We made our visits via small plane to three villages this month, treating and praying for many. Two of the locations were well over 100 degrees and the other in the 90’s. We are well into summer here and the rains are just beginning in some parts of Angola. The south is suffering dearly from 2-3 years without measurable rainfall and cows are dying daily. They are selling their live cows for $25 – $35, when they sell in the north for more than $1000. These cows are their “savings” and these already very poor folks are hurting dearly. Not only are they without food and water, they are seeing any ability to purchase food die in the fields. There is simply no grass anywhere for the cows to eat, and very little (and very contaminated) water for them to drink.
We then thoroughly enjoyed a visit from our pastor, Danny Meyer, and friend Craig Crotinger, both from Sunbury, Ohio. We walked through several small villages in and near Cavango over several days, meeting and greeting people, and then flew to several other villages where we are holding monthly clinics or soon will begin the same (see photos, coming soon, parental discretion advised). We camped overnight at beautiful Mukwando, where we serve an isolated people group in a dormant volcano. The needs in each region are beyond American comprehension and it was nice to “see” these regions and people through their eyes.
Craig and Danny’s insight and encouragement were so helpful in renewing my vision and helping to brainstorm about how we can “give a glass of water” and also have an eternal impact with our love and concern for each person. Serving someone with a glass of water, or medication, or instruction certainly has a vital, though temporal impact, but how we serve gives eternal significance to our work. Jesus made it clear that it is the love of our Father and our love for each other that has eternal impact. It is also our love and care for each person that marks us as His (“They will know you are mine by how you love…”) and opens eyes to the reality of our Father’s love and presence. When we speak the truth as we love, the seed of His word germinates. It is His (and our) care and concern that breaks up the hardened soil (heart), allowing the truth about Jesus to germinate within. We so often have it backwards, emphasizing truth over love, just like the Pharisees of old. Who will Jesus bring to you today to love and serve?
I so appreciate my pastor and friend of over twenty years. Danny is such a good example of Jesus in his leadership role as his yoke is easy as he lifts rather than places burden. He encourages constantly that it is our relationship with Jesus and experiencing His presence in our lives that give us life, rather than what we do or don’t do. He says often that we all “walk with a limp”, and expects all of our work to reflect our flawed-ness, as well as Jesus’ love for the flawed. So many leaders place burden and pressure to perform, while Danny constantly encourages and leads to the still water of Jesus’ presence. His trust in our Father’s power and ability (rather than in his or ours) is ever evident and leaves those he leads (me) further trusting in Jesus’ love and grace rather than in themselves or in him.
Jeremiah, the pastor of the small church in our nearby village, joined us for several of our village visits. He told us his remarkable story of how he came to know Jesus. When he was ten years old (1982), the Angolan civil war was raging and the rebel army invaded his small town. As his town was being attacked, his family fled to a nearby river, finding a large hole in the ground in which to hide. The next day, the army found his 21 family members in the hole and opened fire on them. They threw a grenade into the hole and between the machine gun fire and the grenade, all 20 members of his family were killed, leaving only Jeremiah alive, and severely wounded. His mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins and grandparents lay dead around him. He hid in the hole for several days among his maimed and dead family, not knowing where to go.
A passerby heard him crying and took him to a hospital, where he slowly recovered, now completely alone in the world. An Angolan woman named Maria (she worked for a missionary family) took him to her simple home and loved him as her own for two years. She shared with him about Jesus and, though there was much about his life and suffering beyond understanding, that He was real and He loved Jeremiah and had a purpose for his life. She told him that he could always rely on the church to help him, as they were his family and would love him as Jesus did (Can we say that about our local church?). Maria was also suddenly killed by invading soldiers and Jeremiah fled to a distant town to avoid the slaughter. Remembering Maria’s advice to find a church for help, he went to a local church and was warmly received, embraced and cared for.
He lived in the simple church building for several years and learned more of Jesus’ love and words through the Jesus-loving and Jeremiah-loving people of that church. He developed a passion for caring for hurting people and wanted to be further equipped to do so. He had no money, but enrolled in a small bible school and was mocked by some because he didn’t have the money to pay for school. He told the mockers that he didn’t have the means, but God certainly did. He found work and through his work and the help of others, he completed a full four years of training and education.
