  I just stared at them and thought, Where have you been all my life?  Did you really have to wait to get these when all of my kids are in school? Johnny's too big, but he still likes to squeeze himself into them any time he's with me.  

Things I buy:

Cleaning supplies

Coconut oil from Kenya.  I buy this occasionally.  It's wonderful, but it's about $12 for a quart.

Clarified butter.  This I buy and use regularly.  Love the stuff.

Palm oil is the cheapest kind available here, so it's what I use most often.

Tanzania produces amazing rice.  So much better than what is available in the States.

Spices.  Big selection.  Love this.

I often buy popcorn, flax seed, and raisins from these bins.  And look at that--quinoa. $2.50 for 100 grams (3 ounces).  Yikes.

We buy American Garden mayo, ketchup, canned corn.....  I'm not really sure it really is Born in the USA, but it's closest to what we are used to.

I grew up on Nutella in Liberia, long before it came to the States.  It's expensive here, but worth it (of course).

We eat a lot of local chips, usually plantain or cassava.

Various sugars

Locally produced jam--good stuff.

Pringles can be found practically anywhere in Tanzania--even way back in 2001 when we first arrived. I have no idea why.

Cheese, usually from New Zealand.  Expensive but usually available.

Eggs come in flats of 30.  We go through about one flat a week.  I've learned to only buy certain brands, because only some kinds have yellow yolks (the others have white yolks, which means the chickens basically ate dirt).  The brand I buy aren't very clean, but it's worth it for the yellow yolks.

Milk comes in boxes from South Africa.  High temperature pasteurized, which means it can sit unrefrigerated for months.  Practical, but not exactly healthy.

The other option for milk is locally sourced, and comes in 1/2 liter bags.  I get this kind sometimes. We also eat the local yogurt, especially when strawberry is in stock.

Frozen whole chickens.  Great for the crock pot.

Ground beef, known as mince around here.

Cereal is at least $8 a box so we only get it rarely.  It makes good birthday presents.

We only buy soda once in a while, but it is literally found in the farthest reaches of Tanzania.  Soda used to only come in glass bottles, but I'm kinda bummed that in recent years, plastic has taken over.
We eat a lot of local honey.  I guess a good way to know for sure that your honey is raw and organic is when you find a dead bee in the unopened bottle.

My filled shopping cart.

I buy most of my produce at another store, or at roadside stands.  We have so much wonderful produce available and take full advantage of it.

Including the monster avocados.

Things that are available that I don't buy:

About $6 a jar; not worth the price.  I make my own from the plentiful local tomatoes.

Apparently Spam circles the globe.  Not interested.

We also are not interested in vegetarian mock-duck.

Granola bars range from $2 to $5 each.  We don't buy them....unless they are expired and therefore on sale.

These come out to about $1 per tortilla.  Instead, I buy handmade tortillas from a local non-profit bakery.

$6 a box.  I make my own from scratch.


Chicken gizzards.  Nope.

Way too expensive for me.  But I recently have found another brand that is more reasonable....about $5 for a container.

Chicken necks.  Nope.

And since we don't have a lot of processed food available to us, we can conveniently buy this whole bag of MSG to add to our meals.  Ummm...nope.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Learning From Those Who Pray All Night

One Sunday morning, I picked up this paper from the pew at our church.  It is the schedule for a Friday night vigil that had happened just a couple of days before.

We didn't attend this event.  The idea of staying up all night to pray, worship, and study Scripture feels like a form of torture to us.  But in East African Christian culture, it is an assumption.  Some churches do it every month.  Some do it every week.  Gil has taught at a few of these, where he agreed to come from 10 pm till 1 am.  That was his limit.

So I read over this schedule in awe.  To most American Christians, this practice may sound crazy.  But African Christians will explain that they are simply following the ways of Jesus, who many times spent the whole night in prayer (Luke 6:12).  Sure, it takes discipline, but it's a great way to grow in godliness and faithfulness.  So, they argue, why shouldn't we follow Jesus' example?

This time of year, North American Christians might not be resolving to spend all night in prayer, but they are buzzing about Bible reading plans. Daily Bible reading has the #1 place on  a Good Christian's Resolution List.  As any American knows who was raised in Christian culture, daily Bible reading is the epitome of godliness and faithfulness. 

But is it?

Now, before you excommunicate me, let me assure you that I absolutely believe in the importance of regular study of the Word of God.  I started reading through the Bible at age ten, and I've lost count of how many times I've read it from cover to cover. In our ministries in Tanzania, we emphasize careful, regular Bible study as the foundation for life and holiness. The first class that Reach Tanzania Bible School students take is Bible Study Methods (Hermeneutics).

I am a reader.  It's my primary source of learning.  I read at least one or two dozen books a year, and I would rather read than listen to a sermon.  So Bible reading comes naturally to me. 

However. This is one of those examples of how spending large amounts of time with Christians outside my own culture has caused me to re-think some of my assumptions.

If personal Bible study is the most important way that a person grows in their faith, then what about the people in the world who are illiterate, or those who do not primarily communicate through the written word?  Or what about those who just don't learn well by reading?  Is there hope for them to know God as fully as those of us who are natural readers?

My point is this:  I think that all of us would agree that knowing God and growing in faith comes from the regular intake of God's Word.  But must the source of that intake mainly be from personal, daily time spent reading the Bible?

Shouldn't the goal be a heart who yearns to know God through his Word?

And in that, can't we be creative?  Can we learn something from the disciplines of Christians in other cultures?  Why do we put so much emphasis on reading, and often neglect the other spiritual disciplines like fasting, corporate prayer, Scripture memorization, and meditation?

What about listening?  The Bible on audio is catching steam, but there are other options. What about two friends getting together for the sole purpose of reading the Bible out loud to each other?  In small groups, why do we always jump to discussion and application, when we could spend more time reading long passages together?  How about group efforts to memorize verses or passages?

I might never attend an all-night vigil. But I'm learning a lot from the people who do.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Head for the Hills

While the northern hemisphere is running to warmth this time of year, we down here in the southern part of the world run to the cold.  

Okay, so not actually cold, unless you consider 75 degrees to be cold (which we do).  Every year in Tanzania, we spend the week after Christmas in the mountains, to escape the suffocating humidity in Dar this time of year.  

We go with friends, and the kids run off and we barely see them, and the grown-ups read and chat and play games.  We get our jeans and hoodies out of storage and pretend that we're cold.   Beautiful, peaceful, soul-lifting.

Every year, "Aunt" Alyssa gives each kid the equivalent of a dollar and sends them into the market to see what they can find.  (As I recently blogged, Tanzanian markets are crammed with cast-offs from other countries.)  Whichever item makes Alyssa laugh the most is the winner.  

Grace's find was the runner-up:  A baby shirt which is obviously "The Letest Design."

But the winner was these (intentionally) split toddler pants, which apparently are a real thing in Asia to help kids get potty-trained.

New Year's Eve

Grace's 12th birthday--more on her later!

Good-bye, lovely Lushoto. We'll see you again next year!