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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Ready or Not, we will worship.

OSHA would not approve.  Municipal code enforcement officers would not permit, insurance companies would deny coverage and most children of faith would not enter. YET, here in Sierra Leone, a new church was meeting in a stick, cardboard and tin shelter that has been their worship center for sometime.    

The day we arrived, Rev Dave Shultz, from Port Trevorton, PA had the privilege of beginning to tear down the old structure at Old Wharf UMC.  This was a celebration of the covenant between Port Trevorton UMC and their sister congregation Old Wharf.  Singing, dancing, and presentations followed from each and every department of the church.  Children, youth and adults all shared their hopes and dreams of their ministry in this new facility. 

When I worship at one of our church camps, or in some shelter made of sticks covered with banana leaves, I’m always reminded that the church is not the building but the people.  I know in my accumulating years I appreciate the comforts of worship.  I enjoy soft seating and climate control.  I appreciate great sound systems and technology that brings God’s Word to life.  But for many, God’s Word is still enough.  Worshipping for several hours in crammed spaces on hard wooden boards without climate control nor good sound is now a challenge for me.  Yet I look around, even with the freedom of movement throughout a service, many are attentive and waiting to discover God anew this day. 

I pray one day I can learn as Paul to be content in all situations.   

Philippians 4:  10-13 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

One the basic needs of life is water.  At home, I arise, jump in to a hot shower and enjoy feeling refreshed.  I drink water from my tap without question of quality. (I’m not from Flint!) We have such an abundance of water.  Without thinking, we wash cars, water our gardens and fill our pools. Water is not always found to be so accessible.  Today, I met Richard Roberts from British Colombia. For over 30 years, he has been coming to Africa helping villages discover healthy spring water, building storage tanks and providing water to over 160,000 people.  No, the water is not in each house, it is a community well where everyone still goes to collect their water, BUT water is life.

 

Pastor Jeff’s Blog: Reflections from Sierra Leone

What follows below are Pastor Jeff's own words, unedited, that he is sending to us from Africa via e-mail.  This is the first in what will be a series of posts about his time in Sierra Leone.  

 

God is good.  All the time. 

There are many expressions of faith shared within the faith community.  Upon hearing, I am reminded that part of the truth and acceptance in this expression is my perspective of faith.

God has blessed and enabled me through the kindness of my congregations to lead teams to Sierra Leone (SL) since 1984.  I began leading construction teams building a conference retreat facility.  Life in SL has always been difficult but the Blood Diamond War from 1992 to 2002 left the country suffering for extreme brutality and setting it back decades in terms of progress. 

Daily life is a struggle for existence since there is nearly an 85% unemployment rate.   Since the war development was taking great leaps, the capital of Freetown finally has regular electricity which most of us in United States have taken for granted since the 1950’s.  Last year was the first in 12 years I was unable to return to SL due to the Ebola virus.  SL suffered more than neighboring countries. Nearly 14,000 cases resulting in nearly 5,000 deaths.  I did not know what to expect as our team returned this year. 

Meeting with church leadership, we were reminded that God is good.  While I count on God’s goodness, what I witnessed throughout the country was set back.  Many foreign aid groups, foreign investors and everyone that could possibility escape the ebola virus left the country, which meant fiscal demise for many.  Many developing nations have what is considered a false economy.  While the economy may appear to be improving, it is often being propped up by the presence of foreign military and other Non Government Organizations (NGO’s) such a numerous aid organizations. Without income, lodging deteriorated, restaurants closed, development ceased her normal activity. 

Most living in villages live in mud huts with dirt floors and a grass roof.  Others may have block homes made from local dirt with a small mixture of cement and a tin roof.  Most live on a meal a day, the same meal, every day of the year. When I see folks coming to church from their humble dwellings I am amazed at their eagerness to Praise God.  I am reminded that Praising God from whom all things come, does not always mean having the comforts in life I take for granted. I confess questioning, embarrassingly so, whether my foundation of faith that would see God’s goodness in such a difficult daily existence.  Most have, endured war, disease, poverty, malnutrition and a daily struggle to exist. Each time I call Brima, my adopted son in Sierra Leone, I ask, “How are you and your family?”  The response is the same, “Well, by the Grace of God, we are fine.” 

   Throughout my life, while I have often failed God and others.  As I have at tried to be a faithful follower of Jesus  Christ, I am assured there is grace and forgiveness to move forward.  There are man obstacles to faithfulness while living the American lifestyle.  Tempations and detours to faith are surrounding us at all times.  I have lived a life filled with blessings.  I have always had the basic comforts of food, clothing, and shelter.  Because of health standards, lack of war and disease I’m provided the blessings of family and friend.  I’m reminded for many here, family and friends disappear quickly from the harshness of life. 

My eyes are open to the abundant blessings God has provided.  Along with this reminder comes the command from God to share my blessings with others. 

Dear Lord, help me have this trust and faith.