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Loadshedding

Load shedding is defined as ‘action to reduce the load on something, especially the interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant.’

In contrast, loadshedding (pronounced hastily, with aggravation and an implied curse) is South African parlance for Eskom’s ineptitude, evidence of the ANC’s corruption and verification that South Africa is on a steady course towards becoming a Third World country.

The typical Westerner has no concept of what it’s like to live without electricity for 4-6 hours in a day, and yet this dilemma is exactly what South Africans of all creeds and classes have been faced with since Q4 of 2018. The majority of South Africans have weathered the inconvenience bravely and with little complaint. Those who hail from the rural areas – where electricity remains a novelty – have noted their amusement about their urban counterparts’ mewling with regards to the loss of power.

It is not uncommon to hear an exasperated caller on SAFm’s open lines point out that “We grew up without electricity. What is the big deal?” and to have that caller reminded that the South African economy’s growth is heavily dependent on a regular and reliable supply of power. In a country where a fair number of elementary school aged children still face the risk of drowning pit latrines, phrases like “economic engine”, “artificial intelligence” and “global stage” mean very little. Nevertheless, it’s a problem that South Africa needs to get under control, and quickly. Experts say that load shedding costs the economy R2billion ($144M) daily.

As most of you know, I grew up in Ghana, West Africa, where we in the city have never enjoyed neither a reliable nor regular supply of electricity. Our provincial countrymen are far more fortunate than us in this way. It’s very rare to experience blackouts (what we call dumsor) in the villages, because the demand is so low. Aspiring politicians don’t bother to run on issues like electricity and water in Ghanaian villages, because few people have indoor plumbing and their never miss their favorite TV shows. The city is a horse of six or more different colors. Accra remains the commercial and administrative center of the nation, so when the power goes out here, all commerce is retarded. I have felt that pain; it still echoes within me. This is why I am better prepared for loadshedding than the rest of my family.

Oh, I wish you could see them.

The kids have educated themselves about the various stages of Eskom’s timetable, stages 1-4. Stage 1 means that the power will only be cut off once in a day, usually for 2 hours. Stage 4 means that there will be no electricity for four (sometimes five) separate portions of the day, also for 2 hours at a time. (There’s a joke that says Stage 7 is when Eskom comes to your house and blows out your candle.) The children jubilate when they hear the refrigerator kick back into action. They run to the nearest outlet to recharge their devices. They work themselves into a near nervous breakdown if they fail to do so before the next round of loadshedding hits. I try not to laugh, but I generally fail.

I also enjoy listening to white South Africans complain about loadshedding. As far as they are concerned, the power utility’s incompetency is proof that the ANC is ruining the country for selfish gain. Never mind that Eskom was unregulated for years under the apartheid regime or that infrastructure was built primarily to service the white minority or Blacks in close enough proximity to them. It doesn’t matter that Eskom was never structured to service an entire nation. The way some of the folks I’ve spoken to see it, loadshedding is a ploy to destroy white owned businesses and force white South Africans out of their country. It’s a conspiracy theory I have yet to form an appropriate response to.

We are taught by bible scholars and motivational speakers alike that it’s not the challenges in our lives that matter, but how we rise to meet them that does. In general, South Africans have responded to this challenge with humor, which I think is a testimony to their tenacity. As for us, when we have to eat our dinner in darkness, I don’t refer to it as a power outage; I call it “mood lighting”. And when the kids are forced to play a game of Uno rather than watch the same episodes of the same 3 shows on Cartoon Network, I call that a win.

Have you ever gone 24 hours without electricity? (Besides camping and other self inflicted forms of punishment.) How did you handle it?

 

Thoughts On Knowing How To Abound

I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. – Philippians 4:12

Many years ago, my friend and yet-to-be-discovered comedienne Frances once said in relation to this scripture in Philippians, “I know how to abase real good. I’m trying to figure out how to abound.”

When I recall her facial expression coupled with a peculiar mix of North Carolina and Atlanta inflection as she delivered her decree, I still have a deep belly laugh. Though Frances is a few years older than I, we were in similar phases in life as single, professional women. She was establishing herself as a freelancer and building her brand, while I was a temp working jumping from on assignment to the next. (Okay. Maybe our development wasn’t that similar at the time.) Still, what we had in common was firsthand knowledge of hustle, struggle and a strong acquaintance with what Paul calls ‘knowing how to be abased’.

We were and are not unique in that regard. Millions of Americans are one paycheck (or one health calamity) away from homelessness and whether they realize it or not – whether we admit it or not – we have mastered the art of living meagerly and presenting it as a life of abundance.

