A Land Flowing with Milk & Honey

by Kelley Nikondeha on April 23, 2014

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The dark-soiled land was rich with promise. As they stood on the property line looking across the verdant valley carpeted with cabbage and hills of slim trees whispering with the breeze, the 30 Batwa families could scarcely believe this was their new home. Each man had a plastic grocery bag with the family’s belongings – a cooking pot, some salt, maybe the metal head of a rusted hoe or some cups. Other than that, they had only what hung on their thin frames, like picked over clothes left on a clearance rack. Their eyes were hungry for this sweet land.

The first six months of our combined community development efforts wore us all down. Land cleared for homes, loam planted with cassava, sweet potatoes, carrots, ground watered with new irrigation pipes across the hills. The families rotated through the local clinic for malaria treatment. We faced leadership challenges and all manner of novice pitfalls. But they harvested their first crops and had enough to share with equally famished neighbors.

The next growing season came and they tried new crops – potatoes, corn, even mushrooms. Many families planted gardens with tomatoes and beans on their plots. Soon we noticed banana trees and other local fruit varieties planted and growing. By the end of the second year this community had reached food security. (And they continued the habit of sharing the surplus with their neighbors.)

Eventually the community saved enough money to invest in livestock like rabbits and goats. They wanted cows, but on the eve of purchasing one they realized they needed grass to feed the cows. So they held off on the cow and planted grass instead. It wasn’t long before they were ready for three cows. Our Batwa friends love their cows; it runs deep in their blood.

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For these friends, this was the first time they ever tasted milk. In the life before Matara, where they lived like slaves to other landowners, they were lucky to get dirty water to drink. Now they stood on their own land, rich with vegetation, and drank milk from their own cows.

The women brought their bright colored plastic cups forward and the chief of the cow-milking poured from a pitcher into each cup. The cups went into the hands of the youngest children to give them strength. Mothers and fathers circled around, watching with pride as their children drank milk.

Once the children finished their portion, the remainder was divided among the same cups for the parents to share. The milk mustaches looked stunning across their chocolate skin. I vowed to never take a glass of milk for granted again after witnessing this stable-side ceremony.

Only a few months later when we visited one Saturday morning did the leaders show us their most recent innovation – seven bee hives. They decided to cultivate honey. Very carefully my husband followed them toward the buzzing hives and listened to their plans for taking the honey from hive to market.

I stood back a more reasonable distance and marveled at their determination to try new things and contribute to their local community. Then it hit me on the steep incline of Matara, my feet deep in the dirt, Matara had become the land of milk and honey!

I stood on Promised Land.

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It was the third year of collaboration when cows came – and milk. Hives to generate honey. These things were considered luxury items by community development standards. Water was a necessity; milk a bonus. Honey was a sweetness we never imagined. But these families had arrived to a place of super-abundance, a land literally bursting with milk and honey.

For the first time I saw with my own eyes a land flowing with milk and honey. I finally caught a glimpse of what a lavish gift God promised to the slavery-weary Hebrews. I was humbled God gave the same abundance to my Batwa friends.

I also recognized that such goodness grew gradually over time, it didn’t happen overnight. The land had promise from day one. But it involved hard work, partnership, generosity and lots of sweat to make it to that third year. All the while, milk and honey were coming to Matara.

Maybe this is my way of encouraging all the practitioners out there to savor the goodness you see, cultivate it diligently over each season. And know that in time, abundance will arrive. It doesn’t come quick or easy, but that sweetness you can taste and see does come.

God still gives us land flowing with milk and honey. Trust me, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. 

Have you stood on a land flowing with milk and honey -(a super-abundance of some sort)?

For fellow community development practitioners out there – when did milk or honey come to your enterprise? When in the life of the community? Any stories to share… spill!

Kelley  Nikondeha, community development practitioner in Burundi

Twitter: @knikondeha  |   Blog: www.kelleynikondeha.com

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“But it’s not [stamps foot] what I wanted!”

by Richelle Wright on April 21, 2014

Remember being a kid and looking forward to birthday presents from Grandma and Grandpa?

