Monday, January 19, 2009

Back from the dead

Last week we moved to Nashville. This week we are back in Michigan wrapping up tasks, appointments, making ministry deadlines for fiscal year reports to the government, attending a board meeting, a planning committee meeting for spring events, visiting a supporting church, connecting with remaining family in this area, having one last goodbye with friends, and tending to a myriad of events to prepare for our next upcoming trip to Congo.

After six days straight of living in the fast lane from morning til night and seeing God's hand at every turn of the way in making crooked paths straight and giving us strength to finish this prep before leaving, I was able to sandwich in a visit to my dear sister, Gerry. Gerry underwent back surgery in September, acquired severe infection, broke part of her spine, underwent three more surgeries to alleviate the intense pain she was suffering, was coded for cardiac arrest and a collapsed lung, and was intubated with a feeding tube and ventilator. Most would never have survived such trauma and body breakdown, but my tough little big sister did! The Lord amazingly has brought her back to life, back from the dead, and she is very alive and well.

As my darling, beautiful niece, Terri, wheeled her out to see me in the foyer of the beautiful facility which provides hours of physical therapy, hope, kind treatment, and loving care, my eyes beheld her miraculous countenance. She speaks, is in her right mind, has gained back 11 lb (she went down to 89 lb.), and talks, reasons, cries, and responds wonderfully well. The sound of her voice and her precious animated face were such sweet music to my ears, rather like a symphony.

About half way through our visit, in walked my handsome nephew, Mark. Tears filled my eyes as well as Gerry's and Terri's as I recounted their loving kindness to their mama while she was so critically ill. They were by her side most of the time, soothing her traumatized body and mind, telling her how much they loved her and that she was going to be okay. They patted her arm, gently stroked her face, and ran their fingers through her hair, speaking hope and soothing tenderness into her spirit. It was wonderful to behold.

I want to thank everyone for praying for Gerry. Her illness took her to the depths of the death pit, and now God has chosen to resurrect her and allow us to enjoy her presence a while longer. Thank you for standing in the gap for her when she couldn't even speak, sleeping her days away, trying to regain her strength. Praise you, Jesus, for your amazing healing power. Just a glance in her direction, just a spoken word, just a wisp of the expression of your will, or just a healing thought for her is all that was needed to bring her around. I am so grateful that you chose to show her mercy by allowing her to come back to us from that pit. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A New Land

Recently, someone asked me how many states I have lived in during my lifetime. He was obviously referring to states as in United States of America. I answered "only one." But I have liived in another land in another world on another continent. And while traveling to that other land over distant seas, it has been my experience to view, touch, taste, hear and handle other cultures, spiritual domains, languages, traditions, and people who have enriched my life in so many ways for various reasons, one being just simply because they are different from the American way.

Long, long ago, Abraham, our patriarch journeyed to a far off country. Hebrews 11 (the Hall of Fame Faith chapter) commends him with these words, "Urged on by faith, Abraham, when he was called. obeyed and went forth to a place which he was destined to receive as an inheritance; and he went, although he did not know or trouble his mind about where he was to go. Prompted by faith he dwelt as a temporary resident in the land which was designated in the promise of God though he was like a stranger in a strange country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs with him of the same promise. For he was waiting expectantly and confidently looking forward to the city which has fixed and firm foundations, whose Architect and Builder is God."

That far off land for me 30 years ago this past December was Congo, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It too became my inheritance. Congo is the birth place of my husband, Jim. Shaped and conformed by life as lived with Laban and Marcella, his parents, he is a man of great faith, abiding love, immeasurable patience, and devoted to chasing Jesus and following hard after God. Returning to Congo for Jim was a piece of cake. For me it was like drinking sour lemonade until. . . one day I woke up after crying for 2 years, and it wasn't strange anymore. God's grace allowed me to buy into it. The land, the people, their customs, and their love won me over.

Just 3 days ago we moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In so many ways, this new land for us is not strange at all. It is beautiful; we are near family members, and living here is a long-awaited dream. But it will also have its challenges, disappointments, heartaches, and triumphs. We are excited to see what doors God opens here for us as a couple and for the ministry. We are already won over. We already feel at home. We are so grateful the Lord has allowed living here to become a reality after decades of praying that Nashville would one day be our home.

