Don’t be a fool

No FoolsIt can be quite jarring how life’s priorities can be turned upside down in an instant. There I was just thinking I was coming out of a malaise of activity with no time to think. I felt that I was beginning to be able to breathe again. New plans were forming in my mind, new directions were taking shape and BANG! they all didn’t seem to matter.

My wife, Jude, fell down a 6ft car pit and seriously injured herself. Both of us, a long long way from the specialist care she required. Thank God she is OK and definitely on the mend. However there were a few, seemingly long moments where I thought she may not make it. She shared the same thoughts. They are humbling moments.

Our kids left at our place in Zambia not really knowing what had happened. I’m left in a maelstrom of thoughts, emotions and activity, desperately trying to get those first few hours sorted out. Every love and passion you hold falls into insignificance. It’s true place in your life cruelly exposed for the unimportant sham and it really is.

Mortality has a way of grabbing our attention like nothing else.

Many people have re-assured me that God was there. To be honest, I feel that some of those people are simply re-assuring themselves. An agreement from me, re-enforces what they hope to be true. Such a jarring, shocking event doesn’t simply shock those directly involved, it shocks all around. Maybe that is why I have written this.

Let me tell you something. I know God was there. I’ve been there before. I’ve been in deep trouble that I am powerless to defend myself against, usually in the continent of Africa. You learn to see the signs of His presence. He mobilises people, help, intervenes in the situation. In the middle of the night, people came to give blood, the insurance company didn’t play up, thousands (literally) of people prayed and Jude lived. I know that the story could have been very different.

We don’t fully understand why bad things happen in this world. Maybe we never will. We are however given a choice. Do we have no hope that we are on our own, abandoned in this wide universe? Do we believe there is someone who gives everything sense, direction and security? It’s very easy when life is well to say we don’t believe in God, to say that religion it’s a crutch. It is another thing entirely when the chips are down, maybe you will die…. it’s quite another thing to not believe in God then. You need a crutch then, you will do anything for one. We see and understand just how weak we really are.

Both Jude and I are indebted to the thousands of people who prayed for us, and especially prayed for Jude. We are indebted to the many people that have helped us with practical details in the last two weeks. Sometimes we feel out on a limb when we are in Africa, maybe the last two weeks have taught me just how much the family of God means to us. There are people out there, who if we are in trouble will go to the end of the earth to find us (you may have to one day!). I also never lose my sense of wonder at how God mobilises events and people when it really needs to happen.

Jude is still healing up and will be for a while. It still hurts her to even breathe. Both of our emotions are occasionally a little raw, but we know God is around us, helping us and we will definitely live to fight another day. We are not that easily put off. 🙂

In such times, there are precious viewpoints to be reflected upon. Such events do not come along often, we thank God for that. However, when they do, they give you a viewpoint of your life, your love and your relationships like nothing else. They help you appreciate your place in the order of all things, and the place of the God you say you have a relationship with.

The Bible says such troubles are light and for this moment. How can the Bible say that? In the light of all things, from the beginning till the end of time, they probably are. Yet they are up close and personal and the pain can be searing. Yet that same pain teaches, gives wisdom and helps us to live better. The viewpoints suffered achieve wisdom and correct perspective in life. Evil is somehow turned for our own and this world’s good.

It is the fool that becomes bitter at God at such a time for they ignore the source of life and healing. I don’t intend to be a fool and whatever your pain, maybe you shouldn’t too….

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Socks

Socks are what I think of when my mind turns to Martin. He was a typical Zimbabwean guy. Khaki shirt, shorts and ankle socks that came up to just below his knees. Very much looking like the colonial white. All that was missing was the Pith helmet. I haven’t seen Martin for years.

Socks is also the nickname of a guy I have met here in Zambia. Again he is Zimbabwean. His nickname is synonymous with the most noticeable part of his attire. His knee length khaki ankle socks.

