Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Warm fruit cocktail anyone?

It was a beautiful day in June of 1979 in the Congo.

Jim, Shawn, Nicol, and Todd had just returned from Kinshasa, where they had picked up our first REAL food shipment arriving in Kinshasa from South Africa earlier in the month.

They had first gone by Nkara, our mission campus, to drop off the brand new beautiful aqua and black wood stove. Now we could return Mupia's, which had been left to him by Marcella, Jim's mom years ago, when he used to cook for her. He had graciously allowed us to borrow it until we were able to get our own.

I had flown to the medical mission station of Vanga two weeks before my due date because of some pre-delivery signs. In order to do that, we first had to drive to Kikwit because the airstrip at our mission was not yet completed. It was around the middle of June when we left Nkara with my bags packed, shovels for the road repair one never knew might be needed, food, water, and clothes for the children and Jim.

The plan was to drop me off at Kikwit, a 3 1/2 hour drive in our new Suburban, and stay at the guest house there until the MAF plane could come pick me up. Jim and the children would then proceed on to Kinshasa to get supplies, take them back to Nkara, a 15 hr. trip each way, and finally make their way to Vanga to wait for our baby's birth together.

We did not want to impose on the missionaries at Vanga, Dr. Dan and Miriam Fountain, and felt that I would be enough of a challenge to feed, even though we planned to pay for this service. We called MAF on another missionary's radio from Kikwit, and he picked me up at the Kikwit airport nervous and anxious, contemplating my going into labor on his small plane while making our way to Vanga.

The children and Jim left from Kikwit, arriving in Kinshasa that evening after seeing me off. Things went well, and on June 27, they all returned with delicious commodities such as jelly, fruit cocktail, canned meatballs, and wonderful delectables we had yearned for since January.

Vanga was an American Baptist mission station established at the turn of the century. It is located about 57 miles from our campus. The Fountains were highly respected missionaries, and I felt safe there. I slept in a small brick building, read during the day, and prayed that they would make it before Jack's birth. My due date was June 30. The fellowship I enjoyed with other American missionaries was so wonderful it made the wait easier.

Each night an American nurse slept in the same room as I in case I went into labor. We enjoyed good conversations, and she was encouraging and comforting. Her years of nursing experience gave me confidence and strength.

As the Suburban pulled up to the house that morning I was delirious with joy to see my family once again. Jim and the kids unloaded part of the food shipment, and Shawn and I grabbed a can of fruit cocktail and a jar of strawberry jam.

Gary Kapinga, the first person to come and work with us, came back with Jim and the kids from Nkara and offered to fix lunch for us. He made bread. We cooked some of the canned meat, boiled potatoes which we felt were to die for, and looked forward to enjoying fruit cocktail for desert.

Though Gary had the best of intentions in wanting to help us with the meal, when he brought "desert" to us, the kids wept as they tasted their long anticipated treat. Gary had warmed the fruit cocktail on the stove! Hot fruit cocktail! Having never seen anything a can like this, he had no idea that it was served cold.

The next day, June 28, began with contractions which lasted throughout the morning into the early afternoon. It was time.

We made our way up the hill from the vacant MAF house we were staying in back to the small brick building to finish out labor and delivery. At approximately 5:30 that evening, 9 lb, 21 inch long John Scott Smith, was born. He was healthy and strong. We were all thrilled.

So thankful I did not have to deliver him in the back of our vehicle in between destinations, I looked at his amazing little body, so perfect and praised God for His mercies. Not so with every missionary, some of whom had told me they delivered their babies in the back of a truck. I told the Lord I was too much of a chicken to do that and begged him for as normal a delivery experience as possible. He allowed me to have just that.

Just moments after Jack's birth, (named after Jim's brother who had been crushed to death in a rock fall when he was only 18 and Jim 16), Shawn, Nicol, and Todd took turns holding him.

I will forever be grateful for having Jack in Congo. He made me feel very needed and gave me hours of gratification as I had to keep going to take care of him along with our three other children.

