This afternoon, my heart is deeply encouraged and uplifted. And all it has taken in some messed up people, sitting along one looooong 2X6 board, perched atop 5 concrete blocks on another hot day in Masini.
Our church is the offshoot or “plant” you might say of a church from the next town over. When that church got a new pastor, he saw we had walls to a church in Masini and decided that we could have “church” there, in our community. He would travel to teach us each Sunday since he was the only one from our church community that owned a car (this was before we joined the church). That was exciting & really got Sean & I jazzed to be apart of that church body. A place we could walk to. A place amongst our neighbors. A place where the faces we saw at church were the same faces we gave rides to, or found down at the river, or met along our road each day. Our neighbors and us learning about God together. What better set-up?!
As time has gone on, and we’ve been here for 1 year living in Masini, we began to see a deep need for leadership. The strain of teaching 3 services, in 3 different locations showed itself to our pastor. He came late sometimes, left immediately after preaching, and rarely showed up in our town to do any leading of the flock beyond 20 minutes on Sunday. . . Other leaders from the main church saw fit to have rotating preachers come. Therefore elders from the main church would take turns rotating who would preach and when. Unfortunately, this started to unravel as well. For possibly 6 weeks now, no one has shown up to preach. The first several weeks, no one even informed us that someone would not come. So we came, we gathered, we started singing, we took an offering, we prayed, and then we looked around, wondering who might share the Word of the Lord.
Needless to say, it began to feel defeating. I personally became disgusted and discouraged. Additionally, it seemed we started arriving later and later. Instead of church starting at 11, one would arrive to find only one other person there. The majority of people didn’t show up until 11:15, then 11:30, then 11:45. I think we all felt the collective “lostness” of having no pastor to shepherd us.
Sean and I just started to get fed up. So we talked and schemed. And as it turns out, the pastor called him last week (after church had already started) to ask him to share a word. Sean preached, which soon turned into admonishments on how we might actually start being the church. How we might pool our resources of time, energy, tools, and brains to help our neighbors. *
This week it progressed into a prior-to-church-meeting with us listing the problems we find in our families, community, and church body. We listed things from children not respecting their parents, abusive spouses, to the damaged road, little work, and no leadership in our church. It was an open forum that included Sean asking questions, a translator making sure everyday caught what he was saying, and translating back to us the specific nuances of the church’s responses.
Also steming from last week’s post-sermon discussion, Sean led us into a plan to attack one, small, menial, yet necessary aspect at everyone’s home. What if we tackled a small project and accomplished it as a team, as a unit, as a community, as a body? Might we find encouragment? Might we learn about working together? Might we learn about organizing ourselves? And might those lessons fuel us to address a slightly larger problem? A bigger issue? On and on he explained until we have transformed our lives, from water and toilets at our homes, all the way us to transformations in our marriages and children.
So we organized. Listing the name of every family represented today. And decided that we all would participate in Operation Toilet (my name). Because Swaziland’s government does recognize Maslow’s Heirarchy of need that before we can self-actualize, we must have our basic needs met, one being sanitation, we decided to ensure everyone has a toilet. Some people are almost finished. Others haven’t begun to dig that hole (we’re building long-drop/outhouse style toilets folks!).
What a beautiful, inspiring, humbling process to watch these mothers and fathers raise their hands, waiting for their turn to speak (they’re quite respectful and patient and ensure each man and woman get equal respect and time to speak. They also exhibit good listening skills in their responses!), suggesting how we might tackle this, agreeing on a time we could finish the project.
Someone brought up, “What about the people not here? Shouldn’t we build them toilets?”
Someone else informed him, “We decided at the beginning that the decisions are made by the people who are here. Everyone knew about this meeting, so for now, we will build toilets for us who are here. Then we can consider if we need to expand and build for the others.”
At one point, everyone was stuck on the problem of where a certain grandmother would get the money (about $7 worth) to buy the cement to pour her slab. We hemmed and hawed. She had no chickens to sell, she has almost nothing. And Sean said finally asked, “But where is her family? Who are her children?” We all laughed and looked over to the two men, almost identical to each other & their mother in looks. The same two men who fueled much of the conversation and we all know have means to share money with their mother. “That’s settled then. You, father, and you, father, will each sell me a chicken. I will buy them. With the money, your mother will buy cement.” Everyone agreed this was a good solution.