Our home in Congo is awaiting us as well. On January 30, we will once again wing our way to that special place where Laban and Marcella carved out such an incredible work of God that they are legends there. How grateful we are for the decision they made 70 years ago to go to "Congo land" as Laban called it. How grateful we are for the inheritance they left us. How grateful we are that we will be greeted and welcomed by valiant men and women of God whose love for Him is an amazing inspiration and whose love for us never ceases to amaze us.

It will take about 21 hours to get there, leaving Nashville to Washington Dulles to Johannesburg where we overnight, and the next day on up to Kinshasa, the wild, impoverished, dark, dangerous capital of Congo. Our mission station of Nkara is 400 miles due east of Kinshasa, and Mission Aviation Fellowship will fly us there soon after our arrival. Roads are a joke, and what used to take 15-24 hours by land vehicle now can take up to 5 days, with bandits on the road and barriers to traverse that require "fines". Thank God for MAF.

So we are leaving our new land to go back to an old land that has become a place of worship, ministry, great friendship and commeradery, and a proving ground for God's saving grace, snatching men and women from the burning fires of hell, (when is the last time you heard a message on hell?), and experiential grace that enable us to actually live out the demands of each day in a land that not too long ago was practicing child sacrifice while steeped in and duped by demon worship. Will you please pray for us?

Moses in the wilderness said to the Lord Almighty, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?" Ex:33:15 That is always our plea when we return to Congo. It is a land that is full of demon worship and witchcraft, unhidden, in your face. Warfare there is obvious. It is easily recognizable. We go in the Lord's strength and victory, or we do not go at all. We know Satan's devices there. We see his cunningness. We feel the oppression that is so thick one can cut it with a knife. Darkness has reigned supreme in many parts of Africa. On our mission station alone, babies were once offered as a sacrifice for sin, placed on hot coals, cut up into pieces and eaten to appease the gods, seeking good crops and ancestral blessing. Satan is a wily foe. We remember that we do not fight against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in high places.

"For though we walk (live) in the flesh, we are not carrying on our warfare according to the flesh and using mere human weapons. For the weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons of flesh and blood. but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds.

Inasmuch as we refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the true knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One."

Will you pray these verses over our going, staying, and coming back to America in April? Thank you. Your prayers will make all the difference. We actually feel them. We look to them. We count on them. Please intercede for us and the wonderful people of Congo land.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Once again, His Faithful Hand Prevails

2008 has come and gone. Our "high places of trouble, suffering or responsibility" according to Habakkuk 3:19, Amp., this year have included walking down the corridors of death together as a family, watching the ups and downs of ministry funding due to the catapulting downward spiral of America's economy, and sorrowing the loss of Romai, a Congolese staff member electrocuted by lightning while huddling in a round, grass-roofed, 4-poled shelter, endeavoring to escape the tropical storm's fury. To Romai's right sat Kibala, and on his left, Nkwe. They escaped. Romai died. Or is it the other way around? Romai escaped to rapturous glory. He is walking with The Great I Am, the Ancient of Days, the One who formed him while he was yet in his mother's womb. Romai is more alive than ever before. Why would He ever want to come back here? Nkwe and Kibala, continue to "live" in a land filled with despair and hopelessness humanly speaking. Theirs in many ways is a living death, albeit, a temporary existence. But James sheds light on their blighted condition. He proclaims that their wealth does not consist in the clothes they wear, the stuff they display in their homes or the satisfaction of a growing savings account. Their riches are displayed in their faith (James 2:5) because they live out the reality that their earthy surroundings do not measure their worth, nor can they dictate true joy.

Ministry wise, every so often we come to a crossroads of true ownership. We face the fact boldly once again that Laban Ministries from start to finish belongs to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Because my husband, Jim, was born into ministry and began earning a living in ministry at the age of 19, and then myself marrying into ministry in a local church at the age of 22, the lines can get murky. That is, we or at least I tend to find difficulty in separating myself from the work. We love our "job", we love the Congolese people, and we love watching the harvest God continues to reap. We love seeing the Lord make the crooked paths straight, (winding paths made crooked by the evil one, by human error, by the Lord's testing, and by things that are not seen).

