Thursday, April 25, 2013

In Memory of Mayden Mbewe

A little over six months ago, when we first came to Zambia, I went on a walk with five women. Over the past six months, these women have become friends and inspirations, people that I have grown to love, respect, and admire deeply. Amayi Phiri, Amayi Banda, Amayi Kahlua, Amayi Mbewe, and Amayi Mvula walked with me into the homes of people who were very sick, and sang with them, and prayed with them, and brought them food. These are not women who have a lot of resources; they, too, live in the compounds. They, too, have struggled with gripping poverty that has made 4 of the 5 of them widows, and most of them have lost at least one child.

Amayi Mbewe was a relatively quiet woman, but she loved to sing and dance. In fact, I remember attempting to have a conversation that kept getting interrupted by her breaking out in song.  She considered herself a "soldier" and even though her leg was very painful, she would walk for hours with us, going to visit others who were in even more pain than she was. Her very small house was decorated with a huge picture of Jesus, and she was very patient in speaking Chichewa with me, although my broken use of the language always caused her to double over in laughter. Making her laugh made me very happy.

When we visited her home, I met two of her grandchildren, double orphans who had only their grandmother left in the world. Mother, father, and grandfather had all died, and Amayi Mbewe was committed to keeping her granddaughters in school. She was fierce, in many ways, having lost so many people, but refusing to give up her hope, her faith, her generosity.

While I was in South Africa, Amayi Mbewe died. Some blood vessels in her brain ruptured and by the time she got to the hospital, her earthly life was over. That day, she had been at the church, meeting with the Women's Guild, faithful and loving, as usual. But that evening, her body gave out on her, and she returned into the arms of her loving God.

Amayi Mbewe's grandchildren have now lost their parents, their grandparents, every caregiver they have known. And I know that the church will surround them with love; I know that they will not be totally alone; I know that God is going to be with them, through this loss and pain. But I am sad, and they are sad, and the church is sad, for a wonderful, caring woman is no longer here, on earth, with us.

So, please pray for Amayi Mbewe, for her grandchildren, for her church, and for her work, that the flames of love that she kindled will continue to shine in this world, that her life might continue to be a testament to the powerful, generous, amazing love of God.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why we added a donation button...

One of the most beautiful memories of my career occurred while I was pastor at Edgewood United Church, UCC, in East Lansing, Michigan. Edgewood is full of remarkable people, who inspired me throughout my five years there, and continue to inspire me today. And so, when we learned that the heating system in the church had to be overhauled, I tried not to give into fear. But when it turned out that the bill would be around $400,000, I had a hard time controlling my worry.

We spoke of many different options, prayed together, and tried to trust in God’s provision, but my anxiety continued to grow. And then, one day, I received a phone call from a congregant, requesting a meeting later that day. I agreed and was shocked by what I heard when we sat down together. “We will give $200,000 to the church as a matching grant. We think the congregation can come up with the other $200,000.” And in response to this generosity, the church did raise the needed money over the next three months. It was an amazing outpouring of gifts, of goodness, of hope, of faith. The congregation reflected God’s love in one of the most powerful ways I have witnessed, by giving, and giving, and giving some more, so that the church could serve as a warm place, inviting all into the love of God.

The faithfulness of the God who provides, the generosity of God’s people who respond, and the unquenchable joy that comes when we give our gifts could never have been more obvious to me than it was that summer.

Another beautiful moment happened recently, in a church in Lusaka, located in one of the compounds. The congregation was getting ready for the offering, and the groups were divided into women, men, and youth (18-35 year olds). As the offering took place, the youth sang and danced up to the baskets, songs of praise pouring from their lips as they swayed forward, clapping and beaming. At the end, the money was counted, and the youth were only a little bit behind the women. Again, the young people rose, with songs on their lips, smiles on their mouths, and money in their hands, ready to give more, and more, and more, laughing as they tied the women in generosity.

The people in that congregation did not have a lot of money; many of the people in the compounds in Lusaka struggle to have enough to feed and shelter their families. But, I have seen women take out 20 kwatcha, and donate it to care for HIV orphans. I have seen youth pull out 50 kwatcha, and donate it to build their church. I have seen men offer what they have, to keep a young girl in school. The generosity of the people here in Zambia reminds me again and again: it is a blessing to give money - it is an act of joy and praise and faith in God.

