Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, thankful, travel, Trials

Praying Mantis

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:2-3a

He was coming after me.  Over the years, my wife Judy and I have made many trips to Africa.  We have spent time in Niger, Mali, and Uganda.  All were unique in their own way and all were very special.  Our time in Mali was especially so.  We were working with one of our favorite missionaries.  She is the real deal kind—the kind that if you were to stick her finger…she would bleed Jesus.  Those trips were also highlighted because we worked with a group of One-Story girls.  These college age young ladies gave up the comforts of home to spend a couple of years living in the African bush telling people about Jesus.  They were incredible.

So, on one of these trips the team had one of those especially good days.  We were able to minister and share with a lot of folks.  We would start early and go the entire day.  We would do mostly medical missions and story-telling and encouraging.  When we got back to wherever we were staying we would have supper together.  Then, when the African sun had finally called it a day, we would gather under a large open air bamboo….uh, thing.  We would sing, share stories and have a brief devotion before joining the sun and calling it a day too.

These team times were very special moments.  As the days passed, we as a team became closer and closer together.  There were about twelve or fourteen of us…so not too large.  Of course, that didn’t include other guests.  Sometimes Africans from where we were staying would join us, and of course some or all of the interpreters.  And then there were the other guests.  Their names would make you think they were members of the team…but they weren’t.  Praying may have been part of their name but, it wasn’t on their agenda.  They were…praying mantis.

These large insects—about the size of a small eagle—would be drawn to the light as we sang and shared.  Slowly they would start circling, choosing their targets.  Now, I don’t know if they intended to bite someone—I don’t think so, or if they intended to carry someone off to their secret lair.  Regardless, it was just a little spooky.  Finally, and who knows why, I was picked by one of them.  Repeatedly, this fellow would dive and try to land on me—particularly my face. Ok…it was weird.  I was grateful when the prayer time was over. I confess I cheated and kept one eye open looking out for my new found friend.

Judy and I headed back to our hut and prepared for bed.  We had a mosquito net over our bed to keep out those pesky insects and their friends. Soon it was lights out and off to sleep.  Sometime later, we were awakened by the sound of something larger than a mosquito.  Lion? No. Tiger? No? Elephant? No. It was the…praying mantis.  Apparently, he followed me home and waited for the lights to go out before once again taunting me.  It turns out there was a small hole in the top of our mosquito net and he found his way in and then…it happened.

As Judy and I lay in the African night, from out of the darkness (no electricity) the praying mantis landed square on my face.  Now what happened next can’t be written because it goes beyond the 26 letters in the English alphabet. I jumped up and started clawing in the darkness trying to find my stalking insect.  I finally grabbed him (gross), wrestled him to the bed (remember they are the size of eagles…smile), raised the net and chucked him outside somewhere, anywhere but where he was.  And then I did some praying of my own.  “Lord, please don’t let him find the hole again.”  Thankfully, he didn’t, and thankfully that was the last I saw of him.

Well, the next night I had a testimony to share at story time.  We all had a good laugh (and by the way…they really aren’t as big as …eagles but it sure seemed that way.) I remember telling my teammates how grateful I was for answered prayer…and honestly I was.  Until you’ve had something like that land on your face, in the dark, in Africa—well you just can’t appreciate a God who answers unusual prayers. But you know, that’s the kind of God that He is.  Nothing is too big…and nothing is too small for this Dearest Daddy who calls us His own.

One time God was talking to Israel through the prophet Isaiah and He said no matter what we face…when we are over our head in trouble, or maybe between a rock and a hard place or even the occasional fiery furnace—He will be with us. Why?  Because He is our Savior, our Lord, our God. Wow…what a great scripture and I can add to that list “face eating praying mantis.”  God is always there with us and for us and no matter what, He’s got this.  Take that, Mr. Mantis. 