Yesterday Marshall was called up by Pastor Roger Mensah, whose church we were visiting in the Crags. His once sizeable congregation has now dwindled to less than a dozen, due mostly to “poaching”. Churches spring up in townships like the Crags like moss after rain. Instead of seeking the lost and bringing them to Christ, self-ordained pastors entice church attendees to join their flock, usually lured by the gifts of a good keyboard player. In Africa, the power of keyboard player/worship leader is second only to the pastor. The Holy Spirit comes in fourth.

Anyway, it was in this cozy setting that Marshall discussed the idea of always moving forward; not giving up the ground you’ve gained in the process of your advancement whether it be in prayer, business, etc. Philippians made its way into the discussion and as pastors are wont to do when this scripture comes up (in my experience), he dedicated a fair bit of time in explaining why we must be content in all things, focusing more on living humbly. It makes sense, since most of the world lives in poverty. We condition people to be comfortable with their modest lot, and nowhere is this message more perfected than in the church. I believe that this is why people go absolutely crazy when they unexpectedly find themselves in possession of an unexpected windfall or life changing blessing.

When Frances said, “I’m trying to figure out how to abound”, I took that as a two-fold statement of hope.
1) God, put me in an elevated financial position; one I’ve never been in before.
2) Let me prove that I can be trusted to be content in that position, never taking or using more than what I need.
Or simply put, being a good steward of God’s resources.

The image the Holy Spirit showed me in that moment to explain the idea further was a buffet – Golden Corral, more specifically. For those who are unfamiliar with GC, it is a massive restaurant filled with any sort of food, dessert and drink you can think of. Diners pile their plates with fried chicken, steak, fish and pork, and then trek back to fill two more plates with an assortment of pastas – a veggie or two – and sugary desserts. For years I’d feel sick any time I was forced to dine at Golden Corral and I finally understood why: It’s an environment governed, punctuated and spurred on by gluttony. There is simply no reason for any one person to eat that much food at one time. It was the simplest metaphor Holy Spirit could show me, that being how would the average person conduct themselves if they were given free reign to anything they wanted. Would you exercise the same self-control as you did when you had to ration your portions? At Golden Corral and similar buffets, almost everyone chooses excess…because they don’t know how to live in environments of abundance.

This idea extends to other scenarios as well. Men who chase after women don’t know how to be content with one partner; ruthless businessmen cheat people out of money with the aim of swelling their bank accounts; people seek out shaky relationships for the benefit of collecting friends like dolls… When one fails to understand how to abound, it becomes a harder’s spirit – and hoarding only ever leads to ruin.

My personal prayer is that as I seek God’s hand and face that my character will be developed enough to handle new promotions. For years, I honestly thought I had this trait fully formed, perfected even. I’ve been cocksure that I could handle anything thrown at me. It’s easy to be confident when your previous day looks like that next. However the previous 10 months have been a season of testing. I’ve been given great hope and been robbed of it in waves, ways and cycles that are unfamiliar to me: because these waters are unfamiliar to me. Yet through it all, I am humbled and grateful that I have a Master Coach to see me through. If I can’t miraculously walk on the water, He’s taught me well enough to swim. That’s more than enough.

Tortillas Have Helped Stave Off My Depression

I have been angry.

It’s hard to put into words how good – how liberating – it feels to be able to write those four words and admit them not only to myself, but to the world at large. I have spent the last 18 months or better mired in anger, resentment, disappointment and directionless-ness… the ingredients necessary perfect cocktail for a tall glass of Depression. Or at least for the brand of depression I suffer from.

On the outset, I present as a fairly “happy” gal. I find humor in the most unlikely of places and before the ascension of Tang Hitler to the throne, my social media pages were places that friends would visit for frivolity and fun. One friend admitted that the only reason she keeps her Facebook page active was so that she could see what peculiar brand of craziness I was going to post about during the day.

It’s all been a front. Underneath the veneer, I am an incredibly depressed person and it doesn’t take “much” for that depression to manifest. I am a person who functions best – or at all – when there is a obvious and tangible need for my energy and physical body to operate in a specific space. For many years, I didn’t have that in Atlanta. My life took on some form of significance just before our move and at long last I began to enjoy life in the city. Hitherto, people have tried to console me with platitudes like, “You’re a mother! Your life has great meaning to your kids.”’ , and the like. But in my heart of hearts, I know that I was not put on this Earth to give birth to children and watch over them until they grow. That was never in my life plan.

I think Mark Twain described my dilemma best with his quote: The two most important days in a person’s life are the day they were born and the day they discover why.

