I had told the leaders of our little rural hospital that my son Luke was bringing from the U.S. some medical equipment for them, bought with money donated from our incredible, compassionate supporters. They seemed to have heard only the part about Luke bringing the equipment and concluded that he had bought and was donating the equipment. On his arrival, they SO appreciated the equipment (pretty simple stuff by our American standards) that they threw him a special party and specially introduced him at a church service for donating essential equipment to the hospital. It was funny, for sure, and I didn’t have the heart to change the story at that point. Luke is a local hero at our hospital.
We do so much the same thing when our Father heals and transforms lives. We give the credit to someone or something else. We often even ask Him for something, He provides, and we forget the source (giving credit to a doctor, a pastor, a friend, a circumstance…). He is the source of all good things and is so deserving of our praise and gratitude. A thankful heart is the source of mental and spiritual (and likely physical) health. Let’s remember to thank Him often today for every little gift He chooses to bestow upon us (usually in a way that keeps Him hidden)! The best way to interact with our Father is from a heart of gratitude. A thankful heart is health in the deepest places.
We often need to tell a patient that they must return the next day because of lack of electricity (it’s only on for a couple hours each morning). We can only do a few lab tests, and they usually require a microscope that needs electricity for light. There is never complaint and they always return, sometimes to have to return again, depending on the availability of power the following day. Often to return means a several hours walk as no one here has other means of transportation. How these folks roll with anything simply confounds and challenges me.
I returned last night from Oshikango, a rural village about two hours’ drive from Shangalala. I told a woman there (after she waited from 7:00a to 5:00p to see me) that she had incurable rectal cancer and she received it like I was telling her she had to miss dinner (a common occurrence for these folks). These folks live DIFFICULT lives… every day. They face pain, loss and death so commonly. They learn to expect little and are extreme realists, and I think quite fatalistic. But the way they handle difficulty is profoundly beautiful. I want to trust Jesus with my life enough that I handle pain and loss like these folks. They have been quite an example for me. I shared with her that our Father had power to heal her and also the power to bring her to Him. I prayed that He would heal her, but that if He would prefer that this is how her earthly life would end, that He would love her and prepare her (speak to her, draw her to Him, etc) for her step into an eternity with no pain and with a banquet table that will have more than “funge” (their mashed corn meal that they typically eat twice, every day – and little else) and that will have plenty of clean water that she will drink without carrying it home from the distant well in a bucket on her head.
It has been a unique experience to be part of a Lutheran, rural African church for a season. Much is made today about various denominations within the church. Paul very much allowed for different expressions of worship when he emphasized the importance of the local church. Historically, when we’ve experienced something good from God, we’ve tried to universalize it and expect/desire everyone to do/experience the same, forgetting that people are different and journeys are different. The best of intentions can lead people away from Jesus and toward some sort of formula, if we don’t apply wisdom and continue to listen and surrender to our Father. We too often trust Him little that He loves those we love and that He is pursuing them as He pursued us.
I’ve learned again that walking in unity does NOT mean walking in an identical manner or agreeing on everything (impossible with honest journeyers). It means following the same leader! We can live out our lives quite differently and still walk in love, in unity. All Jesus lovers are at different places in the journey, and therefore have different experiences, thoughts, wounds, perspectives, emphases… Churches are the same. They can meet in different locations, worship differently, serve different people, have different gifts and emphases and still be unified.
The arm and the foot are unified, yet function very differently, and their perspectives are SO different. Can we allow for differences and walk in love, as individuals and as churches? If one uses instruments and another kneels and another is silent, our Father enjoys each relationship individually and each community uniquely. There are so many ways to worship, as there are so many ways to serve Him. Our experience in Shangalala has re-emphasized to me the insignificance of denominational and individual differences, and the significance of surrendered, humble hearts. Our Shepherd uses many unique paths and methods to lead each of us to the “high places”.
How we worship and bring our hearts to a place of surrender before our King is not nearly as important as the surrendered heart. For some, we best bow through music, for others, it is in meditating on His word, some meet Him best in the presence of other worshippers, others surrender best in solitude. Some draw close to Jesus in a more formal service, others through informal interaction, some are stirred to surrender through teaching, others through prayer. Some need long periods alone with Jesus, others walk best with Him in constant interaction with Him throughout the day. Our Father has given us so many ways to draw close to Him. We each use different methods in different seasons of our lives. Variety helps any relationship. How can you draw close to Him today?
