Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Community Event of the Year

The COMMUNITY EVENT OF THE YEAR may have taken place in Mtana these last few weeks. A large machine rumbled through the village and people started to gather around. First     children, then grown adults. Everyone wanted to see what this machine was going to do. Many things become interesting to a village with no TV. When it was confirmed that the    machine had come to drill a well and bring water to Mtana the excitement only grew. 

Every time that I would pass by and check on the project there were people there, never less than 10 actually even at 7:30 in the morning. It was almost like the people of Mtana did not trust these experts to do their job correctly, and after about three days I realized that this may have been exactly it. This was not just a development project for this village, but this well brought with it a source of life, of hope, of health, of development. In one simple step, life in Mtana is about to drastically improve especially for the women in the village who are currently walking hours a day to fetch water. They will not only regain part of their day for other work, but they will lessen the impact that carrying heavy buckets on your head will make on your body. The company may have been experts in drilling, but nobody had more expectations and more drive to see this project succeed than the people of Mtana. 

I hope that the impact this well has on the physical lives of the people of Mtana can be mirrored by the spiritual impact of the church there. There are many kinds of poverty and hardship is brought on by them all. The well will take steps to address the physical poverty of Mtana. The church also has a role though, to address relational poverty and spiritual poverty. Women can be oppressed by work, by the fact that it is their gender designated job to fetch water. They can also be oppressed by abusive husbands because of relational poverty or by a lack of self-worth due to spiritual poverty. This is just one example of many. The people in  Mtana literally thirst for clean water for themselves and their families. I have also seen a thirst for the living water that promises to bring restoration and a full life, that one day will include a life without tears or fears. 

It is possible given that this may be the community event of the year, that the church will gain an opportunity to do all of that, help with the physical, relational, and spiritual poverty. 

I want to give a big THANK YOU to the active Body of Christ and the church connection that allowed a church in Mt. Juliet, TN to help drill a well in Mtana, Tanzania. Thank you Cooks United Methodist Church for bringing water to the thirsty. 

Lord, may our thirst for justice, restoration, and your living water never slacken, but only     increase as we encounter those in the world, ourselves included, who need to be redeemed from our physical, relational, and spiritual poverty. Amen

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Clogging Our Most Important Streets: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

When I first came to Tarime I was slightly surprised that Tanzanian civil engineers would dig such shallow drainage ditches for their roads. We came right at the end of rainy season, so it was still raining almost daily for the first little bit of our time here and water was constantly in the streets because the drainage ditches they had dug were just too shallow. A few weeks after rainy season I noticed some people digging deeper drainage ditches and I was glad that they were going to fix this mistake. When they finished digging the drainage ditches I realized that I had been wrong. They had not built shallow drainage ditches and the people had not been digging deeper ditches. They were shoveling out all of the mud, dirt, trash, and other things that had found their way into the ditches during the rainy season. They had nice deep, stone lined drainage ditches that had been filled with all kinds of things throughout the rainy season, until they could no longer do their job of moving water along, but instead were filling the streets with water. 

In many ways I feel like this is how my life has been lately. I hate to admit it, but there are times when I feel so full of dissatisfaction, when I feel like I am spending too much time hanging on to things that other people have done to me, that I am always looking for a greener pasture and calling it progress. My life can become so filled up with things not of God that I cannot receive His grace and channel it to the people he has directed me to serve. 

Lent is a good time to stop that kind of behavior. One of the traditions that we pull from for the period of Lent is the Jewish tradition of mourning and repentance. Ash Wednesday comes from the practice of sitting on ashes as a sign of mourning or of repentance (mourning a sin done against God). In the book of Joel the prophet calls for a community fasting, asking for even still nursing babies to come. He does this because Israel had fallen away from God. They had filled their lives with so many things not of God that they needed to be called to repent, to mourn, and to enter again into relationship with God. They needed to clean out the “other” in their life and return to the one who matters. I am experiencing a call right now to clean these things out of my life and return to the call that God has given me and even more importantly return to the one who called me. Because when our pathways to God are filled up with anger, regret, jealousy, busyness…you name it, we cannot receive from God what we need, and we certainly don’t have anything of worth to pass on to others. We are just spewing out whatever is already inside of us.

I would like to challenge you to use this Lenten season to dig. Take whatever is clogging up your relationship with God whether it is your own feelings or your lack of time with God, and dig it out during this Lenten season. Get it out of your life and replace it with God, His teachings, and His work in your life. This morning during the Catholic mass I attended for Ash Wednesday they focused on two aspects, acts of repentance and acts of charity. We have this Lenten season to attend to both acts of repentance for the things that have filled up our lives instead of God. We also have a chance for acts of charity so that as we empty our lives of the things not of God, we can fill them up with the things that are of God. 

My plan is to give up (turn away from) the grudges that are holding me back from the love of Christ God has given me for other people. I am also hoping to put aside my work more often and focus on the people around me. These two things, an act of repentance and an act of charity, that I hope will clean out my spirit and prepare me for the glorious celebration of God’s salvation entering the world. That these 40 days can be used to renew my relationship with God since nothing else can better help us live the abundant life that is salvation.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Short But Hard List

When we first saw them we all wanted to cry. I have never in my life seen a flesh and blood child that looked like he did. At 6 months old he was as literally skin and bones as you can be. I have seen bodies at funerals that looked more alive than that child did at that moment. The 8 month old girl was only doing slightly better with the tears to prove that she still have some life giving fluid left in her small malnourished body. They were held, they were prayed for, and we left. As our bodies traveled away, with an extra heart felt prayer lifted up for the blessing God had given us of a healthy baby, our hearts and minds stayed with those two children. What can we do? What would really help? 

We went home, rushed to the internet and contacted friends that we thought could help. We got a recipe for a food that should return these children to full strength if they weren't too far gone already. We excitedly started looking for supplies, the very next day. And then some time passed. We found a few supplies and failed to find others. We had to reenter life and our busy schedules. It became a back burner project until one day we pushed through found the rest of the supplies and returned with the food. A mere two weeks after the first visit. A mere two weeks...enough time, enough time for a malnourished child to die. The food was given for the other child, but her tears have already stopped. Will it be enough, will it have enough time to work the miracles that were prayed for?

That is the big story. Despite the many things going on, the exhausting schedule, the "important" work that is being accomplished, including the drilling of a well for a village were women walk hours away to fetch one bucket, the thing that rests on my mind is that small child and the future promise that has been lost. I keep record. A record of the number of times I have had the opportunity to directly relieve the suffering of another...and have failed. Fortunately for my conscience it is still a short list, but for my soul it is already too long. In the last three years it has grown to four.

I pray that you can learn, that this can be a conversation that doesn't have to end with my heart and my mind, but a conversation that can spread.

The first question is this: Do you notice the suffering people around you? Do you notice the outcast, the friendless, the hopeless? Do you notice those who are about to die, physically, emotionally, spiritually?

The second question is what do we do? Do you walk on by thinking that there is nothing you can do? Do you protect yourself and your soul from carrying the guilt by not getting involved? Or do we add to our list the ones we may have failed, while being able to celebrate the ones we didn't?

"Carry each other's burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ." ~ Galatians 6:2

It is a short list, one I will never forget, one that will live with me always, and one that motivates me not to quite, but to keep on. I am sad at my failures, but hopeful with the hope of God...

"I heard a loud voice from the throne say, "Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3, 4 CEB)

Let us be part of the passing away of former things and the birth of something new. That is my prayer.