We would like a small house dog and while we’ve traveled over the last several months we’ve looked in Lubango and several places in Namibia and all we can find are large, watchdog types. So on the internet we found several in South Africa at a reasonable price that we could have transported here. After several weeks of back and forth communication, we paid for the puppy (Havanese) and for transport (with a large deposit to be reimbursed at delivery) and on the day that we paid the deposit, we lost all contact with the seller and the transport company. A scam. We even had pictures of the puppy with the seller’s young daughter (so much creative effort). Though I was somewhat wary throughout, I played the fool. It felt pretty lousy to be so taken, like when we’ve been robbed. “I trust you, Jesus”.
Injustice is so rampant in our world today, especially in the developing world. Angola reeks of injustice and corruption and it is so often in your face. The poor, especially, face humiliating injustice so frequently, with no recourse. The missionaries here also deal with injustice often. At our Friday missionary get-together, as I was sharing about our circumstances, I looked around the room and remembered some of the personal stories in the room. One young man had been brutally assaulted, stabbed, robbed and left for dead about four weeks ago and is on the mend. One couple had their house and all of their belongings stolen from them in a company takeover before they were missionaries. One women had a container of personal items (value of maybe $15,000) “disappear” after it arrived in the Angola port. So many stories of injustice, just in that room on that one night. It so often helps to share our struggles and frustrations and to learn again that we are not alone in the difficulties we face. Do you meet regularly with a small group of people where you can share each other’s lives, joys and struggles? Those who have faced pain know the value of empathy and are less likely to respond with trite answers and bible verses. They don’t try to “fix it”, but know how to “come along side” those hurting. We so often need an arm around our shoulder instead of answers and solutions. As the church, we can be so quick to offer the latter (only sometimes needed), rather than the former.
There is pain from injustice in the States, and times ten in the developing world. This (small) confrontation with injustice was good for me to experience in order to better empathize with the abused and helpless, instead of advise or even criticize.
Our Father loves to reach into injustice and to love those hurting from the abuse and pain of being treated inhumanely. He does this most often through his kids (to combat injustice on an earthly level requires resources, and His kids are His most valuable resource). Let’s look around us today and see those hurting from being treated unjustly. Let’s consider places inside and outside the US where people live in cultural and interpersonal abuse and seek our Father about how He might use us to respond as His hands and His embracing, serving arms.
I spent a day with a godly, 65 year old Angolan pastor in a distant city who has the same severe knee arthritis that I have. He walks without bending his bad knee to avoid the severe pain. Every step is painful, and everything here involves walking, a lot. There is no total knee replacement operation (like I had 2 years ago, eliminating ALL pain) available to him here. I see so many like him in my work… Life in this world can be horribly unfair (as well as unjust), and it is difficult to process this unfairness, whether you are of the more “blessed” or less. Who can understand why I was born where I was born, and the opportunities afforded me, and where these people were born, with their severe lack of opportunity? “I trust you, Jesus”.
Have you noticed that we can often be most productive while we are waiting for something?
I recently heard the following in a conservative, solid city church that we sometimes attend when in Lubango (solid pastor, imprisoned for years during the wars because of his stand for Jesus). “We have a such and such service project this upcoming Saturday and if you want to receive a special blessing from God, come and participate…” In other words, “Give and you will be more blessed,” or “If you want to be blessed, do this or that.” Giving because it will increase God’s affection toward you and He will bless you more… This line of thought is so rampant among us in the church and is exactly opposite our Father’s heart. It completely lacks the faith and trust we proclaim to have in God’s unconditional love for us.
So few of us live with the daily realization that we ARE so blessed because we ARE so loved, and that we give for the benefit of another (so that they will experience the same love and affection that we ALREADY know) and for the pleasure of the One who already so loves us and HAS blessed us. God loves us no more or less because of what we do. We cannot be loved more than maximally! He loves every person tremendously (in Him is no partiality), affectionately, completely, with joy and unconditionally, already demonstrated finally, conclusively and for all-time at the cross. (2Cor 5:18-20, 1Jn 2:1-2, Rm 5:18).
