Monday, August 26, 2013

Little Girl Lost I promised a blog about baptisms - and I promise it's coming. But, I've got to get the time to load up a few pics too. And, I'm running around like a crazy person at the moment. I've had a team of 7 Chileans staying at my house and this is the first morning I've had my quiet, uninterrupted morning. I LOVE IT!

Anyhow, I saw FB blown-up about the whole Miley Cyrus debacle, and I thought I'd throw my two cents in. Excited, aren't ya?

After my FB page was blown- up about Miley Cyrus posts, I decided to YouTube the video to see what in the world had everyone in such an uproar. My first thought was: That is totally bizarre. What's with the tongue? And the dancing teddy bears? And the foam finger? What is she on?

The questions that followed were something like this:

Who told her that's pretty? Or sexy?
How long will it take her to regret this, to want to take that moment back?
What are her parents feeling tonight?
When Miley is alone tonight, after all the hoopla has died, will she feel successful? Or ashamed? Embarrassed? 
What will Miley feel in ten years about tonight?

Now, when you and I do something stupid, say something stupid - there are maybe a hand full of people around to witness it. Miley's stupid is on display for the entire world to see. It's been videoed and talked, Facebooked about and blogged about. No one will ever forget because it's out there in cyber land FOREVER.

For that, I am truly sorry, sweet girl.

Yes. Sweet Girl. Her performance was totally bizarre (teddy bears from hell, anyone?) and totally inappropriate. It was shocking - even sickening. But it left me wondering what our society did to Miley. We praised her and lifted her up. We made t-shirts, dolls, backpacks and everything else bearing her likeness. Now that she's all grown-up, society says you need to leave that Hannah Montana thing in the dust. And she did.

She's so lost. She's trying - grasping at anything to redefine herself as an adult to keep that fame. All I keep thinking about is one day she's gonna have a daughter and she probably won't feel the same way about that performance when she has to explain why mommy was grabbing herself and throwing herself allover a married man.

Then I got sort of frustrated. I hear, from a lot of people, about how badly women are viewed in Africa. They are someone's property. Women are treated like slaves. Husbands don't value their wives - etc, etc.

Here's the thing: are women in America all that different? What do we have to show for our "freedom?" Lady Gaga, Lindsey Lohan, Amanda Bynes.....Miley Cyrus. Society is continually telling us you have to be thinner, prettier, blonder to get a man. Wear less clothes and more makeup. Stores are fully of the raciest lingerie that our minds can think up. Magazine articles abound about "how to please your man." Every t.v. show and movie is about someone goddess like woman who lives with her boyfriend or sleeps with him before she is married. Those relationships are build on sexual attraction and "being good in bed" instead of what marriage is really all about. I'm not trying to suggest that sex isn't an important part of marriage. I'm trying to say that our society is teaching us that sex is the only part of a relationship - and that's not reality.

So, our enslavement to it really all that more liberating? Women are still looked at as objects. We talk of open marriages and divorce like it's no big deal. There is no commitment to marriage. If it doesn't work - move on and try again.

So, really. In our attempt to be free we have enslaved ourselves in a very different, maybe more harmful way. Yes, I want men to view their women differently here in Mozambique. I spend a lot of time teaching about that. BUT, I want my culture to view women differently. I want my society to value who Christ made to be as a woman - not the size of my body, the color of my hair, or how sexual I am. I want a society that teaches a little girl that her sexuality is a beautiful thing, but it's only on display for her husband - that the men who want sex before they make a lifetime marriage commitment to her are not worth her time. That's what I want from my society.

Please, if anything, pray for Miley. Don't chew her up and spit her out because she's the product of everything society says she should be. She's still a little girl with a heart and soul and she still has to lay her head on her pillow at night and think......and think. And all that thinking is probably not making her feel very happy. She's grasping at this illusive idea of happiness and she's not gonna find it our there in the world. Weep for her. Weep for a little girl who have us Hannah Montana and then felt like she had to give us - that - to keep our attention.

Fame. I am sure it's costing her more that she wanted to pay.

So Little Girl Lost, I am sorry for what society has done to you. For the choices you have made. I am sorry. Just know there is a way home.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Art of Discipleship

There are just days when the "where we are" and the "where I want us to be" is a chasm so great that you don't know how to begin, where to begin to cross that divide. In her book "Kisses from Katie," Katie Davis said that she sometimes feels like she is trying to "empty the ocean with a medicine dropper."  I so get that.

Zaida is one of my oldest students. She is 11 years old and she has never been to school. She doesn't know her letters, she can't count, and she barely speaks Portuguese. In her village, they mostly speak their local language, Yao, so she is barely competent in Portuguese. She can't follow more than one instruction at a time. After two months of diligently reviewing her letters and numbers, I really don't see any progress at all. She still can't write her name.

