Why You Are Where You Are: For Such a Time as Now
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A Letter to the North American Church: Because it is Time

A Holy Experience

Dear North American Church,

After a Sunday morning in Africa, you don’t look the same to me.

You look hungry.

Hungrier than anything I’ve seen in Africa.

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Because after I watched that Ugandan woman?

That one woman with no shoes and no husband and 7 kids, walk up to the front of the church and put this bag of beans into the basket as her love offering to God – my heart ached this raw conviction and I could feel it with you, North American Church, what you really wanted:

You’re hungry to love like this. You are hungry for the uncomfortable.

You are hungry to sacrifice your Starbucks coffees, your NetFlix subscription, your dinners out for something More. You’re hungry for more than vanilla services, and sweetened programs, and watered down lives.

You’re famished for More, for hard and holy things, for some real meat for your starved soul, some real dirt under your fingernails, some real sacrifice in your veins – some real Jesus in your blood and in your hands and in your feet.

When I sat under a tree in Africa for True Love Baptist Church’s Sunday School class, sat in the class with our sponsored child, Anna – a class that had no million dollar roof, no walls, no chalkboard or crayons, papers, flash, glitz or gloss  — just one tree and one grinning Compassion teacher with a falling apart Bible –

I could hear your restlessness, North American Church.

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When that Compassion teacher stood under that tree on a Sunday morning and told the kids dressed up in not a whole lot more than tattered rags, “God lets us all give just like the widow’s offering,” he was smiling like he swallowed the infamous, original canary. He couldn’t stop laughing giddy:

“You don’t have to wait to have more, you don’t have wait to have much, you don’t have to wait at all.”

And I’m looking into the eyes of all these African children, all these hungry, dancing eyes and the Compassion teacher’s literally dancing under the tree: “You all get to give!”  It’s not just the rich who get to give – it’s all those who give who get to be rich.

You don’t wait until you have more before you give to God – you give now so you get to become more in God. The children are all smiling and singing and there’s all this light coming like dappled deliverance through the leaves.

“Bring your only mango to Jesus,” the Compassion teacher’s waving his hands in extravagant joy. “Bring your one handful of beans, bring your one heart overflowing with song.” It’s not having much that makes you rich — it’s the giving much that makes you rich. Give and you are the rich.

And I’m sitting under a tree in Africa with the richest in the world and it’s not Bill Gates and it’s not Warren Buffet and it’s not Mark Zuckerberg and it’s not the family with 2 cars, a flat screen television and one week at Disney. It’s a bunch of kids in Africa in ripped shirts and torn shoes, who have no knives or forks and sleep on floors.

It’s only the people who give sacrificially who get to live richly.

And I bow my sorry head.

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The Pastor invites us to sing. I’m not sure how to find my feet. I am not sure how to let go. I am not sure how to live. The song begins a cappella, hearts the only instrument we all have:

Soon and very soon
We are going to see the King

African voices, deep and strong, join ours:

Soon and very soon
We are going to see the King …

I sing the words looking out at a congregation of worn out clothes hanging over tired backs and hungry bellies and willing hands. I sing the words looking into the whites of eyes in weathered ebony faces. And then I am only mouthing the words. Like there’s no voice left in me.

Like there’s no way I can sing that soon and very soon we’re all going to see our Father – when I’m living like this – and my brothers and sisters are living like that. When too many North Americans diet for a hobby, and too many Africans die for a meal.  When our churches have building budgets and our sisters have dying children.

We aren’t playing games here. We aren’t just singing diddy choruses here

If God is real, if the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is really on the throne, if we are all going to see our Jesus King face to face, soon and very soon – then there’s a whole lot of us who are wild to change things soon.  Now.

For such a time as Now. 

I am standing in Africa and there’s light in the trees and there is clarity and there are those who are saved but only by the skin of their teeth – because they cared most about the comfort of their own skin and only minimally about anyone else’s.  They will have a hardly abundant entrance awaiting them in heaven.

But that is not us.

There are those who would rather turn away instead of turn around.

