In my last post, I wrote about my first lesson, which was to not let our circumstances determine the joy that we are told to have in the Lord. In fact Philippians 4:4 is written as a command in which we are to "rejoice in the Lord always". If we are truly following Christ and walking in obedience to what the Bible teaches, we need to take His commands seriously. Through this obedience, God is able to unleash His power in our lives and who doesn't want that?
The second lesson that I learned on my missions trip to Zimbabwe is also just as challenging. While listening to the truths shared in the chapel services we attended, by hearing the prayers of the pastors and the other people we met, and during informal conversations one key concept kept flashing in my mind light it was written in glowing neon letters.
This concept or mind-set is something that I would say that I get and totally agree with, while in reality, I'm not sure I really live by. The truth that they seem to live out is that God is in control of everything and we need to seek Him for help in all areas of our lives. Like I said, I would surely say that I believed this whole-heartedly, but do I?
In Zimbabwe, life is just plain difficult. Money is very scare, and it needs to be stretched in many different directions. The average wage is said to be $250.00 per month and while in some areas housing is quite inexpensive, the food costs that I saw where comparable to the US. Also, parents who want to send their children to school need to pay for it since there are no government funded schools. One father who I talked to reveled his salary and school expenses to me and we figured out that his children's education cost between 3-4 months wages per year.
We were able to spend some time in the school at the mission who had students from pre-school to 12th grade with children from 3rd grade up living as boarders in the very modest dormitories. Not only do these children move away from home and see there parents once per month on parents visitation days, but they also live with tremendous pressure to excel. They understand the sacrifice that their parents are making to send them to the school and they take it very seriously. As an example of the pressure they are under, at each chapel service in the morning as they begin their day, the top 4 students from the previous day are named as well as the bottom 4. I can't imagine doing that in our country!
But even though there is such an emphasis on education, the teachers are weighed down with a tremendous lack of resources. Books are scarce, school supplies are in very short supply, and progress is very hard to attain. For example, in the computer lab the teacher was teaching how to use a laptop computer with posters and diagrams because the computer lab didn't have even a laptop, and the computers they did have were terribly old. They were thrilled when we were able to bring them some desk top computers as well as 30 laptops that our school here in Milbank donated to their school in Zimbabwe.
As we would walk around the village, we became aware of so many hardships that are a part of daily life. It broke our hearts to hear of the stories of people who came to the hospital seeking help from a doctor but had to be turned away because they didn't have the $1.00 that it cost to see one. There were also the stories of how the food for the expectant mothers would have to be watered down or stripped of much true nutrition as funds for their program would dwindle.
For the most part, the people seemed to accept these challenges and of course were accustomed to them. It didn't make it any less difficult. Most grew their own vegetables in small gardens and some had chickens in their back yard. Living expenses were streamlined by washing their laundry in buckets and hanging it out to dry, by having a wood-fire cooking hut in their back yard to prepare their meals, some by not having electricity or running water to pay extra for, and most not having the expense of a vehicle and limiting the amount of travel they were able to do by transport vehicles that literally packed as many people as possible in vans that were available at various stops along the road.
Most people walked where they needed to go to avoid this cost. One man who cooked food for the hospital visitor canteen, who I only knew was over 65 years old, walked 10 miles to and from work each day. It would take him 2 hours each way while working 8 hours and he did it all with an infectious smile and a servant spirit.
What I gleaned form all of these observations is that the people in Zimbabwe who have a relationship with God, have no problem with the understanding that He provides all things. They don't seem to live with the delusion that they can be self-sufficient in any way because. there is simply no way they can be. There are too many variables. and there are too little resources.
I caught that realization by the way they talked about their needs and how they expressed their gratitude for what God provides. Over and over again, I heard the phrase "as God provides," not "if God provides" or "we hope God provides". As we talked to Pastor Joseph's wife Beauty (they had great names!) she told us about her mother-in-law who she hoped to be able to visit soon in a village quite some distance away. Beauty told us of how who had run out of food since the harvest was not as plentiful as had hoped. When we asked if she planned on taking some food to her, she responded like always, "as God provides". That's when we realized that Beauty's family's food yet needed to be provided.
There was also a lot of reference to "challenges". Everything was a "challenge" that they would pray for God to work out. One day, the Head Master at the Primary school talked about his "challenge" being that on his way to the nearby town for a meeting, his car broke down. Since he had no money for repairs it sat at the mechanic shop. He now prayed for God to provide a way to earn the funds needed.
That last story is the one that tipped me over the edge of both challenge and understanding about how these people operated. I started to see the battle that rages within me between total dependence on God and my own self-sufficiency. Of course self-sufficiency is truly a myth, a lie told to us by the enemy, but we fall for it. When we have a need that we don't have the financial resources for, we turn to a credit card. When we need financial help on a bigger, long-term scale, we can turn to our government for assistance. When we have a desire for the latest toy but don't have the money for it, we can take out a loan. When we need emotion help we can either turn inside of ourselves for internal strength and shut everyone else out, or we can rely solely on a professional to help turn our lives around.
One thing I have noticed in churches and Bible Study groups is that often times as we give prayer requests, they are often health related. It has struck me that our health is one area that we feel we are forced to cry out to God, but we seem to think we can figure most everything else out on our own. I am surely guilty of that myself and have lived most of my life under the assumption that anything else is weakness.
I am slowly learning the power of weakness, which is so indicative of God's topsy-turvy world. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says "But He said to me, 'my grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
The faithful believers in Zimbabwe seem to understand this so much better that I do. I have found that having material abundance has made me weaker in the areas that I need to be stronger: in faith, in humility, in surrender and in true dependence on the Lord. In the book "Not a Fan" by Kyle Idleman, he emphasizes the point that we need to die to ourselves daily. I saw that the people in Zimbabwe knew how to do that because really they have no choice, but then really...do we? Or do we just think we do...
Until next time...