I don’t know if I was born to do ministry in South Africa, but I do know that I was certain in my heart that moving here was step in discovering my why. I moved here seduced by the idea that each of my mornings – or the vast majority of them at least – would be filled with meaningful work that would positively impact the lives of others in a godly and guided way. Instead, what I was confronted with was the same mindless idleness and mundane rituals that were the hallmarks of my early days in Atlanta. The ministry for which we were meant to serve is in hibernation, if not in its sarcophagus. For more than a year, I have had nothing to do and the quality of my children’s education has been placed in peril. In short, as far as I have been concerned, we had gone through the trauma of uprooting our family, severing bonds and shouldering the expense of leaving an established life for a phantom of a Christian ideal.

On the other hand, my husband is happier than a polar bear in ten feet of snow so it hasn’t been a total disaster. There’s always that outlier.

I have already confessed to you that I have been angry, and now it is time to admit that I was on the verge of madness. And I don’t mean that cute kind of crazy where a woman shaves off her hair and runs to the nearest bar in a mini skirt in a desperate bid to unleash the wild alter ego she’s kept a tight lid on. I mean the cold, immobile, unfeeling insanity where there are no voices in your head – not even your own – where you have vision but see no color, where laughter sounds hollow and forced and you then you realize that that strange sound is your own voice, where you stare at a wall for hours content to watch dry paint go drier.

By the time I got to THAT point, I realized I needed to do something. But what?

I started baking.

And then I tried to sell my stuff to local restaurants.

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And when that didn’t work I applied for a stall at a local market.

And when white folk at that market told me that my chocolate ganache was delicious but they don’t eat flour or sugar, I made gluten free chocolate chip cookies with besan instead of wheat.

And when they told me that the gluten free stuff was great but what they * really * wanted was something savory, I took 3 weeks off to contemplate where the intersection of my budget and skills was and I came up with fajitas.

And now I sell fajitas and taco bowls on the Garden Route to people who line up and clamor for them and am at the most calm and centered I’ve felt in almost 2 years.

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Did God send me to South Africa to make fajitas? I truly doubt that. But right now, tortillas are a staff in my hand. They are dry bones in my army. They are the only things that are keeping me going (and thank you Holy Spirit for the inspiration). I don’t know how long this sense of grounding will last, but I am grateful and humbled by it.

There’s a lot to be said about missions abroad and self-care and accountability, but it’s not something I’m ready to talk about at this point. This is me just checking in and more importantly, being honest. Never let seduction – even if you believe it to be ‘Spirit-led’ – be your guide.

Refugees, Reconciliation & Restoration: A Time Spent in Malawi

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On our first day in the capital city of Lilongwe (pronounced: Lil-long-way), I noticed something that I hadn’t seen since a previous visit to a certain West African country: which was a number of military personnel on the street.  For many African countries this isn’t anything unique, but for some reason I had a vision of a political uprising and saw may solders on the street of Lilongwe with chaos and fighting. The vision moved me quite a bit. When we finally got to the B&B where we were staying, I was moved to spend time in prayer over what I saw in that vision.

That evening we had a powerful worship service at our FOIC affiliate church, Mt. Zion Worship Centre, with Pastor Martin Thom. Bishop Crudup preached in that service and then ordained about 30 pastors and one Bishop.

The following day I was to minister the morning and afternoon session during the conference we were attending at Pastor Thom’s church.  They gave me two 1.5-hour sessions to preach (and of course I preached all 3 hours) but first I had the whole church cry out to God for Malawi.  I told them what I saw and that it was our responsibility as the church to carry the nation in prayer.  So we prayed LOUD for about 30 or so minutes in intersession to God for Malawi.  I felt that God was honoring our prayers and that history was changing.  The lord moved!  Consequently, because of the strong prayers and that hard preaching, I lost my voice for a number of days.

I preached first on the “Whole Council of God’s Word” where I covered 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Romans 8 and John 1 and pointed out the infallibility of God’s word, the end time sins of the church, how we have a new lifestyle but not a new life and how we are to become the Word made flesh in the earth.

My second session was about your “Unlimited Potential” based off of Ephesians 1:19 where it says, “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness (another version says, Unlimited Greatness) of God’s power for us who believe in Him, this same power that raised Christ from the dead…” During that session I covered true inner strength – pushing past yesterday’s pain for success today; Endurance – opposing opposition; Growth – facing the negative head on, and how motivation is temporary, but true enduring Grit comes from the inside (…Christ in you) and lasts forever (…the hope of Glory), “…Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame” Isaiah 50:7

The response was incredible!  I could see that even though after many hours of ministry that day the people were still on the edge of their seats listening and responding to every word.  Although I had an Interpreter, we had a flow like I hadn’t had before with other interpreters in the past.  Even my Interpreter was impacted.  He was not only repeating the words that I was saying, but also listening and the Lord was ministering to him.  All I can say was, “Thank you Lord!” I just remember sitting down as they were clapping in appreciation of the word and I said to God, thank you for allowing them to receive what you gave me to tell them. I thanked Him for bringing the increase in their lives.