I absolutely jump up and down inside when the provision through God's people amounts to more than the outgoing expenses for this mushrooming, thriving, vibrant, exciting organism so close to our hearts made of up over 100 Congolese nationals. They are the hands of Jesus through the Radio Ministry, our little dispensary where hundreds of babies are delivered each year through the loving efforts of our own Florence Nightingale, Marvina, through the weekend preaching of our student pastors at Laban Bible Institute, through dedicated professors who teach the student pastors, and through women professors who carry beat up, defeated village women who can't even read or write their own names to a place of determination to not only read and write their names but to a higher ground of tackling the goal of becoming acquainted with the Word of God, a place of quiet confidence and gleeful achievement as they learn that the Bible is comprised of books, chapters, and verses that will change their lives. As they speak this Holy Writ into the depths of their being, they rewallpaper and renew their minds with truth that sets them free from their former prisons of ignorance and despair. Those are a few of the upsides.

On the other hand, I fight my own giants of panic, fear, and stopping dead in my tracks when the monies aren't there to meet monthly ministry expenses. This year has been one of those years. We haven't been able to return to Congo in more than 12 months because of lack of funds, and salaries have been seriously behind. In October, we faced the possibility of shutting down the Bible institutes because there was no money to feed the students. Would the ministry continue? Some ministries have had to make tough decisions this year by cutting staff and making concessions that have been excruciatingly painful. When Laban's funding got so low that we couldn't feed our 50 students, it forced us once again to re-evaluate. Each times this happens, we search our hearts. We plead with our Congolese staff to search their hearts, which they are so willing to do through all night prayer meetings and fasting, and we relinquish any mistaken "ownership" on our part to the Lord Jesus Christ. January through September were hard, hard times.

Mercifully, during the last quarter of 2008 the Lord has lavished us with evidence that tells us He wants the work to go on. It is because of His compassionate heart that we are able to share with you that through the Dream Packages and gifts from total strangers who view our website, as well as prayer partners who read our letters and share the vision of reaching the lost in Congo, that we are ending 2008 in the BLACK!!! To those of you who have taken Laban Ministries into your hearts and minds by praying, fasting, and/or giving we thank you from the depths of our souls. Satan's defeat is being acted out in front of our eyes. Christ, who always leads us in triumphal procession, is also our rear guard. In other words, HE'S GOT US COVERED! Amen and Hallelujah. Oh, the beauty of seeing his faithful hand prevail.

Father, it is an awesome privilege to call you Father, even more intimately, our Abba (Daddy). You are not obligated to us. You are the boss. You call the shots, but we sure love it when the shots you call are so in line with what we want to see happen. You can do anything you want to do. We humbly bow in obedience, awe, respect, and love, and proclaim that You continue to do all things well.

I leave these verses with you, which are swimming around in my mind with such fury and force that I can't stop thinking about them. There is an earnest desire on my part to experience their reality, and yet I find them scary because of the brevity, gravity,and implications of commitment to them it will take to realize even a portion of victory. I also remind myself that God takes us at our word. Nevertheless, here they are. With blessings and a grateful heart, Nancy Smith

Jeremiah 33:3 is a very well known verse, but I love the Amplified version:

"Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and might things, FENCED IN AND HIDDEN, which you do not know (DO NOT DISTINGUISH AND RECOGNIZE, HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF AND UNDERSTAND)." I want to know those hidden, fenced in things that I am not distinguishing and recognizing nor do I have any knowledge of or understand.

This is the one that requires my all to even bring before God everyday:

Acts 24:16

"Therefore I always exercise and discipline myself (mortifying my body, deadening my carnal affections, bodily appetites, and worldly desires, endeavoring in all respects) to have a clear (unshaken, blameless) conscience, void of offense toward God and toward men."

This is so not me that I tremble at the thought of wanting to make this my life, but I cling to II Timothy 3:16 that states, "Every Scripture is God-breathed, (given by His inspiration and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, and for training in righteousness, (in holy living, in conformity to God's will in thought, purpose, and action). Whew!