Posted in Family, forgiveness, gratitude, life, love, loving others, missions, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, Trials

Lost in the Desert

He counts the stars and calls them all by name.” Psalm 147:4

Don’t follow me. I’m lost.  That may sound like something a preacher should never write but at least one time in my life, that was the message.  It seems like I was probably ten years old and somehow Mama and Daddy bought me a new bike for my birthday.  When I was a little older, they gave me a brand new, bright and shiny ten speed but this one was different.  It was a single speed, traditional bike but it was new, and it was mine. I remember it having the little “streamy” things that kids used to put on their handlebars so they could wave in the breeze. I was so proud of that bike.

There was one other thing that set it apart.  Attached to the back of the seat was a little “tag” (you know, like a license plate but a lot smaller) and it said, “Don’t follow me. I’m lost.”  I don’t know if Mama and Daddy bought it and put it on the bike or if it came on it. However, since I was like most ten-year-old boys—it was probably appropriate.  Of course, at that time I had no idea that one day I would be a pastor and do my best to help people find the right path in their lives. We all know how imperfect preachers are but hopefully there is one thing that we can do and do right—show people how to follow Jesus.  After all, we all get lost, and we all need someone to point us in the right direction.

Several years ago we were in Niger, West Africa and we were in the Sahara Desert.  We were traveling from one small village in the middle of nowhere and going to another slightly larger village in the middle of nowhere.  Keep in mind this is West Africa and more often than not, you are going to end up on a road made of sand and only an occasional road sign.  Our missionary was driving a 4X4 and we were heading in the direction of Abalak—again a medium sized city in the middle of the desert.  We drove and drove and she was pretty sure we were going in the right direction but who knew.  After all…it was West Africa, and it was the desert, and signs, well, they were not.

We drove for several hours till we came to a place where we could see in the distance a couple of tents and a few camels standing around.  I remember there was a young lady sitting on a donkey who looked like she could pass for Mary on her way to Bethlehem but there also was a man. We opened our window and the missionary greeted him and he asked where we were going.  She said we were going to Abalak.  I remember his reply. In his local language he said, “Not this way, you’re not.” He also said that he had a cousin in Abalak.  Of course, in West Africa, in the middle of nowhere, it seemed everyone either knew or was related to everyone.  But he offered to guide us to Abalak if he could ride along.

Well, we readily agreed and off we went with a new friend pointing the way. Remember the song we sing at Thanksgiving about over the river and through the woods?  Well, it was just like that except it wasn’t Thanksgiving, there was no river and there were no woods but after several hours we did find ourselves in Abalak.  It turns out our new friend was just the person we needed.  We were lost and he pointed us in the right direction.

You know, sometimes in life we get lost too, don’t we?  I know more than once I have been lost. Don’t be shocked and don’t make me turn in my “man card,” but I’ve actually stopped and asked directions. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.  It was always reassuring though when the store the person mentioned or the right color of house on the corner appeared.  It was always about then I knew we had been found and everything was going to be ok.

As we emerge from the pandemic and all of its craziness and if you are feeling a little lost, remember it is ok to ask directions.  It might be a trusted friend or someone you know from church, but it is ok to stop and ask for directions. I’ve found a Friend that always points me right where I need to go.  He never gets lost because He made the place and He is never wrong because, well, He’s just never wrong.

There is a place in the Bible where it says that He knows the total number of stars in the heavens, and He calls them all by name.  And I figure if He knows the stars…He probably knows the way I ought to go.  How about that?  So today, if you’re feeling a little lost, just ask Him.  He knows the way and He loves pointing people in the right direction and, as always, you can rest assured that “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

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

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.

Posted in Christmas, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel

Chilled to the Bone

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

If it wasn’t the coldest night of my life…it was close.  Back in 2008 we began a journey of doing mission work in West Africa.  While I had traveled to several, and some would say many, countries nothing compared to West Africa.  Even a trip to the third world part of Bulgaria with the Roma people couldn’t compare.  When we arrived in Niamey, Niger late one night, I thought I and my teammates had landed on the far side of the moon.  It was that different. Rarely am I had a loss for words, but that trip like no other caused me to appreciate my home country but also the people and places on a continent called Africa.

