Saturday, October 22, 2011

If It Is God Asking, What Else Can You Do?

In just over a month, I leave for Livingstone, Zambia to set up church on the side of the road for long-haul truck drivers who wait to cross the Zambezi River for up to six days because at the point that connects Zambia and Botswana, there is no bridge.  This is a crazy assignment.  I have met one long-haul trucker in my life.  I am a white woman mother lawyer writer from the Midwestern United States.   What sense does this make?  Not much.  And yet, I have no choice in the matter.  Really.   

See if it makes any more sense once you know the background:  In September 2010, I went with a team to Ndola and Lusaka, Zambia to teach pastors.  (If you want to read more about that, see entries 9/13-9/28 here: Trip)  While there, we had an opportunity to go to Livingstone, which is at the southern tip of Zambia, on the border of Zambia and Botswana.  (See Map)  

As we got close to the border, I noticed that there were between 50 and 60 long-haul trucks lined up on the side of the road.

When I asked about this, I was informed that there is no bridge across the Zambezi and so trucks line up and wait to get taken across on a ferry one truck at a time.  What?  Yes, these truckers wait 5-6 days on average to get across the River on this ferry: 

Something took root in me at that moment.  Why doesn’t someone build a bridge?  How much would it cost?  How many additional days are these truck drivers away from their families because they have to wait here?  Doesn’t the stuff they are hauling spoil?  Does it get to where it needs to go on time?  What happens at night when loneliness sets in for these truck drivers?  What about their families back home?  Can they survive for the weeks that these drivers are away?  How are the drivers spending their time as they sit and wait?  Are they eating?

I could not let this go.  And I began to see this little border crossing as a microcosm of what was wrong on a much broader scale – a lack of infrastructure was causing all kinds of social problems: a breakdown in the family, sexual promiscuity, loneliness, the spread of HIV/AIDS, hunger, and despair.  I wasn’t sure if I was right about this, but it is what I began to see.  For the rest of the trip, I talked to anyone and everyone who would listen about the fact that there was no bridge and what could be done, what was being done.  I prayed about it just about every day.  I learned that Zambian presidents had been promising to build a bridge across the Zambezi in Livingstone for 60 years.  And yet, in 2010, there was no bridge. 

Now, keep in mind that during my visit to Zambia, I also learned about HIV/AIDS projects that care for dying people and their families, orphans who cannot afford school uniforms to go to school, huge villages that have no access to clean water, and more.  These things started to feel to me like they had their cause in something else – like the absence of infrastructure, the absence of bridges.   

Just days after I got back to the U.S., I told a colleague of mine that I felt strongly that God was calling me to form a church on the side of the road for the truck drivers.  My colleague said: “Don’t do that.  Build the bridge.”  For months after that conversation, I researched bridges and what was being done to build a bridge.  Turns out that much is being done and it is a very complicated process because it involves the sign-off of three countries – Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.  The project will cost $100 million and all sorts of engineering, social, and economic studies have been done.  In fact, the proposed bridge looks amazing. 

So, a bridge will be built.  Problem solved, no more long waits, no more loneliness, hunger, despair, right?  That is not the sense I got.  A steel bridge, no matter how spectacular, will not relieve the loneliness and despair, the thirst of the soul.  Something even more fundamental is needed: the One who gives living water.  (John 4:10)  Otherwise, the thirst will return somewhere else, sometime else, with someone else.  (John 4:14)

And so, I will meet a team of Zambians there and we will set up on the side of the road, serve food, sing music, and preach the gospel to truck drivers in Zambia and Botswana.  This is the call, and I have no choice.  What a privilege!  Have I ever felt more purpose, more fulfilled, more loved?  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained the immediate response of Levi when Jesus called him to follow in Mark 2:14, when “the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ himself,” we follow at once. (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship at 57)  Or, as a close friend said to me as I described to him a feeling that this project seemed out there and that no one really understood why I was doing this: “If it is God asking, what else can you do?”  Indeed.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

