Africa has a way of putting things in perspective. Distance, for example, takes on a whole new meaning here. Most people really don't understand just how big this continent is. You could take the United States, Western Europe, Australia, and China, place them in Africa and still have room left over. At the same time, the roads are so bad and they're clogged with so many pedestrians that traveling a mere 60 km is a major undertaking.
Normal takes on a new meaning as well. Those everyday conveniences that we feel we can't live without appear as luxuries of the fabulously wealthy (which they are).
As an aside, I'm convinced that our addiction to these little luxuries is one of the major hurdles keeping people from foreign service for the Lord. I actually had one woman tell me that she wouldn't go anywhere which prevented her putting on make-up every day. At first I was astonished, then saddened, then disgusted. Now I just feel pity. But she isn't alone. Everyone I know (including me) has, prior to their first mission trip, trembled at the thought of using something other than a western toilet. As for me, remembering that the King of Glory didn't have access to a western toilet strengthened my resolve to go. But most people don't think of such things.
Africa has a way of putting a new perspective on troubles as well. Yesterday I finally was able to begin teaching the pastors. I was to be picked up at 9:00 AM but waited until 11:30 before Flory arrived. He explained that every so often at regular intervals (I don't remember if it is every week or every month) the entire nation of Burundi has a clean-up day. People are to break from their normal routine and clean the areas where they live and work. To ensure this mandate is taken seriously, police set up check-points on the street to stop all traffic except for emergencies. Yesterday was a clean-up day. Flory forgot. By the time he realized the situation, he had no way of contacting me. I don't blame him, but it was frustrating, nevertheless.
When I arrived, I began teaching the prepared doctrinal statement. The continent of Africa has been deluged with prosperity teachers, more interested in fleecing the sheep rather than feeding them. REMAC (the association of churches with which I'm working) recognizes this as error. But since they've had no formal theological training, they aren't always as able as they'd like to articulate the truth in response. Flory trusts me so much he said, "Tell us what to believe and we'll believe it." What a blessing and yet what a burden. In fairness to Flory, he knows that I will back up everything I say with the Word of God. Thus, the purpose of my teaching this trip. I had a doctrinal statement translated into Swahili (more expensive than you'd imagine) and we are walking through it.
The paper begins with a statement about Bibliology. We discussed why we accept the Old and New Testaments (but not the Apocrypha or other later books, like the Book of Mormon). We also learned that "All Scripture" is inspired and God-breathed. I explained this means there is no portion of Scripture that is any truer than any other.
This statement led to a question. "What about in the Old Testament where we are told about punishment being "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" (Ex 21:24, Deut 19:21). Didn't Jesus contradict that?
In response, I took the class to Romans 12:17-21. We discovered that God's standard of justice (an eye for an eye) hasn't changed. But we aren't the ones to exact that justice. Instead, God has promised to avenge.
As I taught this, I couldn't help but think of my own recent temptations in this area. All of us have been tempted to take matters into our own hands from time to time, haven't we. That's when one of the pastors spoke up.
"During the war, my father was killed and then scalped. But I know I shouldn't harbor bitterness in my heart or seek my own revenge. Instead I must trust God to set things aright."
That statement pulled me up short. I thought, "If I struggle with the wrongs I've endured, what would I be like if I had to wrestle with something like this." That's when the shame kicked in.
Later in the day, I was instructed once more. God revealed to me (yet again) that he doesn't need me to accomplish his purposes.
The service was going long (as usual—I'm convinced that African's have absolutely no sense of time). Wanting to end the service before darkness set in, Flory asked me not to preach but merely "sum up what you said last night." What could I do? I stood up and spoke for all of three minutes, reminding them of the passport to the Kingdom and urging them to make sure they have it. Then I sat down.
Flory followed, immediately asking for people to raise their hands if they wished to trust Christ and receive this passport. Two hands slowly went up. Two pastors quickly left the platform and spoke with the individuals, praying with them. Flory again issued an appeal, this time to come forward if they have trust Christ to take away their sins. Both people, a man and woman seated in different sections of the congregation, came forward. I prayed for them and they returned to their seats.
Again Flory made an appeal, this time for people that felt burdened to come forward for prayer. About half the congregation streamed to the platform. I prayed once again and they returned to their seats. And I also sat down, marveling.
I had said so little as to hardly make any difference at all. Flory didn't make an emotional or drawn-out appeal. He merely asked a question. And God in his mercy gave new life to two souls.
I didn't need to preach. In fact, I did little other than show up. But God was pleased to use me anyway. But he used me in such a way to make it clear he didn't need to.