Thursday, July 19, 2012

AFRICA - Here we come

One week from today, I, along with 13 other members from Calvary Presbyterian Church in Enumclaw, Washington, will have literally traveled to the far side of the world to arrive in Lusaka Zambia. It seems not only like a million miles away, it seems like a distant and alien reality to me today. Even as a newly retired pastor, I find that my life gets so caught up with details of my consumptive and busy life that the daily struggles of a young orphan school child carrying a "jerry can" with her family's water for the day; or of Pastor John who preaches in a church with dirt floors, cinder block seats and no instruments and who raises other people's children in a small 3 room house; or the scores of people by the side of Kabanana Road who sell charcoal, vegetables of small hand-crafted items seem incomprehensible at times. To make that disconnect seem even greater, this morning I had a doctor's appointment to remove a small "basal cell carcenoma" from my face - something that should have been done a few weeks ago but wasn't because I didn't want to sport a big scar during the festivities surrounding my retirement. I have pondered what to do with all the books from my library that I don't have further use for nor space in which to store them. Details of arranging for a housesitter; leaving itineraries and phone numbers for people, getting the grass mowed, stopping by Starbucks, packing, and hosting a guest who is in town as part of a group performing at CreationFest are not mundane activities by any means. But they pale by comparison to the concerns of our brothers and sisters in Africa. So after my Doctor's appointment, I stopped by to see a new friend - Albert Munanga. He is the administrative director for a local Senior Care Facility. He is not only from Zambia, he grew up in the very area where we will be working. Visiting with him - although he now lives a very American life - re-calibrated both our hearts toward caring for and praying for the people of Zambia. Seeing the longing in his eyes and hearing the passion in his voice as he talked of his homeland, and his family members who remain there, reminded me clearly that Kabanana, Lusaka, Zambia, and South Africa are real places, filled with real people. These are people who are loved by our Lord and who, in many cases, have deeper faith and joy in Christ than I do. They are also real people who have suffered from lack of safe water, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Flesh and blood; body and soul; loving, hurting, caring folks. They have more to teach me than I have to teach them, no doubt. Yet, Monday afternoon, we will be on our way. The reality will set in and I will once again be asking if my - our - commitment to this project will really make a difference? As our team has prepared for this trip, many have asked me to defend such a high output of money to send a team all that way when the same amount of money might very well have done much more to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. It is a compelling question. As I think about it, I can't help but remember Pastor John reiterating what we had heard from others: "Many people have said they would come help us, but you came!" Love incarnate; the Gospel enacted; Christ's hands and feet - frail, insensitive, bumbling, fearful, timid, but eager to be used. That is our team! All 14 have the heart to make this more than just a "vacation." It is a calling. We have been blessed and are called to seek - when possible - to be a blessing to others. That's possible by sending money, or a letter, or used clothes. But much more real in person. "God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son... (John 3:16) There is an African parable about a small boy who wanted to thank his teacher for the lessons learned and for her sacrificial efforts. He traveled a great distance by foot for the perfect gift - a beautiful sea shell shining with an opaque, nacre translucence. It was a fitting symbol of his love and gratitude. When the teacher received the gift, she was stunned. She knew they did not leave near any sea coast and it was evident that the boy had sacrificed greatly to find the shell and bring it to her. When she protested that he should not have taken such a long trip to find her a gift, his response was this: "It is no problem. The long journey is part of the gift." This journey, we pray, will be a gift to others - some we know; others we do not know. What we do know is that God has provided for us to make the trip through the generous prayers and financial support of many people. And we know also that God has divine appointments for us to keep. I think I speak for all of us when I say that the long journey is part of the gift and we make it trusting God's grace and provision every step of the way. Please keep us in your prayers as we travel and as we begin our work. THe team members are Cindy Ehlke, Cherie Murchie, Ronda Henry, Lauren Hardman, Dave Dietz, Terry "Swampy Marsh, Tom and Cate Underbrink, Ken and Suzanne Popp, Doug and Nancy Munsell, and Judy and me. Leaving Monday at 5:30 PDT, we will arrive at 2:30 pm Wednesday (Lusaka time - 10 hours ahead). We return home on August 9. We will worship in Zambia at Pastor's John and Thenny Mpanga's small church. We will also worship and share in the life of United Reforming Church in Ennerdale South Africa. We will administer some health care, play with children, build a sanitary toilet facility, teach health and sex education, and sponsor a Pastor Leadership Conference. In South Africa we will visit the Preschools and AIDS hospice in Finetown. It's going to be busy and tiring. It's going to be the experience of a life time. Here we come!

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