Pastor Jeff’s Blog: Reflections from Sierra Leone Part III

This Is A Day of New Beginnings

   Of the new hymns we sing, “This Is a Day of New Beginnings” is one of my favorites.  After illness, death, loss, dreams that have perished, the Word tells us there is a new day.  Move from the past look to the future.  This usually works well for me at home.  I have known many friends for decades who must make this work every day.  I’m embarrassed and sometimes shocked at the thoughts within me when I see their struggles.  Knowing I will soon return to my comfortable home and lifestyle of plenty make it easy or at least easier for me to believe in a new day.  I have experienced life’s disappointments.  I have lost those very dear to me through death.  All of my hopes and dreams in life have not become a reality but I believe and I have personally experienced in my darkest valleys that God has always been present.

But what about here?  Really?  God you want me to believe in a better tomorrow when my entire family has been wiped out by war?  Ok, I got over it, the war is past.  Now malaria, a mere mosquito bite claims more of my friends. Then Ebola.  Just when I thought I would begin my business there is not one to serve, all are like me, poor, hungry, tired, weary.  I have tried to help a variety of students through the year, some have been successful at garnishing good grades and graduating, only to have no hopes of employment.  Individuals with Master’s degrees, here and in many places I travel, simply working at hotel clerks or some other poor paying job.  I helped one friend with a small business, micro finance of sorts.  But the city decides to tear down her little shop, of course no reimbursement.  Another was doing well, until the rains came and flooded the neighborhood, no infrastructure to take away water. Many drowned, this person and their siblings, all live in one small 8 by 10 room/ house.  Their house and business was all lost.  All of this and Lord, you want me to believe this is a day of New Beginnings.  Well believe it or not, most still have this hope and try, try, try, again.  Lord, please fill me with this power and strength that comes only from you.

   I love the story of Nicademous sneaking over at night to meet Jesus because he wanted some of this “new life.”  He wanted to be born anew, to see the world differently, to experience God in a new way. 

John 3:  1-3 (Jesus Teaches Nicodemus)

 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

     In the past decades many have relagated the thought of being “Born Again,” to past thoughts of revival, often with negative conotations.  I believe we miss the joy of experiencing God in a new way if we are not consciously being born anew in Christ everyday of our life.  Knowing that we have placed our lives into the hand of God is paramount.  Personally, I enjoy and need revival, renewal from time to time as a reminder that I am not my own.  John Welsey reminds us in his prayer.  

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

   Sisters and brothers who struggle for daily life remind me to trust and lean only on God, not on my own ways nor my own abilities.  We need one another.  God will be present, but we must wait.  My dilemma, I don’t like waiting.  I want abundant life now.  I thank God for the anchor I have found in Him, all the days of my life.

Matthew 11:28-30  Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

    At our meeting in the fall of 2015, we were reminded of cultural differenes and how misinterpretation of words can destructive without understanding cultural relevance.

   From the time I was young, my parents fostered responsibility in our household.  We all had chores, expectations to make life more pleasant for all of us, while helping prepare our future.  Partly to instill a work ethic but also many hands can make the load lighter. 

    In American culture, we often speak of the day when our children will be “independent” of us.  In well meaning ways, I believe we want our children to, “Make it on their own.”  Parents desire their children to have a job or career that will allow them to manage in life when those who have been supporting you may no longer be present. It means such things as finding your own path in life. 

    When used in other cultures, sharing the idea that we want someone to be self-sufficient or independent means we want to wash our hands of this person or group.  It is simply unacceptable.  In the present culture of Sierra Leone and Uganda this idea of moving on is a death.  Here, Villagers come together as one family.  Time to build a home or community building, Men will dig a pit of dirt, women and children will carry water and prepare meals, others mold the bricks. 

     When it is time to celebrate in the village, ALL celebrate.  Even if it is your neighbor’s sister’s cousin, once removed,when there is a wedding or celebration of any kind, ALL are welcome, but more so, expected to participate.

    I admit as one who was taught to try to care for is own needs, it is not always easy to ask others for personal help.  As I remember times of working in unity with other individuals I remember quickly some of the outcomes.  When it comes to weeding a garden, few explode with excitement.  Yet, when I remember many family and friends working in the garden, the task of weeding was accomplished quickly and along the way, we laughed, played, sang, and as the season came to a close, we had a wonderful, bountiful harvest to share and celebrate.

     Various communities I have visited have had huge community days, some with upward to 100 people working to build a school, medical clinic or something else to benefit their community. 

     In the late moring heat, we were touring the local medical clinic.  As the heat increased, the workers continued.  The result was a field of bricks to benefit the community.  Praise God for the ability to work cooperatively.

The Day of the Lord

Joel 2:  28

“And afterward,  I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

    I’m a dreamer.  I dream at night, I have day dreams, most often, my dreams are for a better day.  I remember hearing many throughout my younger years, (as well as many proverbs) reminding me that dreams take you no place with out application of work.  But I believe we need dreams, perhaps better, we need a vision.  Not my vision, but to see God’s vision for the kingdom upon earth.  Some of this seems so clear, a kingdom of peace, where love abounds.  Even as election season draws near, I envision a place where those who lead care for those they serve.  I envision a place where our concerns for self are less than our concerns for others.  I long to live where there is no more war, suffering and needless pain created by hatred and violence.

    I have now visited and dwelt among sisters and brothers in developing nations for nearly 40 years, having first worked in Liberia in 1977.  At times, it appears the ways of the world are winning.  Yet, when I have visited villages of people who have lost entire families, some who have had limbs amputated by the powerful blow of a machete, the vision of the people has not perished.  These strong, determined people of faith place their ultimate trust in God and have God’s vision deep within their hearts. For those who long to have the opportunity to education, the comfort of facilities is not nearly as important as the opportunity to learn.