This morning I was reading about the dream
of King Solomon and the choice he made…he asked the Lord for wisdom.
I have been told many times that if you
want to learn something well, teach it. Louise and I have been teaching clergy
and lay folk in the Anglican Church in Southern Africa about how to make
disciples. That, in itself, is a challenge. But this past week, we examined the
character of the disciple-maker according to the character of the One we are
meant to emulate…the One in whose footsteps we are meant to follow…the Lord Jesus
As we encouraged our trainees to examine
their lives according to the life of Christ, I heard that still, small voice
softly whispering in my ear. “Johann, are you living according to these
priorities? Are you dependent on the leading and guiding of My Holy Spirit? Do
you seek Me out in prayer as often as you could? Are you always obedient to Me?
Is your life centred on My Word? Do you exalt Me in and through your life? Are
you as relational as I am?”
I have been pondering these questions ever
since, asking the Lord for wisdom as to how I am to respond to this conviction.
Unlike so many Lenten resolutions that vanish like mist before the sun, I want
this to be long lasting and deepening with time.
I tend to get so busy “doing the Lord’s
work” that I miss the Lord Himself! The Lord Jesus knew full well what the
disciples would have done had He not told them to wait in Jerusalem until they
had received the Promise from the Father. Surely those long days and nights filled
with prayer and supplication had an impact on their character…waiting,
trusting, watching…all the while not knowing quite what to expect.
Louise and I have recently moved to the
little village of Villiersdorp, about 2 hours drive from Cape Town. The reason
for moving was, for the most part, financial as we simply could not afford the
rent of the flat we were living in…not while we had a house to live in
elsewhere! But now, I am beginning to see another angle to this
move…Villiersdorp is a quiet hamlet…a place where one can wait on the Lord
Of course, we are far from idle! Shortly
after we told our tenants that we would need our home and that they ought to
find alternative accommodation, they had a mishap and nearly burned down our
kitchen! Thankfully, we were insured and so renovations began almost
immediately after we moved in. It is nearing completion as I write. But so much
still needs to be done…some walls and parts of the ceiling are still black from
smoke and need to be cleaned and repainted.
We are also hoping to get more involved
with the local community, especially those less fortunate in the informal
settlement above the village. Just how we are going to do this remains to be
seen, but more than likely it will be with and through the local Anglican
Church, St Augustine’s. Training continues and we will be travelling yet again
in the beginning of March to teach Strategy.
Then, we will be winging our way over to the
US of A, hopefully to see you!
We still have no definite speaking
engagements, but trust that we will be hearing from you soon!
Pray with us for wisdom as we continue to
wait on our Lord. Like our home, we too need renovation!
There are so many beautiful things about living in another country (see blog post). The food, the people, the scenery, learning new things. But there are also hard parts too. Not every day is an Instagram worthy picture of me hugging smiling kids or hiking cool hills. There are days that I just want to go to Starbucks but then I remember that there are no (proper) coffee shops in this city. Or when I want to go on a walk in the park…oh whoops. No parks. And there are definitely days that I just want a hug from my dad but he is an ocean away.
I hesitate to use the phrase culture shock because it is so crazily overused and a bit ambiguous. It is way bigger than that and actually more universal than you think. In fact, we have a word for it in anthropology. Anomie. “A sense of disconnection from society and a feeling of not belonging that result from weakened social cohesion.”
Here is the feeling I am talking about. See if you resonate with any of it:
No one understands me or knows who I really am. And when I do try to make connections, it just doesn’t work. I am alone. Everything is different and I don’t know how to navigate it–even the way that people make relational connections or eat or go about their day/work—so I cannot make a difference here because when I try it fails. It is too much. I wish I was back home.
Yes, I have thought all of these things. And whether you have moved across the world or just to the college dorm, I bet you have thought some of these things too.
At the beginning of last year, I was drowning in feelings like this. I felt alone and useless here in Zambia. I felt like I did not have any friends, was far away from my family, and things were crumbling at work. I just wanted to throw in the towel, but what do you do when going home is not an option?
To all you international workers, missionaries, college freshmen, new job holders, relocated married couples, literally all teenagers at one point or another, and anyone just feeling a little bit lonely: this is for you.
Now I have to tell you something–I LOVE dogs! Especially big ones. And I really did want to get one when I was struggling last year. I needed to know that something/someone was depending on me. A little living, breathing something in this world that would care if I was here or not. But dogs are a heck of a lot of work and money. So what’s the next best? A cat.
