Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Miracle (or not) of the Bag

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

There was no way.  We were once again on our way to West Africa.  This particular trip was a medical trip, and they were always the most fulfilling.  The needs in the Sub-Saharan region of West Africa are always mammoth.  Since water is always a problem that means food is too.  But second to that is the need for medical care.  Though health care is very reasonable compared to here in America…the bottom line is the people are just extremely poor and often the care they need is simply not available.  That is particularly true in the fringe desert regions of Niger.

This wasn’t a large team but is was a great one. We were all friends and several of us were Africa mission trip veterans.  For one in particular, this was her first trip and she handled it like a real trooper. On the morning we were to fly out, Judy and I went by to pick up one of our team team members named Rhoda (her name has been changed to protect the innocent). She attended our church and is a good friend of ours.  Rhoda has one of the most merciful and loving hearts of anyone I know.  If she has any capacity to help…she will.  Now we had had a couple of team meetings to go over the general expectations including customs, the number of bags you could carry, and very specifically, the weight allowance for each bag…which is fifty pounds.  Not fifty-two or fifty-one—fifty pounds.

When we arrived at Rhoda’s house, the air was electric with excitement.  Since I was the only guy from Harrisburg, I was quickly assigned the role of “pack horse.”  In other words—I got to carry the luggage to the car and load it.  Well, I went into Rhoda’s house and picked up the first bag.  I’ve done this enough that I can tell just about how much a bag weighs.  This one was just about on the money.  I went to the car and chucked it in the trunk.  I went back to get bag number two and as I went to get it—it seemed to be nailed to the floor.  With some effort, however, I was able to lift it off the floor—barely.

It was about that time that Rhoda walked into the room.  I asked her, “Rhoda, did you weigh this bag?  It feels a “little” heavy” (I was being extremely generous.)  She assured me that the bag was ok and so with some grunting and groaning, I kinda lifted and kinda slid the bag out the door, down the sidewalk and to the car.  Again, with considerable effort I managed to hoist the bag into the trunk.  All this while I’m going, “Man, this bag feels heavy…but hey…she said…” So, with the luggage on board and people seat-belted in, off we went to the airport where we met our final team member. When we arrived, we got one of those carts to help with the luggage.  We needed it.

Again, with considerable effort, I soon had the bags on the cart, and we headed inside to get checked in.  Judy and I went first.  We checked our luggage—fifty pounds each thank you—got our boarding passes and we were set.  Rhoda was next.  Her first bag was right at fifty pounds.  Go, Rhoda, Go.  I lifted the suspicious bag on the scale and watch with amazement (I think that is the right word) as the scale zinged up toward the sky and stopped at…sixty-five pounds…fifteen pounds over the limit.  Well, you can probably imagine my expression and explanation.  “Rhoda” I said, “what in the world?  I thought you said the bag was ok.”  “Well, pastor,” merciful Rhoda explained, “I was praying for a miracle.” 

I don’t remember if we laughed, cried, or both but two things were sure.  First this was one miracle that God chose not to give us. Second, the clerk wasn’t a fan of grace—at least not fifteen pounds worth, anyway.  We took the bag off the scale and placed it on the floor to lighten it up.  Fortunately, some friends had hung around and they were going to be able to help us with the excess stuff.  And here is the picture of Rhoda’s beautiful heart. People had donated and she had gone to Bath and Body and bought those West African ladies… bottles and bottles and tubes and tubes …of all kinds of lotions and creams.  She knew they needed it for their dried-out desert skin and wanted to bless them.

Well, we had to remove fifteen pounds of Bath and Body and leave it with our friends.  But don’t worry—there were still fifty pounds of blessings left.  Almost the entire bag wasn’t for Rhoda—it was for her new friends in West Africa.  And do you know what?  The whole trip was just one big blessing.  We were able to provide free medical care to so many people and shared stories from the Bible with many others.  When it was all said and done—we were blessed and humbled and God was made big.  We didn’t get the miracle of the bag with the Bath and Body items, but we did get the miracle of changed hearts—ours.

