Sunday, November 29, 2009

God's Will

If you're like me you often struggle with the question of "What does God want me to do with my life?" We agonize over the seeming abstract and mysterious nature of God's will and beg Him to make the way clear before us. We long for a sign, an audible voice, a bolt of lightning to tell us exactly what God has planned for our life and what to do so we won't mess anything up. We worry that we're missing His will and look at others who seem to know where He wants them and we wonder, "What's wrong with me that I can't hear from God?" But if we go to the Bible, we find that God has already plainly stated His will for you and me! 1 Thess. 5:18 "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." We can also find many other statements concerning the will of God. But I am finding this one to be the most important in my life right now. Having just passed the Thanksgiving holy day, some of our family has been talking about God's emphasis on giving thanks and why we seem to bypass this day, when perhaps we ought to focus more on Thanksgiving than Christmas. After all, what is the greatest gift ever given to us for which we ought to give thanks every day of our lives? It is the gift of God's Son, Jesus, sacrificed for our sins that we might receive forgiveness, joy, peace, eternal life, and a whole host of other blessings! Yes, we celebrate Christ's coming as a baby at Christmas, but you know, it is the risen Christ to whom we owe our thanks and our worship every single day. And my mom made an interesting observation. Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ. We are commanded to remember the Lord's death until He comes, which we celebrate at Easter and also every Sunday as we meet in honor of our Lord who rose on the first day of the week. And, as we see in the verse above and many others throughout the Scriptures, we are commanded to give thanks! So when President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving all those years ago, it was God-inspired! Mom says we ought to make Thanksgiving a bigger deal, and I think she's right. Thanksgiving Day is a reminder that we are to give thanks always for all things. But we need a lot of reminding! Don't you think we should make a bigger deal of our reminder?
Anyway, since my return from five weeks in Rwanda, I have struggled to get back in the groove at home. During my visit I became more aware of many things I take for granted and that I really don't have an excuse for all the little things I complain about at home. So I determined to focus more on the positives, which is no easy task when you are a "glass half empty" person. So easily I let my focus slip to all the things in my family and in myself that really need to change and to my eyes haven't changed at all. I have been tugged back into introspection and self-pity as I look at everything that is wrong with me and how I just can't seem to grow and flourish in this environment. It was so nice to get away from it all for awhile and have time to reflect and process and seek God at my own pace. But returning home, I quickly found the busyness and the chaos and the familiar frustrations caving in on me again. I also sensed greater spiritual attack and I was fighting a losing battle. A long overdue talk with Mom yesterday brought things back into focus. She pointed out that I was believing a lie: nothing has changed. There are a lot of things happening in our family right now, God things. When I get focused on what hasn't changed, the enemy starts nagging at me to quit fooling myself, that the areas where I have found freedom and victory are not meant to last and what's the point in living differently if everything around me stays the same? It is a despairing thought and yet, in a way, miserably comforting, to think I may as well go back to the same as I was before. But the real problem is my vision. I have wandering eyes. I have simply become distracted by lies, feelings, and ingratitude, and I have taken my eyes off the goal, which is Christ! I become swamped by the waves of doubt, fear, and impossibility, just as Peter was overwhelmed by the waves and began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus. We all know that when you're driving, you tend to follow the direction of your gaze. If you take your eyes off the road for too long, it can get you in big trouble. But as long as we're looking at Jesus, focusing on who He is rather than what we think we are or are not, He keeps us on track and gives us the strength to keep running the race. I've heard this saying several times... The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. We want instant change, magical transformation. But that's not the way God works. Even in the greatest defining moments of our lives, I'm starting to see that God changes our direction in subtle ways. It's like climbing a mountain, one foothold, one handhold, than the next foothold, then the next handhold.... God is not going to ski-lift us to the top. Where would be the glory, the victory, the achievement in that? If He wanted to work that way He may as well beam us up to Heaven the second we surrender Him our lives! The really amazing thing is that despite all of our striving and despairing over the failure of our own efforts, it is God who continues to work in us to will and to do His good pleasure, and He is just waiting for us to let go!
What I'm beginning to realize is that giving thanks is actually lifegiving for us, because it keeps us focused on the incredible riches we've been given in Christ! Just think: it would have been enough for Jesus to give us redemption and eternal life. He doesn't have to give us anything else. So all we have besides life is extra; it's the icing on the cake! We can live without that stuff and God is under no obligation to give us certain things nor are we entitled to always have them. The only thing we truly deserve is Hell. Not only has God not given us what we deserve; He's given us forgiveness, love, and eternal life that we don't deserve! As someone once said, "All this and Heaven, too?" All of life is a gift; every little thing. So what are you thankful for? Our family borrowed someone else's idea for a Thanksgiving activity. Take a sheet of paper with all the letters of the alphabet and write one thing starting with each letter for which you are truly grateful. It would be easy to do this without thinking and write pat answers just to get it done. But I tried to really think about the things that most elicit gratitude in my heart; things that are really important to me. It was really cool to see what I came up with. You should try it! Don't just think material things. It can be something having to do with your relationship with God, good changes you've seen in another person, experiences, special moments with a loved one. Be creative!
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." James 1:17

