Wow. It is in a mix of amazement, humbleness, and a slight feeling of guilt that I realize that I have approximately three weeks left in Zambia... and I have not written in this blog since my 'halfway' point. However, I do not seek to make empty apologies for that, but to simply state why:
God has been overwhelming me.
There, I have said it. Every day, sometimes every hour even... I feel overwhelmed. But, this is what I came here for, though, right? To sit back and ride on the coat tails of an awesome, incredible God. (Well, I don't know if I would call it 'sitting back' at all... but it has been a ride none the less!)
The following is an excerpt of an update I had written last week for my churches newsletter:
Every day there is a new task, and a new challenge that must be faced in order to complete that task. Whether that challenge is a lack of funding due to the recession or simply a cultural difference in the Zambian way of life… nothing is ever ‘easy’, but I am learning that God would have it no other way.
In CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is a conversation between Mr. Beaver and Lucy that goes something like this: Lucy has just spotted Aslan, and is slightly terrified at the prospect of meeting the lion. So she asks Mr. Beaver, “Is he safe?” And Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course He isn’t safe. But He’s good—He’s the king I tell you.”
This conversation between Mr. Beaver and Lucy was one that captured my heart long before coming to Zambia. It intrigued me and made me consider anew what this God we serve is actually like. In fact, a faith in and need for exploration of an un-safe but good God was part of the reason that I sought out such a drastic change from the everyday American life in the first place.
However, approximately two months ago, I had the chance to meet a lion of my own. A literal lion. Actually, there were four of them—all at approximately 18 months of age, semi-tamed, and walking around freely in a nature preserve (albeit with their tamer near by). I was given a stick as a ‘distraction tool’ in case any of the large kitty cats decided they wanted to chew on something, and taught to walk side by side with the semi-terrifying animals. As I sat and petted their necks, held their tails, and eventually was licked by one, I began to process anew what CS Lewis was alluding to in his first book of the Narnia series.
We serve an un-safe God. One who is powerful beyond all measure, and fearsomely awesome. A God that, at times, will surely make us want to proceed with caution. But He is good. Thus no caution is necessary, as long as we are walking side by side with Him in the way He has taught us. He is un-safe in His expectations of us, always pushing us farther than we first thought possible, or directing us down paths we don’t initially want to traverse; but His goodness allows us to run freely down these paths—and at a pace that should be out of the question.
And, as I reflect on my time here, I can think of no better way to illustrate what God is so clearly doing in and around me than to think of physically walking next to The Lion.
It has not been ‘safe’, but it has been overwhelmingly good. God has pushed me beyond who I thought I was; and my faith, reliance, and trust in Him has grown exponentially.
It feels like almost yesterday that I was sitting in Livingstone getting licked by a lion. Course, I will also always remember that day for the running jump I took off of a 370' bridge. (Don't worry everyone... I had a harness on and two whole ropes tied into that harness!) Psyching myself up for the jump, I remember saying out loud "It's just one step, like faith... just one step." And so it was, and so it is. Every day, one step after another.
That weekend in Livingstone will carry with it more than it's share of memories for years to come. Not just for it's life-risking stunts, or the incredible feeling of dancing in the down pouring 'mist' of the world's largest waterfall... but because it was also Easter weekend, and God's grace bathed me this year in a whole new way. It's amazing how much God can change in a year. Who am I to be playing with AIDS orphans daily and showing the love of Jesus Christ to this 'hopeless' African children? However, that still small voice has shown me that the greater question was, and will continue to be, 'Who is God that He would bring me here?'
And, so, that is the question that I will continue to ask. Who is God? When the injustice of the world is banging on you're front door, looking for dinner from the 'muzungo'.... when misunderstandings lead to tears.... when hearts are broken... when it becomes harder to write an open and vulnerable blog entry than to bear the shame of broken promises... when the God I know doesn't look anything like the God you know. Who is God? And what is His mission here?
The month of March was a particularly hard month. Not only in my life, but in the life of EOH has an organization. For years, EOH has had an orphan sponsorship program that had spanned multiple regions. Over 200 children were sponsored by Americans for approximately $30 a month. However, as easy as that is to say... the program itself was not easy. $30 a month here buys the exact same things it does in America. It was not enough money to support an orphan's full range of needs. School fees, clothing, food, shelter..... was not possible for $30. However, EOH had been making it work as best they could. Nevertheless, the culture here got in the way.
In the villages, where the orphans in the sponsorship program were living, the children would live with extended family members. Thus, whenever supplies for the orphaned children were bought, the aunts and uncles of the child would take the child's things... and give it to their own biological children instead. If food was bought, the child would taste very little, if any of it. Instead, the orphans were present in the household to 'earn their keep.' Despite many different attempts at programming to make sure none of this 'grabbing' was going on... it was impossible to ensure the safety of purchased goods.
And, while those cultural problems worked against the program on this side of the ocean... America was having its own: the recession. All across the board, numbers of sponsored children were dropping. However, how do we look a child in the eye and tell them that their sponsorship has been dropped, but that their friends would be able to still feel the love from an American family? Thus, the few American funds that WERE being generated were trying to cover over the multitude of orphans who, at one time or other, had been sponsored.
All and all, the program was simply unsustainable... and creating more strife in the lives of the orphans than good. Thus.... after many years of trying to make it work... the program simply had to close. EOH had found that the My Father's House Orphan Home system for sponsoring and raising a child in a Godly, safe, loving home was a much better way to go than to try to simply shovel money at children in an at-risk situation.... as that money just put the child more at risk.
Thus, as the American office set about trying to inform the American sponsors of the discontinuation of the program, I had the task of being the American representative in a team of three people to go to the various towns and villages and inform them that they would no longer be getting American funds to aid in their survival. To say that it was a heart wrenching task would be an understatement. Even to those who had been praying about the decision unceasingly, it seemed it was about as 'unsafe' a move as the come. What good could possibly come from admitting this defeat?
Nevertheless, as always, God met us there. And He was GOOD.
As we sat with teams of church pastors, elders, caretakers and coordinators from towns such as Musunda Falls, Kafue, Kittwe, Livingstone and Lusaka... every single committee surprised us by saying that, thought the American funds were ending, the program of supporting the orphans in their churches was certainly not coming to an end. The Livingstone church had a meeting right then and there to start developing a program amongst church members to better care for the orphans and ensure that they would actually receive the things they needed.
As I sat and listened to their talk, it occurred to me that this was probably God's intention in starting the EOH Sponsorship program all along -- simply to make the native people more aware of the needs of the orphans, and incite in them a passion to see the the wrongs righted. I also laughed at how, as the Zambians sat and programmed, the problems in our American - based program would probably be done away with. God knew what He was doing.
And so it has gone. This unsafe, bewildering, ever revealing God of ours.... making Himself known time and time again.I am both in capable and unable (due to confidentiality within EOH out of respect for the children!) to explain all the numerous, numerous examples of other times that God has taken hard, impossible looking situations and made them 'good'. And, to be honest, I'm still waiting to see how He uses the risks of other situations for his purposes.
I have one month left. If I could make time stand still for just a little longer... I would. Nevertheless, God has plans for further adventures when I return to the States as well, of that I am certain.
And I have a feeling that they are going to be no more safe than they have been here.... but that I will continue to be overwhelmed by Him and see more and more of His truth daily.
For that, I can't wait.