Sunday, August 17, 2014

Have you ever had this experience? You are listening to someone and are getting excited because what the person is saying is so wonderful and resonates with you so much, and you are so happy to be hearing what is happening in this person’s life. And then it happens. Without taking a breath the person says something else that for them is comparable, similar, along the same lines, but for you it is diametrically opposed to what they were saying before. I had this experience, in fact, three of these in the last week.

When this happens, although I do not usually say it out loud, inside I am thinking, Wait. What did you just say? Could I have heard that correctly? And because I do not have a poker face, I am quite sure the speakers knew instantly that they had said something that did not sit right with me. (Or that I had a sudden stab of pain somewhere in my body.) The grimace was dramatic, I am sure. In the most extreme instances, and in my least Christlike moments, I want to shout, “Are you kidding me?! What kind of an idiot would say those two things together?”

I was going to just let this go. I have not blogged for over a year and, frankly, I have some other things to do. But I read something today in the Jesus Creed blog that was such a glaring example of this vocal dissonance, and in this case, unlike my particular experience, it has staggering implication for the human race. In Jesus Creed titled “Other Than the Name,” Scot McKnight posts a link to a Washington Post story about a small French town named La Mort aux Juifs, which means “Death to Jews.” It has had this name for centuries. Apparently, on at least two other occasions people have tried to appeal to the local ruling council to change the name, to no avail. I don’t know what the response to those attempts were. But the response this time is blatant in its incongruity, its dissonance. How a living, breathing, caring human being could say this in a few sentences is incomprehensible to me. According to deputy mayor of Courtemaux, which has jurisdiction over the hamlet,

         “It’s ridiculous. This name has always existed,” she told the news agency Agence France-
         Presse.”Why change a name that goes back to the Middle Ages or even further? We
         should respect these old names. . . . No one has anything against the Jews, of course.”

No one has anything against the Jews, of course. Nevertheless, the town’s name is Death to Jews. Am I missing something here? Did anyone who heard this choke? Was there an audible gasp from anyone listening? You can read more about it on McKnight’s blog and in the article linked there. (See

My reason for blogging about this is not to further demonize this deputy mayor, although I confess there is part of me that wants to. The experiences I had last week and the experience of reading this blog, once I recovered from the immediate asphyxia, brought me to a place of self-examination. I wonder if I ever say things so blatantly incongruent. What are the beliefs, convictions, preferences, for God’s sake, that I am totally blind to in their incongruity with other things I claim to believe and claim to be? Blind spots. I am quite certain they exist and even more certain that I am totally unaware of what they are. This is, after all, the definition of a blind spot, and the only explanation for this human phenomena.

Though we strive to have the mind of Christ, our minds are still broken. And there are places where our minds—our hearts—and experiences are so entangled that even extreme brokenness is held together by the tangled mess of disparate thoughts and actions. Only another human from a very different place can hear the dissonance and see the incongruity. And what other human being will speak the truth to me? Only someone who loves me enough to not care whether I like them or not. Only someone who cares more about what God wants to do in me than about what he or she doesn’t want to do to me.

For me these encounters have heightened my awareness of the need to have people in my life who will say to me, while gasping for air, and trying not to choke, “What did you just say?” And then will have the time and patience to help me untangle the mess of thoughts and actions that have so blinded me. And if I have said anything in this blog that comes close to dissonance, please respond with, “Do you realize what you just said?” I am hoping to hear from someone.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Malawi Adventure: Reflections in Flight

From Lilongwe to Blantyr, Blantyr to Addis Ababa, Addis Ababa, to Rome, Rome to Washington DC, and now on the last leg of the return home from two weeks in Africa I will have had 35 hours (give or take a few from sleeping lightly a couple of times) to reflect on my time with Louise Laubscher and the FTS staff and volunteers. It will take a very long time to process all that I saw and did and learned while with them. But there are four things that were pretty immediately striking in my experience when I first arrived in Malawi and these things were not at all diminished over the time I was there.

