Saturday, January 20, 2018

Learning From Those Who Pray All Night

One Sunday morning, I picked up this paper from the pew at our church.  It is the schedule for a Friday night vigil that had happened just a couple of days before.

We didn't attend this event.  The idea of staying up all night to pray, worship, and study Scripture feels like a form of torture to us.  But in East African Christian culture, it is an assumption.  Some churches do it every month.  Some do it every week.  Gil has taught at a few of these, where he agreed to come from 10 pm till 1 am.  That was his limit.

So I read over this schedule in awe.  To most American Christians, this practice may sound crazy.  But African Christians will explain that they are simply following the ways of Jesus, who many times spent the whole night in prayer (Luke 6:12).  Sure, it takes discipline, but it's a great way to grow in godliness and faithfulness.  So, they argue, why shouldn't we follow Jesus' example?

This time of year, North American Christians might not be resolving to spend all night in prayer, but they are buzzing about Bible reading plans. Daily Bible reading has the #1 place on  a Good Christian's Resolution List.  As any American knows who was raised in Christian culture, daily Bible reading is the epitome of godliness and faithfulness. 

But is it?

Now, before you excommunicate me, let me assure you that I absolutely believe in the importance of regular study of the Word of God.  I started reading through the Bible at age ten, and I've lost count of how many times I've read it from cover to cover. In our ministries in Tanzania, we emphasize careful, regular Bible study as the foundation for life and holiness. The first class that Reach Tanzania Bible School students take is Bible Study Methods (Hermeneutics).

I am a reader.  It's my primary source of learning.  I read at least one or two dozen books a year, and I would rather read than listen to a sermon.  So Bible reading comes naturally to me. 

However. This is one of those examples of how spending large amounts of time with Christians outside my own culture has caused me to re-think some of my assumptions.

If personal Bible study is the most important way that a person grows in their faith, then what about the people in the world who are illiterate, or those who do not primarily communicate through the written word?  Or what about those who just don't learn well by reading?  Is there hope for them to know God as fully as those of us who are natural readers?

My point is this:  I think that all of us would agree that knowing God and growing in faith comes from the regular intake of God's Word.  But must the source of that intake mainly be from personal, daily time spent reading the Bible?

Shouldn't the goal be a heart who yearns to know God through his Word?

And in that, can't we be creative?  Can we learn something from the disciplines of Christians in other cultures?  Why do we put so much emphasis on reading, and often neglect the other spiritual disciplines like fasting, corporate prayer, Scripture memorization, and meditation?

What about listening?  The Bible on audio is catching steam, but there are other options. What about two friends getting together for the sole purpose of reading the Bible out loud to each other?  In small groups, why do we always jump to discussion and application, when we could spend more time reading long passages together?  How about group efforts to memorize verses or passages?

I might never attend an all-night vigil. But I'm learning a lot from the people who do.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Head for the Hills

While the northern hemisphere is running to warmth this time of year, we down here in the southern part of the world run to the cold.  

Okay, so not actually cold, unless you consider 75 degrees to be cold (which we do).  Every year in Tanzania, we spend the week after Christmas in the mountains, to escape the suffocating humidity in Dar this time of year.  

We go with friends, and the kids run off and we barely see them, and the grown-ups read and chat and play games.  We get our jeans and hoodies out of storage and pretend that we're cold.   Beautiful, peaceful, soul-lifting.

Every year, "Aunt" Alyssa gives each kid the equivalent of a dollar and sends them into the market to see what they can find.  (As I recently blogged, Tanzanian markets are crammed with cast-offs from other countries.)  Whichever item makes Alyssa laugh the most is the winner.  

Grace's find was the runner-up:  A baby shirt which is obviously "The Letest Design."

But the winner was these (intentionally) split toddler pants, which apparently are a real thing in Asia to help kids get potty-trained.

New Year's Eve

Grace's 12th birthday--more on her later!

Good-bye, lovely Lushoto. We'll see you again next year!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Medina Life, December 2017


So technically this was November and not December, and technically it wasn't even Thanksgiving Day (which is not a holiday here), but the Sunday before.  But we had pumpkin pie and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and everyone played Wiffle Ball, and we even had a two-year-old who wouldn't stand still for the group picture.  So it was Thanksgiving.

Then we descended into the Christmas season at HOPAC, which was pretty much just as crazy as the Christmas season in American schools.......

Primary School Christmas Party

And everyone dressed festively.....

And the classes had a "Decorate-Your-Teacher" competition, which was pretty awesome, though I'm not sure the teachers have totally forgiven me for it yet.  

Primary School Christmas Musical

Thanking our wonderful music and drama teachers who pulled all of this off.

Visiting my friend Lucy's house...

Our annual trip to the water park with my worker's kids....

St. Columba's Mbezi District Christmas Party

We rented out HOPAC for this event, and Gil was asked to plan games for the kids.  So he did, but the adults got into them a lot more than the kids did!

We are so thankful for the fellowship this group gives us!

Picnic-Style Christmas Eve Carol Service 
....the way we do Christmas on the equator.

Christmas Day!

We hung out with good friends on Christmas Day.  After years of making gingerbread houses from scratch, I decided this working mom couldn't hack that this year.  So we used crackers instead.  Oh my goodness--so easy and just as much fun.  I'm never going back to homemade.  

And when you can't throw Christmas snowballs, you make Christmas bubbles instead.