Jesus said, “Follow me.” He implied (and said elsewhere) that all else must be disregarded by comparison. “Follow me.” For many years, while I “followed” Jesus, I also followed other “voices”… common sense, upbringing, comfort, solid principles, people, the bible, reason, feelings, intuition, conscience, etc.
About ten years ago, I agreed with my Father that I would follow Him only, and not any other good thing or person. If Jesus was really alive, leading, interactive and able to be followed today, I wanted to personally know Him and be known by Him. At that time, I sought to know and obey God’s word, I was part of a great church of people, and I truly wanted to know a living Jesus, but I realized that I was, indeed, serving Jesus AND many other masters. Perhaps it was “half-time” or another motivation, but I wanted to be “all in”, nothing held back, in my relationship with Him. I wanted to make all I had (perhaps not so much) available to Him to use however He desired, rather than however I desired. Prior to that time I would give Jesus this or that part of my life, but never without priority given to my opinion and my desires.
So I decided to follow Jesus and un-prioritize house, land, financial security, job, career, church, relationships, family, etc. He said, “Go.” He asked me if I was willing to walk away from all that I cherished, and go where ever He led, regardless of comfort, security, etc. He wanted my trust (“Believe in me.”), sufficient that all else that I trusted (work, satisfaction, people’s praise, my wife’s love, etc) were secondary. He didn’t call me to trust biblical promises, people, creeds, miracles, myself or experiences. He called me to trust Him, to walk with Him.
So began a new journey (by a proven flawed, fearful and fickle wanderer), with the objective to follow and trust a living, communicating Jesus. I had come to realize that seeking to obey the bible, WWJD, etc could be life changing, but they were not following a living and interactive God. Of course, I knew that God was never-changing, so that anything that I thought that He was communicating with me must honor His written revelation of Himself to us. But the bible doesn’t tell me “Go”, “Stay”, “Change jobs/vocation”, “Move to the Amazon or to Africa or to Columbus, etc, ”, “Invite your neighbor to dinner today”, “Sell you house”, “Downsize”, “Go to this or that church”, “Begin a small group in your home”, “Minister to the homeless”, “Begin a free medical clinic”, “Listen to him/her”, “Don’t listen to him/her”, etc. I was to begin a journey of listening, trusting and purging like I had never experienced.
He did call me to go, and to serve people living remotely, without access to health care and without access to the good news of God’s affection for all people, and I began to prepare my heart to go. But… I was married to a most precious wife and I had four cherished kids! We had a great church, great ministry, a great place to live, a great job, great friends, we were near our beloved family… and I heard Him ever so certainly say, “Go.” Many in the church today would say I was “blessed”, but these “blessings” were keeping me from a pure devotion to Jesus.
Bets wasn’t so sure, but wanted the same type of relationship with her Father and was open to the fact that perhaps God was calling us to go. Over the course of three years, we came to agreement on His calling, though we were not called to a place, we were certain as to His pleasure in us serving and living among people living remotely and without access to health care and the Good News. And we relocated… to the Brazil Amazon.
Since then, He’s taken us on a strange, torturous route. We’ve given up so many things that we can see, feel and touch. We’ve gained so much that cannot be seen, felt, or touched. Along the way, I’ve met many people with their own definitions of “remote”, who have shared with me their opinion on where Jesus wanted me to go and their opinion on what good thing I was to do, and how I was to do it. I’ve met a few people who have sought to help me to follow Jesus. I have been misunderstood, and my motive has been offensive to some within the church.
Over the last ten years, our lives have been about transition. He has asked us to share our lives and encourage many people briefly in many places. One of the many things I’ve learned about following a living Jesus (and staying conversational with Him) is that ALL earthly things must be held loosely (we are following someone who doesn’t consider earthly things important!). He also isn’t too concerned about staying in one place (just like He wasn’t when He walked on the earth). Life and inner security can be found in Him only, but most of us don’t really believe that. We follow Jesus and…, rather than Jesus only. Jesus and my dreams, Jesus and my family, Jesus and financial security, Jesus and my comfort, Jesus and my understanding, Jesus and my friends, Jesus and my healing, Jesus and peace, Jesus and happiness, Jesus and my plans, etc. I’ve learned that if you think that Jesus considers your house, your income, your comfort, your car, or your earthly dreams important, you’re mistaken. His Kingdom is far more precious that these.
When HE asked me to follow HIM and forsake all others, my journey became “windy”. Our Father has led us to move multiple times over the past 10 years or so, following the never-changing, ever-changing Wind, and being available for “whatever”. It has often been tempting to scheme to stay put and again seek earthly stability and security (missionaries, who have left their home country, can also put earthly comfort and security before following the Wind of God). Sometimes the Wind has changed course and I’ve questioned whether I was still following Him (a good question to often ask – 2Pet 1:10).
Because Jesus communicates largely nonverbally, and we “see through a glass dimly”, following Him can appear subjective and others might not understand why you feel a certain breeze and they don’t (He doesn’t invite everyone to every task). It is messy and unpredictable for flawed humans to follow the unpredictable Wind of God. Because of this messiness, like the Israelites, we often turn to reason, knowledge, strategy, organizational structure, comfort and order instead of Jesus. All of these are good, if following the Wind is primary. If these become primary, however, we can do good earthly work and completely miss the Wind. Because God’s people live by faith and not by sight, certainty, based on reason, can be elusive. I’ve fought to stay in the Wind and stay close to Him, disregarding the other voices in the fog, and each time He asks us to move, we face the temptation of seeking comfort, avoiding again stepping into the uncomfortable unfamiliar.
