Not Even Good Desires

Happy first week-ish of 2013!

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We are scheduled to leave for our village, Kansansa, at 5 am this Saturday, the 12th. It’s about a 12 hour drive south of Kigoma and is populated mostly by Rungwa. Kansansa accounts for 7,000 of the remaining 10,000 Rungwa left in Tanzania. Due to New Testament drops done by Tori and teams from ORU over the last year and the ever-present grace of God, a hunger for a church and discipleship has been fostered in the hearts of the Rungwa.

In addition to the Rungwa, we’ll also be commuting to neighboring villages to build relationships with the Pimbwe and Wasakuma peoples, neither of which have any sort of church, indigenous or otherwise.  If you search these tribes online it’s difficult to find anything substantial. In case you’re interested, the best resource I’ve found is The Joshua Project (http://www.joshuaproject.net), started by Steven Hawthorne in 1981, “a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups with the fewest followers of Jesus Christ”. Much of it is still incomplete which presents the reality of overlooked people groups that still exist right under our noses.

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My preparations this week have included getting yellow fever shots, applying for learner’s permits for our motorcycles (our new mode of transportation, which I’m sure Mom will love), stocking up on ramen equivalents that we managed to locate in town, re-packing (which I’ve yet to actually start), doing laundry and going through Perspectives, which I’ll talk more about in a minute. A sweet Mama measured us each for our own outfits for church, so I look pretty native now and I’m very excited.

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I’ve also been editing a short video with clips of our last month here.

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My editing abilities are easily the weakest of my film skills. I was only able to take my 50mm lens to the village and I couldn’t bring my steadicam (too risky), so some of it is rougher than I’d like, but I’ve learned a lot about what I need to improve on for next time. At the very least it will give everyone an idea of the things we’ve been doing…if I can ever upload it.

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After spending the past week studying Swahili for four hours each morning, it occurred to me midway through that some of my readers might be curious to see a bit of the infamous language in action. I wrote up a small paragraph using what I’ve learned thus far (which I hope Tori doesn’t read because he’ll probably make fun of my grammar):

Ninasema Kiswahili kidogo sana tu lakini hujaribu kujifunza kila siku. Ninapenda kusikia kile na huaandika ya daftari yangu kila usiku kujifunza zaidi. Nilijifunza kusema ninasoma kitabu, nilisoma kitabu na nitasoma kitabu. Nilijifunza kusema sinafanya vitu vile. Ninaweza kuomba “ni be gani?”, “unayo chai?”, “jina lako ni nani?” na “una miyaka mengapi?” Ninaweza nununua vitu peke yangu na ninazungumza na watoto. Huwa kujaribu zaidi kuelewa watu hapa, lakini ninataka kupata bora. Ninaelewa zaidi, lakini sinasema zaidi kwa sababu ninaogopa kuweka makosa. Ninatagi kujaribu zaidi.

Don’t bother trying to use GoogleTranslate, it can only actually translate one word at a time correctly.

I only speak a little Swahili but I am trying to learn every day. I like to hear it and I am writing in my journal every night to learn more. I have learned to say: I read a book, I read a book (past tense) and I will read a book.  I have learned to say I don’t do these things. I am able to ask “how much is it?”, “do you have tea?”, “what is your name?”, and “how old are you?”. I am able to buy things alone and to converse with children. I have to try a lot to understand the people here, but I want to get better. I understand a lot, but I don’t speak much because I’m I am afraid of to make mistakes. I need to try more.

My days as a Swahili student remind me so much of studying Spanish a few years back. I do really well during class, understand the rules (mostly), and can read and write decently well… and then I sound like a five year old when I speak because I can only remember a few key phrases. It’s difficult to think in English, reverse the sentence and then convert it to Swahili. Sentence structure here is ridiculous. A perfect example is this simple question posed by our tutor a few days ago:

“How many times a day do you shower?”
In Swahili:
“(Unaoga) (kwa siku moja) (mara ngapi)?”
Literally translated:
“(You shower) (for one day) (how many times)?”

Not kidding.

The Singaporeans are finding it a bit easier than us Americans because the messy sentence structure is really similar to their Singlish, but even this is a bit confusing for them. Joseph is doing the best, not only because he ventures to engage others in conversation the most, but also because Malay has a lot of Arabic roots just like Swahili. Apparently some of words are nearly identical in Swahili and Malay.

Still, despite my ever-pressing desire to be better at everything I do, I’m proud to have come this far. I can’t wait until I’m forced to use Swahili; I can still get away with using English since I’ve been spending most of my time with the team since coming here. Once we get to Kansansa we’ll be basically the only English speakers there, so it’s either adapt or die… or be mute for close to a year. Since I can’t possibly be silent that long, and I love talking with people, I’m pretty confident that necessity will motivate me to practice more. Prayers for understanding and boldness for the team and myself are critical and so appreciated.

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Warning: this is about to get serious, so turn back now if you’re not ready.

For close to two weeks now, our team has been watching Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, a series of video lectures from U.S. Center for World Missions, supplemented by readings from the corresponding textbook. It’s absolutely phenomenal and extremely comprehensive, covering everything from the history of missions to cultural immersion, recounting revival movements to examining the lives of past missionaries. Seriously, if you want to be challenged like crazy, read it. I have learned more about what missions actually are in the past few weeks than I have in my entire life and I am floored by the unbiblical, self-centered, humanistic view I’ve previously accepted without question.