What an amazing kindness of God to bring a baby into our lives in the bush of Africa. He was so welcomed and loved by us all. Not to mention, the thrill Jim experienced of having his own child born born in the country of his birth.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why didn't you make this a long time ago?

It was May of 1979, two months after our arrival at Nkara-Ewa, the "other world" I was trying so desperately to learn to call "home." Awaiting our food shipment arrival which would take place 400 miles away in Kinshasa, we pursued our new life and new "normal" in a land very foreign to me. It was a world away from the "norm" I left behind.

My new normal was just getting through the day without a melt down or succumbing to the terror of feeling insane. Feeling like we had made a mistake. Feeling as though somehow we had missed God's will.

This surely could not be the life God had carved out so skillfully with loving Hands for us?

I was always told the will of God would fit like a glove. Where was the fit?

How much of the turbulence in my soul was due to my pregnancy hormones?

How much was due to the oppression all around me I couldn't put a name to yet?

How much was real culture shock?

Too wrapped up in just surviving, I was unable to recognize or sort out and process these questions. I couldn't even verbalize them at the time. So, at the end of the day, I lay in the black night of Congo (unless a full moon is out) and quoted Psalm 56:3, "When I am afraid I will trust in Thee." I loved that verse. I loved David because he admitted he was afraid. I was terrified.

His words pumped soothing grace into my soul. "When I am afraid," not "don't be afraid."

He was terror struck. Hunted and dogged. He had control over nothing. He dodged Saul's pursuit of death, never knowing what to expect, where to flee, and dealt on the sly with the once glowing promise that he would one day reign as Israel"s king. Dancing with danger became his portion. Perhaps the glory of Samuel's presence before David's father inaugurating him King of Israel out of all his brothers was now but a dim memory that he found difficult to embrace.

I clung to that verse. I identified with his terror as the shadows of evening fell until in the still quiet of the night, whispering those blessed words over and over, Jesus would come and "sit awhile with me" until sleep finally cradled me.

They say timing is everything. Coming to Congo in the late 70's humanly speaking was bad timing. The president had arrogantly told expatriates to get out. They were no longer welcomed or needed. Congo or Zaire as it was then called could get along very well without them, thank you very much.

So many expatriate businessmen did just that. They pulled out and took their commodities with them, leaving little on the shelves of the stores in Kinshasa but tomato paste and flour. Having no means of transportation yet and not being familiar with where we could get some other food stuffs, we turned to ordering our food from South Africa. Most of the missionary community did the same. I remember filling out that first order with my mouth watering as I contemplated actually tasting some of the items on the list. That order we placed in March we would not see the light of day until June, but we did not know that then. The food order was placed in Kinshasa, 400 miles away from our bush station. It was now May.

Since necessity is the mother of invention and we were all hungry, I decided to venture outside (a rare thing for this pathetic "missionary" to do in those days, and see what I could find. What to my wandering eyes did appear but a patch of spinach growing heartily on a plot of soil that Jim's Mom, Marcella, had planted when she arrived at Nkara the previous November. She died 10 days after her arrival there, but left us a product of her talented green thumb right there in our front yard.

I asked the Lord to show me what to do with all this fresh spinach. Remember the tomato paste? We had plenty of that plus some onions on the shelf in the pantry, both of which I diced and mixed into a black cast iron skillet and heated it on the wood stove. Rice was a readily available commodity. To the tomato past and onion I added pepper, boiled up a big pot of rice, and decided to surprise everyone that evening with my gourmet cooking.

Psalms says it is good to be hemmed in and backed against a corner because it has a way of enlarging us. " You have freed me when I was hemmed in and enlarged me when I was in distress. . . " Ps 4:1 Congo has a way of hemming us into a corner, and the quickest way out is to praise the Lord in the hemming in and in the cornering. That is a form of trust. It enlarges our capacity for the next time. It enlarges our borders. It frees us from the encumbrances of life, from the prison of self-absorption. We must fix our eyes on Jesus to survive. We will find new capacity to jump out of the boat. We don't tend to box Him in as much, and if relinquished to His greater will and good, it produces an attitude of gratitude. We begin to know a little more of Who God really is.