Yes, we are moving again. It’s tempting (and self-focused) to again hope that this may be the last time (it has potential), but we will ever fight to disregard our own desires, dreams, or ideas as we seek to follow only Him. If He tells us to move again, we will. If He would have us continue to serve the people of the Cavango region for a few years, so be it. He has called us to lay down ALL things, most especially our security, comfort, and ease, because these are NOTHING compared to walking closely with Him. He has called us to disregard our life and consider all earthly things rubbish in order to more fully gain intimacy with Him (there is NO treasure its equal!).
So we are moving in August to Cavango (I’ll describe below) and have committed to live and work there until our furlough in the summer of 2014, when we will evaluate if our Father would have us continue. The beautiful missionary couple living in Cavango has had a health issue (not life-threatening) that has taken them back to the states for an extended time, leaving this very remote mission station vacant. Our mission director asked us if we would consider relocating to continue the work at Cavango, all of this happening after we just committed in February to work for a year in the remote Lutheran Mission of Shangalala. I spoke with the beautiful Lutheran bishop who “hired” us for the work at Shangalala, and he easily recognized the severity of need in Cavango and graciously released us from our commitment, only asking us to remain in Shangalala until August in order to “leave well” and move on with sensitivity to the folks who have grown to love and appreciate us in this remote desert region. We were only glad to honor his request.
Isn’t it just like our Father to have His kids pour themselves into remodeling an almost condemned house and then have someone else benefit?
We would only consider moving to Cavango if it fit what God has been asking of us since leaving the States. He called us to live and work among those who have no (or minimal) access to the Kingdom and to health care. Cavango is 8-9 hr from Lubango and 5-6 hr from Huambo (we’ve never been), two larger cities with simple hospitals and churches. Those hours are tough and slow and the never-graded “roads” have destroyed many cars and trucks. No trucks routinely enter and leave this beautiful part of Angola, located in the river valley of the Cuvango River, east of Lubango. It has abundant wildlife, including hippos, crocodiles, several deer-type animals and large cats (I can’t remember which type).
There was a leprosarium at Cavango from 1950-1976, built there because it was central in Angola (“accessible” to lepers from anywhere in the country) and was bordered by rivers on two sides to lessen the likelihood of disease spread (it was thought at the time that the disease wouldn’t spread beyond a body of water). The mission has an area of 6,000+ acres (plenty of room for new missionary families!!!), reportedly so that each leper family could raise a few animals and grow food, isolated from the rest of the country, eliminating the need to interact with (and contaminate) outside people while purchasing necessities. Leprosy still impacts this region as I’ve diagnosed several new cases during my monthly clinic visits to Cavango.
The work in Cavango was destroyed during the 30 years of civil war. In 1976, all three hundred lepers and their families were locked in a building and burned alive. There was a small missionary hospital from 1970 to 1976, when it was destroyed by the government, brick by brick, so that the rebel forces wouldn’t be able to capture and use such a facility. Since then, the only missionaries in the region have been Peter and Shelley Duplantis, who have faithfully begun a new work in the region for the past several years, and it is their need to vacate that has caused the request for our move to the area. This generation in the Cavango region has grown up with virtually no exposure to the Good News of God’s kingdom and we’re told that there are but a few scattered churches in the whole region, each with but a few people.
There are reportedly about 60,000 people in the region, living in grass-roof, dirt-floor huts in villages of 500-1000 people. The villages have no power source, no running water, no stores, etc. There is no doctor or hospital serving these people.
We will be 6-9 hr from a grocery store (depending on the weather and which city we choose to visit) and monthly visits will be necessary for purchasing bulk food, necessities, and fuel. It’s like driving to Iowa from Columbus for groceries once/month! For most of these people, it’s the same for finding a doctor for their ill child. The very nice, North American-type house on the property was built by a team from Colorado in 2010 and has a solar battery system that allows 24 hr limited electricity. It has water piped to the house from a spring, 2 km away, and overlooks a spectacular, expansive river valley. The language is Nganguela (yes, we’ll be learning a new language) and few people in the region speak portuguese. In the next few months, we will be trying to find a way to bring in machines to level a dirt airstrip on the property so that I will be able (without driving the 8-9 hr to Lubango) to continue to fly about two weeks/month to hold clinics and share Jesus’ love with other remote peoples. The airstrip will also provide emergency evacuation potential for our family in case of an accident, snake bite, emergent illness, etc. It’s a two hour flight from Lubango for the small MAF planes.
The challenges will be numerous, primarily isolation, another move into the unfamiliar (all new relationships, etc), a new language, and simply another huge transition in a short period of time.
Our Father’s ways are truly not ours. He asks a lot, but gives more. Rest and leisure are on the other side. Our Father has invested much in our preparation (that we would not have chosen) to make us tougher, more pliable, more surrendered, more willing to do “whatever” He asks, where-ever He asks, with whom-ever he asks, how-ever He asks… We wouldn’t have gone to Cavango ten years ago!
I believe He is stripping every willing heart similarly, tearing away from each of us our many masters, all that doesn’t hold life, and all that distracts us from following Him. Are you willing? I am asking myself again just how willing I am for “whatever” He asks! As we invite Him to bring us to “whatever” (He works by invitation), our Father uses His Spirit, time, circumstance, His word, other people, etc to bring us to a place where it is only Him that we follow; to a place of our greatest and most humble usefulness. He’s preparing each of us especially for life in His Kingdom, where we will serve and worship Him forever, beyond the fog.
Where is the Wind leading you today? What is He asking of you to “put off” so that you can run freely after Him to a life of simple and pure devotion to Him? Will you join Him on a quiet walk and discuss with Him how you can be more wholly His? Let us together disregard again all things that distract and run hard after the Wind!