I just returned from quite a trip. Over 5000 km over two weeks, much of it crawling over very rough, mountainous terrain at less than 20 km/hr. No truck should be able to handle such abuse. The purpose of the trip was to visit some of the most isolated and remote people groups of this part of Africa. A significant challenge here is that there are more than 50 people groups in Angola, speaking more than 40 different principal languages, with many other dialects. The groups that we are seeking to serve in this region are unreached (little or no exposure) with the Good News of God’s grace. I went with two local pastors who also wanted to check out these areas in the SW part of the country. We camped and drove, camped and drove, and visited five principal locations, which I will describe briefly.
The first place we visited was Virei, about a 4hr drive from Lubango, through and over extreme mountains. It has over 45,000 people living in the isolated region, mostly of the Mucabal people group, cattle and goat herders who live in the interior, move with their flocks, and who have been historically resistant to the gospel. It was perhaps the dirtiest, dustiest, hottest place I have visited since leaving the US eight years ago. It has no doctor, a few overworked nurses who do their best with very limited resources, and a nice, new, small, prefab, aluminum-walled hospital building. This people group is of special interest to us to serve and love with no strings. They’ve had some small exposure to “church” people preaching “truth” but likely have yet to experience much of Jesus’ love through His people. A beautiful mission, Overland Mission, is seeking to put several missionary families among the Mucabal in the Virei region in the next few years. It will be a pleasure to work with them in loving and serving these folks.
We also visited Otchinjau, with over 20,000 inhabitants, no doctor, and currently facing a cholera epidemic, with many deaths. The administrator was pleasantly helpful, welcoming and quite drunk for our early afternoon arrival. In response to our work proposal among them (described later) he said, “Todas precisam ajuda, so alguns sabem”. Everyone needs help, only some realize it. (!)
We overnighted one night in Tapela, a small village about an hour from Chitado, our next stop. Several people greeted us on our after-dark arrival and two women cheerfully scurried off and returned singing and carrying water, food, utensils and sticks for the fire on their heads. Hospitality is so beautiful, and prevalent among these very poor, rural communities, who have so little, and who give so extravagantly. They seemed to so enjoy our presence (isn’t it so life-giving when someone enjoys your presence?). I asked my Father to help me communicate more and more pleasure in those I meet, like these folks. We had a wonderful meal and conversation and they asked me to share something with them in the morning. I slept great in the tent and my traveling companions slept in my car. I awoke at my typical 3a (asleep by 8p), fully rested, and headed out for a predawn walk at about 4a. I got completely lost on the walking paths through the “bush” (many paths and turns) and finally sat down and waited for the sun. I found my way back without incident a little after dawn (6:30a). Experiencing darkness now and then sure helps one appreciate again what a difference it makes to walk in the light. I was also reminded that sometimes the best thing we can do is stop and wait for direction from the Light. I too often keep moving, even though I’m stumbling around without direction!
We had a beautiful discussion that next morning on the man born blind in Jn 9. I asked them about their perspective on trusting God and hardship, pain, tragedy, etc (they have experienced much) and the discussion, questions and thoughts among these people living in the bush with grass roofs, dirt floors, no electricity, no running water, frequent illness and death, etc were so human, so honest. Their questions and struggles are the same as mine and yours. Why does that surprise me? They were sharp, engaged, and interactive. These twelve people had such beautiful, seeking, hungry hearts. I’m reminded that hardship and injustice do not keep people from Jesus. People respond to blessing and hardship by either seeking out God and finding Him in the midst (like Job), or rejecting Him (like Job’s wife). In whatever we face, the same daily choices, with the ensuing consequences, lie before us. We will seek to understand in order to believe (not possible, given our human limitations), or we will trust Him (“I trust you, Jesus”), despite our inability to understand. We will live dependently on the One who made us (trusting His purposes and wisdom), or we will live independently of Him.