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Yes, you had to go through the long, drawn out process of taking forever to open and read the card, but afterward? Rip, tear and toss away, finally diving into a box of something sure to bring pure delight. After all, grandparents tend to give kids what they ask for. Moms and dads, on the other hand, might be more likely to give their kids something they think they need – something more like socks, a scientific calculator for school, or the dreaded-and-oh-so-humiliating-gift to open-when-in-mixed-company bra.

You can watch the drama unfold on a child’s face. Big smiles when they start to open the package, then hesitation. They confusedly lift an object from the box, uncovering the undesired or unexpected. Sometimes there are forced smiles… or tears… or confrontational questions and accusations… or even a full-fledged tantrum in discovering that the dreamed for prize is nowhere to be found in that box.  An inferior, unwanted something or other had replaced it.

We grown-ups… we missionaries… are not above this exact same type of behavior, and I was recently challenged about this by a new missionary friend of mine.

Most faith-based international workers look at the opportunity to serve God and others overseas, in the far flung and exotic corners of the world, as a precious thing that God has gifted us. He places it in our hands and just like a child we start to rip into that gift with all of the enthusiasm of a toddler at Christmas time.

Sometimes the things we pull from that metaphorical box bring squeals of excitement, enthusiasm and enchantment.

But what about those other times? Those times when we lift something up, turn it slowly in our hands and then look at the Giver with an incredulous expression. We mentally grasp for words of dutiful thanks to mutter… or sometimes we actually whisper, “Why? This isn’t what I expected and it is certainly not what I asked for!” Even worse, just like an angry toddler our attitude sours, the volume of our voice escalates, and we end emphatically with “Take it back! Give me what I wanted!” We may even angrily stomp our foot and trudge off the scene, or attempt to throw the gift back.

God’s Word shares stories of many who’ve struggled with God’s gifts because they weren’t the gifts expected… the ones they thought they’d been promised… the ones they felt were their due… or the ones for which they’d begged God…

  • Jonah
  • Job
  • Joseph
  • even Jesus… in the garden

My favorite of these stories, however, is the story of Abraham. In Genesis 15, God comes to Abram and says “Fear not, Abram: I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” God essentially says, “Here, Abram… I’m giving you Me… I AM your reward.” In the all’s pious, holy and right with the world version of this story, Abraham would have been ecstatic. Talk about the most amazing, overwhelming and wonderful gift! God just gave Abram God Himself!

But that isn’t exactly his response. Abram essentially says, “But that’s not the gift I’ve been waiting for. It isn’t what you promised. You told me my gift was a child…”   I do not at all want to imply that Abram stopped trusting God or even that he didn’t want God as His shield and reward. What I am saying is that at that moment, what Abram wanted from God more than anything else was the son God had promised. Those good desires for a future promise clouded his current perspective. Thus, Abram appears disappointed with what was ultimately a much better gift.

Thankfully, God grows and changes Abram. Later in life, Abraham’s obedience to God’s direction, desperate trust and an unexplainable confidence in God’s provision far surpasses the immediate worth of that precious, promised son.

That Abraham learned this lesson gives me hope that I will too, someday.

It is hard.

How does my grandmother begin to trust that the loss of her husband of almost 70 years? How does she believe that any future here and now without my grandfather is a good gift from God?

How does my father remain confident that a simple procedure turned into worst case scenario complications followed by a long, and potentially difficult recovery somehow constitutes God’s best?

How do I whole-heartedly accept that transitioning from a land, a ministry our family loved and where we thrived… to a new place and a new ministry in a diametrically different place with so many new, even frightening, unknowns… is a precious prize to seize, unwrapping with unreserved enthusiasm and confidence?

There are standard, true answers – but they sound almost cliché in those questioning, struggling right now moments. God is trustworthy, always loving, worthy and blameless. His gifts are always good – perfectly good. Even (as a friend recently wrote to me): “Our small perspective of ‘God’s gifts’ is just so small.” Honestly, though? Those true answers don’t necessarily encourage me to just buck up and trust more.