The next day, Sunday was wall-to-wall activities. We visited Capital City Baptist Church- the church that Bishop Joseph pastored for over 7 years – and again to Pastor Martin’s church. Again that evening there was more ministry and a few more ordinations of church leaders as the conclusion of Pastor Thom’s conference.

IMG_2360On Monday, we visited the Malawian Parliament and met with Dr. Lazarus Chakwera – the opposition party leader to the current President – a man whom many believe will be the next president of Malawi. Bishops Crudup and Henry both know him well and worked with him in the past during his last election run. I could tell that he is a man of God and integrity.  He even made it clear that he just wants so serve his people to “right the ship” so that the next generation can continue.  He’s unlike most “for life” politicians of Africa, like the presidents of Uganda – Yoweri Museveni, Republic of Congo – Denis Sassou-Nguesso and now the forced out Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.  He really wants to make a change in his country and then help the young people take it to the next level.

IMG_2388On Tuesday we visited the Dzaleka (pronounced Za-leka) Refugee Camp, which was established in 1994 by the UN in response to the thousands fleeing genocide, violence and conflict in Burundi Rwanda and the D.R. Congo. Today, in a camp that was only planed for 6,000 people there are well over 28,000 refuges that live in Dzaleka. Unfortunately, Malawi denies refugees the right of movement out of the camp. If a refugee leaves the camp they will be arrested, harassed and taken back to the camp. As a result, Dzaleka is full of people from all walks of life: professional and non-professional, gangster and academic alike who fled to protect their lives, but cannot start life over again. Dzaleka has very little infrastructure, frequent water shortages, scourged with malaria and tuberculosis, no housing, dwindling food rations, and violence. With all of this against them, God is still doing something special in their midst.

That morning we visited a church that Bishop Joseph planted called the Dzaleka Christian Community Church where our team was to speak at a Pastors and Leaders gathering. There were about 50 or so Pastors and church leaders in attendance, almost all of whom were Congolese. As we were walking into the church I heard one of the most beautiful voices I ever heard leading the church in worship. It was a Congolese woman dressed in a beautiful red dress leading the church in worship. I was taken aback.

I was allowed to be the first to minister, but before I began my message the Lord pressed on my heart to prophesy over her. I told her that I see her singing to the Lord in the early morning by herself with a heart of true worship. I then spoke a new destiny over her life and prayed over her. She was deeply moved to tears and the people around her were in agreement with what I was saying. I then began to minister on Forgiveness and Repentance and how it restores relationships, families, and nations. I had revealed to them that my mother did a DNA test on my family paternity and found out that I’m 23% Congolese and told them about the African Slave trade to America. They all applauded with gladness. I then told them if I had more time I’d wash all of their feet as a sign of humility and reconciliation, but I could not and moved on. By the time I was done, again they were on the edge of the seats but I only had 30 minutes this time and had to allow time for the others who were to follow me. But what happened when I finished speaking shifted something in that place.

When I completed my talk, Bishop Henry called for them to bring water, a basin and towel, thus allowing me to wash at least one person’s feet. I had called for a gentleman in the front row that was a pastor to come forward and I began to wash his feet while unraveling what Jesus did in John 13. Powerful. The congregation was moved. Bishop Joseph was in tears and the Pastor who was getting his feet washed was humbled and grateful. All the other messages that went out after that was powerful and impacting all in alignment with God were saying to the people.

All of this is to say we had a powerful purpose driven time and I’m eternally grateful to God who allowed me to serve Malawi.

– Marshall Grant

How Often Do We Miss God in The Small Things?

Sawubona y’all!

As we prepare for the final month in the year and our second Christmas in South Africa, I can’t help but feel a sincere sense of gratitude for all that God has done for and shown us this year. He’s seen us through surgeries, and travel abroad, and kept us healthy and fed, and provided all the other things we generally take for granted until their acute and unexpected absence is felt.