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Live The Revolution!

Rwanda, Land of a Thousand Hills! How I will miss you! Your abundant sunshine, your tropical beauty, the incredible grit of your people. I shall miss the vibrant life and colorful personality of your towns and streets. I shall miss the unhurried pace, the bright smiles, the friendly waves and greetings. I shall long for your grand mountains and your encompassing hills and the happy trilling of birds. I was just getting used to the curious stares and cries of "mzungu!" (white person) everywhere I go. You have taught me much, Rwanda, and I will not forget you. May I never be the same again. May I never again become so comfortable and satisfied with the glittering trifles of prosperity that I cease to press forward in the revolution that God has begun in my heart.

I asked God to rock my world and change my perception of life. He is answering my prayers. These five weeks have been a defining moment for me. Jesus Christ is challenging me with the transforming power of the whole Gospel. This has truly been the Year of Jubilee (freedom) in my heart and soul. God is connecting loose ends in my faith and the lights are coming on! This year I have encountered Jesus Christ like never before in all my 21 years as a believer. It is all HIM! Praise You Jesus! You are amazing!

With all the reading I've been doing this month, God grabbed my heart with one extremely uncomfortable but powerful book. I don't have time here to express what God is working in me through its message. The best thing I can do is to highly recommend that you read it for yourself! It is called The Hole In Our Gospel, written by Rich Stearns, president of World Vision. It's a convicting revelation of what the Gospel of Christ is supposed to look like when it is lived out in the lives of His followers. Rich lays out what we have missed in our understanding and application of the Gospel. It speaks with urgency both to individuals and to the church across America. If we would catch the fire of this Gospel and take Jesus' words seriously, we will change the world! I am only one and can account for no one's response to Christ but my own. But I desire to somehow spread this radical message and see the people around me impacted as I have been. Trust me, you need to read this book! Now if you can read it in the context of a very different culture and the visual realization that the American standard of living does not apply to the rest of the world, it will be even more effective!

My mind struggles to adequately translate the deep stirrings of my soul into thoughts and words that will communicate to you what I have been given through this journey in Rwanda, not to mention all the ways in which God prepared me beforehand. The deep desire of my heart as I return home is that God's transforming power at work in me will become more and more evident to the people in my life. The proof of growth is in the fruit. I want to be an expression of my Creator that inspires people to give Him glory. I want to live only to love Him who died to win my heart back. May my lifesong sing to Him forever!

A few weeks ago I go to watch a DVD message/drama portraying what it might be like to stand before the Bema of Christ. Bema is a Greek word used in Scripture to describe the judgment seat where Christ will one day require an account of all His followers and will reward each of us according to what we have done. The pastor presenting the drama, Peter Briscoe, explained that this event appears to be an evaluation of how we used the life and resources that God has entrusted to us on earth as stewards. Our sins will not enter into the picture, as they have been covered by the blood of Christ. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Rom. 8:1 We know that none of our works will save us. We are saved by grace through faith; it is the gift of God, as it says in Eph. 2:8. But if you go on to verse 9, God tells us that we are saved for good works, which God has prepared for us to do. The question is, are we putting our faith to work? Are we using God's gifts for His kingdom and storing up treasure in Heaven? Or are we using them to hoard earthly pleasures for ourselves? The Bema drama is an imaginary account of one man who finds himself before the judgment seat and discovers that he has built very little of eternal value on the foundation of His Christian life. His is a story of nominal Christianity with a focus on worldly success rather than on Christ and the things He is interested in. It is the kind of life many believers in America today could identify with. In the end this man is left with only a few treasures of eternal value; most of his work is burned away. "But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
1 Cor 3:10-15 (NIV) This challenged me to think deeply about my life; to recognize what God has given me: in time, relationships, possessions, money, talents, opportunities, and circumstances, and to ask myself, What have I done with these things? And what can I start doing now to ensure that I am building with materials that will last? How should I live so that Jesus will be able to say to me, Well done, good and faithful servant? I know one thing that I want to do differently, and that is to cherish the people in my life and invest as much as I can in them. People are one of the few things on this earth that are eternal, and whatever we invest in others' lives will count on that Day.

