Saturday, September 16, 2017

Magic Charms and Contingency Plans

A few nights ago, Mama F came to me terrorized, begging and screaming for a certain plant in our backyard. 

I've lived in Tanzania for almost 14 years now, but there are still stories that blow me away.

I have a good friend, Allison (name changed), who has lived here as long as Gil and I have.  I don't get to see her often, as she and her husband live several hours away in a remote village in Tanzania.  We may be living in the same country, but her life is very different from mine.  While visiting us this week, Allison told me this incredible story.

For a long time now, Allison had been sharing the gospel with Mama F, one of her neighbors.  And just a couple weeks ago, Mama F declared faith in Christ and started attending a Bible study led by Allison and her team.  They all praised God for this, not knowing that the story was just beginning....

This is how Allison tells it:

"A few nights ago, Mama F came to me terrorized, begging and screaming for a certain plant in our backyard.  Of course, I let her in to grab the unknown plant she named.  I soon saw that something had taken hold of her precious four-year-old daughter.  She was writhing and gurgling, clenched in her mother’s arms, and foaming at the mouth.  

Hearing Mama F’s cries, other neighbor women were coming to aid and we all followed as she ran back to her house while smearing my basil plant all over little F’s head.  The father had run for the witchdoctor to buy emergency witchcraft to ward off the attack.  Mama F would not accept my westernized offer to take them to the hospital.  

We women entered into her home, trying to be of help in any way we could.  One woman shook and rubbed a live chicken over little F -- spraying who knows what all over her.  Another brought a pouch with herbs to burn and handfuls of a certain type of dirt to make a mud mixture to smear over her disrobed body.  Mama F frantically gulped a liquid from a cup and spewed it onto her daughter.  Then she placed knives under her armpits and behind her neck, wrapped F in banana leaves and tied a new black cloth charm around F’s wrist to join the others that fruitlessly encircled her body already. The ladies began to burn the weeds gathered so that smoke filled the room.  All the while, F was writhing and foaming, enveloped in darkness.

A long time ago, the Lord compelled me into these neighbors' lives and now--as I walked that night with these women I love who were so fear stricken, so desperate to save this child in the only ways they knew of-- I prayed silently and out loud for His Light to shine in the living nightmare.  Then He enabled me to speak simple, childlike words in this dark chaos of fear and despair.  
'God is able to help and heal F.  This witchcraft will not work.  May I pray for her in Jesus’ name?  May I hold her in my arms and pray for God’s healing?  I can ask for help from Almighty, Holy God because I believe Jesus shed his blood to pay for my sin so I am forgiven. Please let me pray for her.'

Miraculously they agreed!

But I knew there was more needing to be said.  'Mama F, because God is holy and only He deserves glory, you have to stop this witchcraft.  He wants you to see it is by His power and grace alone that F is healed. Please remove the knives, the leaves...'

Miraculously they agreed and placed her in my arms!

I squatted down on the dirt floor, holding that precious, terrorized little girl in my arms and I prayed.  As I prayed, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that this was not just a physical need for healing, but spiritual.  So, in Jesus name, I prayed against the powers of darkness over this little one.  In Jesus' name, I rebuked satan and told him to leave.  In Jesus' name, I entrusted F into God’s arms of healing and protection.

And God heard and answered!  As I prayed, the convulsions and foaming and gurgling ceased and F laid peacefully in my arms.  I heard the women’s voices declare,  'Wow!  The prayer is working!  God Heals!  Jesus Heals!  God hears the prayers of Christians!  Let’s go find more Christians to pray for her!'  So we returned to my house where my teammates had been waiting and they too surrounded F with prayer and praise to God for her healing.  And with F still in my arms exhausted, but at peace, my teammates and I lingered with our neighbors in our front yard and on our front porch, praising God for His healing in word, prayer, and song."

But the story is still not over. Allison sat in my kitchen Wednesday evening, telling me what had just happened the night before.

She continued:

"Mama F had attended the ladies prayer group in our home again and gave praise to Jesus for his healing in her child.  Then a few days later F came to our home to play, wearing her charm necklace again.  

I spoke to her Mom that God does not share His glory with another and F does not need the charms for her health and protection when we cry out to the one true God through Jesus Christ.  She agreed, but the necklace charm remained.  I also shared that with believing in Jesus Christ as her Savior, she is now a daughter of the King and she herself can ask her Father God for anything in His Name!   There is no need to fear, nor appease the forces of darkness. But the necklace remained.  