The Bible tells us that nothing is impossible with God and I believe that to my core.  That doesn’t mean that we always get exactly what we want or the way we want it.  It does mean that in the end—it will all work out.  I think by and large that is one of the lessons we have learned through this COVID hot mess.  We have learned, or are learning, that if we will just leave it to Him…He will handle it, in His way and His time. Always, always—He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Their Best

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

It was our second trip to West Africa.  We were back on the dry sandy desert fringes of Niger doing a food distribution.  It was such a barren land made worse by an ongoing drought.  The people would do just about anything for food.  While we had prepared to feed many of the people, truthfully, we couldn’t feed them all.  So, families with the greatest need were chosen.  We would go to their villages the day before the food distribution and meet with them and do some registration work before the distribution.

It is hard to describe the poverty there.  Simply put, most of the people had nothing.  They had little food and little water but something amazing happened everywhere we went.  We would gather with the leaders and the people in their village.  We would give them a word of greeting and then they would greet us.  All of this, of course, was done with the help of interpreters.  After a while, we would complete the necessary paperwork and finalize details for them to come to main village the next day.  And then, it would be time to say goodbye for the day.

This was a repeat of the greeting we had done when we arrived.  They would graciously thank us for coming and we would graciously thank them for allowing us to come.  Then it happened…every time.  These incredibly poor people would present us with gifts.  Often it was some sort of leather craft decorated according to their customs and their people group.  It was such a gracious act of kindness and we always left feeling incredibly blessed.  They who had so little gave to us who had so much.

It was the last appointment of the day.  We drove and drove—it was more than several kilometers.  When we arrived at the site, we realized it wasn’t a village it was just a meeting place.  The people we were to meet were truly nomads.  Someone had set up a large tent made from skins and rugs to offer some shade from the searing Saharan Desert sun.  When we arrived, there was one or two people there but soon many more arrived and the area under the tent was filled with five white guys and a bunch of men whose skin was tough like leather and tanned a deep brown.  Then we really saw it.

In the middle of the tent and now surrounded by people sat a medium sized metal bowl.  In the bowl was what can only be described as dirty, brown water.  As I looked at the bowl you could see something swimming.  It was the larva from some sort of insect native to Niger. I assumed that perhaps this was for us to wash our hands though I was quite certain my hands were cleaner than the water in the bowl.  I would soon find out that the water wasn’t for washing.

Soon the greeting started.  We thanked them for letting us come and they thanked us for coming.  Then someone in their group made the presentation.  It wasn’t a brightly colored trinket…it was the gift of water.  And the brown water in the bowl wasn’t for washing hands soiled by the West African dust.  No, it was a portion of their precious drinking water. That brown water with larva swimming it in was what they drank every day, and they were offering something very precious to them—something they could ill afford to give.

Ordinarily, we would try and eat or drink what they offered, but our missionary knew, and we knew, that one drink of this water would make us very seriously ill.  So, through the interpreter our missionary explained that while we deeply appreciated their kindness and generosity, we could not partake in the water for that reason.  They certainly understood so the water remained throughout our visit. At the end we reversed the greeting process and climbed aboard our four-wheel drive for the long drive back to where we were staying.

The ride was quieter than normal.  Each one of us was clearly aware of what had just happened.  We all were pierced to our hearts over this act of immense generosity and the immense blessings that God had graciously poured on our lives.  Mission trips tend to do this to anyone who travels to a third world country.  There is always some kind of guilt over having so much while those you serve have so little.  But understanding God’s grace and humbly serving others at least helps.  But it always changes you.  It always marks your life.

In my mind’s eye I can clearly see the bowl of water all these years later.  I can still see the people coming through the gate after walking kilometers to get their food.  I can still see them trying to manage the heavy bags of rice and millet.  But something was missing.  Not one person complained about the lack of a vehicle to carry their load.  Each was just grateful to be able to eat that night.  And, yes, we were changed again.  I would like to think that a little of their gratitude rubbed off on us and that it still remains.  I know we will never forget those eleven or twelve days in Niger.