So, needless to say, this has been a full and rich experience for me and I pray it is only the beginning of the wonders God will do as I seek to love Him with my all. I hope that my musings have been an encouragement to my readers. These are honest journalings of my personal adventure with God. I am a work in progress. Lest you should be tempted to see me as some sort of spiritual celebrity for taking this trip or because something I wrote impressed you, please don't! Anyone could do what I am doing. I said it before and I will say it again, that I am the one most privileged to come here; it is not some heroic or sacrificial act to travel to another country and reach out to your neighbors halfway around the world. It is an awesome blessing! I am sure I have received far more than I have invested. I would love to have the chance to do this again! And I am so grateful to everyone who made this trip possible.

So, I must say farewell to this beautiful land Sunday at 4:00 PM. I am ready to be with my family, but I wish I did not have to leave Rwanda; it really grows on a person! I do miss my family and friends, but I would never miss Ohio, especially not in the winter! Ahhh, parting is such sweet sorrow! I am trying to comfort myself by thinking of things that are good about winter. Things like.... flannel sheets, burning scented candles, working 1000 piece puzzles, burrowing under piles of fleece blankets, Christmas lights in my room that stay up for months, Christmas music, hot cider and other holiday treats, and yes, even the million sparkling gems in the snow on a SUNNY day. There is something deliciously cozy about warm cozy things when it is freezing outside. And I did get a lovely extension on my summer! So... I will try to focus on the positives, because I know I have abundant reasons to be grateful. And I think I'm going to find a lot less to complain about,too! So if anyone hears me whining about some petty thing.... just remind me of the air quality in the streets of Kigali. And the dependability of electric, water, and internet. And the joys of leaky faucets and leaky pipes and leaky water tanks and tiny French showers and stiff line dried clothes. And what fun it is to meet a large cockroach on your bathroom wall! Hey, life is life, no matter where you are! Thank you everyone for coming along with me on this journey and I will try not to be a stranger here. This blogging thing is pretty cool! Goodnight one last time from Kigali, and to my family and friends in Bristolville.... See you soon!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mountain Retreat

Last weekend we took a 3 1/2 hour drive up through the mountains to Lake Kivu on the northwestern border of Rwanda. We stayed at a beautiful little lakeside retreat in the town of Gisenyi. What incredible scenery! The drive was amazing. We saw countless hills farmed in beautiful terraces and patchwork. In a country the size of the state of Maryland, Rwandans have made wonderful use of every bit of available land. You would not believe the steepness of some of these hills they are farming on! Westerners would not survive the strenuous work these people engage in every day: walking long ways to haul water, climbing incredibly steep hillsides, cultivating gardens and fields by hand. That's only some of it!

Most of the mountains in Rwanda are volcanoes. I believe Lake Kivu itself is part of a volcanic crater. We drove up to quite a height in the mountains and then descended a good way into the valley. We were able to get a decent view of the two tallest volcanoes on the way.

More beautiful scenery from the drive. My shots could have been better. But then pictures never do justice anyway.

I love waterfalls!

Heavy traffic on the way up!

A shot of the lake. Kivu is the second largest of the African great lakes.

The name of the retreat center was something about paradise. Fitting! It is a lovely little place with a tropical feel. These little grass huts were all over the place for dining, and others were shading lounge chairs on the beach. Don't you want to be here?

Another view of the lake. It was too hazy to get a clear view of the mountains on the other side, but they are in the Congo.