First, their enthusiasm and commitment for spiritual growth. Many of these people grew up in Christian homes and have been taught and studied the bible for a very long time and now are teaching the bible. Yet, day after day, night after night they sat on the edge of their seats, faces intent on receiving some new word from the Lord. The stories of Jesus and the stories Jesus told that we studied captivated them. I will never forget the face of Aubrey, one of the field workers for FTS.  What a delight to teach! He was always leaning forward in his chair with his face lit up like a neon sign and a smile even brighter. And as I mentioned in a earlier blog, their attendance never wained. Nine days and five nights and the attendance held up the whole time and actually increased. These are disciples of Christ who really hunger for more of the master.

Second, they were immediately willing and eager to talk about how these biblical principles applied to their personal and their ministry life. I was a stranger to them. They knew very little about me. And yet there was virtually no waiting time to get warmed up for serious discussion. They dove right in!  They were definitely not content to just gain more knowledge about the bible or about Christ. From the very first day with great humility and vulnerability they spoke in the large group and in small groups about the challenges they face in being faithful to Christ and his teachings. 

Third, their praise in song is outstanding. Without any instruments, without any hymnals or song books, or projection screen they sang song after song after song. Every song in more than four part harmony. Every song responsively with one person leading the others. Every song sung with robust enthusiasm. It was as if everyone of them were trained in choral music. And the icing on the cake? They move and dance to the music, their faces filled with the joy of the Lord. It was as if they really were caught up in singing praises to a King they love and adore.  I wanted to teach them a song in English. Two things prevented me. My voice is not a song-leading voice! And even though I was willing to give it a try, I realized that all the songs I knew well enough to try and teach them required significant instrumental support! Except for two songs I sing to my granddaughter and grandson when I am putting them to sleep at night I could not sing a single song acapella! 

And, finally, they pray almost as enthusiastically and energetically as they sing. They pray together out loud and I found myself caught up in it. Though you cannot really hear any one person praying or hear what they are praying, you can hear the wide range of emotion that accompanies their prayers--some laments, some praise, some petitions--but all together the praying ebbs and flows until it slowly quiets down and one person closes. It is as if everyone of them were trained in choral praying! The icing on the cake in this? Every time before I stood up to teach they prayed for me. And they prayed that they would hear God's word to them through me. Their prayers helped me overcome my  feelings of inadequacy and gave me confidence in God's ability to use whatever I offered.

Their eagerness to learn and grow, they humility and vulnerability, their singing and their praying touched me deeply. I have been challenged to the core to follow their example as disciples of Jesus. In March at San Clemente Presbyterian Church we will be launching "Being Grounded," Phase 2 of our discipleship initiative called "Plugged In."  Starting with 18-24 people, the goal of the experience called "Groundings" will be to equip every member and friend at SCPC in being disciples who live like Jesus at home, at work, in school, and wherever they go. My preparation to lead this has been significantly shaped by my time in Malawi. I have a desire to know and serve Christ and his kingdom more than ever before. I can only hope and pray to inspire others who will be participating in the new discipleship experience with me as deeply as the brothers and sisters in Malawi have inspired me. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Malawi Adventure: The End is the Beginning

Nine days of discipleship and marriage and parenting instruction and five of those days the classes continued in the evening. The training included three presenters, a lot of small group discussion and individual application time. The staff and volunteers of Fishers, Trainers and Senders (FTS) gave an incredible amount of their time and energy to being trained. In addition, some of the full time staff spent 2-3 hours each day picking up and dropping off volunteers and staff so they could attend the training. Others, took public transport for hours and then were hosted in the homes of staff who live locally. Still others who live closer walked or took public transport every day. Every day, several times a day they gave thanks for the opportunity to attend such training saying that so many other people would love to be able to attend. Volunteers provided lunch and dinner most days. Other volunteers cared for the children of staff and volunteers. The most amazing thing? Unlike in the United States, the attendance did not drop off over the nine days. The final day had the highest attendance of all! One woman who heard about the training took a bus for five hours to attend the final day! These people were very committed and very eager to learn. 