So it was with some curiosity that I observed the elderly Zimbabwean guy in the shopping mall at Manda Hill in Lusaka. Khaki shorts, slightly scruffy, khaki shorts, open toed sandals and again the trademark knee length socks. He looked kind of out of place.

Surrounding him were the trendily dressed youth and workers of Zambia’s up and coming middle class. More GAP, Gucchi, Armani and Nike than ankle socks. The new and gleaming shops of the capital screamed modernity and development at him. The scene could have been repeated at any number of the new malls like Levy, Woodlands and Arcades.

Looking at him, it became apparent to me just how much parts of Africa have changed in recent times. The elderly guy looked like an old colonial relic, a symbol of an Africa in times gone by. Like the rails at the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe that used to transport gentlemen and ladies to the falls on native pushed carts. They look a little rusted and out of date.

This new Africa certainly attracts attention, earns plaudits and does give a sense of hope for the future. However it too is caught in its own time warp. Just like socks and khaki that are more outdated these days, Africa is giving itself to a new materialism. For all of the bleating of the pan africanists that Africa knows best for Africa, the overwhelming evidence in the richer classes is a for a belief that it does not. They eagerly devour anything of western brand value, from Samsung, Barclays Premiership Football, Apple and Blackberry. Those brands are definitely not Africa. Obviously the corporations and conglomerates of this world together with Chinese investment know best?

“The result is the same, an Africa for the few, the rest have to eat the scraps from the table.”

In times gone by rich tribes exploited poorer ones, powerful tribes conquered those who were weaker. Colonial whites managed to get in on the act too, with rich and greedy chiefs complicit in giving their land away. Today it is those that are materially rich. The poor are still poor, sometimes more so. For some people to have much, others must have little.

Africa has not changed, just like the world hasn’t. The ‘haves’ are simply different, the ‘have nots’ are always at the bottom of the pile.

To Pioneer

The Matusadona Hills crown the view of Lake Kariba in the hazy distance. As I look out from one of the southernmost points of Zambia, I wonder how many seemingly unconnected events have collided to bring me to this place.

People sometimes ask me what pioneering is about. How do you begin something?

Now there isn’t a simple answer to that question, but for Christian ministry, some of it is simply following the Spirit, a hunch, intuition or whatever you want to call it. Following that hunch then takes a commitment to try it, to follow it and to be open to whatever it may bring.

So, I’m some 600km from my home. Bernard, one of our Impact Team leaders has come with me and we are simply here to meet some villagers. We are based at a camp in Butete Bay, which until recently was a simple fishermen’s camp. Now the area is slowly being developed through the involvement of my friend Rammy Singh amongst other people. 2 or 3 shore side chalets have sprung up, cooled by a pleasant but constant breeze off the lake.

Most of the workers from the camp come from 2 or 3 of the eight prominent settlements around this area. The settlements are very poor. Southern province and the Siavonga area are hardly well developed areas of Africa. As Bernard speaks Tonga, we spoke with some of the workers last night. We explained to them about trying to start a group in the community to teach about Christ and find ways of helping one another. These are the groups we call Life! Groups. They agreed and thought it was a good idea. This afternoon we now have a meeting with a lot more villagers some 10km from here where we will talk to them some more.

Funnily enough, an annual conference of one of the bush churches based in Zimbabwe happens to be in the same village this afternoon. As fortune would have it, Alfred the security guard is good friends with the bishop of the group of churches. We are going to greet them and explain to them later today. Is it fortune? Luck? Or the plan of a good, interested and involved God to move His work forward? You tell me!

Coming from Europe, people I know are more conversant with strategic plans, collections of goals and the like. We have them, but the implementation is more people based and well I guess, “fuzzy!”. Learning to live with following the Spirit, hunches and “fuzziness” is part of the missionaries and pioneers toolkit. Without it we would simply be very conservative and ineffective businessmen. You cannot pioneer with a business plan alone.

