So…what do you think we should call it?
There are so many times in life when I have to tone down the temptation to just say it, whatever it is. So when I looked up and saw this, I can’t lie…I thought it was hilarious. It just made sense; just call it what it is. Pretty sure there isn’t much funny about a hangover. But if you’ve spent very much time feeling bottled up by pretense – or if the straight ‘lost in translation’ component wasn’t lost on you – then I probably don’t have to explain why this one screamed photo opp…smh…wow.
Alright, on to business…
Servant of all
I used to think that I was really workin’ when I cut my lawn with a weed-whacker—because I was too cheap to buy a lawnmower. But then I met this brother…
and this brother…
and realized that around Dedza, that’s generally just how it’s done. It was like the next step in the progression of my understanding of work. But then someone explained to me where all that wood that the sisters tote on their heads came from…and for a while I simply refused to believe it. But it didn’t take long for me to wake up and realize that – much like the sisters we see hauling it daily – these brothers…
…hauled this wood
down from this mountain…
And it didn’t take me much longer to realize that I wasn’t just working with the wrong definition of work, or servant…I had no idea.
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”Mark 9:35 (ESV)
Back in the states, there were few if any non-criminal jobs which came to mind that I just wouldn’t do. But looking at what work means here, I had to confront my gut reaction to some of what I saw: “…there is no way.” I couldn’t deny it, I bounced back at the thought of cutting the grass with a hand-held blade—and like I told you, I went into denial when I learned that folks hauled wood down the side of Dedza mountain on their head for a living. But that was almost small in comparison to what I heard when I asked one sister how much she charges for the wood…?
Understanding how hard folks in villages like this all over the world are working for what we consider change, caused me to realize that servant is a word I may not have been equipped to understand. And if my understanding of servant was that far off, how much more my – or maybe even our – assumptions about final judgment?
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:26-30
Adding any other words to Mr. Chan’s illustration seems wrong, but what seems even more wrong after all this—are the unstated, faulty expectations I’ve had for what the “reward” ahead might be like…smh.
Just a little more…
Don’t let what I say next become your excuse for continuing to hug your balance beam, but please don’t misunderstand me either: poverty does not equate to righteousness. That quote from Luke says “some”, and it’s connected to an Old Covenant principle:
“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” Leviticus 19:15
As much as the “first” world may live in luxury by exploiting the “third” world’s poverty, for every person in the “third” world hauling wood down the side of a mountain, there are at least two who seem willing to exploit those working on that mountain.
You don’t really even have to leave the states to see it. …drug trade anyone? …prostitution? Poorer countries with lower crime rates simply seem to manifest it in different ways, because poverty – wherever it exists – seems exceptional at exposing some of the best, and worst in human nature. I’ve heard stories about the ways that life in concentration camps exposed both the heroic and obscene sides of those imprisoned. But I’m becoming convinced that a less extreme version of that experiment plays out in impoverished parts of the world every day. Deep need exposes the tendencies of exploited persons to become exploiters—who sometimes do so as callously as those who actually prosper from oppression.
So if the tendency to misuse others doesn’t appear to have been assigned an income bracket, what does that mean? It may mean false comfort to those who quietly take pride in the superiority of their particular demographic—for whatever reason. Those proud of being working class…because the world would stop without labor. Those proud of their degrees…because the world wouldn’t be much without ambition and smarts. Those even proud of their poverty…because “it’s obvious” that the rich are the ones exploiting the poor. The common denominator being pride—and that brand of it probably most dangerous to those of us in the church, may be pride in our “saved”ness or church affiliation.
Jesus taught a parable about wheat and tares. (Matthew 13:24-30) I heard TD Jakes caution his listeners not to ignore the proximity of the tares to the wheat—and the timing of their separation. The tares were sown so closely among the wheat that pulling them too soon threatened the wheat’s very existence. So when we take comfort in having found the enemy that we see in another demographic—we often make ourselves excellent targets for the enemies within our own.
Not too long ago I was involved in a negotiation that seemed to illustrate it. We made an expedited acquisition for one of the students from a local Christian businessman. He sold us a used good at a certain price that seemed high—but we were in a hurry. He guaranteed us that this was the fair price for the used version. So we negotiated him down a bit and made the purchase.
Not long after, we randomly stumbled upon a shop run by one of the local Islamic businessmen. We asked his wife the price of the brand new version of what we had just bought and – without haggling – she quoted us a price less than $2 more than the used goods we bought from the fellow-“believer.”
I put believer in quotes, because James’ epistle warns of the dangers in faith alone—without the works of true righteousness.
I mention that because, as an American doing business in a foreign culture, there’s no way to be completely certain about the candor of this negotiation. But I checked the standard price for the new and used good before we bought anything. And of the 3 people we eventually asked, the only person who advised us to buy used at that price, was the fellow-“believer” who was selling at that price.
He got the benefit of our trust and our immediate need. But as I told him before we made the deal: you’re not short-selling the American, you’re short-selling the Malawian kid that this is going to. And sure enough, a student ended up in a tattered version of the blessing that others got to enjoy brand new.
Why would I write about an isolated example of a bad deal with a fellow-Christian? I don’t think that I would. I’m writing because this is an example of a recurring problem that I’ve seen manifested in different ways, in “believers” from completely different cultures.