Here's a partial view of the little beach.

Homemade canoe

We took a boat out to this little island not far from shore. We walked around for a few minutes just to see it. Nice little place if you want to get alone!

Fishing boats. You can't get the full impact of these vessels in the picture. They are the most fascinating things. These three are attached to each other and they have these really long curved poles stretching out in front and behind the boats. I have no idea what they are for. We watched dozens of these going out on the lake and coming back in.

After visiting the island we rode the boat to a narrow strip of land that connects the lakeshore to a hill out in the water. On this strip are some natural hot springs that we went to see. It was weird to watch it bubbling up out of the mud. There were pools of the water scattered here and there, burning hot to the touch, but the Africans were sitting in them! I went wading where the hot water runs into the lake; that part was comfortable.

Some of the exotic wildlife of Rwanda.

Chuck and Debby call this bird their alarm clock. It has an extremely loud song which it starts singing between 5:00 and 5:30 every morning right outside their window. Well, that would be this particular bird's cousin, because he lives in Gisenyi, not Kigali.

This is the largest lizard in Rwanda. Beautiful, isn't he?

We enjoyed a lovely weekend, despite waiting three hours for our dinner. Long story. We had some entertainment, though. I wish I could show you a picture but I didn't have my camera on me. It was some sort of African dance... repetitive but highly energetic. I wanted to have a headdress like these guys were wearing! They were decked out with jewelry, spears, and bells on their ankles. They kept going and going and going... like the Energizer bunny! It was a long evening, but fun. You have to expect the unexpected in Africa! Good times. And the weather was great! God was really good to us.

So, if you want adventure and the unexpected and natural magical beauty... come to Rwanda!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All God's Children

One the things I really hoped to do in Rwanda was to visit an orphanage and spend time with the kids, especially little ones. I had an unexpected opportunity last week!
Debby and I went to a church that has been doing a feeding program for street boys. This is something Chuck and Debby observed and documented when they visited Rwanda over a year ago, and it was these kids who really pulled their hearts to come and work here. They showed video of the kids being fed in their supporting churches in the States, and everybody was touched by it. But they have not actually been able to be involved with this program since they've moved here. At first the church was feeding over a hundred kids of all ages. But they have changed their system. Now they are choosing to feed a smaller group so that they can do more for them, rather than giving less to a large group. So now they feed about 85 boys and they are all older. They are trying to minister more effectively to this group, especially to the boys who are acting as leaders for groups of orphans. Many of them live together in houses that have been provided. The church hopes to support and influence these leaders so that they in turn can influence the other boys more positively. I am not sure what happened to the younger children they were feeding before. Another difference is that missions groups have been constantly coming in to participate in this feeding program, and the Baldwins felt that if they tried to be involved, they would take away from the groups being able to feel that they are doing everything. So they have mostly stayed out of this ministry. But I really wanted to see it and so we planned to go on a certain day when we thought there wasn't going to be a group there.

Here the ladies are cooking food. They spend a couple hours on this beforehand, and I think part of it is done the night before. They feed these boys twice a week. They had a huge pot of rice, a huge pot of beans, and a huge pot of fried potato chunks. They make a fish sauce for the rice and beans. There are actual tiny dried fish in it. They let me help fill the plates. We did it assembly line style. Then the plates were loaded in large basins and taken over to the building where the boys eat.
While we were still waiting for the meal to be ready, a van pulled up and out came this group from Canada that was not supposed to be coming that day! They came in to meet us and we found out that they are here working with an orphanage which they have been supporting. When they heard that I wanted to visit an orphanage, they invited me to come along with them that afternoon, as they were heading back there to start a project after the feeding program. When the food was ready and the boys arrived, everybody pitched in to help serve or mingle with the boys.

Everyone wanted their picture taken while they were eating! Afterwords they all wanted to show off for the camera.

These little boys are not officially part of the group that comes to eat, but they were hanging around outside the gates and they were hungry.

I decided to take the Canadian group up on their offer, so when we were finished at the church, I piled in the van with them and we headed for the orphanage. But first we had to stop for some supplies. They are building a playset for the kids. So we had to get tools, lumber and cement. Finally we arrived at the home. The truck carrying this huge load of lumber tied on top had already arrived and some of the kids were helping to carry the pieces down to the place where they were going to build.