My teaching assignment was primarily discipleship. When I came I told them it was going to be like boot camp. They were actually enthusiastic about being challenged to grow in their faith and ministry capacity. I also told them that I would be learning along with them. I had never been to Malawi or even Africa before. Though I had corresponded with Louise, the Founder and Director of FTS, and been tutored by Sheryl France-Moran and two others who have been to Malawi, I was still significantly lacking in understanding of how life and ministry work here. Throughout the training I had to stop often and ask questions and learn before I could proceed. The illustrations, examples, and even images that I had used in the past simply would not work in this context. And though almost all of those attending spoke English well, there was still considerable need to clarify meaning of words and give them time to translate in their own language to ensure understanding. They were so patient concerning this challenge and in the process I learned some Chichewa. All this handicap in their teacher and they never once showed any sign of frustration or boredom. They were like sponges and continually responded and interacted to the teaching with great intensity. I was humbled and deeply grateful for the privilege of teaching these people.

The only reason this teaching assignment had any potential for fruitfulness is because of God's word. The truths hidden in it are not limited to a particular culture or language. God's word is truth across time--over 4000 years since it was first recorded--and God's truth is applicable to every tribe and nation. The important and difficult task for me was to get down to the very basic meaning of God's word so that these friends in Lilongwe could prayerfully and carefully consider what it meant for their lives and their ministry. I knew that this exercise--getting to the basic meaning of the texts--would be as instructive for me as it would be for those I was teaching. It forced me to re-examine every interpretation to try and eliminate anything that was culturally bound. It was so amazing to see how God's word indeed does speak powerfully to very different cultures. We used the teaching of Jesus as texts and we were often in awe of the penetrating power of these texts for such disparate contexts. 

Equally as amazing was to see how much we have in common as people trying to be disciples even though our cultures are so different. Like us the Malawi believers  are tempted to look disparagingly at people who are on the margins of their society instead of loving them like Jesus did. I was especially surprised to find out that some churches in Malawi are very uncooperative with other churches and reluctant to partner for ministry to the communities they are trying to reach with the Gospel. Like us they get into a mindset of competition rather than cooperation. And we are the same in our tendency to get so absorbed in doing ministry we neglect our own spiritual growth. In this, especially we identified over and over again that we are the same. Being a disciple of Christ requires daily attention to making sure we are not just going through the motions and that we stay attentive to and dependent on the Spirit of God. He does not only want our service. He wants us. In this we are all the same and God's word speaks powerfully no matter the culture or language.

Tomorrow I start the 36 hour journey back to San Clemente. The discipleship training in Malawi has come to an end. But the adventure has just begun. Our closing exercise for boot camp was a prayer of commissioning sending each of us back to the place God has called us to. In discipleship training every end is a new beginning. How grateful to God I am for this Malawi adventure and the training I have received.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Malawi Adventure: Jesus the Host

A Malawian man told me his story. His mother died at the age of 10. His father died at the age of 14 and he was on his own. He had 7 brothers and sisters. By the time he was 18, four of them had died. Only he and two others remained. This young man's life was filled with pain and loss and he was at risk. Yet, here he is, now a married man in mid 30's in full time ministry and has taken in more children than he can count and currently is paying school fees for several children. Almost every person in Malawi has taken in multiple children and cared for them. Many of them are providing school fees for younger brothers or sisters even though they struggle to provide for their own children. This is a result of their extended family culture. What we call cousins, they call sisters and brothers. It is also a result of the ravages of extreme poverty and AIDS/HIV which has left many parents unable to care for their children and thousands of children orphans. 