Niger is in what is called Sub-Saharan Africa.  The Sahara Desert is a stone’s throw from Niger’s capital city.  After we had taken a day to acclimate, we headed north into the desert to a small town literally in the middle of nowhere.  We were visiting with a couple of single guys who were living there and doing some work with the local people.  The goal was to share with the people about someone many of them had never heard about.  That someone was Jesus.  We were really limited to what we could do, but we did prayer walking and would try and talk with some of the folks through an interpreter.  It was incredible.

On the eight-hour drive into the desert (and keep in mind we flew for hours and hours to even get to Niger) our missionary casually mentioned that we would need to buy some blankets because it was likely to be cold at night.  I laughed.  If you are like me you think Africa and the Sahara and then you think hot, dry and then hot again.  I told her I doubted very seriously that I would get cold.  She just smiled.  Late in the afternoon we arrived at Tchin-Tabaraden.  In case you are wondering I am pretty sure we could see the end of the world just outside of town. Smile.

We had a great time talking with the two guys that lived there and before long it was time to set up our sleeping arrangements.  We were going to sleep out in the courtyard.  There was a small house, but we chose to sleep under the stars.  We set our cots up and each one of us had a blanket.  I was sure I wouldn’t need mine, but being the team player I hung on to it.  Before long, it was dark…really dark.  There was no running water and no electricity.  After a while we decided it was time to settle down for our long winter’s nap.  It seemed just a bit cooler.

Soon the stars were simply brilliant. I am sure there are places in America without light pollution that really shows off the stars.  With that said, there is simply nothing as beautiful as the stars above Africa.  Then, slowly a huge full moon came up over the horizon. If you can imagine it, it was almost too bright to sleep, and I am not kidding. Then it happened.

It?  What was it?  It was the desert cold.  Slowly, almost without warning, the dry “winter” air settled in.  In just a few minutes I had spread the blanket lightly over me.  In another few minutes, I had tucked the blanket around me.  A little later I was trying to figure out how to put the blanket under me and over me.  Apparently, there was too much of me and too little blanket.  Then, well then, I just got bone chilling, you’ve got to be kidding me, am I really in Africa, COLD.  Let me just say, I spent a large part of that night wishing for daylight.  Oh, how I couldn’t wait to see my old friend the sun.  It was the coldest night I have ever spent.

Finally, at about the 4:30 in the morning the mosque right across the street began the first call of prayer for the day.  Of course, I had long beaten them to the punch.  I had been praying since about midnight for the sun to come up.  I figured if Joshua could pray for the sun to stand still, maybe I could pull off it coming up early.  Nope.  When the sun did come up and began to warm the compound, the first thing I did was apologize to the missionary for doubting her forecast of a chilly night.

Ironically, that wasn’t quite the end of the story.  For our second night at the compound, we decided we would cram into the little house where certainly it would at least be warmer.  Well, the joke was on us.  Just like that, the weather turned and that night in the little house, no one used a blanket.  In fact…it was downright warm…too warm. After the freezing night and then the too warm night, back-to-back, you might be wondering would I go back?  Well, the answer is absolutely.  Over the years, it has been my privilege to return time and again and each time the blessings far outweigh the hardships. No contest. I long for the day when my feet will be on African soil once again, sharing the Good News.

We have made wonderful friendships, experienced many diversified cultures, and seen countless people come to know Christ as Savior.  We have seen more than a few miracles and watched as God changed lives—most notably the fair skinned men and women from America.  I am sure it is impossible to go on a trip like this and not be changed.  It has a tendency to put things like we have experienced recently in perspective.  We whine because bathroom tissue is out of stock.  Go to West Africa…they don’t even have bathrooms.  Smile.

Well, there you go. As we enter this most wonderful time of the year, be sure and be thankful for all the blessings you have.  Paul, a guy who wrote a bunch of the New Testament in the Bible said, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” That’s right, Paul. You see, many of those people who lived in Tchin-Tabaraden didn’t face one cold night, or warm night, they experienced them all and without a blanket or the air conditioning humming quietly.  We are indeed blessed. The old hymn says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.”  That is good advice and there is nothing like a trip to a third-world country to help you do it.  I am grateful that we never travel alone.  Our Dearest Daddy goes with us each time.  He provides rest in the midst of restless nights and no matter the obstacle or hardship, we know, “He’s got this.”