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel

Miracles

For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Well, there are miracles and then there are miracles.  One of the great adventures that Judy and I have been privileged to be a part of are church mission trips.  Specifically, mission trips to Africa.  For the past 15 or 16 years, our church has been an active participant in mission adventures.  At least one a year we try and send a team to Africa.  We started in Niger and then had to move a little south to the country of Mali.  We were privileged to serve there for several years.

I can’t explain how incredible it is to go on a mission adventure.  I also can’t really explain the draw that so many feel to this place called Africa. Where this story begins was a pretty difficult place.  We would stay in the bush often sleeping on the ground in tents.  The temperature would hover over 100 degrees.  I have one picture that showed a thermometer with a reading 125 degrees.  The food, well, let’s just say it wasn’t McDonald’s.  So what is it that causes people to step way out of their comfort zones just to serve others.  This story is part of that answer.

We were on a medical trip in Mali and the days were long and fruit was plentiful.  We had a full team including two medical doctors and several nurses.  They would treat the physically broken and we would try and share the truth of God’s love to the spiritually broken.  We would tell stories of Jesus and how He would go and help people.  We then would simply explain that we wanted to be like Him and help others.  We explained that people who knew Jesus in America had bought and paid for the medicine that they were receiving.  It was free to them because someone else paid the price.  It was always a great lead into the gospel stories because Jesus did the same for us.

Well, it was the end of a long day.  Most of us had wandered back to camp and were sitting around and chatting about the day’s activities.  Suddenly someone ran into the camp and shouted that there was an emergency back at the clinic.  We all rushed back over and what we found was grim…very grim.  A little girl, about nine if I remember correctly, had been climbing a tree.  She was about twenty-five feet up in the air when she slipped and fell—landing directly on her face.  Her father had carried her on a Moto (a small motorcycle) about three or four miles.  She was semi-conscious and unresponsive.

Two things happened simultaneously.  First, the doctors when to work and the saints went to praying.  Her pupils were unresponsive and though she was breathing, her respirations were rapid and shallow.  About an hour later the doctors said it was probably only a matter of time, her brain injuries seemed very serious.  I slipped into my pastor mode and wondered what an African funeral was like.  The doctors took turns sitting with her through the night, and then took her to the nearest first aid station. This part is fuzzy but it seems like at some point the father went ahead and took her back to her village.

The next day we went back to work with a somewhat heavy heart.  And then something happened…we heard that the little girl had woken up.  We then heard that she was speaking and walking around.  We then heard that she was responding and acting almost completely normal.  “What is this,” I wondered.  Again, if I remember correctly either that day or the next the father brought his little girl back to the doctors and there she stood.  A living, breathing, miracle.  It can be described as nothing else.  God had heard the prayers of His children and chosen to reach down from heaven and touch this little girl and give her back her life.  It. Was. A. Miracle.

Several of us have been to Africa many times and we have seen more than one miracle.  Sometimes it looked like this, sometimes it was God acting to avoid a terrible tragedy and sometimes it like a frog strangling rainstorm when it hadn’t rained for months and months.  But each time it was obvious that God was still God and He can do what He wants, when He wants.  After all, He is God.  For the skeptics out there who think that God doesn’t do the miracle thing—that it died out in the old days—well, that little girl would beg to differ with you.

Tucked away in the book of Luke, incidentally written by a physician in Jesus’ day, are some words that say it all.  It says “For nothing shall be impossible with God.” Nothing. Period. Seven words that can shake your world and this world. So what is rocking your world today?  COVID still keeping you up at night? Wondering about tomorrow or the next meal?  Worried about our country?  Well, I don’t know what God has planned—after all I’m in sales and not management—smile. But I do know that nothing is too big for Him to handle.  Just like that little girl in Africa who discovered she could lay down and rest in Him—so can you.  After all…He’s got this.