Yesterday I was reflecting on some of the skills we’ve collectively acquired as a result of living outside of the US. The kids have become strong(er) swimmers, Aya and Stone have learned to write in cursive (a skill that is dying thanks to the data/tech push in the West) and we’re all learning how to be a bit more still. Stillness is not something that easy to adjust to when you’ve been brought up or lived in a fast paced community like Atlanta, GA. For my part, part of that stillness has been learning to sew, a prospect and a task that has terrified me for many years.

I learned everything I know about sewing from a 10-minute tutorial with the lady who sold me my machine in Cape Town and YouTube University. As a result, I’ve become pretty adept at making tote bags and was able to fill in for the supplier of our local deli while she was away on vacation in Asia. When she returned, she saw my work in the shop and asked me to join her at lunch to discuss the totes. I was pretty excited going into the conversation because while though I know that the chances of me becoming of billionaire off of the labor of making and selling totes are slim, it would be nice to generate some sort of income from my newfound skill.

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The lady and I formed an instant connection, both genuinely fascinated with one another. She was amazed that I could juggle four kids, and I was impressed that she’d stuck to her convictions about never having at all. (She’s now in her 50s.) We talked about plastic waste, Jim Crow and apartheid and the differences in the pace of life in South Africa and the US. I discovered that she’d gone to fashion school in New York in the 80’s. However, she dressed like a woman for whom the nuances of fashion were a bother, and I liked that about her. Finally, we got to the point of the meeting: She wanted me to join her in making the totes as part of her campaign to rid our town of what she calls the Blight of Plastic. I leaned in and smiled eagerly as she began talking numbers.

“I offer R15 per bag,” she began. “I was offering more, initially, because the straps were such a beast to construct…but now that I’ve seen what you were able to do with the alternative by eliminating that portion of the labor…”

“Yes,” I finished. “Using the luggage strapping does take out a considerable portion of the time spent making the bags.”

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Essentially, she was saying that my innovation (using luggage strapping) had increased the value of the bag, but decreased what she was willing to pay for the labor. My smile turned tepid as I contemplated her offer.

At today’s market rate, R15 is $1.09. It takes me approximately one hour to make a bag. Sure, I’m not expecting to become a billionaire off of tote making, but I had hoped at least to make enough money to contribute towards school fees, which are increasing next year. I’d have to sew 10,000 bags to make a dent towards that goal. I giggled at the absurdity of it all.

And then I told her I’d be happy to join her when the time came. She breathed a sigh of relief, admitting that she’s already burned out several seamstresses during this campaign.

“The orders are just too large for one person to fulfill,” she said. “One of my friends gave up after I requested 75 bags.”

I advised her to assemble a team and spread the labor.

You may be asking yourself why I would even consider taking on this task, given the minuscule returns. I pondered the same thing. $1.09 is about what seamstresses working in sweatshop conditions earn. I had to look at the opportunity from a different perspective. While I have learned a lot about sewing from YouTube, it cannot give me the same practical instruction as someone who has graduated from fashion school. She already pointed out that while my bags are sturdy, the handles are a weak point because of the stitching I used. She would be willing to show me how to improve that area. In effect, I wouldn’t be losing an hour of my day per bag…I would be EARNING $1.09 to learn a new skill. Essentially, she will pay me to study.

Like you, I’ve had other moments like this in my life – scenarios where I’ve slapped away the hand of God for presenting an opportunity or gift that didn’t look like God. We often look for God in the big things. The evidence of His power lies in whether we have a big house, or a big car, or a big paycheck, or big (important) followers on social media. However, I am reminded of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 that says:

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

Be encouraged, my family, and remember to look for God in the small things. 🙂

Giving, and A Lesson On Grace

Hello 34 DGZ family! So much has been going on with us here on the Garden Route. The kids are preparing for their final week of final exams, Marshall just returned from ministering in Malawi (his absence was an eye opener for us all) and I’m trying to get my new locktician to stop cutting my hair at the roots because my lines are not “ayoba”. I don’t know what that means, but I gather he is displeased with my grid pattern. I had brain surgery. I’m just grateful to have hair, ayoba or not.

This has been an interesting season in the Grant family’s life, because we are experiencing a stretching of faith. Coming from our ministry in Atlanta, this may not seem like a big deal. Almost every family at the Father’s House has had to live by faith for one period or another, but Marshall and I have always been cautious spenders (him more than me) and so the bulk of our needs have been met through the efforts of the sweat of our brow and the Lord’s keeping the palmerworm from devastating our harvest. I’ll talk more about the stretching of our faith in the next post. Today I want to speak about a revelation that left me humbled.