Tuesday evening, the terrors came again to F.  Since we were here in Dar when the attack came on, little F's family sought the help of our team (Tanzanian and American) who together prayed and read Scripture over her, but this time she was not responding and they agreed to take her to the clinic in the neighboring village.  

When I received word of this, I asked if she was still wearing any charms.  And she was still wearing her charm necklace.  My husband called Baba F and exhorted him to remove the charms as God will not share His glory with another.  Meanwhile the doctor was not able to help F and so they brought F to our local evangelist where they cut off her charm necklace and began to pray for her again.  She was immediately restored to normal!"

Glory be to God!

It is, indeed, truly a remarkable story--especially for those of us who assume that this kind of thing ended in the New Testament.  But it would be a shame for those of us from westernized cultures, who scoff at magic charms and witchdoctors, to think that God isn't trying to teach us the same lessons that he was teaching little F's family.

He wants the glory alone.  

And his glory is never evident in contingency plans.

I've thought about this constantly since I heard Allison's story.  How often do I have a contingency plan?  How often do I say the words that God is faithful and God is good, but in the back of my mind, have my own little plan of what I'll do if God doesn't show up?

Sure, I say I believe in heaven and that it's forever and that life here is only a shadow of what's to come.  But really, I want to enjoy that shadow with as much comfort as I can muster and as much pleasure as I can hold onto--just in case heaven doesn't come.

Sure, I know that God is the rightful king and sovereign over the universe.  But I'd also really like to be under a government that is just, safe, powerful, and holds to all of my values--and I'm distressed if I don't get that. 

Sure, I believe that God is the source of all peace and healing.  But my first instinct in times of pain or sickness or fear is to turn to doctors and medicine, not to prayer.

Sure, I believe that Scripture tells me that God will provide for all my needs.  But I want that savings account to be steady and that income to be regular, just in case.

I know there's a balance here, because I need to be wise and prudent and God's gifts to me include homes and medicine and savings accounts.  But where is the source of my trust?  Am I really trusting in God, or in my contingency plans?

And sometimes, God might just be waiting for us to cut off the magic charm.  Because He will not share His glory with another.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

I'd Really Just Like to Be in Control

I would really like to be in control of my universe.  It doesn't seem too much to ask, really, because my universe is quite small.  My family, my health, my friends, my stuff, my reputation, my job--that's really all I ask for control over.  God can take care of the rest.  How generous of me.

We humans have a tendency to forget we that we are not God.  We would like to be, of course, starting way back in the Garden.  You will be like God was whispered in that first temptation.  Ironic, since that was the temptation that the Tempter himself had succumbed to: I will make myself like the Most High.

And the rest is history.  The battle continues in the hearts of each of us, wrestling with God for control.

As image-bearers of God, we are indeed powerful.  Capable of creating (and destroying) cities, splitting atoms, rocketing to the moon.  Subduing the earth, making the land bow to our wishes, growing new people inside our own bodies, snuffing the life out of others with one bullet or sometimes even just one word.  

In America, where we celebrate, encourage, and nurture that power, we are given an illusion of control.  We buckle our children into their five-point harness car seats; we buy alarm systems for our homes; we build shiny fire trucks; we put sand under the monkey bars.

Yet we are not God.  And despite billions of minds at work and thousands of years of history, we can't control the hurricane.  Despite $1500 a month in medical insurance, we can't control our health.  Despite years of homeschooling or thousands invested in the best schools, we can't control our children.

We keep grasping for control, and God keeps showing us that we'll never get it.

When God's people were wandering the desert for 40 years, he fed them with manna.  Each day, every day, and only enough for one day, he sent them bread from heaven.  They weren't allowed to store it up.  They just had to trust that tomorrow it would come again.

We have no concept of Give us this day our daily bread, because our pantries could easily feed us for a month.  In fact, we may decide we're not even into bread, and we eat quinoa instead.  But God always gets around whatever system of control we construct.  We try to store up our health by eating well, but we still will eventually get sick, and eventually die.  We try to store up our wealth, but eventually the bubble will burst or the hurricane will come or the car will crash.

Even in--especially in--sleep does God assert his control.  You can't store up sleep; even after a good nine hours' rest, you'll still be tired again another fifteen hours later.  Frustratingly, sleep is one of the few things in life you can't accomplish by trying harder.  Sleep is surrender.  Sleep is trust.  It is the direct antithesis of fear and anxiety.  And it's necessary for life itself.  Did you get that?  God programmed the necessity of surrender and trust into our DNA.  We can fight it, but we won't win.

I am anxious when I am not in control.  Yet I am never in control, I only deceive myself into thinking I am.  Which is probably one of the reasons why God continually puts things into my life to remind myself of this fact.  Like the Israelites in the desert, often I don't trust the manna will come the next day, even after years and years of experiencing it.  Even though he's promised it.  And proven himself trustworthy.

