Tom goes to Africa (my dad’s blog)

My dad is currently living in Africa. Not permanently, but he is living in Tanzania for the next three months to partner with Tumaini University – a Lutheran University in Iringa – and the Iringa Diocese to help them fine-tune their administrative procedures and do long-range planning. In the states, he is a philanthropic advisor (development/fundraising) at Luther Seminary, he is also an ordained Lutheran pastor and a former college president; and it is because of his experiences in both academic and ministry settings that he was asked to help the Lutheran church in Tanzania. As a way of sharing some of his experiences during his time in Iringa, he is writing a blog called “Tom goes to Africa.” He has only written two entries so far (he just got there last week), but it has been fun to read what he has been doing so far. For instance, he visited a church in a nearby village this morning and during worship there was an unexpected surprise. Here’s the story in his words,

During the singing of one of the choir anthems, I heard a chicken clucking loudly. I thought there must be a chicken pen just outside the open window. When the offering was taken, I realized that someone brought the chicken to church to give in the offering. The chicken, along with the rest of the offering, was brought to the altar and placed beside those of us seated there. It was well behaved. After the service, all non-cash gifts given during the offering were auctioned off in the sanctuary. Not only was the chicken well behaved, but must have been very good, because it fetched $3.50. We were told later that the one auctioned in the Cathedral in Iringa only went for $1.00.

Someone brought a chicken to church to give for offering…how funny is that? I attended a suburban mega-church this morning and I’m imagining how people (including me) would react if someone brought a live farm animal to give as their offering. Looking past the humor of the situation, how powerful a witness is it when you realize that the person who gave that chicken might not have had any money to give; but they did have a chicken (a “well-behaved” chicken!) and giving that chicken as their offering was probably a great sacrifice to the person and their family since it most likely provided them with eggs and, eventually, meat. Still they chose to give it as an offering of thanks anyway. It reminds me of the story of the widow’s offering found in Mark 12:41-44 (also Luke 21:1-4). Here’s the story from Mark’s gospel,

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44 (NIV)

I am excited for my dad that he has this wonderful opportunity (and proud of him for doing it), but I am sad for me and my family (especially my mom) because we are going to miss him. My mom is going to visit him for a few weeks at the end of his time there, but aside from the emails and occasional phone calls I get from him, I will have no contact with him until he comes home at the end of March. I am thankful for the innovations in technology-communication that allow me to have even this limited contact with him while he is on the other side of the ocean, but I am also thankful for my dad’s ability to understand enough about technology that he is brave enough to write a blog so that others (not just me and my family) can learn from his experiences. Selfishly, I’d like to ask you to pray for my dad, the people he is working with and their efforts to provide quality education for the people of Iringa; and I invite you to read along as Tom goes to Africa.

A few final observations from my dad on his first week (especially his first Sunday at church) in Tanzania…

Men sat on one side and women on the other, for the most part.
Liturgical dance is alive and well in Kilolo – there was dancing during every choir anthem.
God can sing louder, even than a great African choir. Even though it thundered and rained on the metal roof repeatedly during the worship, the the pastor just went on, without the aid of a microphone.
Time was suspended for one day. All that mattered was that the people were together worshipping God.
I have yet to see anyone using a cell phone while driving a car.
I’ve only seen about five people smoking cigarettes any time during this first week.
It would be impossible to be on a low carb diet here.

If you somehow missed the first two links to his blog, click here to read it.

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God’s Will

The devotional reading below was sent to me by a girl I was dating while living in North Carolina during the summer of 2001 (between my sophomore and junior years of college). The girl  lived 1200 miles away (in Iowa) and she is now married — so things obviously didn’t work out; she actually married the guy she started dating shortly after we broke up, which is something I have been lucky enough to help several of my ex-girlfriends prepare for — but I’m thankful for the experience and that she sent me this reading. I ended up talking to her a few years ago (it was a nice conversation) and got a chance to thank her for sending this poem to me because — although she originally sent it to help us accept and deal with the distance between us that summer — it has become a reading that has helped me (and others who I have shared it with) through several difficult and confusing times. It comes from a book of daily meditation readings published by Hazelden (the drug and alcohol addiction treatment center based in Minnesota) and although it is intended for people dealing with issues of addiction and codependency, it’s good stuff for anyone, no matter what issues they have (lets be honest, we all have issues). The book is called The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. I’ve found that this reading makes more sense to me every time I read it. Depending on what’s going on in my life at the time I read it differently and it helps me in different ways. I recommend reading it more than once and allowing its truth to slowly sink in and transform (and even challenge) the ways you think about your life and how God’s will seems to be happening in and around you; with your help or despite you.

“God’s Will” by Melody Beattie

God’s will most often happens in spite of us, not because of us.
We may try to second guess what God has in mind for us,
looking, searching, hyper vigilant to seek God’s will as
though it were buried treasure, hidden beyond our reach.
If we find it, we win the prize. But if we’re not careful, we
miss out.
That’s not how it works.
We may believe that we have to walk on eggshells, saying,
thinking, and feeling the right thing, while forcing ourselves
somehow to be in the right place at the right time to find God’s
will. But that’s not true.
God’s will for us is not hidden like a buried treasure. We do
not have to control or force it. We do not have to walk on
Eggshells in order to have it happen.
It is right there inside and around us. It is happening, right now.
Sometimes, it is quiet and uneventful and includes the daily
disciplines of responsibility and learning to take care of ourselves.
Sometimes, it is healing us when we’re in circumstances that
trigger old grieving and unfinished business.
Sometimes, it is grand.
We do have a part. We have responsibilities, including caring
for ourselves. But we do not have to control God’s will for us.
We are being taken care of. We are protected. And the Power
caring for and protecting us loves us very much.
If it is a quiet day, trust the stillness. If it is a day of action, trust the activity. If it is time to wait, trust the pause. If it is time to receive that which we have been waiting for, trust that it will happen clearly and with power, and receive the gift in joy.

Prayer of Brother Bernard

The following prayer comes from The Oxford Book of Prayer, which besides having a really academic-sounding title, is a wonderful collection of beautiful and diverse prayers conveniently arranged by topic, style, origin and even prayers from other religions (“other” referring to religions not Christian). The prayers come from Scripture (Psalms, Prophets, Jesus, Paul’s letters) as well as anonymous and well-known theologians and writers from throughout history (Augustine, Bonhoeffer, Luther, Kierkegaard, Mother Theresa, etc.). This prayer in particular speaks to me because I think it puts thoughts that have been running through my mind lately into words. It’s written by a man listed only by the name Bernard, who was a member of the Society of St. Francis (I tried to wikipedia Bernard and couldn’t find anything about him). I suggest reading Bernard’s prayer out loud to make it your prayer; speak these old words back into life.

Lord, I want to love you, yet I’m not sure.
I want to trust you, yet I’m afraid of being taken in.
I know I need you, yet I’m ashamed of the need.
I want to pray, yet I’m afraid of being a hypocrite.
I need my independence, yet I fear to be alone.
I want to belong, yet I must be myself.
Take me, Lord, yet leave me alone.
Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.
O Lord, if you are there, you do understand, don’t you?
Give me what I need but leave me free to choose.
Help me work it out my own way, but don’t let me go.
Let me understand myself, but don’t let me despair.
Come unto me, O Lord…I want you there.
Lighten my darkness…but don’t dazzle me.
Help me to see what I need to do and give me strength to do it.
O Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.

– Bernard, SSF