Sunday, June 27, 2021

LEARNING FROM AN EMPTY PLATE - THE LOG CHURCH SERMON, JUNE 27

(Continuing with the recounting of my first trip to visit the orphanage in Kenya)

Journal Entry – April 6, 2018

Since my visit to the orphanage of the Log Church of Kenya, there has been a large increase of orphans at the church.  In November of last year there were 24 children under the care of the church. Shortly after I returned home I learned that there were 32. Now Joel writes that they have 42 orphans.

I wrote to him, “Joel, you cannot keep taking in children or everyone will suffer. We cannot even now adequately care for the children that we have.”

But Joel tells me that they find these children when they as pastors are out doing evangelism on the streets.

“We try to find out if they have any uncles or aunts or cousins; grandparent; anybody,” Joel writes. “And we look for people to take them in, but when no one does, we cannot leave them in the streets.”

The need is very great, as it is in all parts of Africa, and indeed in all parts of the developing world.

Joel tells me that the Lord will find a way. This pastor is a young man, but in this his faith exceeds mine.

He responded to me, “Hannah never knew how the baby will come but she asked and God gave her a son.”

“Jabez never knew how change would come, but he asked God to bless him and indeed, to enlarge his border, and that His hands to be with him and would keep him from all evil, and God granted his request.”

“Solomon asked for wisdom.”

“Elijah asked for fire.”

“Bartimaeus asked his sight to be restored.”

“Hezekiah asked to extend his life.”

“Joshua asked the sun and the moon to stand still, and God granted all of them.”

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (be confident God will never fail you at all).”

I admire his faith, but I still find within me a part of me that remains skeptical. I find myself wondering if it is because I am becoming a part of this work that they are more willing to take in more children.

Journal Entry – August 2, 2018

Like it or not, in the eyes of most people in the world, if you are an American, you have money—a lot of money. At least this has been my experience with people in most of the countries where I have worked. I suppose this is not true in some of the wealthier countries of Europe, Asia and elsewhere, but since the greatest portion by far of my work has been in financially strapped places, this is the perception of Americans that I have usually encountered.

In some sense this is of course true. Financially speaking, Vivian and I live below the poverty line here in the US, but we are still far, far wealthier than most of the people in the world.

Being a rich American is a disadvantage while working in a poor country, especially if one works in the church. It can be a barrier to true fellowship and partnership—and that is not the worst of it. It can be a barrier for the people in their trust and faith in God.

After living for several years in one South American country, I felt I had finally reached a place in my relationships where people actually wanted to befriend me simply because I was me, and not because I was an American. But that did not mean that their perception of the US changed.

Once in a meeting, where we were discussing a looming financial crisis, one board member of the church made this statement: “Perhaps there is some way we can get some money from the north” (meaning the US).

I would not have responded the way that I did if I had been new in the country, but since at that point I felt that I was more a citizen of that country than I was of the US, my comment on this statement was, “Sometimes it seems to me that we look to the north first, and to the Lord second. Brothers, it should not be this way.”

Since returning to the US, I cannot count how many requests that I have received from past acquaintances to sponsor them so that they can immigrate to America, or how many requests to help with hospital bills, school bills, past-due rent, etc, etc. One may think all of this would have calloused me long ago.

Nevertheless, here I am quite deeply involved with a church and with beginning an orphanage in Kenya, East Africa—a continent where I had never before worked and where I had no plans to visit.

Why am I doing this? What’s different?

In part, the reason that I am involved and the difference is this: In the very beginning, the relationship between Pastor Joel and I began by him writing to me about my sermons from the Log Church and he responding to some of the things that I said. Joel also began to send to me some of the things that he shared with the people of the church where he was the pastor. Our relationship was built on sharing our thoughts on the Word of God.

He first said nothing of the needs of the orphans. Indeed, I did not even know of the orphans that they had under their care until after we had been corresponding for a good long time.

I will not say that Joel never had any thought of me helping them financially, but it was only after I began to gradually learn of some of the things that they were trying to do there, and then he brought his request with great humility and deference.

That is part of the reason that I am involved in Kenya, but the other part and the greater part is this: God has told me that I am to do this.