Give the girl a crying baby and that baby will be asleep on her back in a kapalana in no time flat. Ask the girl to sing and she'll have a room full of adults dancing, singing, and praising Jesus with her. There are so many things that she is good at BUT she has no interest in being in school or learning. So, everyday she copies someone else's work.

Every day I sit with her and tell her not to copy someone else's school work. First of all, it is called cheating and cheating is a sin. Sin cost the Son of God his life. God's heart is broken when we sin. Second of all, when we cheat on our school work, we are not learning anything. Learning to read and write is important.

Yet everyday, when I'm not looking, she goes to sit beside someone whom she knows will have the right answers. Today we were working on beginning sounds. At the top of the page there was a letter. Under that letter were three pictures. She needed to color the picture of the object that started with that letter. For example, under the letter "B" was a rat, an egg, and a banana. She was supposed to color the banana.

When she handed in her paper, all her answers were right. However, I knew she didn't know the letters. So, I asked her to tell me each letter. She could not. So, I asked, "Zaida, if you don't know that this is letter 'B' how can you know that banana starts with letter 'B'?" She clammed up and wouldn't speak. Big crocodile tears started falling down her cheeks and then she begin to shout, "I didn't cheat! I didn't cheat!"

"Okay, Zaida. You say you didn't cheat. BUT you got all the answers right yet you don't know any of these letters. How is that possible?" She stopped talking.

Then today when it was time for the Bible Story, I called all the kids to come to class. Some refused to listen to me. So, I told the few that had gathered around me that I would give a sticker to everyone that listened quietly and sat still. Of course, when it was time to hand out stickers, everyone was suddenly ready to come to class. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I stood my ground and refused to give stickers to those who were not present for the story.

A few minutes later on of the parents tapped me on the shoulder. "Desadelia wants a sticker."

I nodded. "Well, she wasn't in class and only those who were in class and listened quietly received a sticker."

"But she's crying for one."

"I'm sorry. But, if I give her one, I have to give one to everyone. I am trying to teach the children that there are consequences for good and bad behavior."

"But she's crying for one." I just shook my head and tried to explain again why Desa didn't receive and wouldn't receive a sticker. She said something in a language which I do not speak (and it didn't sound like a blessing) and stomped off.

Finally today, Cecilia refused to come to class. She is five years old and this scene is repeated EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. When we are playing, she is happy as a lark. When it's time to go to class, she pitches a fit and refuses to go to class. Her mom comes and gets her and doesn't make her obey. I have tried explaining to this mom that Cecelia is old enough to learn and needs to be in class. I have tried to explain that Cecelia is being manipulative and just wants to get her way. I have explained how important it is for Cecilia to learn to obey and to learn that there are consequences for disobedience. Yet, every day this scene is repeated and every day Cecelia's mom comes to get her.

I know these seem like simple fixes. But for two months we have been working on these simple behaviors and still they are not improved. I don't mean to imply that there have been no improvements. The kids can stand in a line. They couldn't do that two months ago. They sit patiently and wait to be handed their school work, pencils, and crayons. They were like little vultures two months ago. They don't hit and push nearly as often. They ask for things instead of just taking them most of the time. These behaviors which seem so normal to us are things we had to fight and pray for. So, in some ways, I am so happy and so blessed to see how far my little people have come.

But, I'm left with so many questions about discipleship. How do you break the habit of cheating? How do you explain how important it is to a parent to let their child experience the painful consequences of poor choices? How do you stress the importance of a little girl going to school, when the parent didn't go to school herself? How do you change someone who doesn't want to be changed? How do you help someone understand that God doesn't except all the things that your culture excepts and that we have to obey God - not our culture?

You see, these parents, they are the first generation of Mozambicans to have the gospel. Before that, it was Communism and war. Their understanding is so small. We are trying to disciple them while we are teaching them to disciple their kids. It feels almost impossible.

You can't blame them. No one made them go to school. No one let them experience good or bad consequences. If you cried loud enough, you got what you wanted. Now that they are parents, these white people are coming in and telling them that all these things are important - yet they grew up without them and they don't see the value in them.

These people LOVE their kids. They would die for their kids. It isn't that at all. It's trying to teach them God's principles for life - which are new to them - and then trying to get them to implement them with their own kids before they've even seen the value in their own lives.

On days like today, I realize that I can enforce consequences in school, but in a few months they will go home and probably no one will do that for them. So, I diligently teach them things which seem so normal to me, and I pray that little seeds will be planted in their lives. I thank God for the progress we've had and I ask Him for even more.

It's not easy to teach people to value new concepts. I feel blessed to do what I do. Everyday when I arrive at school and 30 little people come running with their arms wide open shouting "Tia Jennifer is here!" My heart just melts right there inside my chest. These kids have learned to be held, and hugged, and kissed. That's a huge thing!

I ask the Lord to teach me to be more content. I know that when He looks at me, He must feel the same way. I look at how far I've come, but He must look at where I should be. Yet, there is nothing but grace and patience as I continue to try to get this thing of loving Jesus right.

