Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving


This coming week is American Thanksgiving, a harvest festival that remembers those who came to this country for religious freedom and honors the indigenous people who reached beyond their cultural comfort zone to help them adapt to their new home. (Hmm. That sounds like it should lead into a challenge to reach out to immigrants in our neighborhoods, but it doesn't.)

You don’t need me to tell you that Thanksgiving should be 365 days a year. God says, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23) That means that when I practice giving thanks in all situations, I not only honor God; I establish a habit of looking for what he is doing, and that makes it more likely that I’ll see his salvation at work.

A while ago I began writing down something every day for which I am thankful. It has to be something specific from the past 24 hours. I look for an answer to prayer, a person God has brought into my life, an event where I see his hand, or a gift he has given me. Some days I could fill the whole page, but other days I stare at my notebook, trying to come up with something unique for which I really do feel thankful. I don’t want to fall into a habit of just going through the motions of honoring God. I love being able to look back at the list and see concrete things that God has done for me—especially on those days when I’m struggling to see him at work.

Last week I spoke several times at the Global Impact Conference of Faith Missionary Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. The last time we participated in this conference we felt under-used. Believe me, they have made up for that! It was an exhausting week. Steve was teaching workshops for academic deans in Latin America, so the speaking and relating to donors (and potential donors) all fell on me. By the time I got home to my snug house in the Northwoods, I was nearly catatonic. This morning I looked back over some of the things I wrote on my thanksgiving list last week:

All those hours in the car by myself getting there before non-stop people
A good group of missionaries, representing a variety of countries and ministries
Old friends like Gail, and family like Aunt Millie
Enthusiastic Sunday School children, praying for the boys and girls in Africa
Retired missionaries like Betty who have spent their lives in service
Families who opened their homes for meetings even though they didn’t know me
Strangers who asked to be on our mailing list
Younger women (not just little old ladies!) who are meeting weekly to pray for missionaries

This morning I lolled against the pillows and ate my breakfast in bed. On my thankful list I wrote “A week without pressure.” So what are you thankful for today?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

International Bazaar

“That one, Mom. Beads and Braids. Buy that one!”

Friday night we held a bazaar in the fellowship hall of Faith Missionary Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Various booths were set up with goods we missionaries had brought from around the world. Participants had to get a ‘passport’ and insert ‘stamps’ from the various countries represented. They exchanged U.S. dollars for GICC (Global Impact Conference Cents) at the ‘bank’ with good-looking teens in suits and ties. The ‘customs official’ even pulled a few people out of line for searches, and I heard an alarm go at one point and the intercom announce a ‘code red’. A dog wandered in and out among the shoppers and sniffed the live chickens in one corner. My Mozambican colleague and I in the Africa booth pinned up a sign that read, “We are speeking English” and chased away a couple pesky beggars.

Peg jiggled the baby doll tied to her back and bargained freely with her customers, arguing that their initial offers wouldn’t feed her family. I spread my books on a cloth on the ground and sold only in foreign currency (U.S. dollars.) It wasn’t really black market. It was more like our days in Mozambique when the government ran a store with imported goods sold only in dollars or South African rand. I told all the children how smart they would be and how well they would do in school if they practiced English by reading my books.

The fun part for me was the children who had been to Vacation Bible School and contributed for the books I left at Arebaokeng and Thembisa Baptist Church. The children recognized the cover of Beads and Braids from the VBS promotion and wanted their own copy. Last Sunday I spoke in their Sunday School class and told them about the children whose mothers and fathers had died. Some of those children live with grandparents like the ones in Our Gran. Some of them live on their own like Toto and his brothers in Toto in Trouble. That story was told in detail to at least one mother in the car on the way home from church. “Mrs. Hardy wants to write stories that will make the children say, ‘That’s just like me,’” her son told her, echoing my exact words.

Whenever a child at the bazaar bought a copy of Beads and Braids, I signed it and wrote on the title page, “Pray for the children of Africa.” I hope they will.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Proud to Be an American

Tuesday, November 4, I was the first person in Jackson Township to cast my ballot. I have voted before, although not in every presidential election. We were disenfranchised a couple times because of postal systems that didn’t get absentee ballots to us in western Brazil, and later, Mozambique until too late to return them on time.