God has also told me that this is His work and not mine. It is not my responsibility to make appeals for funding, but only to tell the story of the orphanage in Kisii Kenya. God told me that He (God) will move hearts for people to contribute—not me. No one will get a guilt trip from me. No passionate appeals.

But I will say this, If God does so move people to contribute, 100% of the money that they give will go to the orphanage and the needs of the orphans. There will of course be no “administration fee,” no salaries, no office overhead. All that I receive will be sent. This is also where Vivian and I are now sending most of our own “sacred money” (tithes).

Journal Entry – September 13, 2018

Since early in the year we have been praying about building a dormitory-type structure so that the children would have an adequate place to sleep. This is not an optional undertaking.

Not only are the places where the children sleeping now very cramped, with every space on the floor occupied at night by a sleeping child, but also for other reasons the rooms provide a very unhealthy environment.

The church and orphanage do not actually have an adequate toilet for the number of people that it is supposed to serve. We did manage to build an outside latrine, but it is much smaller than it should be. As a result, not all toilet functions take place within the latrine. The soil outside carries many microbes.

All of this eventually finds its way into the sleeping rooms of the children. It sometimes becomes very unsanitary. Because the orphans are sleeping on the dirt floor, they are exposed to many microbes in the soil that give them various intestinal illnesses.

Earlier this year there was a period of very heavy rainfall when all the grounds turned to mud. The ground was so saturated with rainfall that the water even began to rise in the soil into the floors of the buildings. Cloth was put down on the ground for the children to sleep, but these of course quickly also became saturated with the contaminated water rising through the cloth.

I suggested buying some boards to be placed on the floors, so that at least the kids would not have to be sleeping in mud. This is what they did, and it seemed to help. But of course, this is not an adequate or permanent situation.

The Beginnings of a Dormitory

At the moment, we are in the process of working on the building. We are not very far along in project, but as the Lord provides, the work progresses. It has been step-by-step. The first step, it turns out, was when Joel found a deal on 5,500 bricks, building blocks that we would need to build a safe and healthy place for the orphans to sleep.

Well… that was not actually the first step. The first step was deciding what type of building we would make. Making an adobe-type building would be very cheap, but in that climate, where during the wet season there are great deluges of rain, these buildings need constant upkeep, and in the end, they do not last long.

But a building with a concrete floor, brick walls, and tin roof is very expensive—more than ten times as much as a mud building. Nevertheless, we decided that our building should be one that will last for generations.

Next to food and clothing, a good place for the children to sleep is the most important need. Because of all these considerations, a concrete and brick building is the type that we have begun to undertake.

As God provides the resources, we will proceed.

Journal Entry – September 19, 2018

This week the volunteers from the church began preparing the ground where the dormitory is to be built. The building site is being prepared in faith. At the present we do not have enough money to do more than put in the footings, but we are praying that we will soon have enough to also lay the concrete floor.

Perhaps buying the bricks was not the best first thing to do, since they have just been sitting in a large heap since April. But that was the time that they found a good price on them, so that is why they were bought at that time.

As I have mentioned several times, from the beginning this work of the orphanage has been a step-by-step process. Even before I became involved, the church in Kisii had taken these orphans in without any outside support whatsoever. They did it out of love, and they did it by faith.

Even when the people of the church themselves had next to nothing, by faith they brought the needs of these children to the Lord. It was by faith that they waited on God to provide for them. It was also by faith that the call came to me to give them assistance.

It is with gratitude that we have seen these children saved from the world. First of all, they are alive. If nothing had been done, I am sure that some or even several of them would not be alive today. Secondly, not only are they alive, but they are now part a loving family who will teach and provide for them the love of Christ.

It is true that every step in this process has not been in the forward direction. After seeing all of our children being able to attend classes for two terms of school, this last term the school costs suddenly rose dramatically. Because of this, we have had to pull all but the eight secondary students out. At this present time, we are waiting on the Lord to show us the next step in this, for it is our belief that these children should be able to have the opportunities of an education.

But even more important than an education is a safe and healthy place to sleep. It is our current step of faith to begin construction on the dormitory for the children. We presently have enough resources to begin to build. We by no means have enough money for the entire building, but we trust God to provide as we take this next step of faith. At the present, it will be a big encouragement to see brick being mortared onto brick to begin to see walls erected instead of in a large random mound.