Marshall is a big giver, and I have not always agreed with how and/or how much he’s sowed into a person or a project. Oftentimes, I didn’t consider them ‘worthy’ investments. Still, I’ve tried to keep my grumbling to a minimum and over the years I’ve responded to his giving in the same way one would witnessing a duck swim across a pond in autumn: with nonchalance. A duck in water is natural, after all. There’s nothing remarkable about a waterfowl in that environment. You watch it do what it does and then you go on your way. But in time, a strange thing begins to happen; those ducky habits begin to rub off on you. Recently, I’ve found myself cultivating a habit of giving.

“Nothing bad can ever come from giving,” I cheerily exclaimed as I gave away a chocolate ganache cake to a total stranger. Now it was Marshall’s turn to give skeptical stares.

A day or so after I gave away the item, a woman at a local business handed me some merchandise I’d been looking for, free of charge. That’s the way giving works, right? You give and it shall be given unto you. Being in a position to give can sometimes seduce us into believing that we are also ‘worthy’ of being in a position to receive. Usually, I’d say that’s a sound interpretation of scripture. God showed me otherwise in the most unlikely of places: At the gas station.

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As I had opened myself up to this new habit and season of giving, I’ve found myself more attuned to the unction of the Spirit. (I am not yet comfortable with declaring that I’ve ever heard The Voice of the Lord.) On Wednesday, I felt a nudge to give the attendant a R100 tip (around $8). We have a policy that we don’t give out tips for pumping gas. Pumping gas is the bare minimum. You need to wash our windows, check our tire pressure or SOMETHING to get a tip, and even then, it’s going to be R10. But the Spirit urged me to give R100 that morning, so I said, “Okay”.

I watched the attendant – a young man I had never seen before – go about his duties. He casually pumped the gas. He never reached for the window washing equipment. At one point, he left the pump idle and disappeared for what felt like an eternity. He was NOT the best gas attendant at the Shell station. In fact, he may be the very worst that has ever waited on me since I’ve been in the country.

When he finally did return to take my card for payment, he swiped it, handed it back to me, and wordlessly prepared to move on to some other task (or back to his breakfast).

“Wait!” I said. “Here.”

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I gave him the R100 note. He took it, looked at it and then looked at me with a look that was a mixture of awe and confusion, as though he was sure I had made a mistake. He thanked me, and I wasn’t inspired to say anything else to him beyond, “You’re welcome”; so I drove off. Behind me I heard his raised voice repeat, “Thank you, Mama!”

God’s unique humor hit me in that moment, and I had to laugh. I could almost hear heave say, “You see? Even when you absolutely suck at your job (i.e. your Christian walk), at least you have the sense to show up. At least you’re in a position to receive. I can reward you for showing up because it’s MY pleasure to do so, not because you’ve earned it or because you’re worthy.”

The truth, as we know, is that there is none worthy but Christ…and that’s part of the essence of the grace the Father extends to us.

For that, I am grateful.

 

 

Surprising List of Things You Need on the Mission Field

When we moved last year (can you believe we’ve already been in SA for 17 months?), a lot of dear friends and family wanted to send us of well prepared for life in “wildest Africa”. We were gifted with coffee (Gevalia for me), socks (for the kids) and advised to bring our own water filtration system. (Marshall saw to that.)

The reality is, South Africa is far more developed than most people realize. We have great roads here (although a consistent four-lane system on the national highway would be much appreciated), access to nutrition is reasonably priced and electricity is supplied with few interruptions. That’s not to imply that everything is all roses and lavender, however. Crime and corruption are rampant in many sectors, rape culture is pervasive and many people still live in abject poverty. Nevertheless, moving in South Africa remains what I refer to as a ‘soft landing’ into a life in Africa. As someone who grew up in and visits Ghana on occasion, I can confirm that it can’t get any ‘easier’ than this. Many of the things we had shipped – or were gifted to us prior to arrival, like the coffee – are already manufactured and readily available right here. South Africa even has a well-run online market center called Takealot.com. It’s our version of Amazon.

A few people have asked on occasion if there is anything we lack here in SA. The short answer is “no”. There really is nothing that we lack. Admittedly, however, there ARE some creature comforts that we miss. When we were living in America, there are items that we took for granted and have only come to appreciate them now that we have no access to them. This list may surprise you, but here a few of the things we have discovered that we need on the mission field.

Neosporin:  You don’t know how much power this little tube of healing carries until you discover that it has no equivalent. Whether it’s a mosquito bite, a scrape or a 10-inch gash, Neosporin can fix it all! And there IS none in South Africa.