Posted in missions, Scripture, travel

Peg Leg Sally

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Strange things happen in Africa.  For the past 12 or 13 years, our church has made regular trips to Africa.  We began in Niger and later moved down to Mali.  The last six years or so we have been working in Uganda. Regardless of what country, you can count on Africa to give you plenty of unusual  and strange sights.  So in some ways I wasn’t surprised.

We were on an island in Lake Victoria, Uganda.  On any given trip we visit at least three or four different islands offering free medical care, children’s ministries, ladies ministries and visiting the people in their huts to tell them the stories of Jesus.  The point of it all is to let them hear the Good News that there is a God who loves them—a lot. So we were winding down the day.  The medical clinic was finishing and four or five of us men were sitting in the shade under the “front porch” of one of the buildings.

So, we were talking and like I said you see some strange things in Africa so I wasn’t surprised when my friend said, “Look, there goes a woman with a peg leg.” Well, I turned around to look and didn’t see what he was talking about. I did see a lady some distance away but couldn’t see her peg leg.  I mean, the only peg legs I knew about were in Peter Pan, so my curiosity was peaked.

I turned back around but didn’t say anything.  But, it stuck in my mind.  After ten minutes or so, I just had to ask my friend about this strange sight.  I said, “Tim, did you say something about a lady with a peg leg?” His expression told me I must have missed something. He gave me a perplexing look. All he could manage was a “uh?”  I said, “You know, a few minutes ago you said you saw a lady with a peg leg.” He responded with, “No.  I said I saw a man carrying a stringer of fish.”  Silence. Snickers.  Laughter.

Yup.  Somewhere in the process of the conversation what was said and what I heard were two totally, and I mean totally, different things.  There was no lady with a peg leg only a guy with a stringer of fish.  You are probably wondering how I got “peg leg” out of “stringer of fish.”  All I can say is strange things happen in Africa. I’m glad there wasn’t a crippled lady but the idea of a peg leg like Captain Cook’s sure did intrigue me.

And do you know what?  Sometimes I think this happens with God and me. I think He is saying something and I totally miss it.  Does that happen to you? I think it’s more common than we think. We think we hear Him say, “You have the right to be mad” and in fact He’s saying, “Forgive.”  We think we hear Him say, “Take” and really He was saying, “Give.” Oh, and then we thought He said, “Quit” and He was saying, “Serve.” And it just goes on and on.  We hear “Leave” and He is saying, “Stay.” We hear “Go ahead” and He is saying “Stop, wait, don’t.” Seems strange things don’t happen only in Africa.  Smile.

So, I’m not sure what caused the totally humorous miscommunication in Uganda.  It may have been my hearing, could have been the village noise…who knows.  There may not have been a fix for that, however, when it comes to hearing God clearly there is something that will really help.  It is His Word.  In so many situations (though I’m not sure peg legs are one of them) the Bible gives us clear guidance.

Here is one thing you can count on.  The voice of God (what we think we hear God saying) will not, ever, never, contradict the Word of God.  If you think you hear Him saying, “Revenge” when someone has hurt you, you probably have “Peg Leg Syndrome.”   If you think you hear Him saying, “Be afraid” when circumstances are frightful, you probably have “Peg Leg Syndrome.” You get the idea.

Talking about the Word of God, Paul said that it is good for learning, good for insight about what is wrong in our lives, good for correcting us when we are wrong and good for teaching us about how to live right.  The Bible is an amazing Book. It has stood the test of time and, while there are different translations, there is not a version 4.3 because God got it right the first time. So if you are talking with your friends and someone mentions a lady with a peg leg, you might want to ask for some clarification.  And if you think you heard God say something that sounds a little not like Him, check the Book, go to the source.  Peg leg stories can be funny but withholding forgiveness when it is ours to give, hating instead of loving, leaving too soon instead of staying…well, that can cause a lot of pain.  And if find yourself singing and living that 1974 hit “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” it might just be a bad case of Peg Leg Syndrome.  Just pull out the Book, read a little and rest in Him.  He’s got this.