Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Just do it

Going back to Tanzania is not as exciting for me as you might think. Although the people and place are close to my heart, I know that returning won’t be easy. When I stop to really contemplate what it will be like, I find myself wondering how I will do what I feel burdened to do, how the living situation will work out, whether I will be able to cope. I feel so inadequate, so weak, so unsure. At the same time, I know that I can’t know everything before I go, and maybe I need to just get on with it and see what happens.

A couple of weeks ago I popped home to spend the weekend with family, my head full of such thoughts. At church that Sunday morning the pastor preached from Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, a passage that includes these words:

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant… As you do not know the path of the wind…So you cannot understand the work of God the Maker of all things.”

The pastor pointed out that in God’s work we cannot be certain of the outcome and so we shouldn’t wait for certainty but rather just get out there and do something and trust the Lord of the harvest to work. This seemed to be a direct challenge, and encouragement, to me.

And as God so often does, He reinforced the point the following week. As I continued through Romans in my quiet times, I reached Romans 15, where Paul tells the Romans of his intent to go to Spain and visit them on the way. However, Tom Wright comments:

“Did Paul ever get to Spain? There is no evidence whatever that he did. But his desire to do so, and the fact that he wrote Romans as part of the preparation for such a trip, point out an extremely important lesson for us all. Perhaps God sometimes allows us to dream dreams of what he wants us to do, not necessarily so that we can fulfil all of them…but so that we will take the first steps towards fulfilling them. And perhaps those first steps (as they appear to us) are in fact the key things that God actually wants us to do.”

It struck me that the passion I have to see my brothers and sisters in Tanzania growing in knowledge of God through His Word and maturing in the faith should drive me forward. Whether my dreams about this work will be realised may not matter, for who knows what God may do along the way?

Drawing all of this together, I need to stop looking at the ‘wind’ (the challenges out there and my weaknesses), and head to ‘Spain’ and trust God to do what He will along the way. I need to just do it! This doesn’t mean that I am now full of confidence and raring to go, but I believe God is gently encouraging me to give it a go. Please pray for courage!

(Quotation taken from Tom Wright’s commentary, Paul for Everyone - Romans Part 2, p.125)

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

I love you

Three words. So easy to say. So full of meaning.

I am currently visiting my parents. On Sunday, my brother and his family joined us for the day, as we all attend the same church. At some point in the afternoon my three-year-old nephew, Ewan, put his arms around me and the conversation went something like this:

Ewan: “I love you”
Me: “I love you too”
Ewan: “Why?” [When do kids grow out of the ‘why’ stage?!]
Me: “Because you are you”
Ewan: “I love you”
Me: “I love you too”
Ewan: “Why?”
Me: “Why do you think?”
Ewan: “Because it’s me”

As I was lying in bed that night, reflecting on my day, this conversation came back to me, and it struck me that right there, in that conversation, are some wonderful truths about our relationship with God…

It was so sweet to hear those words from my nephew’s lips, so warming, and I just wanted to hold him tight and never let him go. Children can be fickle – at another point in the day he had hit me, and sulked in the naughty-corner for some time until he was willing to say sorry to me, after which spontaneously came, “I love you”. The words were just as sweet to me then, even though he had been naughty and unrepentant, as they were when he was full of smiles and fun. I also wonder how much my nephew really understands what he is saying, he doesn’t really know yet what it means to love someone through all the ups and downs of life, but that doesn’t make his words any less sweet or any less genuine at that moment in time. Maybe God feels the same – maybe it is just as sweet in his ears to hear us say, “I love you”, even though we are fickle, even though we do not truly grasp the fullness of meaning in those words, even though we often demonstrate a very unloving attitude and our affections can easily be drawn elsewhere, yet his father-heart for us is much greater than my aunty-heart for my nephew, and so hearing us turn to him and say, “I love you” is a truly sweet sound in his ears.

And then there was my response, which was not a theologically thought through answer, but just the first one that came to me, and the truth – I love Ewan just because he is Ewan, because he is my own dear nephew, even though he can drive me crazy at times. Does this not also, in a very small way, reflect something of how God loves us? It’s not because of anything I have done (Rom. 5:8), He just loves me because I am me, because I am part of his family. If only I were as quick to grasp this as my nephew was to grasp why I loved him!

May we, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesians,
“…have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:18-19

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Who will go with me?

Over recent months I have been thinking about returning to Tanzania. In many ways this might seem the obvious thing to do now that my MA is over and my Redcliffe post was only ever intended to be short-term, but it does not feel like an easy decision. However, as I have made enquiries, the doors seem to have remained wide open to returning there. So just a few weeks ago I turned to God in prayer again with that question that is perhaps at the heart of my slowness in making this decision: “Who will go with me?” 
One of the things I find hardest about being involved in overseas mission are the many transitions and how these comings and goings affect relationships. This is one of the things that drove me to returning to the UK, in the hope that back here I might have a better chance of meeting someone to share this life-journey with. I have stalled in making plans to return overseas while this situation remained unchanged, but I’m tired of waiting and want to move on. However, this does not make the prospect of returning easy, rather than excitement I feel apprehension and while I look forward to many aspects of life in Tanzania I also know fear over how I will cope with the sense of alone-ness.

And so I found myself asking that question in prayer, “Who will go with me?” and God reminded me of a verse that has been in my mind a lot recently, since a sermon at my home church on God’s presence. Moses asks God pretty much the same question, after God tells him to lead His people. And God’s reply to Moses was:
               “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex. 33:14)

Well, there’s my answer. It felt like both an answer to my question and an affirmation that I should go. To be honest, in some ways this doesn’t make things any easier, because that was something I already knew! However, there was something in the timing of it all that spoke to me at a deeper level. If I look back, though there have been hard times, I can also testify that God has always gone with me, He has never left me truly alone. Though the transitions continue to be tough and I have also been through a very dark time spiritually, wrestling with God and doubting that He is the God I have always believed in (a topic for another blog post?), I also know deep down that God has never left me and never will, and will always provide for me relationally in one way or another.

So, I continue to make plans to go to Tanzania and daily remind myself of this promise so that I might have strength to move on.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Different but the same

A little while ago I popped in to visit good friends of mine on the way back from the shops. They lived just a two minute walk from my home in Mbeya and now they are just a ten minute walk away from my home in Gloucester. I would frequently pop into their home when we lived close by in Tanzania, and as I dropped round to their Gloucester home I suddenly realised how bizarre it was – every aspect of that walk to the shops and to their home was many miles removed from Tanzania (both metaphorically and literally) and yet underneath it was the same!

Instead of a dirt road, it’s tarmac. Instead of going to lots of little shops I could go to one or two big shops. Instead of shillings it’s pounds. Instead of Swahili it’s English. Instead of asking at the counter I walk around. Instead of very little choice I’m swamped with options. Instead of a shop-owner with a calculator it’s a touch-screen, self-serve checkout. Instead of dodging daladalas I’m walking along pavements and crossing at traffic-lights. Instead of a cool cement house it’s a centrally-heated brick house.

But I got food and I saw friends. Different but the same :-)