Rubbing Alcohol: Rubbing alcohol is ubiquitous in America, right? You walk into Wal*Mart, it’s right in front. You walk into Kroger, it’s over to your left. Even if you’re not sure if you have rubbing alcohol anywhere in your house, chances are there is definitely rubbing alcohol in your house! Whether you use it as an astringent, to clean your tools or to clean behind your ears (or in your navel, like I do without shame) rubbing alcohol is life! And there is NONE in South Africa.

Marshmallows: You read this and you snigger. How is a marshmallow a necessity? Well, it is if you’re on the mission field with four children and those children bring home a bake sale sheet requesting rice krispie treats and then you go to the store and guess what? Gotcha! There ARE marshmallows in SA, but they are absolutely awful. You haven’t seen struggle until you’re in the kitchen mixing up marshmallow mix by hand for 1 hour and a 250g yield.

Spices: Y’all just don’t know. Living in a place called the Garden Route with no spices (besides salt, pepper and vinegar) is an oxymoron. It’s disorienting. I haven’t had properly seasoned food in 17 months and my taste buds are despondent, dispirit and dejected. I miss crab cakes, y’all. I miss seasoned crab cakes. I miss properly seasoned everything.

Nachos; or more specifically, Tostitos:

Does this really need an explanation?

 

Have you ever lived/worked on the mission field (or military, or service project) for more than 6 months? What things were on your wish list that surprised you? For us, I think nachos was definitely the most curious of all. Go figure!

It’s time to AWAKE!

Pastor Grant has been a busy bee!

While his wife was away getting her skull cut open, he partnered with local psalmists, musicians and artists to hold monthly gatherings where prayer and worship are the focus. His wife missed the previous sessions because of reasons, but she’ll be there this week for sure!

Will you? 😉

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The Miracle of Salvation

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You know how God can take an image and download an entire message into your spirit in a matter of seconds? You ever notice how infrequently He gives you the vocabulary to express that message adequately? (Or maybe I’m the only one to suffer from this insufficiency.) Well, today’s post has little to do with an update about the work we’re doing in South Africa. If I’m to be honest, it’s a futile attempt to redeem myself for a botched job I did on delivering a word I was given last week. Now that I’ve had a chance to gather my thoughts, it may sound “deep” to the reader, but trust me, it was anything but on the Sunday I stood before the saints speaking it.

We have been visiting Johannesburg, and were invited to fellowship at My Father’s House where Robert Kelly (not to be confused with a certain sex cult leading R&B singer) is bishop. We were led in worship by a small, but dynamic team and were exhorted to personalize our worship by one of the team leaders. It was in that moment that I had a vision of salvation that I was itching to share with the saints. I doubted that I would have the opportunity, so I stored the information and swallowed my words. But God, right?

As I have come to expect, Marshall was invited to give a short message to the congregation. What I didn’t anticipate was Marshall tapping me on the shoulder and asking him to join him at the front, which I did dutifully. I was so moved by the interpretation of the image about the cross and personal worship I’d received that I didn’t have the capacity find the language to communicate what I truly wanted to impart. So I said:

“You know, like the sister said, worship is personal. It’s bloody. Jesus bled for us…each of us was born of a woman, and you can’t be born into a family without blooooodddd…!!!

The congregation stared at me blankly and Bishop Kelly grabbed back the microphone; and with good reason. Here was this stranger taking up the introduction time talking about childbirth!

But if I had the opportunity for a do-over (and as I said before, that’s essentially what this is), I might have said this:

“The mechanics behind conception and birth – in the natural – are nothing short of a miracle. Before a human being is formed in the womb, there are many obstacles that the seed of a man have to overcome before it can fertilize an egg. The birth canal is a treacherous place, as it sees seed as an invasive force/element. There are false corners and caverns to confuse the seed where they eventually get trapped and die. Out of the millions of sperm released, only ONE will successfully fertilize an egg. That doesn’t mean new life in the womb is guaranteed. But if a new life IS formed and nurtured in the womb, it will only be brought into this world with blood. There is no getting around that. Whether through a C-section or a vaginal birth, there will be the shedding of blood.

If the conception and gestation of our physical bodies is such a miracle, then how much more in the natural? There are so many obstacles, dark alleys and false/dead ends trying to impede our salvation. We are influenced by many voices and doctrines in this world, we’re tempted by all kinds of inducements…even our own minds try to convince us that the Cross cannot possibly hold all the power the word says it does. But if we press through all that muck and darkness and are able to reach the Cross, the Son and all the power therein, then we too become re-born in the spirit. We experience the miracle of new life. The body of (and blood shed by) a woman is our avenue into this physical world, just as Christ and his blood are the vessels into the adoption – or translation – into the family of God.”