So pray with me. Pray that I will see our progress. Pray that I will know how to better disciple these precious little people. Pray that I will have more patience and more grace. I need to remember that discipleship (in my life and the lives of others) is a marathon - not a 100 yard dash.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Well, you know a book is gonna totally bust your world wide open when you are already inspired to write a blog before you finish the foreward. Sigh.....

In one of the packages I received, I got the book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I finally picked it up and decided to start reading it today. I own his book "The Cost of Discipleship" and I've heard excellent things about it and I've read bits and pieces of it, but I really wanted to understand the man and his story before I dived too deeply into that book.

I wanted to understand this man that went against the tide of an entire world. He didn't fall under the spell of Hitler and he didn't go with the flow. He didn't stay silent to save himself. Bonhoeffer saw something bigger than himself and he, to his own peril, became the voice crying out in the wilderness.

What. a. guy.

This forward is written by Timothy Keller who is the author of The Reason for God. 

This book is speaking to me where I live -well, where I want to live. I don't want the run-of-the-mill, mundane Christianity. If you ask me, that's not Christianity at all. We are too comfortable playing church. We are too comfortable in our little worlds - saying our mealtime prayers, maybe reading our Bibles, singing in the choir, teaching a Sunday School lesson Christianity.

If it makes me want to puke - what in the world does God think? Oh, yeah. That whole spew you out of my mouth thing. Right. If I'm honest, I think God is doing a lot of spewing.

Listen to this:

"How could the "church of Luther," that great teacher of the gospel come to such a place? The answer is that the true Gospel, summed up by Bonhoeffer as costly grace, had been lost. On the one hand, the church had become marked by formalism. That mean going to church and hearing that God loves you and forgives everyone, so it doesn't really matter how you live. Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works. Legalism meant that God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good, discipline life. Both of these impulses made it possible for Hitler to come to power."

So that last line, made me gulp a little bit. I had to read it again to let it sink in. Cheap grace - that God loves everyone and legalism - that you have to do good to be good.....both paved the way for an evil man to capture the admiration of a nation. Doesn't that scare you just a little bit?

First of all, the American church is full of cheap grace. Yes, of course God loves everyone. But not everything is okay with God. Our sin doesn't change God's love. But, let's get real here, people. Our sin cost the Son of God his life. His life. To assert that God loves everyone and so however we want to live and do and be is okay by God, just cheapens the precious gift of Jesus.

The American church is also full of legalism. I grew up in it. I know. "Don't drink, don't smoke, don't run with those that do." And for heavens sake, don't read the NIV Bible or go to a movie. Always go to church when the doors are open, learn your memory verses, rock a baby in the nursery or sing in the choir, be a deacon.....something. And then you're all good.

These ideas paved the way for Hitler and all his crazy ideas. As we look back at WWII, we are appalled at what Hitler was able to accomplish. We wonder: How stupid were those people? How did they not stand up and shout "NO!" How were they so transfixed by a poorly educated man and his racist ideas?

The answer is really quite simple. The German church had bought into the lie of cheap grace. The church had become stagnant. These weren't brainwashed, stupid people. They were people who had bought into the lie that the free grace of God cost nothing. From there, everything sinful and evil is birthed in our lives.

Yes, the grace of God is free. God's grace costs me nothing. I did nothing to receive it and I can do nothing to earn it. Free. However, because of God's grace I am changed and I live differently. I am not satisfied with the mundane and commonplace. Going to church for an hour a week isn't enough. Because the grace which cost him everything exacts a price on my life. It is a price I pay willingly, because I have been given back my life. My true life.....the one God always wanted me to have before sin robbed me of it.

Now read this;

By the time of Hitler's ascension, much of the German church understood grace only as abstract acceptance - "God forgives; that's his job." But we know that true grace comes to us by costly sacrifice. And if God was willing to go to the cross and endure such pain and absorb such a cost in order to save us, then we must live sacrificially as we serve others. Anyone who truly understands how God's grace came to us will have a changed life. That's the gospel, not salvation by law, or by cheap grace, but by costly grace. Costly grace changes you from the inside out. Neither law or cheap grace can do that. 

Keller concludes by saying, "If we are not careful, we run the risk of falling into the belief in "cheap grace" - a non costly love from a non-holy God who just loves and accepts us as we are. That will never change anyone's life."

The grace of God cost his son Jesus everything. For us to even think that us will cost nothing is laughable. It's preposterous. I can do nothing to keep or earn this grace. But the reality of this precious grace holds me to a higher standard. The reality of this love is that it makes me different. This love changes me.

I am so tired of grace which does not move me and love which does not change me. We make the sacrifice of Jesus meaningless. Let those of us that love him be willing to stand for what is right, work tirelessly to share His light, and love like that's the only message that matters.