The services in Shangalala are ritualistic (much more than I’m accustomed to) and are in the Oshikwanyama language, which we don’t understand. A beautiful young man always comes near to translate for us into Portuguese. There are no microphones or musical instruments, yet the music is simple and so beautiful. The community is worshipful and the people have demonstrated to me the beauty of a humble, surrendered, godly community of people and the impact that it can have on a region. I often walk under the stars at night and hear singing at the church building or a nearby tree or home. The fruit of this devoted little community of Jesus followers is clear in the daily attitudes of the people. The community is marked by kindness, courtesy, service and humility, so much like the One they follow. Jesus’ attributes mark this community and I will miss this unique demonstration of God’s Kingdom in the middle of nowhere Angola.
Refrigeration is necessary especially for vaccines and insulin. We instruct our insulin-dependent diabetics to dig a one meter deep hole and keep their insulin stored there, where it remains somewhat cool. Vaccines must be maintained cool, as well, (refrigeration temperature) to remain stable and effective. The vaccination programs travel to rural areas and transport the vaccines in simple picnic coolers. How often the vaccines break down and become ineffective is unknown, but we see many kids with vaccine-preventable diseases who have been vaccinated, likely with material that became warm and thus ineffective.
My struggle with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is still better during the day (I’m quite grateful), but my evenings are cut quite short. But every thorn has a reason, and every affliction, a purpose – to humble us, to draw us closer to Him and to more securely appreciate that His grace is beautiful and sufficient. We (I) can so often forget that our Father is a master at turning ashes to beauty and He has the most unique ability to give every difficulty an upside. He is always providing, even in pain, if we would see it. But some days I still whine. Today, I’m seeing the upside. Because of my life’s strange routine of retiring early (around 8-9p) and waking early (3-4a), I get to enjoy much quiet time with my Father, sometimes by a fire in the outside night chill, sometimes walking out among the predawn stars…
Without the RLS, I know my time with Jesus would be much more abbreviated. My conversations with Him are my processing of the events of my life and seeing them, as best I can, with His perspective. I so need to process with Him (we talk about virtually everything). I simply cannot get by without it and cannot remain at all surrendered to Him without this time with Him. I am prone to drift toward independence, and in no time at all I can be living and thinking as if He isn’t there. I am so grateful, however, that I don’t have to independently reason my way through life, but can talk with Him and allow Him to share His heart with me, while I share my thoughts and feelings.
The predawn hours also give me time to review God’s word in my quest to continue to get to know Him better (and to see Him, myself and the world through His eyes). I am so weak and needy and God’s word is so rich in wisdom for living and in giving me the ability to know His heart, from the record of so many of His interactions with men and circumstances from the past. I need often to hear His affectionate, joyful heart toward me. I need to hear that I and my work have value to Him. There is so much about Him that is simply beyond us, but His heart for us and His desire for us is clear (living in relationship with Him) and to know His heart and mind has such value. His word is His chosen special revelation of Himself to us and such a valuable tool to guide our decisions with His perspective. As we know His word, we know His heart and His perspective, and our foundation for living in a love relationship with Him.
I’ve often gotten stuck in reading His word from a sense of obligation, a religious ritual, a “have to” or “should”. His revelation of Himself to us is a gift and so useful in our our ability to draw near to Him, which is life. Jesus said that eternal life was knowing Him, and to walk out our lives with Him, we need to know the One we follow, and He has graciously provided us with personal letters to us, sharing His heart with us, much in the same way that we would with a loved one, from whom we were physically separated for a time. I just returned from a very dark, very quiet (no sounds at all) predawn walk among the rocks and trees and am so grateful this morning for His personal letters, written not to theologians for exhaustive study, but to those simple folks who simply seek to know Him better. Let’s take time today to better get to know Him and His heart through His words preserved especially for us.
As I write, I’m sitting near a fire, in a cold, windy, clear, star-filled predawn. I love how our Father has filled the world with analogies about His kingdom. How the Kingdom is like a simple fire! A broken, split piece of wood burns so much more brightly and gives so much more heat than one whole and unbroken. Old, dead, dry wood burns efficiently and newly cut limbs smoke and smoke and have great difficulty producing light and heat. A single piece never burns as well as several pieces together…
Luke shares some delightful new thoughts and perspectives of his journey here with us @ http://www.lukekubacki.blogspot.com