Never was I so thankful for raw spinach, which I had never before treasured. It became precious in my sight. Here was a change in the daily diet of rice and saka saka (African greens cooked in palm oil) that made my palate happy.

That night when the family gathered around the dinner table, I proudly displayed my new concoction. Would I ever have been so excited about presenting my husband and children a dish like this in America? Are you kidding? But because we had suffered what you might call culinary lacks, I was almost gleeful, wondering what their response would be.

We sat down to the table. We partook of the bounty. To my great surprise and delight, my children dove in and ate my offering. The best comment came from Jim. "This is great! Why didn't you make this a long time ago?"

I can't tell you how many times I went to the pantry after that, stared at the sparsely stocked shelves, and said, "Lord what can I make out of this nothing today?" And He gave me ideas over and over again.

I love to quote an incredible Bible school professor Jim and I had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with years ago. Before we were married, Jim was going to quit school because funds were not available to continue. When Dr. Shaw heard of his plans, he said, "Jim, the Lord never steers a parked car." He then rehearsed the story of Abraham sending his servant Eleazar to claim a wife for Isaac. He said, "I being in the way, the Lord led me." Dr. Shaw encouraged Jim to stay in school by faith and trust God for the money. He saw a promising future in this missionary kid's life. So Jim did. A few weeks later, Jim found an envelope in his mail box with a check for the amount of that semester's tuition. "I being in the way, the Lord led me." We do not know to this day who provided that money, but we have an idea.

Sometimes God's leading hurts. It suffers consequences. It is full of testing. It doesn't fit like a glove; in fact, it doesn't seem to fit at all. There are not necessarily answers at the time to the predicaments facing us as a result of doing what we so clearly hearing Him telling us to do. But we cannot faint because of the pain. We must allow God to push us through the pain to the other side, which may be a long way off. However, we must stay in the way. We must keep making ourselves available to Him. We must remain faithful. We must hang in there.

Those first two years I no more felt like a missionary than the goats did that ran through our yard in Congo. The will of God did not fit or feel good at all. I never cried so much in my life, but our glorious Father gave the grace to stay, to stick it out.

Two young men, possibly teenagers or college-aged men in the New Testament were given orders to carry out. One said that he would but he didn't. The other said he wouldn't but he did what he was told to do. I am the latter. I never wanted to go to Africa. For years I ran from the very thing that has helped make me who I am today.

There have to be other missionaries out there who feel the same way I did. You are young and struggling with the hand out God has given you. Life does not look at all as you pictured it would look. Take courage, my dear sister. We are called to share in Christ's sufferings. That spectrum of suffering is multifaceted and varied. This life is short. Let's remember we are just pilgrims. We are aliens. This world is not our home. We are just passing through. We have an adversary, the Devil, who goes about seeking whom he may devour.

Find relief in basking in God's goodness, in knowing you are not called to figure life out. True success is not measured in results or numbers, in popularity or recognition, in wealth or material riches. True success in God's sight is FAITHFULNESS. How many times does the book of Revelation admonish us to persevere.

If God can make a missionary out of me, He can make a missionary out of anyone. All praise, laud, adulation, and glory go to Him who redeems us and our situations as many times as they need redeeming. Beware of settling in to despair, of letting it become your bedfellow. Fight it with praise and letting God's Word be the salve of your sad soul. Don't allow it to paralyze you from exulting Him in the storms of life. Even in the darkness and pain you feel, lift your hands heavenward and tell Him He is worthy of the suffering you may be going through. "Count it all joy" James says when you fall into various trials, even though you feel artificial when you offer those words of praise. David calls thiss a SACRIFICE of praise because we don't feel like praising. Nonetheless He asks us to obey. Obedience is the best. It brings about the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Praise Him because God says you should. Just do it!!