God, With A Flashlight And A Shovel

My heart is like a house.  It has many rooms.  And in those rooms, there are some pieces of furniture that sparkle as the sun shines through the windows.  You know those little squares of light where a lazy cat might lie all day?  Like that.  There are other pieces of furniture that never get any natural light at all because they are too far from the windows and too heavy to move.  There are several closets in my heart where no light ever goes and random old junk piles up, collecting dust in the darkness.  Then, there is the basement.  Down there, it is cold most of the time, kind of damp and musty.  And it is dark.  I don’t even know what is down there.  I have lost track and maybe it is best not to know.  None of the stuff in the basement ever moves into the light unless it is forced up and out. 

God is walking around in my heart with a flashlight and a shovel.  He is in the closets and in the basement, shining a bright light on all the old stuff that has piled up and wanting to dig it up and force it out.   He doesn’t point the light into the many shadows and dark places all at once.  And I can go days sometimes feeling like perhaps the basement and closets have been cleaned out and everything inside is sparkling in the sun.   But then, he goes farther into the basement, another step down, another crevice found.  

Yesterday, God pointed his flashlight with cutting precision into a really dark place.  I was reading Isaiah and came to chapter 60, verses 19-21:

"No longer will you need the sun to shine by day,
nor the moon to give its light by night,
for the Lord your God will be your
everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.

Your sun will never set;
your moon will not go down.
For the Lord will be your everlasting light.
Your days of mourning will come to an end.

All your people will be righteous.
They will possess their land
for I will plant them there with my
own hands
in order to bring myself glory."

Now, most of this sounded wonderful to me as I read.  Something weird happened, though, when I got to the part that says “for I will plant them there with my own hands in order to bring myself glory.”  I had a twinge of discomfort and resistance.  I couldn’t place it at first, so I read the passage again.  And it happened again – a pushing back or a closing down at the idea of God doing something to bring himself glory.  This was a really hard thing and I feel saddened and ashamed by it.  Something so deep and dark in the basement of my heart, outside of my consciousness, resists that God should be glorified. If someone gets glory, that means that someone else does not, right?  If God gets the glory, then I do not.  If God is worthy of the glory, then I am not.   This diminishment of my self hurt and I resisted it without even realizing it.  My desire to protect and prop up my own ego is deeply engrained and powerful and dark.  

The reality is that there is a desire in my own heart for God’s glory.  To admit this, well, you try it.  See how it feels.  Perhaps it will bring to mind this description of Satan:

"How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
'I will ascent to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of
on the utmost heights of the sacred
I will ascend above the tops of the
I will make myself like the Most
(Isaiah 14:12-14)  This is fall-to-the-ground, face-down, ask-for-forgiveness darkness of the soul.  This is the essence of sin:

"Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one.  A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, 'I AM.'  That is sin in its concentrated essence; yet because it is natural it appears to be good.  It is only when in the gospel the soul is brought before the face of the Most Holy One without the protective shield of ignorance that the frightful moral incongruity is brought home to the conscience. . . . However painful, it is precisely this acute moral consternation that produces true repentance and makes a robust Christian after the penitent has been dethroned and had found forgiveness and peace through the gospel."

(A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy)

I have places in my heart that sit in soft shadows – my deception, and lust, and unkindness.  But then, there is the bottom of my heart, which is utterly without light, buried in darkness, seemingly never to be claimed or acknowledged.  It is so far down that I couldn’t even identify it.  Before yesterday, I could not have articulated my desire for God’s glory.  I didn’t know it was there.  I would not have thought it was.  And then God came in with his flashlight and a shovel.  Today I feel bruised and sore, dethroned and brought low.  I have been convicted, guilty-as-charged.  I am so sorry.  But most of all, I feel something inside being transformed and made new, like Christ is reversing the very essence of my self-centered, self-aggrandizing nature so that I am capable of fully honoring God and sacrificially loving others.  In other words, by shining his light on my darkness and shoveling out my deepest sin, Christ forgives me and then works to transform me to be more like him.  (Philippians 2:5-11)