Meanwhile, someone took me inside to see the babies!

It really seemed like a decent place. After awhile I went outside and hung out with a couple kids; then we walked down to join everyone else at the building site.

Sawing boards.

Digging post holes.

A bunch of girls found a willing victim to practice their hairdressing skills on! I can't even remember this lady's name, but she endured with the patience of Job! And all the while she had a little one cuddled in her lap. To be honest, I'm glad it wasn't me with all those fingers in my hair! I think they would have tried, though, if I'd sat down long enough!

The kids were just adorable and so excited! I took tons of pictures. Here are just a few.

The guys sinking one of the posts for the playground.

This was my little buddy. I held him for quite awhile, but he's a chunk! He's probably 3 years old. When I put him down he just sat quietly and watched all the activity. He was the most sober little thing; never cracked a smile or said a word. I wonder what he was thinking. I wonder what life is like for him. I wonder if he feels loved.

I am so glad I got the chance to meet this group, even though we had tried to avoid being with them at the feeding program. They are the sweetest people with big hearts and it was so neat to just go off with them and feel like part of their group for the day! The kids were beautiful and I know this home is a good place. I can't remember any of their names and I may never see them again, but God knows every one of them by heart. Thank you God for the privilege of seeing You in the face of a child.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Organic Farming

90% of Rwanda's production is in agriculture. 90% of the work force in agriculture are women. 90% of those women are illiterate. One man had a vision to change the way agriculture is done for greater yield and to teach with hands on methods so that everyone can understand. He runs a working organic farm and training center called Gako. A group of us went out to tour the farm. There is a couple from the States who have been here teaching organic gardening to Rwandan government officials, I believe. They came along with us because they were intensely interested in the work being done at Gako and hoped to learn more from it. This couple is putting together a text book of sorts to instruct people in how to make different types of gardens, how to make compost, etc. The book is made of mostly of pictures, showing each step of the process. Richard, the guy in charge of Gako, is excited about these books because of the fact that most of the people being trained and others who would use it are illiterate and pictures are the best way to teach them.
It was incredible to see the work they are doing here. I thought I would let you come along on the tour!

This is what they call a kitchen garden. A person can make one or more of these on a very small plot of land near the kitchen. Crops are planted in levels and they make a hole in the middle of the hill for the compost. That way the good minerals get to every part of the garden. They put their used dish water on the garden.

Here is another space-saving method they use: sack gardening. They put plants on top, as well as sticking them through holes in the sides of the bag.

This is a handmade clay oven where they cook and bake for the students. It's probably also a model that people can copy at their homes. It's so amazing that they can make something like this out of clay that will last a long time, despite the rain and the heat!

Most of the students here are women. Here they are learning how to make compost. They get as excited as the kids over having their picture taken!

I think they dug this well by hand! The picture doesn't really show you the depth of it. There wasn't much water in the bottom, and I'm not sure if it was finished.

We were surprised to see this man in the well! They lowered him down on the bucket rope. Then he would fill the bucket with either water or mud, I'm not sure which, and they would pull it up. It may be that they are still digging and taking
bucketfulls of mud out.

This is part of the vast pineapple fields they are raising. But for all the pineapples they produce, they get very little income from them. I guess they go cheap here because there are so many.

Babe the pig! They have dozens of pigs in all sizes. They also have cows and rabbits. They collect the animal droppings and urine to fertilize the gardens. Nothing is wasted.

Here is a very cool rabbit apartment complex!

This is at a test home a little ways up the road from the farm. It is to demonstrate how the students can put these methods into practice at their own homes. There is a house here where the small children of the students are cared for and the nursing mothers can come and nurse the babies. This picture shows the system for keeping the animals in a small space and collecting their waste. Chickens go on top of the cage unit, rabbits on the bottom. Then the goats are down on the ground. The waste runs down from the top level and it all collects together somewhere at the bottom. They also had demonstration gardens here.
One thing we heard is that even with the excellent training, it is hard for the Rwandans to change the way they have always done things. Many of them do not put all of this into practice at home. It is a slow process. But hopefully they are learning that these methods produce far greater yields and little by little they will embrace them and teach them to others.