Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dung Beetles

Okay, so it has been a while since I have updated the blog. Some of you may not be aware that our ministry focus has changed some. I am still working part time with SHIM (Shepherd’s Heart International Ministry) working in the islands, but we also have some different responsibilities. The home office (Global Outreach Int’l) asked me to be the Africa Regional Director. This means that Michelle and I are doing missionary care for our GOI missionaries working in Africa. I must admit that we have some doubts as to our abilities and resources to do the job well, but we believe that God has called us to follow Him in this. We had been doing some of this with missionaries in Uganda for a while now, but this March would be the first time we would be reaching out beyond to other African countries. The home office requested that we have a family from a different country come and stay with us for a few weeks so we could encourage them and help sort out some things. Ready or not, here we go! I spent the week before the family arrived out on the islands doing Pastoral training. The training went well but was tiring. While SHIM works hard to take care of its trainers, the conditions are not exactly what this old body is used to, and I don’t get much sleep. The last day on the island, I take a chair and sit, spending some time in the Word and meditation. I watch the water and the birds soaring above, but then I notice a dung beetle heading towards me, rolling its ball of dung. This is not an easy task as there are so many obstacles, grass and sticks, but with determination and hard work the beetle keeps the ball rolling. I look to where the beetle had come from and see a fresh pile of dung. I go to investigate. (Yes, I know you are thinking how fascinating missionary life sounds.) I see that there are about thirty dung beetles swarming the pile, each seeking its own piece of the prize. I observe some of the beetles have secured their ball of treasure and are busily rolling it away. At first I think some are working in tandem but then I realize they are actually fighting over the same ball. The bigger beetle was rolling the ball forward while the smaller one tried to roll the other direction; but all in vain, as no matter how hard it worked it just kept getting pushed backwards. As I observed the beetles, I kept feeling I should be gaining some insight from it all but failed to find any deep meaning in this pile of dung. The next morning we took our 4 ½ hour boat ride, in the hot Africa sun, back to Jinja. When I got back, I was exhausted with my energy reserve on empty. Immediately a cold jumped me, and within a day’s time, both my head and my chest were congested. I have a history with pneumonia and by the end of the second day, my wheezing, hacking, difficulty breathing and fever told me I was headed that direction. I was dismayed at the suddenness of it all and the fact that this was also the day the missionary family came to stay with us. I had not been sure how we were going to best help this family but being laid out in bed had not been a part of my plan. Even with medication, recovery went slow. For the two weeks, they were with us and I was lucky to be able to spend one hour a day talking with them. Michelle did a wonderful job taking care of both our families. We did make it through a study and had some good talks, (and the family said the time had been good for them) but I couldn’t help feeling far from successful. I finally started feeling better the day the family headed back home. With the sickness being so sudden at just the wrong time to interfere with our efforts, I couldn’t help but feel Satan’s hand was in it. For the next few days I felt progressively better; which was good for in just a few weeks we planned to go to Ethiopia to get to know and encourage our missionaries there. I wanted to be strong for that. Then the pneumonia rebounded and I was also struck by malaria. As I lay there, shaking violently with fever, I felt anything but strong. It was also along this time that some thieves tried to break into our home, we had a vehicle break down, and we took some financial hits, along with a number of other stressors. I say this not to try to gain your sympathy but to show how weak I felt in the face of the challenges around me. I wanted to be strong and in control, but that was not an option open to me. God then brought me back to the day I sat and watched the birds and the dung beetles. I, like the beetles, had been trying by determination and persistence to overcome any obstacle and keep the ball rolling to achieve my goal. But God helped me to see, even if I succeeded, I still would only have gained a ball of dung. In actuality, I had been more like the small beetle, fighting opponents stronger than myself, trying hard but only going backwards. I felt God saying, “Stop fighting, and stop relying on your strength for it is only an illusion.” I don’t know how much the missionary family that came to stay with us got out of their visit, but I know I learned a couple of things. First off, there is definitely a need for the work God has called us to do. There are a lot of missionary families out there who need someone to care about them and the struggles they face. Secondly, if we are going to be of any help to anyone, it will not come out of our wisdom and strength. Instead, it will come out of an acceptance of our weakness and knowing only by the grace of God can we be of any use. Once again, I am slowly recovering from my sickness and we have a week before we are to head to Ethiopia. There are still an awful lot of questions flickering around within me, but I am trying to learn to trust, to lean upon, to depend more upon my weakness than my strength. I do ask for your prayers as we go forward. I am not really sure what I should be asking you to pray for, so I will leave that to you and the Spirit. But I know for sure, we can use all the prayer we can get. God is good, all the time, even in our weakness.