23 August 2007

hear our hearts (read and understand)

"Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated."

Mark Twain’s famous quote does not exactly apply to us. After all, I don’t know of any such rumors and certainly we were never declared dead.

There is some speculation that life here has not been exactly peachy. Well, that would be true, I suppose. But, then again, we never expected our time here to be a second honeymoon. Unless you’ve seen the movie “Just Married” (one of Stef’s favorite movies), in which case you might have an idea of what this time has been like for us. :-) What I am trying to say is that while we are “struggling” with life, life is not a struggle. We have little privacy, some roaches that are trying to share our bedroom, and a hundred other little annoyances that try to steal our joy. What we are learning is tolerance and patience with people, toughness in the face of adversity, and that our joy is only in Christ Jesus and that anything less leaves us defeated.

Among it all, great things are happening in our time here.

Stef is teaching a music discipleship class on Wednesday nights. She is molding an entire church of people who love music into people who also know music. They are learning to read music and understand how to use the gifts God has given them. And in it all, she is serving them with the love of Jesus, quietly breathing blessings into the lives of some very simple folks. (Of course, she is doing about a million other things as well, but we don’t have the space and you don’t have the attention span to read about all of it.)

I am teaching a leadership class, trying to raise up meek young men into being pillars of strength to lead this place for another generation. I am playing the guitar with her on the worship team and trying to rehabilitate the way that Pastor Willie’s office runs. I am trying to bring efficiency to a very inefficient place. For example, we arrived to find 1150 unread emails dating back to January. For a church that gets 90% of it’s funding from overseas (from people who like to communicate by email), failing to read emails is a major problem.

Still, we find great joys…

Among what gives Stef and me the most joy here is investing in the kids.
They cling to her and she gives out as many hugs as one person can. They look at me as some sort of divinely sent bringer of peanut butter and jam. Somehow, their giant, gleaming eyes soothe the soul.

Maybe the joy-bringer that runs a close second is getting emails from friends and family back home. I think, for both of us, it is hard to underestimate the amount of value we put into simple words on a screen. There is almost no encouragement here. We are spurred on by you and your words. We sometimes send out emails, just hoping to get one back in return. We quietly beg for encouragement, sometimes so quietly that the message never gets heard and never gets returned. Ask my mother. In a recent email I came right out and said “encourage us!!”

We are not looking for your adulation and applause, although it does feel good. We are not seeking glory that belongs to a higher authority. We are looking for love. Being displaced is difficult. This culture doesn’t “do love” like we do. And love is not easily translated. So, we check email. And we read them over and over. We cry when they come through, thankful to not be forgotten. We cry when the Inbox is empty, afraid that maybe we have been forgotten.

I hope in this blog that I paint the picture for you to see. Every day is a journey unto itself. Emotionally, we teeter on the brink from time to time. We are faced with thoughts about our future, decisions about how long this is to be home and whether we care what everyone thinks about our decisions for our life. Physically, we ride the rollercoaster offered by this land. We eat what is brought before us and sometimes we eat nothing at all. We bought a scale the other day to monitor our weight, to have some idea of whether we are doing enough to remain healthy. Spiritually, we are under tremendous strain. There is much to be done here and we are not always sure that we have the energy, patience, or the time to do it. So, the vinedresser prunes us and we recoil at the sting. We pray that growth will result when the rains come.

I hope that you will read my words and know that a human being pours them from an aching heart everyday. I fear sometimes that this journey has reduced me to being an entertainer.

I hope that my words will penetrate deeper than a daily check of “what adventures the missionaries are having now.”

I hope that when I write of AIDS and our friends that have died and are dying, you do not feel sorry for our pain. I hope you seek ways to bring justice to a world with ridiculous disparities in the standard of living between rich and poor. I hope you pray that God would inspire a scientist to find a cure for a terrible scourge that is tearing apart families – that is tearing apart a continent. I hope you hear my words in such a way so you can understand how much sorrow God must have that His children are suffering.

I hope that when I write of our sickness and the difficulty in finding healing, you do not feel sorry for our lack of comfort. I hope you think about the larger picture, that you are appreciative of the healthcare available in the US. I hope that you walk into a Walgreens just to marvel at the amount of products designed to make you feel better.

I hope that when I write of our journey, you do not think of us as some TV personalities or celebrities to be read up on and talked about kindly at church. I hope you think of two people, drifting along in a strange place that offers very little in the way of comfort to two Americans. I hope that you send us emails, with things that remind us that somewhere we have family and friends. We have friends here to be sure, but there is a strange cultural canyon that is difficult to bridge and there are very few people that we can say have overcome it with us. To know that there is a place where people think like us and worship like us and pray like us is a blessing. To hear form those people is even greater.

And we do hear wonderful things from you. We hear that Pastor Jeff had the entire church pray for the missionaries from Grace Point. We cannot explain how uplifting that was. And even though I can’t explain how, Jeff gave us strength for days just in that.

To those of you who have been so faithful, know that we appreciate it so much. Stef’s sister Katy has pretty much been the star of the show. Will I ever be able to explain to Katy how much her phone calls mean to Stef? I doubt it. I hope she knows in her heart that her faithfulness (and patience in dealing with a finicky phone system) has been an unspeakable blessing to her sister.

We are not dying or suffering. And we are not begging for emails (although it wouldn’t be unwelcome). I am hoping that hearing our hearts will give you a new picture. I hope that the picture will be more than simply “what it’s like in Africa.” I hope the picture will be “what it’s like to be us in Africa.”

I didn’t start writing today to spill out all of this. I didn’t intend for this to be about us.

Hear our hearts. Change someone’s day today. Tell a co-worker why they’re appreciated. Tell a family member why you love them. Tell your pastor how he’s impacted your life. In the disposable culture of America, remember that relationships can never be treated as disposable. They are intimate. And when they are most beautiful, they are selfless. So, make a visit, a phone call, or send an email. Change someone’s day.


  1. You guys ROCK!! I understand you...I get the feelings and I want you to know that I selfishly begin each morning here at Firstmark by opening up your blog, reading about Africa, and thinking about how I can tell it to each person who walks up to my window. I wish I were back and yet I am glad to be here in America. I'll send more notes as often as I can. GUESS WHAT?! I have a boyfriend now. hehehehe Love you guys! Shannon

  2. I think it just hit me how much a hug from you meant to me. And now I am kinda sad that I haven't had one in awhile and probably won't get one for a long time. And I miss Stef's smile at church. But I am proud of both of you. If the people in Joburg can be blessed by you guys and all it costs me is a hug or two, then I think I can deal with that.