 

We (and I’m really speaking to myself) need to prove ourselves worthy of this miracle – both miracles, really – every day. It’s a struggle, but it’s also an honor.

Have you ever received a vision from God that seemed unconventional on the outset? We’d be honored if you’d share! It wouldn’t be the first time He’s spoken to someone in an atypical way. Just ask Saul’s donkey.

“Do Not Build Below This Point.”

I may have mentioned in one of my previous posts that there is one prayer request that I am almost always guaranteed to receive at the close of a service, particularly in a large church where we’re visiting.

“I want to divorce my husband. Can you pray that our separation is easy an smooth?”

These requests do no come easy. The supplications are often made by tearful women – who, despite their church finery – look wrung out and hung up to dry. They’ve prayed for their marriages. They’ve fasted for their union. They believe in the ministry of reconciliation. But by the time they’ve gotten to that prayer line at the altar, they’re ready to admit to themselves what the old aunties used to say: “You can’t keep a man who doesn’t want to be kept.”

Resigning yourself to the idea that the end of your marriage is imminent can be absolutely traumatic, especially when one partner has already moved on physically and emotionally while you still cling to hope. When the hope for reconciliation has been snatched from you, it leaves you feeling adrift; unmoored. In my trusted position as a pastor’s wife, it’s a difficult thing to witness. The grieving process is not unlike working through the circumstances surrounding a slow, painful death.

Still, it’s easier to pray for this former group than the latter. The hardest part about praying with certain women whose souls are still tied to husbands who have expressed in no uncertain terms that this marriage has run its course (for them) is getting them to understand that while we can take our request to God for reconciliation or a change in a loved one’s heart, God never forces His will on anyone’s heart. God does not force an action or a reaction from any of us. If a man/woman willfully walks away from their marriage, all of the counseling, guilt laying and law in the world can’t force them to return to the union and participate it in an equal, loving manner. Doing so can only lead to resentment and will be poisonous to everyone involved. Sure, God can touch their heart, but they have to be open to receiving that touch and respond accordingly. It’s this sticking point that the woman of blind faith so frequently can’t/refuses to grasp: the concept of the power of individual will. Sometimes that strength and power of will rivals in might to the Almighty’s.

A while ago, Marshall gave a word about the storms that we each will have to battle in our Christian walk. Those storms can manifest in myriad ways and are almost always guaranteed to come at intervals in our life.

“What matters,” he said, “is not what the situation you’re facing is, but how you handle it. But you know what? I’ve never known a storm to last forever. It doesn’t matter how long or fierce it is…the storm always ends. It just does.”

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In a follow up conversation with a new friend who has been battling with the break down of her filial relations, she took the analogy of the storm further by talking about the safety of the eye of the storm, which is ironically often in the middle of it. It’s counter-intuitive, but God in his perfect plan designed that that strongest place of chaos is smack in the middle of it. As she finds herself – and as well all will at some point – in the middle of a ferocious tempest, we can rest knowing that we’ll be kept safe so long as we are centered.

The conversation brought to mind a particularly devastating tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. An earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 unleashed tidal waves that obliterated hundreds of miles of Japan’s coast and cost thousands of lives. There is a small coastal village called Aneyoshi which was spared the devastation only because they adhered to a warning written on an ancient rock.

DO NOT BUILD BELOW THIS POINT

In this particular storm, the waves stopped just 300 feet below the rock, sparing the homes and lives of the 11 families that lived in the village. Why only 11 families? Because as one of the elderly residents explained, people tend to forget about potential danger ‘until the next tsunami claims 10,000 or more lives.’ They migrate to the water’s edge in order to be closer to their boats or have more convenient access to the road.

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A stone tablet in Aneyoshi, Japan, warns residents not to build homes below it. Hundreds of these so-called tsunami stones, some more than six centuries old, dot the coast of Japan. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

The word of God is very much the foundation – a rock, if you will – for our success, happiness and (spiritual/physical) health as believers. So long as we do not structure our lives beneath the safety and surety of God’s word, the storm may rage, but we will not be swept away with it. God’s ways are not always convenient (actually, they seldom are) but his laws and commandments, which we are at liberty to take as advise, are rooted in ancient wisdom. The Father uses foolish things to confound the wise. The recommendation of cutting off a spouse may sound unwise or unconventional, but Jesus said if your right hand offends thee, cut it off. If you find yourself in a toxic marriage and after having done all you can via prayer, fasting and pleading with your betrothed for reconciliation, it’s okay prune that relationship. It’s okay to let it go.

That was the storm.

You can rebuild a new life, so long as it’s steadfast and secure on the word and plan of God.