Journal Entry – September 23, 2018

Joel has sent me some photos of the work that they have begun on the dormitory. It is good to see that we are able to actually begin to see our home for the children take shape. Seeing these photos reminds me of my old days when I was part of construction projects for churches and schools in some of the countries where I have lived.

In many ways, I would like to be there with them in Kenya working on this project as well, but in some other ways, I am glad that I am not (It looks like a lot of hard and hot, sweaty work).

We also have a L-O-N-G ways to go before we have enough money to complete the building. We are trusting the Lord—that is all we can say and what we do. And of course, all of the other needs of the orphans remain as well, especially for food, but also for clothing, schooling and other needs of life. These never cease.

Journal Entry – September 26, 2018

The footings are in and the concrete floor is in place. We are happy and grateful to see this building for the children begin to take place. Joel sent me a photo of the children playing with delight on the floor of a building where they will one day sleep.

We have to stop here with our building for now, however. This is as far as our funds have allowed us to progress. There are more important matters to tend to until we have more resources to work with

The critical matter at the moment is food.

It was one week ago that Pastor Joel wrote to me asking prayer for food for the children. They only had enough left for one meal. At our own meal time in our home, when Vivian and I give our thanks to God for the food on our own table, we always also pray that he would supply for the orphans of Kisii.

In that entire week, no gift came in for the children, and my own funds were also almost depleted. My prayer as I went to bed each night and one of my first thoughts in the morning was wondering if they had obtained some food from some source. Today I sent a text to Joel to ask him.

No food for a week. Only a little maize in water to make a thin porridge. This has been the food for an entire seven days.

I have asked God about this. Why did not food come for these children that he had rescued out of the world? I know that the area is extremely poor and many people regularly go without food, sometimes for several days, but could not some kind of food have been provided?

Again, I cannot help but think of Moses when he was leading his great congregation of people through the wilderness, a place where there was little food to be found. When the people became hungry, on one evening God sent quail into the camp. Then during the night, a dew formed on the ground. When the dew evaporated in the morning it left a fine, thin white flake on the ground.

“This is the bread that God has sent you to eat,” Moses explained to the people.

The Israelites called it “manna.” After that first day, God sent the bread from heaven to them six days per week for the next forty years.

In my prayers I brought this up to God and asked him if he could also send manna for these children. I did not mean literal manna, but would he not simply send them some food from an unexpected source.

It did not come. I finally could take it no longer. Vivian found out for me that the service desk at the business from where I have been sending money was open late into the evening, so tonight I drove into town to send them the money that I had on hand. It wasn’t much.

I am not sure why this food did not come from another source, but my children were starving, so I had to do something. I cannot say that I am entirely happy with myself for having done this. In some ways I feel that I should not have sent the money, but that I should have just waited to see what God would bring about.

I have been trying to learn how this work is not my responsibility, but it is God who will supply what is needed. But whether it was the right thing to do or the wrong, it is done. The money was received and the food was purchased. After more than a week with no food, my children now are eating a meal of rice and vegetables.

But with no further resources, the building for now is put on hold. My prayer still is that we can have this place ready for the children before next rain season begins, which will be in February or March.

School is also a thing of the past for these children since we have no more money to pay the fees, but we trust that we will again be able to see them go to school. In our thinking, they have no real future without it.

Journal Entry – October 3, 2018

For the past couple of days the weight of the task that I have been given me seems crushing. I hesitate to say it, but once again I think of the situation that Moses was in when he was caring for the people of Israel as he led them through the wilderness. I hope that I am not developing a “Moses complex,” but I certainly can relate to many of the feelings that he must have experienced.

Some days ago I was praying the God would send manna to the children of Kisii as he did for the Children of Israel.

“It would be a simple solution and it would also demonstrate the power of God,” thought I.

But for Moses, the manna solution was a mixed blessing. Certainly the food was there every morning for the people to gather. They only needed to walk around and gather it. It tasted good and apparently gave them the nourishment that they needed every day.