I can share, however, what does encourage me.

Recently, we – as an online community – were challenged to make sure we only give good gifts to those we seek to serve. Key to good giving is knowing and understanding our recipients and their realities. This necessitates visiting often, stepping into their lives and stories, listening, assessing and judging circumstances correctly… so that we can then be confident our gifts are good ones, needed ones, and ones that can be well received.

good gifts

Jesus, God Incarnate, did just that.

He came. He visited. He listened. He walked this life. He understands. He judges correctly and with grace and mercy. He learned obedience and He trusted His Father to only give Him good, albeit hard, gifts. He knows. I can trust Him because I know He has shared my condition or circumstances. Just last weekend, we celebrated His infinite love, great sacrifice and amazing victory.  Thus HE IS uniquely qualified to identify and offer us gifts that are always all and only good. I can be confident of that truth.

With this reminder, may we all always eagerly open our good gifts from God choosing gratitude and excitement for both the expected and the unexpected. May we determine, by God’s grace, to practice contentment and enthusiasm as we unwrap each day, pressing on for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

What encourages/comforts you when God gifts you with something unexpected or different?

When you receive an unwanted or unanticipated circumstance or future path, what reminds you that you can trust God and that your perspective is limited?

First image – Handmade Gift Wrap by Erika G, on Flickr.

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On Good Friday – A View From Above

by Marilyn on April 18, 2014

Bab ZuweilaTwin minarets

In the city of Cairo twin minarets stand tall, their silhouettes marked against a clear blue sky. They stand distinguishable from the thousand other minarets because of their fame as a city landmark. The minarets frame a gate still standing since the 11th century, the gate of Bab Zuweila. The minaret towers are so high that they were used to look out for enemy troops coming up to attack the city. Now, centuries later, the minarets of Bab Zuweila provide an unparalleled view of the old city of Cairo.

Climbing up the minarets is a journey. Around ancient steps you walk – farther and farther up, dizzy from the spiral and half frightened from the dark staircase. You make it to the first area where you go out and stand looking over the vast city of 18 million people. But you’re compelled to go farther. So on you go. And it gets more rickety and frightening, the centuries-old steps become even narrower and darker. You can see nothing and you are grasping on to the steps in front of you for fear of falling. But you keep going.

You arrive at the second level. And it’s even more magnificent than the first. To your right you see Al Azhar Park, significant for its large and beautiful green space in a city that has so little. In this 360 degree view you see vast numbers of minarets, you hear the call to prayer going off at split-second intervals across the city – a cacophony echoing around you. You see thousands of people, tiny as they go from bazaar to mosque to bus. You see the tent makers bazaar, making out the beautiful colors even from this distance.

 

It’s the view from above. And it is glorious, breath-taking and conversation stopping. But you can go even farther. And once you get to the top, you don’t want to leave – because it took a while for you to get there and you’re so tired. And the stairs going down are still rickety and treacherous, they are still centuries old. But mostly you don’t want to go down because you want to continue to look out over the view, the view above the city, above the chaos. The view from above.

 

It’s this I think about today – for today is Good Friday. The day in the Christian faith where all of life stopped and the world darkened, a curtain in a temple torn from top to bottom. The day when Jesus, God incarnate, was condemned to the death of a criminal and bore our broken world on his shoulders. And today I set aside time to remember that day and focus on the view from above.

 

 That glorious, breath-taking, conversation stopping view. That view that sees the broken world that Jesus died for, the world that Jesus loves, knowing that each day that we fight this fight is worth it.

 

That view that remembers the words a Son called out to a Father “Why have you forsaken me?” A view that sees the grand Salvation narrative, taller and grander than a million minarets, a love that calls to us louder than a billion calls to prayer. The view where all ‘this’ will make sense, wrong will be made right, tears will turn to laughter, and sorrow to joy. We are invited into this view from above, a view where our story falls into the shadows for a time, and God’s great, redemptive narrative is remembered around the world. A story of mercy and grace, where good triumphs over evil and wrong is made right.