So I am in Malawi and one of my lessons is on hospitality. What am I going to do? How can I teach these people anything about hospitality?! It is only God's Word that is truth for all generations, nations that can teach us together about a kind of hospitality that can be practiced anywhere in the world. If our view of hospitality is only possible in San Clemente but cannot be practiced in Malawi, it is not the truth and it is not the biblical view of hospitality. Teaching in Malawi I have learned also. What we discovered together from our study of Zacchaeus about hospitality applies to us wherever we live and whatever we have.  It is the hospitality of Christ that prevented this young man from becoming a fearful, angry, and lost orphan. The presence and love of Christ transformed him. At the very core of hospitality is being with and accepting others.

Biblical hospitality, being with and accepting people, is not location specific. Wherever we are Jesus is the host. It is his grace and mercy that is with us and accepts us--makes us part of his family and given us all that we have. He owns all of creation, and because He lives in us by his Spirit when we invite people wherever we invite them Jesus is the real host. Zacchaeus invited Jesus to his home but it was Jesus who was the host offering Zacchaeus much more than Zacchaeus offered Jesus. Whether we invited people into our home or whether we enter the home of another, or whether we meet somewhere else, the presence of Christ hosts us. It is Jesus who comes to us and because of this hospitality can be practiced anywhere.  Our wealth or poverty does not determine the quality of our hospitality. The presence and power of Christ brings more to us than anything we can provide. When we allow that presence and power to show through our lives we provide hospitable space where others can experience being with Jesus and seeing his gracious accepting love.

Biblical hospitality transforms guests. After being with Jesus and experiencing his gracious acceptance, Zacchaeus was a changed man. He could not remain the same. He who had been a cheat, became honest. He who was a thief became generous. He who was lost was saved. When we offer only our own resources people might be delighted but they will not be changed. But when we offer whatever we have as evidence of Christ's presence and loving acceptance they can be transformed by encountering the present and powerful Christ.

And let's not forget that Zacchaeus was an unlikely character to be transformed. The whole community knew he was a sinner. His job as chief tax collector meant everyone knew he was a thief. They grumbled when Jesus decided to go to his house because his reputation was well known. The least likely guest in our eyes just may be the one most likely to be transformed. 

This is biblical hospitality that can be practiced in Malawi or in San Clemente. We open our homes whatever they are like, we enter others whatever they are like, or with biblical hospitality we can create a third space to meet people. In all three cases, Jesus is the host who by his presence provides more than we could ever provide and when we allow others to see him through us, his presence, his acceptance--love--can transform those we invite and even those who invite us. 

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Malawi Adventure: The Bad Guys are Us

When the expert in the law, the lawyer, came to Jesus in Luke 10 the text says clearly that he came to test Jesus--possibly trap him. Though he asks a question that is close to the heart of Jesus--how does a person obtain eternal life--Jesus does not give him the quick answer. Jesus responds with a question--what does the law say?  Being an expert in the law this was easy street. Every lawyer knew that the first commandment was the greatest--to love The Lord God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And, the expert smarty-pants, figured he would do Jesus one better. He gave him the second commandment also--to love your neighbor as yourself.  With his own arrogance he has taken the bait. The one being tested now is not Jesus!  Jesus responds that he has answered correctly and then sets the hook--do this (love God with everything and your neighbor as yourself) and you will live.

Ok. Now the lawyer has a problem. Jesus has turned the tables and now it is the lawyer who is being tested. His belief system said that if he kept all the law he would inherit eternal life. His own answer now has raised an important question if he is to keep all the law--who is the neighbor that he is to love, to "do this" with. As the text says, he really is not interested in the question. He already thinks he has eternal life. He started out testing Jesus and now by Jesus' testing he has been moved to a place  to need to justify himself. After all, it is very hard to determine just who your neighbor is. So he asks, who is my neighbor?

