Thirty days ago a colleague and I were in Ethiopia wrapping up a very encouraging week of training. A major part of the beauty of the week was that the vast majority of the training was carried on by Ethiopian leaders we had the privilege of preparing and coaching.
I have long believed missions should invest most heavily in the training of nationals to handle the Word of God faithfully in their homeland and then beyond. We are investing in training Ugandan’s along with our National Partner, Four Corners Ministry. The vision for our work in Northern Uganda came through the churches who make up the St Croix Valley LEAD Team of Western Wisconsin. Over the past thirty days the vision to train nationals has only been intensified!
A few of the men being trained as trainers in Ethiopia. I’m humbled to serve the Lord with them.
Thirty days ago we received the message from the leadership team of TLI that all staff on the field were instructed to make their way home, due to the advancing COVID 19 virus. Fortunately, our travel arrangements allowed us to finish our week of training before going to the airport for the flights home. Also fortunate, our flight avoided Europe which allowed us to avoid the health screening at O’Hare Airport. The internet was filled with horror stories of those returning to the US from Europe that day. Some of our colleagues were caught in that mess, missed flights, and experienced extended delays. I made it home without delay.
I was asked/instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. Within just a few days the TLI leadership team announced they were taking steps to close our offices in downtown Minneapolis. My self quarantine was scheduled to expire March 28. March 25 Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued a state wide stay at home order which went into effect at midnight March 27. Ok, so I’m staying home.
Yesterday marked thirty days since we received instruction to get home. I’m still home!
I’d love to invite you to read James 4:13-17 and just consider, this word has not changed, but I certainly think about this differently than I did thirty days ago.
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:13-17
I think J. B. Philips paraphrase of v.16-17 is helpful. “As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.”
Over the years I have worked with so many people for whom there seemed to be two driving forces; time and money. For a believer neither of these are primary. In Christ we have been given all we need for today, and promised life eternal. If we think biblically how could time or money be ultimate considerations? (That doesn’t mean a steward should be foolish with either!)
For several years I have sought to live like God has not given me any more to do today than I can accomplish. A wise steward examines every opportunity, prioritizes biblical responsibilities, lays them before God consistently, follows the Spirit’s leading, and crucifies the ego that drives me to want to be the “messiah”. Over the years I know I disappointed people who wanted more from me. My aim was, as best I could, to call them to lean on the One True Messiah. He is ever faithful. In order to lead people in that way, it required that I serve Him faithfully, and when nighttime came, pray, lay my head on my pillow and rest in Him.
One of my many pet peeves involves those who, with the best of intentions, would lead a conversation with, “I know your super-busy but…” I wanted to stop the person and ask, “Do you think I am incapable of managing my time?” If the Lord doesn’t want me to include something in THIS day, I will say that. After all, I’m not the messiah (not even small “m’). Part of the joy of serving in a gospel motivated church is that there are priorities set out in the Bible, and gifted followers of Jesus all over the place who delight in serving others in Jesus’ family!
But these are really strange days. I know many whose days are full. Health care professionals, the people who are keeping stores stocked with goods, etc. All of us are more grateful these days. But, with travel on a virtual lock down, my schedule has changed dramatically. And, we have little idea when we might be given the green light to resume. Add to that that the green light is not just the U.S., but everywhere we would go to train! The TLI leadership team has made plans in light of a season of history we’ve never experienced before. I will include a link to the planning document for anyone interested.
Each of us at TLI have put personal growth plans in place, which has been so good for me. Part of my personal study these days focuses on the New Testament letter of Ephesians. The letter elevates the corporate nature of the Church during a season those principles must be expressed in a unique way. But, I’m very mindful of the universal church as well, and our brothers and sisters in parts of the world where social distancing and “stay at home” is significantly more difficult. Imagine if you had to go to the local pumping station to get your water, but you aren’t supposed to leave your home. Imagine if refrigeration were impossible so feeding your family depends on getting to a market, but the market is closed.
We are in a changed world. If a short time ago, you wouldn’t think what happened in a village in China could possibly affect you… do you think that now? Thirty days and the world has changed. Maybe, we have changed. There are plenty of challenges, but I can already see some things around us that are changing for the better. I long to be with my church family. Telemedicine is a thing. I’m having almost daily “chats” with my granddaughter. I’m praying differently. I want a hug!!!
I know many, if not all, of those who give faithfully to allow me to invest myself in the training of leaders for the Church, will experience increased financial pressure. I want to say this as clearly as I can. I am so grateful for all God has done through your generosity. If this is a season that you need to make financial adjustments. I trust you to follow the Lord! He is capable and faithful to care for each of us. So, we who are in Christ, have nothing to fear! Please let me know if you need to make adjustments in your support. I pray specially, weekly, for each of those who share in this work. I always appreciate updates!
Recently I was asked what I thought God was up to with all this. I said, God has purposes beyond my understanding and I’m confident He is doing many things from individual works to culture shifts. But, I know this for sure; God is bringing glory to His name, giving His people opportunity to point those they encounter to the King of Glory. That has been my answer for 40+ years. I don’t know much but I know that, and I know Him. I pray for you in this strange world. I long for our true home.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. Psalm 135:6
Link to the TLI response plan: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-sJqw_NTaxM7UmeXFHENKVpDWOInncn2/view?usp=sharing