Thursday, June 1, 2017

Why General Assembly?

I’m going to get real honest.  I’ve been a Nazarene for nearly all my life and I’ve never quite understood all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the General Assembly and Conventions.  I grew up in a small Nazarene Church that seemed to always be in the shadow of the larger churches around it.  I could tell that they were there, but never really saw them.  I would occasionally hear about quizzing, district events, camp and assemblies, but my little church almost never participated.  I was in college before I realized that most Nazarene Churches thrived on their district community.

Seeing as I didn’t understand the need for district events, you can be sure that I didn’t understand the hullabaloo that surrounded an event such as General Assembly.  There was particular excitement expressed by a small few in our church about the fact that General Assembly would take place in my hometown of San Antonio, in 1997.  Although I enjoyed myself, our youth leader (yes, our youth group had four people and thus needed a leader) had to practically drag me to the NYI convention.  At this moment, I got a small picture of how truly large the Church of the Nazarene was. 

My perspective was broadened and enriched throughout the years and even more profoundly so when we were sent as missionaries to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I saw how the individual churches, districts, and countries within the Africa Region truly depended on one another. General Assembly was finally starting to make sense.  The entire event is a commitment to being a global church community.  It is a chance for us to see the strengths and weaknesses of our brothers and sisters in Christ so that we may know how to better serve one another.  Yes, it is about the boring business stuff too; the kind of stuff that my teenage mind dreaded so intently.  But I see now just how much it means to be able to do the business of running our church together.
Members of a district assembly in the DRC 

In the DRC, there are more than 22,000 active members in the Church of the Nazarene.  However, finding the funds to send more than a handful of delegates is quite difficult.  In addition, visas are not often granted to Congolese applicants.  This year, we will have only seven delegates, yet they are thrilled and honored to carry the voice of the Congolese Nazarenes to the General Assembly. 

Let’s continue to bring the General Assembly and Conventions before the Lord in prayer; that they would be a means of fellowship for our global community and an avenue to more effectively make Christlike disciples in the nations.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Getting Our Farm On

As a child growing up in suburban San Antonio, TX, I never found agriculture interesting.   My dad was a good gardener and often won our neighborhoods prestigious “Yard of the Month” award several months in a row.  There was even a time when they changed the rules in the neighborhood so that the same house couldn’t win the award multiple months in a row.  In the spirit of full disclosure, the award was just a sign proclaiming that the yard which contained it was indeed the yard of the month, but nevertheless, from this point on, we could only host the sign every other month. Ok, maybe the “award” wasn’t that prestigious, but even at a young age, I could see that the recognition of my father’s hard work meant something to him.  For me at the time, all this meant was that I often had to pick up hedge trimmings, sweep the sidewalk, and help spread mulch.  As I said, I never found agriculture interesting.
I would have never guessed that growing plants and keeping a nice yard (if you notice, I’m doing everything I can to not call this gardening) would become something that I truly loved doing.  While living in the desert terrain of El Paso, TX, my neighbors would jokingly ask what my water bill was or ask what secrets that I was keeping from them.  The truth was that I never spent a lot of money, but could install and maintain sprinklers, usually had the greenest, fullest yard in our neighborhood, and had a variety of nice plants blooming throughout the year.  Somewhere between weed eating and spreading fertilizer, my dad’s skills must have rubbed off on me.  Soon, I was collecting seeds and taking clippings of plants wherever I went.  This has continued up to today, where at my home in Southern DRC, I have plants from all over the Congo, Zambia, Kenya, Togo, South Africa, Jamaica, and the USA. 
I suppose that it could be said that I do today find agriculture interesting, but to be fair, it snuck up on me.  The great climate and otherwise wonderful conditions here in Congo first led me to be interested in bananas and pineapples.  Did you know that if you plant a banana tree, it will sprout new plants and your harvest will grow exponentially?  Did you know that if you twist off the leafy “crown” of your pineapple and haphazardly plant it in the ground, it will grow into a pineapple plant?  These were things that we discovered upon first arriving in Congo over four years ago.  Today, these interests have expanded into raising chickens, pigs, rabbits, goats, guinea pigs, and others.  Together with the local church leaders all around Congo we are also harvesting honey, milk, eggs, and vegetables.  We are farming multiple acres of corn and raising fish in ponds.  We are supplying cane sugar, bananas, and a variety of fruits.  Indeed, we are very interested in agriculture. 
Leafy vegetables sprout near the village of Kiwanja.