And so, we are adding a donate button, because we really believe that giving is an opportunity. We ask you to prayerfully consider donating to our ministry, with a regular monthly gift, or a one-time gift, if that is what you can do right now. We want to invite you to be a part of something special and wonderful with us, to be partners with us in this ministry. It helps us enormously when you give, but we think it will also bless you. Because joy comes when we offer what we have, and watch God use it, in order to transform our world!

If you can't give, then please pray for us, and tell us that you are praying. Because your gifts, your words, your friendship means so much to us. And we thank you deeply for offering what you have to the ministry that is ours, together, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Treading Water

Shortly after arriving at the conference a week ago, we learned that our 15 year old neighbor had almost drowned. While swimming at the beach, a riptide pulled him out into the Indian Ocean. We were in Capetown, South Africa, along with colleagues from Zambia, and from all over Africa. This particular neighbor, a very sweet kid who lives near us in Lusaka, arrived with his family a few days early. They went swimming at the beach, and were unaccustomed to the currents that flow in South African waters.

As Adam moved further and further away from shore, it became apparent to everyone on the beach that he had been caught in an undercurrent. His mother tried to get to him, but the people on the beach stopped her. “There is no way to bring him back,” they said. “You have to wait for the rescue team.” They called emergency services, and Adam continued to recede into the ocean. On the beach, everyone started to pray, and some called their prayer chains, to lift up prayers all over South Africa. They prayed for angels to hold him up when he grew weak, that he could stay afloat until the rescue services arrived.

His distraught mother tried again to go to her son, but again was told not to go. Finally, she grabbed two life jackets and swam into the very cold water. She could not handle the thought of her son, alone, struggling to stay alive in the frigid waves of the Indian Ocean. As she swam towards him, waves rose so high that she kept losing sight of her child. But she kept on going, kept on swimming, and finally, she reached him. And there, next to her son, was another man, who was calmly treading water at Adam’s side. For when this man saw what had happened to Adam, he decided to jump in, to swim out, and to simply tread water with the boy.

Together, the three of them stayed afloat, until a boat arrived to bring them to the shore. Adam was taken to the hospital, treated for shock and hypothermia, and came back, safe and healthy, to our conference center that night.

I sat with his mother while she cried and shared her story, and one thing that she said will never leave me. “They were right,” she stated. “We could never have pulled him in from that current. When they told me not to go, when they told me that I couldn’t save him, they were right. And they all stayed on the shore praying. And I really appreciated their prayers.” She paused. “But, there was one man who dove in, and even though he knew that he could not resuce Adam, he knew that he could tread water with him, that he could stay near him, and keep him company, and help him stay afloat.”

She breathed deeply and continued, “I think of all the times I do that. All the times I say that there is nothing I can do to save someone, that there is nothing I can do to change things, and so all I do is pray. But that man, he knew the one thing he could do. He dove in, and he swam out, and he treaded water with my son. He stayed at his side, and kept him company, and gave him strength, and that was enough. I need to dive in more,” she said. “I need to tread water with people, even if I cannot save them. I need to find the one thing that I can do.”

I am so grateful that our friend is alive, so grateful for that complete stranger who treaded water at his side, and so grateful for the wisdom of his mother, who offered me those words that will never leave me. “It is enough to tread water with someone.”

Here, in Zambia, I know that we cannot save everyone. People will die of preventable, treatable diseases. People will be hungry and people will be abused. Children will lose their parents and parents will lose their children. And I will witness poverty that is too difficult to see, much less live. But, I hope that I am here to tread water with the Zambian people. To be with them, to encourage them, to lift them up, even a little, as they also lift me up. And as we float in the water, as we feel the chill of the sea, as we battle the swelling waves, we can pray together, we can hope together, we can trust together, that God is coming, that love will win, that life is stronger than death.

For we are an Easter people, and together we will tread water and wait, knowing that love wins, that life wins, that hope is our heritage. Thanks be to God.