You don’t have to go to Africa, or Haiti, or Nicaragua, or London, or China, or Bulgaria, or the Philippines or wherever to serve.  Each of us are missionaries on a mission field and each of us can serve others…just like Jesus did.  One day He was sitting on a hillside teaching the people and He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” It really is that simple. It won’t get you to heaven…God’s grace and faith in what Jesus did on the cross does that. But it is an opportunity to be like Him…to love like Him.  It’s a tall order but don’t worry, you know that He’s got this too. 

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

The Rain Maker

 Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

 It was drier than two-month-old bread.  It’s been several years now, but the story is as fresh as today’s bread.  We were on our second trip to Niger, West Africa.  We would fly forever and finally arrive in the capital city of Niamey.  There were two things that were always the same.  It was always very late at night and we were always totally exhausted.  After a day getting acclimated, we would load up and drive all day on one of the few paved roads in the entire country.

Niger is a sub-Saharan country in West Africa.  It was on the edge of the Saharan Desert—hot, dry, and dusty.  Our journey would take us to a small city in the middle of nowhere.  We would stay with a family there who were kind and filled with hospitality.  As is customary, we would settle in and then go see the “chief” of the village.  We would meet, greet, and thank him for allowing us to come and stay in the village.  On this particular trip we were distributing food to several dozen families in the area.  Because of the extreme dryness, food was always in short supply and because of a few years of drought—it was life-threatening.

As we met with the chief, we told him we were servants of the Creator God and asked him if there was anything that we could pray for.  Without hesitation, he said, “I want you to pray for rain. It hasn’t rained here in a very long time and we are desperate.  We have prayed but no rain has come.”  We prayed there and then and told him we would pray more—even asking people in America to pray.  And we did, both.

What happened next is a thing of legends—except it is not a legend—it is truth.  After immediately contacting some of our folks back in America, and praying ourselves…again…we went to sleep.  Sometime in the middle of the night, the wind began to blow, and the temperature began to fall.  Soon, there was the sound of a distant thunder.  Then, as we stood in our doorway and watched, a heavy rain began to fall.  David, one of our team members, was soon out dancing in the rain.  All of us were dancing in our hearts.

We would later learn that our friends in America, watching the radar online, saw a storm develop from nothing and move across our area.  As we danced in Africa—they were dancing in America.  That very night, right at three inches of rain fell in that village on the edge of the desert.  It was unbelievable.  It rained for several hours and fell so hard that several walls, made of mud, straw, and manure, collapsed.  A couple of storage buildings lost walls too.  When light finally came, literally, small lakes of water were everywhere.  We would be using the four-wheel drive feature on our trucks for several days.

I can’t remember if the chief came to us or summoned us to go to him, but that day we had another conversation.  He thanked us for praying and said that our God did what their god did not do.  He was grateful for us coming to the village and invited us to stay as long we wanted—and to return as often as we wanted.  Such are the wonders and miracles of the One True God.  This would not be the last or only miracle we would witness in West Africa.  It is amazing what God can and will do if the primary focus is to glorify His name.  I sometimes wonder if the people there still speak of the night of the rain.  I know we do.

There is an intriguing scripture in the Psalms—a collection of Hebrew hymns in the Jewish and Christian Bibles.  It is found in Psalm 37:4. It says that if we are willing to delight ourselves in God, He will give us the desires of our heart.  At first that sounds like a “rub the bottle and a genie pops out” story.  Trust me…it is not.  You see the first part is key—when we delight ourselves in God—then our desires align with His desires and when that happens—miracles do too.

This year, let me encourage you in a couple of areas.  First, if you haven’t thought much about Creator God—Jehovah God—in a while—why not revisit Him?  I believe you will come to the same conclusion I did years ago.  He is amazing.  And then, as we journey through this New Year, let’s commit to making His desires, our desires.  Let’s get on the same page with Him and watch, in wonder, what He can and will do.  It may not be exactly what we want but it will be what is exactly right.  He doesn’t make mistakes.  Wrapped up in all of this is that powerful truth we end each story with.  It is good news for this day and every day.  We can have the confidence assurance that, “He’s got this” and He does.