Again, Jesus does not answer the question with a quick answer. He decides not to argue law with this lawyer but to tell him a story. Instead of getting to the destination immediately--the answer to the question--Jesus takes his hand and walks him through some everyday life that will allow him to not only know the answer but the chance to experience it so he might actually gain eternal life, not just know how to. Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan--sort of the opposite kind of person from this expert in the law of Israel. And in the story, an unnamed man beaten and close to death is the central figure--the neighbor. And, in the story a priest and a Levite do not treat him like a neighbor. It is the Samaritan, the despised and unclean half-breed, who acts neighborly toward the beaten and dying man. This is a slam-dunk for Jesus. All he has to do is reel him in.  If he says he does not know the answer he is admitting his own lack of understanding the law.  As soon as he identifies the Samaritan as the who who acts like a neighbor he has admitted a great contradiction to his own understanding of the law.  How can a person who does not know the law and who by their very way of life violates much of the law, how can they obtain eternal life? And the even more serious implication, the one who knows the law, indeed is an expert in the law (a priest, a Levite, a lawyer) could walk away from this without eternal life!

This text in Luke is worth examining in detail for the powerful example of how to teach. But that will be another blog sometime in the future--maybe. Today studying this with my Malawian friends we came to realize that in this story the "bad guy" is us! All of us believers, and all of us working in ministry in some way or another, we know the Bible a lot better than the average person. With it we are pointing people to eternal life.  In our context WE are the experts! Is it possible that we are as blind as the lawyer to the fact that our very expertise is what is in the way? Could our expert knowledge of the bible, the right way of doing ministry, the way we have learned it, the way we know it and are experts in it be getting in the way of living it? The Priest and the Levite did not pass the test. The despised and unclean Samaritan did. 

In our day and time, for those of us at San Clemente and for those in Lilongwe, the great risk of being "experts" is that we may be as blind as this lawyer was. Even giving the lawyer the benefit of the doubt and saying that he really believed he was doing what was right by being concerned about keeping all the laws only makes our predicament the more serious. Often our justification for what we do or don't do is based on some tradition or custom of "how things should be" or "being right." And in the process we may be avoiding and walking right by people or circumstances that are opportunities to "do this"--love God and neighbor. 

As we worked through the passage together, and came to this conclusion, you could feel it in the room--the "bad guy" in the story is us. The one trying to test Jesus, and to self-justify is us! I am hoping that the willingness of my Malawian friends to explore and expose this in their part of the world will help me do the same in mine. Boot camp continues and I am sweating a lot more.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Malawi Adventure: They Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road

The steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car. And, Oh my, they drive on the wrong side of thle road! They speak  Chichewa. Thank goodness, they also speak English! The men (yes, the men!) are very animated when they sing. They sing loud and  clap and dance and laugh. They skip and hop and pump their arms. (Men in the United States do this particular gesture--arm pumping--but usually for very different reasons.) Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!

Such are some of the most obvious differences I have encountered here in Lilongwe, Malawi. But capturing my attention far more are the ways that we are the same. Parents are tired in Malawi just like in the United States. They are tired from lack of sleep but they are also tired from the serious challenges of being a mom or a dad. Teachers in Malawi have enormous jobs because they not only teach, they also parent, and counsel, and care for students whose home lives are far from nurturing. People are hungry for meaning and significance in their lives beyond a job well done. They long to make a difference in the lives of others and they struggle with how to do this when the circumstances are very serious and very complicated. My very limited and new understanding is that, at least proportionately, the complexity of the struggle of the people of Malawi is far greater than where I come from. And though with much less resources they are working hard to make a difference.