 

We from A Life Overseas hail from all parts of the globe. We are from Djibouti and Thailand, Bolivia and Botswana, Mexico and Cambodia, Haiti and Cameroon, Ethiopia and Niger, Egypt and China and so many more places. We go as idealists and we stay as realists. We live in the shadows of Hindu temples and near the courtyards of grand cathedrals; isolated near small villages and among millions in small apartments in Shanghai skyscrapers. We see poverty and suffering, starvation and crime, corruption and inequality. We learn to love when it’s hard and others learn to love us when we’re hard. We know failure, we know pain, we know how human and flawed we are. Yet daily we experience the persistence of God’s redemptive process.
And today no matter where we are in the world, we are invited to remember this view from above.

 

“Finally, as if everything had not been felt enough, Jesus cries out in an agonizing moment in the most powerful words that we will read in the world: ‘My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?’ And I am utterly convinced that the reason he said those words was so that you and I would never have to say them again.” – Ravi Zacharias
Where are you today, right now on this Good Friday? Where can you see the grand story? The view from above.
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My House Shall Be Called

by Jonathan Trotter on April 16, 2014

Photographing weddings got me through college. It also taught me about the Church. Sometimes, your day is spent with really happy people. Sometimes, it’s spent with really stressed out people. Sometimes, the really stressed out people turn into the really happy people.

You get to be around radiant brides, people who dance but really shouldn’t, and people who sing but really can’t. And you get to photograph all.of.it.

You and your camera are invited behind the scenes. You’re paid to capture the excitement, the preparation, the emotion, in pixels and jpegs.

Oh, and there’s usually good food.

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I really like weddings, and I think God does too. In fact, I think God’s planning one.

In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller says, “The climax of history is not a higher form of disembodied consciousness but a feast.” He’s talking, of course, about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, vividly described in Revelation 19:6-8. The Church is the Beloved, the Bride.

During the Last Supper, Jesus pointed to the Great Supper and said, “I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Mere hours before his crucifixion, Jesus points us towards that day, the day of his Wedding.

How we think about that day greatly impacts how we live this one. And what we talk about when we talk about the Church (the Bride) has tremendous bearing on missions. If we’re embarrassed by the Church, it’s sure going to be hard to plant it. If we see the Church as optional and only vaguely connected with the Gospel, we’re neglecting something that is very close to the heart of the Father. We’re also ignoring something that enthralls the heart of the Son.

What do we think of when we think of Church? Are we a group of people longing for a party? Are we longing to see our Beloved, face to face?

When we speak of the Church, do we speak of beauty and mystery and the Bride of Christ? Do we speak about God’s Kingdom, here, now, as a great force for good in a desperate world? Or do we speak of something else entirely?

The truth is that the Church is a gloriously magnificent idea straight from the heart of the Father.

The Church is a strong entity that will not lose, even against the full forces of hell itself.

The Church is the Bride of Jesus, stunningly radiant.

The Church carries the priceless message of salvation in Jesus alone, proclaiming that everyone’s invited to the imminent feast.

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But if you’ve been hurt by the Church, by people in the Church, those last few sentences were hard to stomach.

I’m convinced that one of our main obstacles to loving the Church like Jesus loves the Church is that we’ve been hurt within the Church. (And for the record, we’ve probably hurt people too.) Pain from within the Church sours the whole idea and tempts us to run away. It makes us angry at the Church. It makes us ashamed of the Church.

Sometimes the pain comes from rude comments and mean spirits. Sometimes it comes from rejection. Sometimes the pain comes from outright abuse.

This should NOT BE.

If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

Please, hear the voice of Jesus, clearly, and with great compassion, as he says, “My House shall be called a house of PRAYER, not a house of PAIN. Those people did NOT represent me. They were thieves and robbers.”