What moved me most in this election was the first-time voters—a Sudanese ‘lost boy’ who just became a citizen, young people eager to make a difference, and older African Americans who finally felt like their voices mattered. Those who took their children to the polls or to the victory celebrations because they wanted them to be part of history made me think of the day Nelson Mandela was elected in South Africa. Our church in Kempton Park held a prayer meeting in the early morning before members went to stand in line together to participate in South Africa’s first democratic elections.

Today the whole world is celebrating with the United States. There is dancing in Kenya as well as in Chicago. Many hope that a new face in the White House will mean a real change in American attitudes, someone who will work for peace and justice for all.

It’s not a job I would want. I couldn’t organize a women’s retreat much less run the country. The issues of the economy, the war in Iraq, and America’s role in world leadership are so huge that there is no way Barak Obama will solve it all any more than Nelson Mandela could provide instant jobs and housing in a post-apartheid era.

Election morning brought an e-mail from an African American friend. She didn’t endorse either candidate. She challenged us to pray for whoever won. What progress might he make if those who voted for him or against him committed to pray twice as much as criticize?

I look at president-elect Obama and all the excited young people enthusiastic for his cause and pray there will be no Monica Lewinski among them. I look at his beautiful and gifted wife and pray that her abilities will be used, her presence will inspire and that their marriage will stay strong. I see those two precious little girls and wonder what life will be like for them under the magnifying glass of public scrutiny.

I join Kersten in asking you to pray whether you voted for Obama or not. Pray for his relationship with God, for his family, for his advisors, for his policies, for his relationships in Washington and with world leaders. Pray for the physical and mental stamina that will be needed to carry him through the next four years.

Tuesday we exercised our right to vote. Now we must exercise our responsibility to lift up our leaders before the King of kings.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Being grateful

When is it easy to be grateful for a major leak in your basement water pump?

1) when you are home (as opposed to being away for weeks or even months...)

2) when you have just ripped out the old carpeting and the new hasn't yet been installed.

When is it easy to be grateful for a flat tire?

When you find it Saturday morning instead of Sunday morning on your way to church and your granddaughter's second birthday party.

Not hard at all.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Who's at risk?


We were out to enjoy the autumn leaves on the last nice day before the weatherman told us rain and high winds would strip the trees. The sky was blue and the air was crisp as we drove along the edge of town toward the park by the river.


“Down this way—” My mother-in-law pointed to a short street that ended abruptly on a bluff overlooking the park. “—there’s a cul-de-sac where kids come to take drugs. Our friends often find stoned teens asleep in their front yard.”


I was shocked. Here? In the small Minnesota town where my husband grew up? The town where we lived when our girls were in junior high that one of our Indiana friends described as “living in a Norman Rockwell painting”? It didn’t seem real. I’m not na├»ve enough to think there is no crime in small towns even though when Mom sold the house Steve grew up in, she hadn’t locked the door in so long that she couldn’t find the keys. Unfortunately, crime is everywhere. But I grieved for the despair of teens that would get sucked into such as destructive life.


We parked our car near the low bridge (as opposed to the high bridge that the highway uses to cross the river.) Two small children played on the climbing frame under the watchful eye of a man who might have been their grandfather. I thought of the delight of my own nearly-two grand daughter who is getting more articulate by the day. “Playground” is now part of her vocabulary, and she shouts it enthusiastically whenever she sees one.


Mom and I walked down an asphalt path across the lawn and followed on into the woods where it turned to dirt and scattered leaves. But I couldn’t get those stoned kids out of my mind. Was this a pleasant walk along the river bank far from the noises and smells of traffic and the garish lights of strip malls? Or was it an isolated spot to take drugs or have sex with no one around to say ‘no’?


The young people our friends find asleep in their yard were once as small and vulnerable as Bella. They came to the park to climb on the playground, throw a ball or shuffle through the leaves to Grandpa. Then somewhere along the line, despair took hold.


African children aren’t the only ones at risk.