He married and began a church, where he pastored for many years, especially reaching out to the disenfranchised, hurting, neglected and forgotten. Four years ago, he accepted a pastoral position in Cavango, the village nearest to our current home, many hours from any town or city. We have been getting to know him over the past few months and have been greatly encouraged by his love and passion for Jesus and for those hurting.
How often we hear the phrase, “I could never believe in a God that allows such hurting and suffering.” Jeremiah’s life story reveals that it is not our circumstances that determine whether we believe in God and His love, but rather our faith and trust, in the One who works all things for good for those that are His, that give purpose to our circumstances. There is so much that we don’t understand about this life (both blessing and suffering) and Jeremiah still hurts over the loss of his family, but he lives each day knowing that he is alive today with purpose, because Jesus desires to use him to love those hurting and to lead them to Himself, the author of peace and eternal life.
Perhaps you have failed greatly, your marriage is painfully lonely, you have lost loved ones, you’ve been wounded and rejected, you or those you love are dealing with severe illness and pain, you feel alone and inadequate, you are not what you had hoped you would become, you are not where you would like to be at this point in your life…
Please remember… A compassionate heart is often the fruit of pain and brokenness… and… True comfort usually comes from one who has been there… (2Cor 1:4)
I’m reminded of the story of Job, and that Job was understandably full of questions about his suffering and took those honest questions to God. Interestingly, his Father never answered Job’s questions, but rather revealed to Job who He was, and this was sufficient to restore Job’s trust and confidence in Him, as his need to understand lost significance in light of knowing God.
We can pursue understanding with our severely limited perspective, or we can seek to know and walk with the Author of life, trusting His perspective and wisdom rather than our own. The former leads nowhere, the latter to eternal life and peace. Jesus promised tribulation and difficulty and He also promised abundant life in the midst of this difficult life (not the removal of difficulty!), for those who trust Him.
Difficulty and suffering are ever present and will be faced by each one of us. Even though all people face varying degrees of pain and tragedy in this life, this is perhaps the greatest excuse people use for choosing to live independently of God. Circumstances will never produce faith (the bible indicates that it is actually much more difficult to walk intimately with God in prosperity than in difficulty), but Jesus gives us the freedom to choose who to follow in the midst of our circumstances, whether pleasant or painful. Jesus purchased this freedom by removing the barriers between us and God (“It is finished”) by His death on the cross, and we are free to either walk with Him or walk independently of Him, both having consequences for now and for eternity. These consequences are addressed frequently by Jesus and His followers throughout the bible.
Whether or not we consider ourselves “christian”, if today we walk independently of Him, we will experience emptiness and we will know the meaning of exhausting drifting without purpose (I know!). If we journey today dependent on Him and His love for us, we will know peace and purpose as we will become like Him, focused on loving those He brings into our present life and into the life to come.
Are you today seeking pleasant circumstances or are you seeking to walk with the One who made you (no matter the circumstances) and has demonstrated His love for you in so many ways, including coming here to reveal His heart for you and for me? Are you hurting today because of what you are facing in this life? Whether your circumstances are pleasant or painful, and whether or not you have walked with Him in the past, He stands at the door of your heart and invites you to journey with Him today, and to know abundant life in both pleasant and trying circumstances, both for now and for eternity.
So often, especially if we have walked with Jesus in the past, we think that we have wandered too far from Him to return or we have failed and have earned His wrath or disregard. Please remember today that His heart for you hasn’t changed any more than your heart for your beautiful two year old changed when he/she failed. He desires to be called Father (“Our Father…”) for a reason, and you can receive His father’s love for you again today. Like Job, we can honestly share our questions, our doubts, our frustrations, and our hurts with Him and, as with Job, He will reveal Himself to us in a personal and loving way, inviting us to again walk with Him, forgetting what lies behind (because He died to forgive exactly what you have done).
Danny greatly impacted a local church here with his message that our Father loves to make exchanges with us. He loves to take our failures, our fears, our wounds, our doubts, and our weaknesses and give to us in return His love, His peace (“Be not afraid, my peace I give you…”), His forgiveness, and real contentment and intimacy with Him, which is the longing of every human heart.
Abundant life is knowing and walking with Jesus, not being part of a great church, not faith in all the right doctrines, not being “saved”, not good health, not financial security and comfort, etc. Trouble and difficulty will come, yet we still CAN have life abundant in this messed up, painful, beautiful world today, as well as tomorrow, when we leave it behind. Jeremiah knows this better than most of us…