I found out through a local facebook group that there was a stray litter of kittens at a guest house in town. Zambians are not fond of cats (especially black ones) so they were free! Gosh dang it they were so cute jumping off of cat trees like sky divers and rolly pollying around the grass. So I scooped up a cute black and white one and took her home. (Side note: at the police road block on the way back home, the officer thought I was absolutely insane for hugging this little nugget so tightly to my chest. He thought I was even more insane when I said “I just became a mom!”)
Sophia is my little ray of sunshine when I come home. She always greets me at the door. And honestly she has gotten me through a lot. I have cuddled her, cleaned up her pee, vaccinated her, gotten pet sitters, moved house with her, and cried with her. This little fur ball doesn’t have drama and doesn’t talk about me behind my back. She doesn’t care if I say the right words or if I am upset one day. She just loves me. And that is what I need in this crazy world.
I love the digressions our class discussions can take. While discussing the Holiness Code in Leviticus 17-27 with my Masters of Divinity students, we were discussing what was meant in Leviticus 18:8, and how it differs from Leviticus 18:7. This led to a small discussion on various marriage customs in Uganda, particularly with regard to giving another girl in the marriage to help at home.
How “help” is defined in this situation is still a bit fuzzy to me, as the discussion devolved a wee bit as students from different tribes took exception to how others were defining it. One student raised his voice, and began, “Now, Reverend, I am a Muganda, and we – ” to which I replied, “I am also a Muganda, though adopted.”
Apparently this was enough to derail the discussion, because someone asked what my Luganda name is. I have two: I was given Nakalema years ago, and last semester, a student gave me Nasuuna. So I explained this. The class was quiet as they digested this, and I leaned over to a Rwandan student who was sitting in the front row and whispered, “This means that I’m a princess.” He looked at me with some skepticism.
However, this was confirmed when one of the Baganda said, “Those are royal names.” Indeed they are; names must be appropriate for the clan to which you belong. And since I belong to one of the royal clans (Lion), I can have a royal name. Amen.
I explained that I’ve been given names from several areas in East Africa, which I wear as badges of honor. From the Luo in Kenya, I am Achieng (born at midday). One of the Kenyan students in class was delighted to hear this, and said he will call me this from now on. The Bunyoro give pet names, and one of our professors named me Abwooli (clean, or cat), and one of the Munyoro students has already adopted it. From the Muyankole, I am Mbabazi (Grace).
And all this from a discussion of the Holiness Code.
“The low temperature on the East coast will be colder than the high temperature on Mars this weekend,” Nate shared while driving with our fellows to run some errands before our departure to Thailand the next day.
We’d finished the first portion of Agape Year, engaging with local ministries and churches in Pittsburgh and been preparing for our time overseas with the Anglican Church in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We’d gone through thoughtful and meaningful prep and prayer with New Wineskins. We’d had a great time delving into cross cultural and ministry training with SAMS. Our bags were packs. Visas acquired. We were ready.
And, then 5,000 flights were cancelled out of JFK airport due to a weather phenomenon called a “bomb cyclone”. Nate spent most of the day before our departure on the phone trying to get us rebooked on a different flight. We had success in rebooking our flights through our travel agency and while our travel time increased by 20 hours (yikes when travelling with small children), we were grateful to not be stranded at the airport.
After an early morning departure from Pittsburgh, we made it to JFK airport and settled in at our gate for our connection to China and then onto Chiang Mai. When the airline representative appeared at our gate, we went to check in. As she looked at our passports, she informed us we wouldn’t be able to fly today. Shocked, I asked why and what could be done. Because of being re-booked with two layovers within China, we needed Chinese visas, something we did not have and did not anticipate. “Go talk to the ticketing desk outside of the departure gates” she said.
We grabbed our belongings, our sleeping toddler, and booked it to the airlines desk. We were met by a sea of chaos of travellers who’s flights had been cancelled. It was a mess. As we approached the ticket counter, there was woman standing on it, shouting “Everyone needs to be in a line. This line for rebooking. That line for questions.” We definitely had a question. As we explained our situation, puzzlement filled the attendants face. She conversed with her superior and co workers. More confusion at our predicament. After much conversation, the airline said it was a rebooking error by our travel agency and they can do nothing for us. Our hearts sank. We would not be leaving JFK today. Then, Nate’s phone dinged with a message from our missionary hosts. Gerry had been hospitalized with dengue fever.