A rabbit heads to market from the village of Samba.

Strawberries growing beside watermelon in Lubumbashi.

Peanuts freshly planted in Brazzaville.

50 young trees planted in rows near Lubumbashi.

Here in the DRC, as we struggle to be the church and reach holistic needs of those around us, we discovered that many of our pastors were unable to feed themselves.  So we have encouraged farming and livestock as a way for our pastors and their families to improve their lives.  But we are also partnering with them all over Congo so that their agricultural efforts will feed their neighbors and raise money for building the Church in Central Africa. Please pray with us that the DRC will be able to sustain its growing population of around 80 million people from local resources.  Pray for our agricultural initiatives taking off all across the country.  And pray for the hearts and lives of those who will be touched through these outreach efforts.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Welcome to Congo, You Lose

Some foreigners who live in Democratic Republic of Congo will tease that the slogan for the DRC is “Welcome to Congo, you lose.” This saying is based off of the day-to-day frustrations of corruption and injustices that take place.

This week was one of those weeks. Our week started off great. Gavin returned from a week away in West Africa, meeting leaders within the Nazarene Church, hearing their strategies and being encouraged. And on Wednesday, we headed into town for a lunch out as a family. We took a route we don’t usually drive and this is where the trouble started. In the DRC, we have traffic police. Some stand on corners or intersections assisting with traffic, hoping for a small amount of money. The intersections with one or two police usually aren’t trouble. When you have three to five in an intersection, you hope and pray they don’t jump out in front of your car and stop you. They check your license and all the documents of your car. Some will check your lights. One family we know was told you can’t drive in flip-flops, so they tried to fine the driver. Another family where the wife was driving was told she couldn’t be driving because she was pregnant. It all depends. This week, it seems, they are particularly checking licenses. Unfortunately, traffic police riding on a motorcycle stopped us. They insisted Gavin stopped at an intersection past the line you are supposed to stop at. In his defense, another traffic man who was directing traffic in the middle of the intersection signaled for his direction of traffic to stop.  The motor police also insisted that Gavin’s license was fake. Pointing to places on the license trying to verify the inconsistencies. After a long discourse, negotiations and a fine payment we got Gavin’s license back and went on our way. Not 3 minutes later, we were stopped again by another group of traffic police. Their story was the same, “Your license is fake.” Now, we’ve had the licenses, which we obtained from the transportation office in the capitol city, for over a year and never had a problem before when we’ve asked to present it. After some discussion, negotiations and loss of money again, we were able to leave.

To make a long story short, Gavin went by the transportation office in Lubumbashi to find out what the issue seems to be. It appears whomever put our licenses together in Kinshasa assigned us an incorrect number and our fingerprints are not clear enough. We started the process to get the correct license; trying to always do good and have all the documents required of foreigners living in this country. However, we found out about another document we are supposed to have before they will grant us our new licenses, which we do not have. Although we have a religious visa and another visa, which we renew annually, we must also have a separate residence card. This will be another long process and more money.

This is one of those weeks where you feel defeated. You want to throw in the towel and say, “Lord, why? Why so many obstacles? Why so many documents? Why so much money?” This all takes so much time. What is happening?

In the midst of the struggle, no matter the size, we do find our peace and hope in Christ. We come before Him in prayer and lay it all down. He knows. He’s walking beside us. Maybe these things are happening now, because of something else that is going to take place in the future. The DRC is so volatile right now. The currency is diminueing terribly. A year ago, we could get half of what we get right now for $100. This is good for us, but very hard on the Congolese. There are riots that break out in different parts of the country because the President did not leave office last year when he was supposed to and new elections have not been promised.

We know in this life there will be trouble. But, we hold on tight to the promises of God.  

“The Lord is my Rock, my fortress, my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And, the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

While we can get stuck on focusing on the frustrations, we can miss the good that is happening in the midst of it.

The man who showed up at our house yesterday asking to know more about the Church of the Nazarene. He was truly interested in knowing more about who we are, what we believe and why. It was a time of evangelism that the Lord brought to our doorstep.

Funds came in that allowed us to tile our entire house. It has made such a huge difference from the cement floor we had over the last year.

Our District Superintendent in Goma, DRC is recovering and healing after a serious medical problem.

It’s our hope and prayer that the difficult times will not distract us from the work we’ve been called to do or make us forget the ways God is blessing us at the same time. God is at work! And, we will put our hope and trust in Him through every situation.