The Malawians I am coming to know who are in full time ministry struggle as I do to balance work and home. Just like me, they have a heart to train others to multiply the fruit of the work. But it is sometimes a challenge to find others who have the desire and, usually more frequently, the time to be trained. FTS like San Clemente Pres is working to reach out and stretch the impact of their ministry and are not satisfied with being a holy huddle. FTS is definitely a community for the community! And, most amazing of all, because it confirms why God's wise and wonderful and humorous plan has me here, the staff and volunteers of FTS are at a place where they want to go deeper. They want to grow in their love and trust of God so that they are able to live every day more faithfully what they are teaching and preaching and reaching out to others with. They want fresh hope in order to offer real hope to others. They do not want to rest on what they have done in the past or what they are currently doing very well. They want to be grounded deeper spiritually in order to go out faithfully wider. All these things we have in common.

Continents apart, times zones away I am seeing with my own eyes that God is indeed at work powerfully in every place doing the same thing he does in every place--bringing his kingdom to earth one person at a time, one act of love at a time, one word of hope at a time, one generous gift at a time. I am quite sure that after seeing what I have seen here in Lilongwe, I will be better equipped to see what I need to see in San Clemente. The stark differences as well as the clear commonalities are improving my vision. Louise drives on the wrong side of the road and the Lord gets her safely where she is going anyway! What an amazing God we serve!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Malawi Adventure: Adapting and Learning

Their singing is incredible. Twenty people in a small room open to the outdoors and the sound of their voices are fuller and richer than the singing in most worship services I have been in with twenty times as many people. And yes, there is clapping and dancing. Their whole bodies are engaged in worship. No instruments and no amplification. Rhythmic and harmonious, it is difficult not to be taken up in it. I wish I could transport them all back to San Clemente Presbyterian Church for everyone to hear and sing along. Their praise in song prepared us well for the lessons of the morning.

In our first day together the topic was proclaiming the kingdom. A certain issue continued to come up in their discussion and in the role playing that they did. I was encouraged by their transparency but also sensed that there was something in this that needed deeper exploration. However, being in a culture so foreign to me and new to them, I was hesitant. I was trying to pay attention to where this might be leading but also trying to be a good steward of the time and planning for this training. So I consulted with my host and main teacher, Louise, who has lived and ministered here in Malawi for almost 30 years. I told her what I had sensed and asked her about whether or not I should follow up on this. After talking with her and praying with her, I decided to change the lesson plan for the next day--to take a risk and adapt the plan. 

When I woke up I was having doubts about the change. I told Louise so, and she encouraged me to stick with the plan change as she really believed this was an issue that needed attention. I took her advice. What resulted was amazing. 

I have purposely not said what the issue was because it really does not matter.  For different groups at different times the issues are different. This, in fact, is the very root of the problem that came up and needed follow up.  As Christian communities we often get hung up on issues that sidetrack us and actually end up getting in the way of the very heart of why the church was called into being--to share the Good News. In the pursuit of some righteous end we actually create obstacles to people hearing that Good News. But because of our self-righteous blindness we cannot see it. 

With Louise's encouragement and the help of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well I led them in this exploration of what sorts of things they might be doing or not doing, saying or not saying, due to routine or tradition that might be keeping them from partnering with God in what he is doing in the world around them. The discussion actually ended up on a topic of even more significance than the one raised the day before. The clear sense that this adaption for the day was a leading of the Spirit of God encouraged by a wise saint was confirmed by what happened in this discussion--acknowledgment of blindness, confession, and a renewed commitment to follow Christ more faithfully--no turning back.

That by the way was also the lyrics to one of the beautiful songs they began the morning with--I am going to follow Jesus and I will not turn back. The sound still echoes in my ears. I am confident the Spirit will continue to echo the message in their hearts. Difficult adapting and deep learning and it is only day two. Boot camp, for sure!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Malawi Adventure: Eh, Sleep Is Over Rated

I slept for 8 hours Sunday night, but very lightly. I was not worried just excited, I think. I had started packing more than a week in advance so as to avoid the last day rush and frenzy. I was all packed and my check list that Sheryl France Moran gave me (VERY exhaustive) was all scratched off. Thanks to Kelly King, Corrie Hawes, and Sheryl, I had all my teaching (and learning) materials packed and ready to go, as well. I was ready. But the anticipation and adventuresome nature of this trip just would let me go into deep sleep.