We returned to our fellows to share the situation. “Text your prayer team. We need prayer,” we instructed. Caleb and Lucas jumped on it and we had most of the Eastern Seaboard praying for Agape Year and the team at St. Andrew’s in Thailand.
We set up camp near the chapel rooms in JFK. There was a sea of stranded passengers from around the world sleeping on the floor, aimlessly walking airport aisles, and bombarding the two restaurants available in the Terminal.
At one point, after about 8 hours of being on hold with our travel agency, we saw a mission team move in for the night close by. They too had had their travel plans disrupted by the weather. They gathered to pray. As they prayed, an airline representative came to tell them they had rebooked them on a flight and now had tickets. Shouts of “Praise the Lord!!” and “God is good!!” filled the stale airport air. And, they eagerly rushed towards us offering the blankets they’d been given by their airline and asking to pray with us and those passengers camped out around us. We were grateful for the blankets (and the prayers), but struggled to see how God was answering our pleas we’d been uttering all day. The airport was chilly, the floors were hard, and we didn’t know how it was all going to turn out.
And, then trickles of God’s presence showed up.
At the last minute, Lucas had packed a power strip. Plugged into one of the only outlets in our area, it provided a ‘watering hole’ for international travellers whose phones’ batteries needed to be charged. We swapped stories with people from Columbia, India, Taiwan, Israel, Nevada, France, etc. Our hearts were filled with compassion for each person’s unique story and God’s love for them.
My brother in law offered to come pick us up (a 7 hour drive from Pittsburgh), but didn’t have a vehicle that could carry us.
Then, our friends offered their 15 passenger van to him, no questions asked. He showed up the next morning with a boat load of snacks and beverages.
After a ton of discouraging conversations and time on hold, at 2 AM Nate talked to Christy from our travel agency who was able to ensure us that we would be able to rebooked or refunded due to the error they had made.
We arrived back to Pittsburgh and had our church family drop off meals and groceries within hours. Chili and cornbread have never tasted so good J.
After a few days, we were able to rebook flights thanks to the assistance of our sending agency.
We grew in our affection and connection to our missionary hosts, the Gan family, as we prayed for Gerry’s healing. He was released from the hospital a few days before our second departure.
We received this encouraging text from a parent of a fellow: “Don and I are thankful for you, Nate, and Agape Year. The boys are seeing godly character in action. They are learning how to honor God in disappointment and how to work through problems in a healthy way. I know things are so different from what you had hoped and planner for. Trust God in this. Lean not on your own understanding. We continue to give thanks for you and pray for all of you as the Lord works this out.” – Mary Collings
In the face of opposition and disappointment, God showed His agape love for us. He answered prayer. He was present. As we follow Christ and ask our lives to offered as living sacrifices, the path is full of what we perceive as disruptions. We were on our way to serve God overseas to share His love with the Thai, but turned out God wanted us to trust Him along the way and see His extravagant love for us.
Oh, and we made it to Thailand. But that’s another story.
The LEAD Program consists of four modules,
namely Strategy which explores the method Jesus used to make disciples,
Foundations which identifies six key priorities for disciple-makers based on
Jesus own ministry priorities, Vision which focuses on helping leaders define
their calling, grow in godly character traits and develop their own unique
competencies as leaders, and lastly Multiplication which identifies different
stages of Jesus’ ministry and examines how He grew an effective movement of
disciple making which changed the world.
So far, we have only taught the first
We were thrilled to be invited back to the Diocese
of Johannesburg to teach those who had previously gone through the Strategy training
all about the six key priorities outlined in Foundations. It was good to meet
up again with some of our old trainees, but also to meet a few new folk who
were trained by them! The whole idea of LEAD is to train those who will then
train others…and we are seeing a few of the Dioceses doing this…one of which is
the Diocese of Johannesburg.
There were 25 individuals present, although
a few either did not make the first day or the second day due to prior
commitments. That is always difficult when working with such active clergy and
While one does not look for a pat on the back,
it is always good to have some form of feedback. This is what we received from
“It was fantastic to have you guys with us!
You are very special people and fun to be with. Thank you for your teaching and
love for everyone up here. The training was superb! Well done for your first
Please pray for our brethren in the Diocese
of Johannesburg…they have a huge task and much opposition.