We stopped in Chitado, on the Namibian border. Chitado has 25,000 people in its region, no doctor or hospital, and is home to 4 people groups that live isolated, wandering lives, especially the Muhimba and Mundimba people. Their women are topless and quite decorated and their men wear skirts, little else and shoes made from tires. They are both quite unique and also historically resistant to the truth of our Father’s desired relationship with them. It was well over 100 degrees, and they haven’t had rain for three years.
We gave many people rides over the course of the trip (hitching rides is how most people travel outside their community and it’s a great way to serve with your vehicle and meet people – with little risk of danger). Some were fully clothed. My car will likely never smell quite the same!
One of the risks of traveling in this region is flash flooding. It rarely gets rain and there are innumerable dry river beds and when it rains, it usually rains hard for a short time, and there is no crossing these rivers, which can rise from dry to 2-3 meters deep in minutes and bury a car in the same amount of time because of all the stirred-up sand flowing in the white, blowing water. One night on our trip, there was a 30 minute thunderstorm which seemed to only wet the ground, but about two hours later, we rounded a bend and were facing one of these rivers. It was impressive. The water was flying and about a meter deep and after the pictures we’ve seen of buried cars and all we’ve heard, we stopped on the banks and camped. By about 3a, the water had all passed on through, and we crossed over easily at 6a, after sharing breakfast over a fire with two “bushmen” who spoke no Portugueses. How different were our circumstances in the morning! I was struck at how differently our evening life and journey can look in the morning. So often, I think, especially in trying circumstances and difficult decisions, our Father would tell us to look at it again with Him in the morning. A new day always brings with it accompanying fresh insight and perspective.
Our last stop was Oncócua, a very isolated (by mountains) town serving as a hub for more than 40,000 people, with one Cuban doctor who has been there for three months and will likely leave soon. The closest hospital is 8 hr over terrible, rocky paths, though it has a good landing strip which will be greatly help in our ability to visit regularly. Oncócua has four large isolated tribal groups (including the above) with few who speak Portuguese. It also has not had measurable rainfall for two plus years and its people are greatly hurting for both food and water. It will be a great place to serve with our monthly clinics.
At this point we are looking to continue serving monthly in the Tchincombe, Shangalala, and Mukwando (volcano) regions, while initially adding Virei, Chitado and Oncócua.
Our work consists of monthly, two day visits, with consultations, minor surgery (local anesthetic), and teaching for the nurses. We will incorporate small group gatherings as our Father leads. Each place was quite welcoming and excited about our potential regular visits. These types of people groups are exactly what I was hoping to serve in coming to Angola (isolated, hurting and with little access to health care and the Good News of God’s grace (Acts 20:24). The work and schedule will be difficult, but these people are worth every effort, as Jesus demonstrated by what He sacrificed for them. Can we give less?
My car was left with some blemishes on my windshield from rocks, dirt, etc and if I focus on them, I don’t appreciate the beauty of what is in front of me. My “vision” of what lies ahead is disturbed and the distraction can greatly affect my journey and perspective. If I ignore the blemishes and focus on what is outside of my car, I don’t even recognize that the blemishes are there. They hold no power. My focus can give or eliminate power to my own blemishes and weakness. In our daily lives, we can choose to focus inwardly (on our blemishes, failures, inabilities, etc) or outwardly on the people before us, our Father, the glory of His creation, where we are going, etc. The latter makes us a useful tool in our Father’s hands. Too much of the former keeps us in His tool belt. We so often seek God to remove our blemishes, weaknesses, flaws, etc while His heart is for us to draw close to Him so that His profound, unconditional love for us gives us the ability to see beyond them.
Hope for Angola… While getting a document needed, for the work described above, in a provincial (state) capital, I attended a meeting with the governor and the pastors of the city’s various churches. In wrapping up the three hour meeting (!), the governor said to the pastors that he so greatly appreciated all they were doing because he recognized that the fruit of their work (in leading their people to walk with Jesus and live by biblical principles), was making a huge positive difference in the character of their people, and thereby in the character of “his” province. He spoke of the radical difference between a christian culture and one non-christian and his desire for the culture of his province to more reflect the character of Jesus and the principles of the bible.