My flight left LAX at 10:50 p.m.--past my most optimum bed time. I was tired. The problem was I would be in the air for less than five hours AND would lose three hours going coast to coast so would arrive in D.C. at 6:45 a.m. (3:45 a.m. body time). I did sleep all the way. Sitting up, of course. Though a dear member of SCPC offered to upgrade me for this leg, there were no first class seats available. The flight was full. I slept four hours this time, but very lightly. Two nights short, light sleep.

From this point on I can't really tell you when I slept or for how long with all the time zone changes, the lights going on and off in the airplane, an 11 hour flight to Addis Ababa. They served meals several times on the plane but I could not figure out what meal it was supposed to be. I tried sleeping on and off but mostly off. Then a layover for two or three hours.   Then another 3 hour flight to

Llongwe. Thank God for providing a young woman from North Carolina who is working on her PhD in Llongwe who sat down beside me in the Addis airport. Little did she know when she made that choice of seat that she would have a hanger on for the remainder of her return trip to Llongwe! Totally disoriented that is what I am.

Perhaps disorientation with a gracious face mixed in is exactly the kind of training I needed to prepare me for the days ahead. This, too, probably part of God's humorous plan--very little that is familiar but what I need will be provided. And most of all, a gracious host in Louise Laubsher who picked me up at the airport and began my training almost immediately.  I have heard so much good about her that I would trust her with my grandchildren! Here I am, Lord. I am available. Make me usable and use me. (Stolen from Dick Innes.)

The last leg of the journey

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Malawi Adventure: Humorous Disruptive Providence

Just two months ago I would have had no idea that I would be sitting at LAX waiting for a flight that will end in Africa--Malawi to be exact. Two months ago I could not have explained where in Africa Malawi was or told you anything about the country or it people. And yet, here I sit, waiting to go to Malawi and teach discipleship. How can something like this happen?! I believe that God in his great and creative providence has a sense of humor, too.

San Clemente Presbyterian Church has had a significant relationship with ministry in Malawi. Groups and individuals have been going to Malawi for several years. The head of staff was scheduled to go on this trip. But he has received and accepted another call and will be leaving in July. His sense was that good stewardship required someone to go who would be around longer. Enter stage left. Me. I was thrilled he invited me. I have always wanted to go to Africa. However, I was not sure I was the right person. The Mission Committee deliberated and supported my going. Still, it seemed like a significant (and rather abrupt) interruption of what I was developing in discipleship for San Clemente Presbyterian Church. I have been working on developing a discipleship experience--a "boot camp" of sorts--that will be replicable in several forms and eventually change the very culture of discipleship at SCPC. The planned launch of this first discipleship experience was February. It is February and I am leaving for two weeks. So, we bumped the launch for a month. And, we decided it might even be possible to teach the same material in Malawi that I was developing for SCPC.

As the curriculum and plan for the very interactive, very customized, very Spirit dependent discipleship experience came into focus I was amazed. Not only was this trip not going to be an interruption, this trip would be my own personal "boot camp" to test the principles I would be teaching in San Clemente, in a culture in Africa I know nothing about. It will require me to be very interactive with the participants. It will require that I talk with individuals enough to help them figure out how these principles will play out in their context--customized learning. And, it will require me to be totally dependent on the Spirit of God to help me connect with these dear people and to humbly learn alongside of them. Truths (capital T) have to be truth everywhere if they are kingdom of heaven principles and not just cultural adaptations of Biblical concepts. The good Lord is sending me to Africa to teach me to follow and trust him more fully so that I will be better equipped to teach others. Who would have ever imagined. I believe the Lord is sending me to Malawi to prepare for San Clemente!

So here I sit. Thinking about how very much I will have to learn in order to teach. Thinking about how very wise and wonderful and humorous the God we serve is.