I’m writing in hopes that it will sharpen both the wisdom of those tempted to place too much trust in “believers,” and those “believers” who have enough—but find themselves – at the expense of another brother or sister – tempted to negotiate for just a little more.
Question bread and answer bread
Alright…enough of the heavy handed morality tales. I come from Houston, the land where good BBQ meets great shrimp. Whatever the preference the local common denominator…is meat. So the bread metaphors in the bible were symbols I simply couldn’t relate to. Thus the title: question bread.
Bread simply raised questions for me. For restaurants, bread seemed to be what they offered to keep customers from cutting into their profit margin. For us, it was what expanded in your stomach to steal the coveted space that well-seasoned meat so rightfully deserved. So when I tasted what restaurants typically serve as bread…it simply made me wonder: why?
Moving here, I’ve begun to understand why. Enter, answer bread:
Yes, I’ve had the bread sticks at Olive Garden, the crescent rolls we KILL around the holidays in my family, much of what Panera has done to revive the dignity of bread stateside…so on and so forth. But those are still just side dishes…plate fillers.
Daily bread still seemed to be a symbol of poorer biblical times. But living here, I’ve begun to better appreciate the value of a thing – anything – well-done. When done well, bread – just bread – is a thing to be desired…a comfort food if you’re not careful. And even though the pic might not look like much more than a glorified dinner roll, that loaf’s texture and flavor is only enhanced by its utility. Finding genuine satisfaction in something priced so well is a huge blessing. It gives me something to look forward to in the mornings. It gets me out of the door in even less time than it took me to get going stateside. And it’s definitely not all that we eat, but it’s a shot in the arm to my budget here.
Bread well-done isn’t a daily dole, as much as it can become a daily craving.
Here’s the point: what are you producing? …is it someone’s daily dole? …or their daily craving? Can you honestly say that you’ve honed your craft – no matter the value society puts on it – into something that God would say that His children should crave.
You’ll never be able to please everyone. That’s just not how this world works. But I’ve reached a point where a great piece of bread beats a poorly cooked steak most any day. So even if your job is what those who look down on you would consider a “bread” trade, are you doing it with the expertise that outshines bad steak?
I know plenty of lackluster lawyers who have helped earn the trade the down side of its reputation. But I’ve also met awesome secretaries and paralegals who seemed exceptional at three or four more jobs than the one that they were hired to do.
Which of those honestly describes you?
And if an honest look in the mirror reveals that you’ve allowed yourself to become question bread, wouldn’t it be a relief – years later – to look back on this day as the day that you turned it around to become the answer?
Have you ever broken your routine just long enough to realize just how much of a rut you were in? I had to take care of some business in Lilongwe not long ago, but the star of that trip might have been the container of…errrr…ummm…joy, right here:
Please don’t rush out looking for whatever brand this is as though this is an endorsement…because it’s a straight mission field thing. This was the right thing, at the right time, providing the right lift. Your favorite brand of your favorite desert might whip this one in a taste test…daily. But that whole experience was so much bigger than ice cream…yessir.
Maybe putting it next to this photo will help. Finding joy often requires toning it down: expectations, demands, etc. These kids know how to appreciate recess without a real ball. So maybe interacting with them – even in passing – has helped me tone it down. Thus, that ice cream fix was…yeah.
Christmas with the sisters
Similarly, I’m not sure that there were many things that made my mom feel better than having a group of sisters take me in over the holidays…and I literally mean sisters. I finally moved into rental housing in January. But near the beginning of December, the local Catholic church took me in to help cut costs—tremendously. I had been in local lodges until then. Even more, the sisters were quick to extend the invitation to spend the holidays with them and, in case you couldn’t tell, it was hilarious. Don’t let the hats fool you, the young sisters are just as nunned up as the elders on the couch. And if the hats didn’t give it away, they had rhythm for days…it was too funny. I saw one of them on my way back to finish-up this article, and I told her that I found the pictures from Christmas…she just laughed. Good times!
But about that work…
I had absolutely nothing to do with this one, but it’s still good to see the brothers producing baptisms…this time at a church I’ve been to since making it to more congregations around Dedza. God willing, we’ll be seeing more of these as we settle into 2016 at MIBI.
Speaking of which, finals are this week! It no longer carries the same panic that it used to for me—since I’ve had to make the test instead of taking it. That actually means that my cram week was last week, and it somewhat explains why this newsletter is so late. The other reason has to do with why you probably didn’t see a January edition. We’ve had to make some adjustments for 2016, and the report that went to the school’s board took the place of the January Newsletter. Thus the title Newsletter Issue #4, when you may have never seen an Issue #3. Thanks for your patience though. The progress that we’re looking for will hopefully produce even better news going forward.
For now though, please know that the guys are nearing the end of Old Testament History with me, and have had their study guide for this Wednesday’s final in hand for about a week now. God willing, the preparation that they’ve done will produce great sermons more than anything. Hopefully the numerical grades will simply reflect what they’ll retain for improving lives…those of their listeners—but foremost their own. As usual, praying the same for myself as I’ve learned a HUGE amount prepping this class for them. I’m hoping to make the most of my blessing, by making sure that their retention is strong, and their communication of the lessons is even stronger.
In the meantime though…I’m tired! So thanks for accepting a less formal version of my Newsletter this month. But like this guy, I’m about to take a minute to just…
As always though, God’s best to you as you go forward in Him…