The reason is that true lasting change is actually achieved in the hearts of people. That way people personify what you are trying to achieve and are the “plan” rather than simply obeying the plan.

An awareness to be open, to listen, mental agility to connect the dots that you can see and some faith to connect those that you cannot. A commitment to follow through when you are not sure of where you are going and some bravado to convince others, inspiring faith that it is all OK. These are some of the ingredients of a pioneer. This is some of what it takes to begin with nothing and make something happen.

Maybe pioneers are some of the biggest blaggers in history but maybe just maybe sometimes they are right.

Building

Today I spent the morning staining concrete so it looks like sandstone. The other day I plumbed in a solar hot water geyser, above a slightly rickety wooden platform. I’ve got to admit when I turned it on this morning, rather like a fountain, it leaked. In the last few weeks I have had to do so many things that I have never done before.

I remember last year having to fix some wiring that was smoking in a house I was renting. I simply ripped it all out and started again. A few weeks before in Wales I had asked an electrician how to wire in a fuse box…..???

The thing is, even with some of my inexperience, I am probably still better placed to do it than many of the tradesman around Mkushi. Plumbers normally remove the rubber seals meant to stop leaks and apparently in Zambian electrical work, earth and neutral are often the same thing.

The difference is confidence and education. If I’m not sure how to do something I simply get online and have a look how. I can understand the instructions and I’m handy enough to do the practical things I read. Guys here cannot get online and even if they do, they don’t have the background and framework within which to understand the information.

Lasford last year asked me who had taught me electrics, he was amazed when I answered I had just read something the day before. And yes! the house hasn’t burnt down…….yet……..

Even in our work here, even simple tasks can often become very complicated, simply because of this ‘background’ knowledge issue. You would not believe how complicated, convoluted and difficult communication can be.

Now many people will read this and just assume that villagers and builders in Zambia are stupid. They are not! Some of the best times in the last few weeks have been spending some time with the builders and working out with them how to do things. They are not stupid, many of them simply haven’t had the opportunity to learn.

Perhaps one of the saddest situations I have come across is perhaps that two of my builders I am having to let go, as they are alcoholics. They get paid and disappear in a drunken stupor for half a week. They could go far, but alas, their situation keeps them captive.

In some ways the problems these guys face are a microcosm of the situations that many people face in the villages. Imagine thousands of people, held captive by issues, not educated very well and not having confidence. You really then begin to get an idea of the challenges faced by Rural Africa.

Values

Oscar was on sat on top of the climbing pole, some 13 metres above the ground. “I can’t do it!”, “I can’t do it!” he kept saying to himself. He was being asked to stand upright on a rickety 1ft platform atop a moving pole. Not an easy task.

The chant of, “Yes you can!”, “Yes you can!” went up from the other delegates gathered at the bottom of the pole. Some of them were holding his safety rope, his life depended upon them.

Oscar gingerly got up from his crouched position, his face straining with the effort. Slowly but surely he stood to his feet, his arms open wide in triumph. A smile from ear to ear was across his face. Finally he believed, “Yes he could!”.

I’m listening to Richard Thompson, the leader of Ndubaluba Outdoor Education Centre finish off our Impact Team Training Camp. Every 6 months we gather our impact team members together with prospective new members, to look at examining problems, have fun together, pray and understand the values that motivate us.

As well as traditional sessions, we use challenge and well yes sometimes overcoming fear to teach how Christianity and God can infuse our lives with the correct values to live and work by.

If there is one lesson that I can point to that I have learned is this. If you plant the Spirit of God and the right values in people, the work of community transformation, liberation and the gospel will grow and grow. It is the values that are important.

These values together with God are the engine that is driving our work here in Southern Africa.

3 and a half years after initially planting the work here in Africa, the reach is now, 3 countries, over 3000 community volunteers meeting in groups, the Gospel has been proclaimed in many places and over 110 groups meet week by week across Zambia and even into Angola and Tanzania.