Like millions of Christian, English-speaking children, the NIV version of Proverbs 3:5-6 was embedded on my heart at a young age.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Last week, I was working on the list of Bible verses that all primary students at HOPAC will learn this year.  When I added Proverbs 3:5-6, I was surprised to see that the new version of the NIV changed one word. all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

I can't read Hebrew, so I don't know why the change was made--especially since just about every other English version uses acknowledge.  But I've found myself reflecting a lot on that word this month:  Submit.  There's something a lot more profound and meaningful about submission versus acknowledgement.  It's what I desire for my life with God.  Because I am not in control.  He is.  And the more I submit to that, the straighter my paths will be.

Submit to him, and gather the manna for just today.  Trust that tomorrow it will come again.

*Many of these reflections, especially about manna, come from my current re-reading of Running Scared:  Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Edward Welch.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

This is My Haven of Peace

So I'm the Primary School (Elementary) Principal at Haven of Peace Academy.  I officially started three weeks ago, and school has been open the last two weeks.

I'm still not over the weirdness of saying that.  Yesterday I was at the mall eating lunch with a fellow teacher and my two girls, and I introduced myself to someone as the primary principal at HOPAC.  The words still feel weird coming out of my mouth.

It's interesting how much our work defines us.  I remember when I left full-time teaching to stay home and take care of Grace, and how much of a crisis of identity I went through.  What was I anymore?  How would I define myself?  But time went on and I grew comfortable in that role.  I was a mom, but with a full-time housekeeper, so I had the time to do a lot more.  I volunteered for dozens of endeavors and had the freedom to fill my time as I chose, on my terms.

Most of that volunteering was at HOPAC, since for so long that was Gil's life, and then when he left, it was my kids' life.  So being at HOPAC daily is not strange for me--it feels like home.  For sixteen years, HOPAC has felt like one of my children.  I've seen it grown and stretched and go through really tough times--but I wasn't just an idle spectator, I sweat through it like one of its limbs, often right in the thick of the joy or the pain.

But I always hung around in the background.  And it was comfortable back there, because I could do my work and was under no one's scrutiny.  My responsibility was to myself alone, most of the time.

So this--this new official role--this is different.  Because now I have an office and my name on a cubby hole and I have people looking to me to tell them what to do.  So even though everything about this job feels familiar, the role feels strange, and my internal pressure to do it right has sent me down some anxious nights.  Once again, my identity has changed.  And I don't always do change well.

But God has been good--as he always is--and is teaching me much about my own desire for control and the absolute necessity of trusting him instead.  And when I am in that place of trust, I can't believe the huge privilege I have of getting to do this job.

I love the children.  Anyone who works with elementary school children knows this joy.  Oh Mrs. Medina, I love your skirt.  I love your shirt.  I love you!  The daily waist-high hugs, the light in their eyes, the tiny breakthroughs with the difficult student--ah, there is nothing quite like it.

I love my teachers.  No one goes into teaching for the money, but especially not at HOPAC.  Yet I've seen my teachers work twelve-hour days for three weeks straight--even on weekends, and their utter and complete dedication to these children is truly a sight to behold.  They've shed some tears but mostly their faces are brimming with joy, because they are called to this and they love it so much.  Who wouldn't want to work with people like this?

And then there's the larger staff of HOPAC.  I'm just one small piece in this puzzle--one of three principals--both of whom were already my friends--and under a director who is like a brother.  There's about a hundred staff at HOPAC, if you count the gardeners and the cleaners and the snack bar ladies--and we are family.  Over and over again, that's what I hear people say.  We love to sing together and pray together, and though we come from the full spectrum of the Christian faith and over a dozen nationalities, we are still a community--a family.

There's this sense of the sacred that runs through HOPAC.  Not just because we offer some of the highest-quality education in Tanzania, but because we're unified by Jesus in our diversity.  We all know we're part of something really special.  And it's a little dizzying to remind myself that I get to be a part of it.  To God be the glory.

First day of school for all of us!

Josiah's first day of 4th grade

Lily's first day of 3rd grade

Johnny's first day of kindergarten.  Oh, he was so excited!

Back-to-School Night

The newly renovated Snack Bar had its grand opening at Back-to-School Night.

Families could order a sampling of all that snack bar has to offer!

Those of you who know HOPAC can see in this picture that there's a second-story eating area being added to the (former) kindergarten building.  Exciting times!

Breaking ground for the new Performing Arts Building!