So our date is set. We think we can do it in 8 weeks time. Some people think we could finish in 6. We agreed on March 9th. And next Sunday, we will meet at the first man’s house to dig his hole at 5 am. During the same time, another crew will be pouring his slab. He will provide the cement, water, and sand we need for the concrete slab. We will bring tools, our backs, our hearts, and our offering of time. And one man pointed out, “If we are going to do this as a group, it mustn’t be just the men who work. The women must also be digging.”
Ahhh! We all laughed and the women said, “Yes! We can dig. We dig at our homes, we are strong.”
And on this meeting, this plan, this commitment, this early morning work session next week hinges my hope. My hope that we might taste and see that the Lord is good. That we might know the coming of God’s Kingdom here and now in our hearts, our lives, amongst our neighbors. I hope that it might be the stirring, the momentum that we need to entice our hearts further into the Holy of Holies with our Lord. That we might see what we can accomplish together, that we might learn about working together, that we might feel proud of our good work, and that it may start to heal us. . . .
That our marriages can be healed from distrust, from cheating, from abuse, from neglect, from uncaring partners. That our children might be trained and brought up in the way they should go, and guided by wise and steady hands of our elders and parents. That our need for education (from a preschool to some type of training school) might come to fruition, and water, wholesome food, and wholesome talk might be shared around our tables. And as all these needs begin to fall into place, and we see the face of Jesus in ourselves and in our literal neighbors, our hearts would be stirred to lay it all down, to lay down our lives for our neighbors, friends, and families that we might KNOW the glory of the Lord in our lifetimes. That we might taste and see that our Lord is good and those we’re blessed to share life with will as well. And that our greater community of this country might turn it’s face towards our little Masini, our people not so unlike those from Bethelehem in Nazareth, and those mockers who ask, “What good can come from Masini?” will be silenced as they watch the hands of Christ heal, build, serve, share, love, teach, and encourage people into the True Life in Christ He’s always imagined for them.
We just have a few, small hopes. But it all starts with dealing with our crap. So maybe the toilets are the perfect place to begin. Digging holes in the earth, together, during the hottest season of the year, in order to start having a place to deal with our shit, so it quits contaminating our water and spreading disease.
Yes. Yes this seems like a very good place to start. Lord, may it be so and ever more. We turn to you, the One on Whom our Hope Rests. Sustain us when we’re tired. Give us encouragement when we’re hopeless. Give us each other and let us value such gifts, even in our messy, broken, crap-covered selves. May Your Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.
*Sean stepping forward to try and initiate some movements came with a lot of fear and trembling on our parts. For the whole year we’ve been here, we’ve searched for others to encourage. We have tried to remain in the backdrop, while supporting emerging leaders to, well, lead. It has been more than challenging, as it seems even the leaders are not sure what leading looks like. And so we all sit on the pews, so to speak, grumbling to ourselves, while no one stands up and says what we’re all thinking. We fear that US standing up front and leading will produce people who solely rely on us. We have seen other ministries crumble when the “starters” leave and there are no disciples, no one to fill the shoes. We have gleaned wisdom from other ministers who suggest, “Start it how you want to finish it,” implying that if you think you can make a ministry centered around YOU, then hand it off to someone else and have it float, you are fooling yourself. So we really, really, really crave wisdom and understanding to know how and what role we play in stoking the fires. Sean does not want to lead. I suggested that he may step forward now, and we’ll watch to see who are the ones quickly stepping up. And it is them that he fosters those leadership abilities into. And that we hold very loosely to the “results” of this little endeavor to get our church talking, moving, and being Jesus to each other. That we’re always ready (and often do) lay it to down before the Lord and let Him make it exactly the way He’d want to, apart from our greedy hands and twisted hearts.
In fact, we’re so mindful of the harm that can come from one or two people who are only intermediates in the language, foreigners in the land, that we would love your prayers on this matter. We would love your stories or advices of ministry (good and ugly) and action. What maxims have you learned that guided your work? What principals have kept you in check? What sage advise would you love us to take to heart?