There are those who would rather turn a blind eye to the needy than turn to the needy and be like Christ.

There are those who would love playing at being Christian, than to actually be one and love giving. 

But that is not us.

I am standing in Africa and there’s a whole Esther Generation and it is us who want hard and holy things because we want more than hollow lives.

There’s a whole Esther Generation and it is us who want our children to know the More Life, a life more than self-focus and cell phones, more than iphones, itunes, ipads and iLove, who want them to know the More Life of loving the least, the lonely and the lost and tasting the joy of God.

There is a whole Esther Generation and it is us who are done with our church buildings rising like these seemingly indifferent, polished towers toward the sky, right in the face of our brothers and sisters drinking down muddied water, crowded into living quarters smaller than our bathrooms, barely scraping together enough food to stave off relentless hunger pangs.

There’s a whole Esther Generation and it is us who are done with hardly even remembering them, let alone praying for them.

I am standing in Africa and there’s a whole Esther Generation and it is us who are done with easy, who say to the North American Church:

Be concerned for the poor – but be no less concerned for us rich who claim not to be rich so we can excuse ourselves from giving.

Be concerned for the poor – but no less concerned for us who have done just enough to assuage our consciences, just enough to pat ourselves on the back, but not enough that we’ve ever felt sacrifice. 

Be concerned for the poor – but be no less concerned for us who aren’t — because someday we will face Christ.

I am standing in Africa and you can hear the whole North American Church, rising up, crying out: What if caring for the poor was more than just caring about easing our consciences? What if caring for the poor meant feeling sacrifice for the poor?  What if we weren’t really feeling care for the poor – until we were really feeling sacrifice for them?

North American Church, it is time: We are all done with no-risk, no-sacrifice, no-point lives.

It is time: We are all done with the drug of comfortable and dare to live the dream of uncomfortable.

It is time: We’re all hungry for uncomfortable because we’re hungry for God – and He is outside of our comfort zones.

This. Is. What. Faith. Is.

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Our Compassion sponsored child, Anna, she slips to the front of the church, before the Pastor offers communion.

She whispers the first line of a skit: “Madame, Madame – What is a Life to Love?”

I sort of can’t believe I am sitting here, hearing this. And her sister steps up beside her, “Do you not know, sister? Having many beautiful things, this is a Life to Love.”  And Anna shakes her head.

“Sister, this is not it.” Anna smiles toward us and I smile back, blink it back. Her sister throws her arms back in disgust.

And Anna asks another little girl, “Madame, Madame, What is a Life to Love?”

And a girl in a brave and dirtied white dress says her piece, “Do you not know, sister? Having much money, this is a Life to Love.” And the whole congregation shakes their heads knowingly and I keep smiling liquid at Anna. And the girl in the white little dress throws her arms back in despair.

And then Anna moves her sister with arms flung back to stand in front of her friend with her arms thrown back  — and there they are, on a Sunday morning in Africa: the seeking with arms spread open like a Cross.

The child we sponsored on Valentine’s Day in 2008, she whispers it on a Sunday morning in Uganda in 2013: “This, my friends, this is what Love is.”

A life laid down is a Life to Love.”

And something inside me hurts and doesn’t, and that is us, a whole Esther Generation making itself like a Cross. Time’s beating it certain, in time with my heart:  Give away only a little now and enjoy most of your money to the most  — and what you really get is to be beggars for all eternity.

And the North American Church stretches open its arms willingly, the way the hungry are fed when they open hands wide.

 

 

 

Related:
Why You Are Where You Are: For Such a Time as Now
An Internet Love Story {Part 1}: How to Live Free
With Heart in our throats – and in His Hands
Coming: More with Anna — and spending a few days with Katie Davis from Kisses with Katie. #StayTuned #FarmGirlsinAFRICA

 

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There’s one child on the other side of the gate today — who needs you not to turn away but to look into theirs eyes and just pray…
For such a time as this. For such a time as Now:
Here if you are in Canada and here if you live in the US

 

 

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