Our impact teams own the work for themselves, it is their work. They visit groups, they help the poor, they proclaim the gospel.

They have internalised the values of Gods Kingdom and are actively pushing it forward. The results affect thousands of people, something that would not be possible any other way.

If you want to create something that will truly change the world, give your own power away so that others will internalise the mission before them. Give your own power away so that they can be free and in turn make others free.

Then what God will do through them will be like a new dawn rising.

Oscar now believes that he can do it, nothing can take away the achievement of overcoming what for him was a significant challenge. That lesson will encourage him, drive him and in turn drive others.

That’s why Dignity works the way it does. We believe that God working through people is the primary way that our world changes for the better. That’s why we invest money donated to us in training, encouraging, proclaiming the gospel and helping people see that there is great hope when they come together Rooted in Jesus to Love their Village.

My friends here will leave today and as they leave will be the hands and feet of Jesus everywhere they go.

They are not simply doing the work, they are the work and that’s a very important difference.

Bound

The young man was tied up, bound and left in a room on his own. The parents didn’t know what else to do. His madness was all pervading. He couldn’t talk, he refused to eat and appeared confused all of the time. For three years this had been the situation. Left in the dark dusty room of a typical high density residence, his condition worsened and worsened.

It’s 4’o clock in the morning. The residential areas of the remote town of Mwinilunga are quiet. Rhoda calls Loves to come and pray for her brother. No-one can cope anymore. He still lies bound.

Loves and the family pray for the young man. They take him to the hospital. His condition is improving.

A few hours after being prayed for the young man is able to talk, he can ask for food and wants to eat. He can recognise his family and relatives whom he has not seen or talked to for 3 years.

Loves bathes him and continues to pray for him for two days. By this time he is fully recovered.

He is not bound anymore. Jesus has set him free.

(from a report collected by Bernard of Dignity’s Central Impact Team, from Loves Kwangu in Mwinilunga)

Maslow’s Hierarchy

Whatever part of me thought that it might be a good idea to build, whilst not having a permanent house and growing our work, needs to be taken out and shot! In the last few days I’ve rapidly formed the opinion that I cannot be superman and must go with the shape of life that we have here at the moment. Namely we have to get a house built!

The psychologist Maslow defined what he called a Hierarchy if Need. At the bottom are things like food and shelter, and the top, ah! I can’t remember but less important stuff. I’m telling you, I have been up and down that hierarchy quite a few times. At one point last week I had somewhere to live for 2 days, now it’s 3 weeks!! Although the person who was meant to be moving in to our house is in fact now not coming, so you never know…

Tack onto that thought the fact that Gods plans will happen anyway and that at least gives me a way forward. What do I mean by that? God has a plan that supersedes and takes our plans and situations into account. I really don’t know how he does it, but I’ve seen it time and time again. I sometimes wonder if God does his work despite me 🙂 this should mean I can focus on my current needs and leave Him to arrange the expansion of the work. After all, God can do it an awful lot better than I can.

That doesn’t mean I do nothing, just follow the leads and do what I can, when I can. Let me give you an example. Within 24 hours of being in the country Rammy had suggested that we look in Siavonga, which is on the border with Zambia and Lake Kariba. Unbeknown to him we had been thinking about a place to investigate in Southern Province. Then, because of my slightly mad life at the moment I figured that to send Bernard, not myself was a good idea. Unknown to me was that Bernard was about to talk to me about going to Siavonga anyway. Do you think we may be being pointed there? That’s what I mean when I say that the Lord has a way of making His plans happen.

So at the moment I’m slightly up in the air, grasping for support even more than a little overwhelmed but I do believe this is all somehow in Gods will. The bible says that the Lord orders the steps of a righteous man. At the moment I really should hold onto that for dear life.

Its going to take me quite a few weeks to climb Maslow’s Hierarchy again!