Look at this picture of a loving Bridegroom defending his Bride, and may it be to you a source of solace and comfort and healing. After showing up in Jerusalem to die, “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves. He said, ‘The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

People are still thieving and robbing in the House of God. They turn a place of prayer into a place of pain. They’re messing with the Bride and ticking off the Groom.

But here’s the thing, Jesus doesn’t just kick out the bad guys and tell everyone to stay away from the Temple. He shows up in the place of pain and turns it into a place of peace and healing.  Right after he expels the “thieves,” we’re told that “The blind and the lame came to him, and he healed them there in the Temple. (Matthew 21:14)

Right there in the Temple! Why would he do that? Because he is passionate about His people, His Bride.

If you’ve been hurt in the Church, may you also find healing in the Church.

May our churches and teams, mission orgs and NGOs, be full of healed people who heal people. May they be full of loved people who love people. May we be so satisfied in Him, so amazed by Him, so filled with joy because of Him, that we are longing for that day as much as He is.

The day of our Wedding is coming, made possible by the passionate pursuit of a dying Savior who didn’t stay dead. Alleluia. Come Lord Jesus. Come for your Bride. 

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What does the idea of the Church as the Bride of Christ mean for you? What do you do with negative experiences within the Church?

-

College was a long time ago, so these photos are by my friend  Cherish Andrea and used with permission.

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Dangerous Riches

by Rachel Pieh Jones April 14, 2014

I wrote last month about the troubling ways we sometimes talk about the poor – assigning the simplistic emotion of happiness while not allowing them a fuller, more complex array of human emotion. And about the way the poor are presented as inherently holy, simply because of their poverty. Today I want to talk about [...]

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Reflections of God

by Chris Lautsbaugh April 11, 2014

Many times in missions, we speak of the difficulties with greater frequency than the good things. We talk about racism. We speak of our various phases of culture shock. Stories of being hurt by those we work with abound. Even at times, we venture into difficult topics like trauma or loss. What of the positive? [...]

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We, the People of the Globe

by Laura Parker April 9, 2014

We are the people of the Globe. Not a city or a state, or even a single country, but the whole wide world– the one He’s got in His hands. We are a people made tender by airport goodbyes and flexible by the travel we log after those tears have dried.  We are those who [...]

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Third Culture Kids in the World of Faith

by Editor April 7, 2014

A topic dear to many of us is third culture kids and with good reason. We either are raising them ourselves, know someone else who is raising them, or we are them. If that sounds confusing it’s because the whole topic can feel confusing! In our guest post today we hear a new voice – [...]

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The Existence Of Poo (On Shame, Part I)

by Lisa McKay April 4, 2014
Thumbnail image for The Existence Of Poo (On Shame, Part I)

Almost four years ago now, on a velvety Friday night, my husband, Mike, and I had a hot date. We’d been married a year and a half by that stage, and living in our new home-town of Luang Prabang, Laos, for three whole weeks. We decided to go somewhere special to celebrate. That somewhere was [...]

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Say Less, Listen More, Love More

by Tara Livesay April 2, 2014

The world is a garish, noisy neighborhood. Decibels and pixels abound. The phone in my pocket spews more information in hours than I can assimilate in years. I’m reminded of my college speech prof who counseled tongue-in-cheek, “Shout louder if your argument is weak.” There’s a whole lot of shouting these days.  -My Uncle, Rick [...]

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Romance, Science Fiction, and Missions (or, I Dreamed a Dream)

by Elizabeth Trotter March 31, 2014

What motivated you to go into missions? What keeps you going? Romance. I don’t know about you, but romance is what drove me into missions. The romance of being a great missionary, of changing an entire people group, of seeing a whole country turn to Christ. This romantic idea was first kindled during my children’s [...]

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Giving Good Gifts

by Kelley Nikondeha March 27, 2014

The Batwa people live on the edges of Burundian society, marginalized in their own country. Local humanitarian workers tell tales of these people who thwart good gifts and show little gratitude, making them notoriously difficult to work with. One organization generously gave corrugated metal roofs for the thatch-constructed homes. But soon after the installation, the [...]

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