But after the initial delight had vanished, the people again began to complain. The Israelites wept and said, “Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now our appetite is gone; there is nothing to see but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6 BSB)

When Moses heard these words from the people, he also felt crushed by the responsibility given to him by God. I think he remembered the carefree days he had in Midian, wandering about the hills caring for and leading his small flock of sheep and goats.

“Why have You brought this trouble on Your servant?” he complained to God. “Why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid upon me the burden of all these people? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth, so that You should tell me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries an infant,’ to the land that You swore to give their fathers?

Where can I get meat for all these people? For they keep crying out to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’

I cannot carry all these people by myself; it is too burdensome for me. If this is how You are going to treat me, please kill me right now—if I have found favor in Your eyes—and let me not see my own wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:11-15 BSB)

It was quite a lengthy complaint. Moses vented all his frustration upon the Lord. “Please just kill me now,” he concluded.

I haven’t reached that point, but I can understand at least to a certain level the weight of the burden that Moses must have been carrying. It was a burden that he did not seek nor did he want to take it upon himself. It was assigned to him by the Lord God.

Feeding all that great multitude of people was also something that he was powerless to do. Out in that vast desert, he had absolutely no resources available to him. It was not a choice of his to rely upon God, it was his only option.

The burden that I have felt upon me, especially these last couple of days, in no way approaches what Moses was experiencing. Moses had more than one million people under his care. I have forty-two. Also, unlike Moses, I am not left with absolutely no resources. I have do have something that I can provide. I did that this past week and I actually have at least twice a month for the past year.

However, I think that the most significant difference between Moses’ situation and my own is the nature of the people under our care. Moses faced constant grumbling and complaining. He put up with a dissatisfied and unthankful people who would openly long to return to their lives of slavery in Egypt.

My experience is completely the opposite. When the leaders and the children of the orphanage find themselves without food, their first response is not to complain, but to seek God. At one point, Pastor Joel wrote the following letter to me:

We are sending email not ask for help but to give you and all readers of the blog a picture of what we are passing through here in Kenya Church and orphanage. When we are caring the children, it is not only in a physical way, but also mental and spiritually in a time like now when we do not have food. We meet with children in prayer and fasting seeking God in this time without anything to eat. Our prayers goes to God each day.

We know that you all also have needs and desire that you need God to provide we are praying for your provision as well.

Because these people of Africa actually do go through times of deep hunger, I respect their views on being hungry. We ourselves can be cavalier about our opinions on hunger and scarcity, but if we have never hungered or have ever had lack, then I am afraid we actually have no idea what we are talking about.

I instead respect the opinions of those who know true hunger. I will listen to the perspectives of those who know what it is to have absolutely nothing to eat, and who have had times when, besides having not eaten for five days, could see nothing on the horizon for having something to eat tomorrow.

Imagine what it is like to put 42 of these hungry children to bed (of course, most of them do not sleep in an actual bed, but on the floor), and who you know will not get much sleep during the night because of the hunger in their bellies.

At another time Joel wrote, “We are humbled that even if sometimes we sleep hungry, we know it is for the purpose and the test of our faith. We tell the children that we do not know why we need to have times of hunger, except that it is part of our journey from the Lord. We must trust that God will provide.”

It has also become part of my own journey from the Lord. I have resigned myself to the fact that my “golden years” will not be years of fishing every day and playing golf (or tending to my farm), but they instead will be years in which among my first thoughts in the mornings are for the children. “I wonder if they have food today.”

I am not complaining when I say this and I am not trying to impress anyone. I am not trying to do any of that. It is simply a fact about my own life.

After years of living in such wide-ranging places as India, South America and Polynesia, this connection with Africa in my late life has been teaching me things that I have never before experienced. It has set me back on my heels.

None of any of these things in my life has ever been my own dream or my own plan. I rather preferred to stay home on our farm. But this has been my own journey of faith that the Lord has put before me.

Nevertheless, this late and unexpected part of my retirement years is also a joy, as has been all the rest. I am learning so much from these people and from God about life. They offer me a perspective of life and of living that I have not before experienced.

I will again be visiting the church and orphanage in January (of 2019). Long hours in coach and long-drawn-out overnight airport layovers. But how should I complain? I expect that I will have food to eat.

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