I’ve heard all kinds of pitches over the years about why I should be involved in missions and chances are you have too:

There are those intimidating statistics about how many Unreached People Groups remain in the world today, most of which we’ve never even heard of and we can’t find anything about them on Google when we try.

There are those “fire-and-fear” evangelists who will do really unnerving things like snap their fingers throughout their sermon and said, “Two more people just died and went to hell”, either scaring or frustrating us.

There are those who inadvertently use shame to condemn the way we live currently or how much we spent on Starbucks when “some people don’t even have clean water to drink”.

There are those who appeal to our sense of human empathy, showing us pictures of dirty babies with flies all over their faces—I’ve cried over these images countless times.

There are those who have seen through the futility of the American Dream and living life to amass material things and want us to live our lives in a way that “means something”.

There are those truly passionate about relieving suffering and stopping injustice, spending their lives petitioning for laws to be passed, teaching and creating work for locals and feeding the hungry.

There are those who love Jesus and “the lost” so much that they’re willing to relinquish their culture, their comforts to go bring news of His love and freedom to another land.

Each of them represents a legitimate need and a sincere passion. The list goes on.

I like to think that I fall under the latter reasoning (the one that probably sounds the best), that my love for Jesus is the only reason motivating me to be here, but if I’m honest I can see my wanderlust for adventure and my bleeding heart for suffering babies playing a pretty substantial role. Additionally, I’ve long since gotten over this whole 9 to 5, American Dream thing and I desire that my life count for something more than having a comfortable job and nice clothes.

Hear me now: none of these motivations I’ve just listed and shared from my heart are wrong or evil. Each one of them holds some sort of truth, some sort of reflection of God’s desire for humanity reconciled back to him. The last thing I want to do is becoming a judgmental, holier-than-thou cynic who runs around screaming “Woe to those who do not repent!” at people enjoying their Venti Caramel Machiattos from Starbucks. I have been like that before, and we already have enough of those. The reality is that fear, condemnation, judgement and obligation have never accomplished anything remotely godly in this world, so let’s just let those go as key motivators in our faith, shall we?

I’m saying this because if you were to ask me even just a few weeks ago why I wanted to dedicate my time to missions, I would tell you that I want my life to matter or rattle off some horrifying tales of the atrocities women suffer in third world countries that I want to alleviate or talk about the speck of selfishness in the eye of America while neglecting the massive plank in my own.

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Make disciples for His Name’s sake?

Isn’t it to release people from the hold of the Enemy and to bring them into His Marvelous light? To end suffering? To feed the hungry? To spend your brief life here on earth helping others? To inspire others to get involved?

I’m not going to lie, the humanistic core of my Christianity that I’ve inadvertently adopted over the past few years was slightly affronted to think that God wouldn’t say something like “to relieve the suffering of my children” or even more bluntly, “because their lives will be better if you do”. I’ve long fostered the belief that my love for others and my sense of compassion for their suffering should motivate me to give up my comforts and serve. What could be nobler? What could be more commendable? Doesn’t God understand that the bible and missions are about us, and how He is in relation to us?

Am I the only one who realizes the grave mistake in my thinking?

Despite popular, humanistic teachings in many churches, sermons, self-help books and the mindset of many of us passionate about missions, the biblical reality is this:

Man is not central. God does not exist to validate us. The Bible is not about us. The purpose of our mission is not solely to improve lives. 

By the absolutely flawless grace and love of God, He does validate us. We are included in His story and He does improve the state of our spiritual, emotional and physical lives.

But that should not be the driving force behind our efforts to “make disciples of the nations”, any more than it should be the motivation in our relationship with Him. Nothing without Christ as central will be able to sustain us long term or with any authenticity as Christians, not even good desires. 

In Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper said:

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is….If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuits of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served and God will not be duly honored. I am not pleading for a diminishing of missions but a magnifying of God.” 

He also quotes John Dawson, a leader in YWAM who says:

“Humanity does not deserve the love of God any more than you or I do. We should never be Christian humanists, taking Jesus to poor and sinful people, reducing Jesus to some kind of product that will better their lot. People deserve to be damned, but Jesus, the suffering Lamb of God, deserves the reward of His suffering.” 

Yes, we are privileged to be involved in a epic story, years in the making.
Yes, souls are redeemed from darkness into light.
Yes, we bring resources and skills to improve current physical conditions.
Yes, we have a desire to love and help those separated from the love of Christ.
Yes, we are to go into all the nations and make disciples.

Yet God desires and accomplishes all these with His ultimate endeavor: To make His Name great among the nations.

Let us praise God that in His endeavor to make His name great, He also woos us back to Him. He speaks tenderly to us, restores us, heals our brokenness, comforts us, provides just enough for us, lives intimately with us. He does all that and infinitely more. He is true to His holy nature, yet in His loving compassion paid the highest price and restores us. And when we go to the nations and people from each tribe and tongue meet Jesus and worship Him with sincerity and thankfulness, His name is made great.

Just as He deserves.

So that the Lamb will receive the reward of His suffering, and His Name would be made great among the nations.

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2 thoughts on “Not Even Good Desires

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