Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Front Row Seat

When we were moving to Ghana, my sister, Kelly, gave us all journaling
books.  On the front of each she had written, “Ghana God Sightings.”
Although I started off writing about our “God Sightings” here, our
lives have become so full that it is difficult for me to find time to
record all that God is doing.  Actually, I should restate this, it is hard for 

us to make time to record all that God is doing.

After writing the last blog entry, I hesitated posting it.  When I
write openly and honestly about the internal struggle of living here
versus the life we lived in America, there is usually varied response
from readers.  Some say, “Right on, sister!”  Others disagree.
Sometimes after posting, there might be a note of encouragement, other
times, there might be a note of criticism.  I’m learning that if I am
willing to blog, then I must be willing to become vulnerable.  So here 

comes more vulnerability...

If you haven’t read the last post, Can You Imagine?, please take time to read it before
reading this one, because they relate to one another and are
intertwined in story.


In the previous post, I share about a church in a village that is 95%
idol-worshippers.  The congregation has just recently moved into a
small roofed structure that covers a partially concreted floor.  The
majority of the floor is still dirt.  Because a church in the US
generously provided the funds for them to roof the facility, the
church used the tarps that had been tied overhead and moved them to
the sides to create temporary walls.  The structure is now enclosed by
tarps with advertisements painted on them.  Yesterday, after the entry
had been posted, I received this email from a friend in the states.


Here is a portion of what she wrote:



...Read this passage from 1 Corinthians and then consider my thoughts afterwards...

1 Corn 1:26-29

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

So, just a thought....Would it be like God to actually use the '3rd world' to help the '1st world'???  Would it be like God to ... use those in Ghana to 'help' those American 'Christians' see the reality of faith lived out.  The contrast between your 2 worlds is so great.  Could God be using the 'weak' to shame the things of the 'strong'?  Yes.  Might God use this little church who meets under a tin roof to show that large buildings, big parking lots, and flat screen monitors in the lobby, or granite bathrooms, don't insure that the people inside the building are going to heaven.  No man may boast before God!

It is a frightening thought Robin.  That many American Christians may be resting in what they 'have' both at home and at church, and NOT in who Jesus is and what He has done.  Might Satan be happy to see that the American Church is wealthy and 'comfortable'?  This contentment dulls people to the urgency of the gospel.  The American Church does need to heed the call to 'Arise!'  God may be using these blessed, precious, poor, sick, uneducated 'foolish' people in Ghana to confound the wise.  God has chosen the despised.  I pray it is so.  Be encouraged...



While still working on this post, I received this email just a few moments ago from a friend.  She actually took a photo of what her Bible Study said this week and sent it to me.  This is what her study from Genesis said from this week:


Christians today sometimes mistakenly follow Sarai's example.  We attempt to do God's work by relying on methods learned from the world around us, rather than turning first to God's Word, prayer, and patient trust in God's timing.  We even make sacrifices, pour out human energy, and use plans that appear good to us, but are wrong in God's eyes, and do not demonstrate true faith in Him.  What kind of activities are ineffective from an eternal perspective?  This may be worship that entertains rather than edifies, buildings that are attractive, but are not used to build people's spiritual life, mission trips that give good feelings to the participants, but do little to transform the lives of those who were visited.  Numbers and money may be added; there may even be excitement, but there are few external results.  It takes a miracle from God to change lives through a new birth by his Holy Spirit.  "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come."  1 Corinthians 5:17

This morning, we worshipped at this church I have written about -
Palace Chapel.   I can’t begin to tell you all of the God Sightings
from the past five hours.  Yes, God has used this congregation meeting
on a dirt floor to teach our family more about Himself.

As we drove toward the church this morning, we passed the main shrine
of the village where this church meets.  We passed a man carrying a bottle walking to the
shrine.  He was going to pour drink libations to the local gods.  The
road into the village was strewn with people.  Few go to church on
Sunday morning.  Businesses are open.  The street is full of men,
women and children living aimless, hopeless lives.


As we continue on toward the church, we pass a man who is wearing one
of Mason’s shirts.  (For the outreach hosted here on December 31st,
our family cleaned out our closets to help contribute to the need.  I
promise we will never ask others to do something we are unwilling to do
ourselves.)  Yes, this man was unmistakably in one of Mason’s shirts.
The reason it was so evident is that it was an adoption shirt sold by
a family in Knoxville to raise money for their adoption.  Now it
belongs to a villager here.  Ironically, the majority of children here
are fatherless, so it struck a chord to see this man advertising a
“loving home for every child” on his chest.  I hope people will be
impacted by the simple words that will now roam through the village 

worn on the chest of this man.

As we continued on toward the church, we passed some boys from the
church congregation.  They were wearing “Tate’s Day Camp” shirts.
These shirts also came from Knoxville and were handed out at the
outreach.  The blue-shirted boys were walking hand in hand headed to
church.


We arrived at Palace Chapel and everyone was already praising God.
Songs were being lifted and passing through the new tin roof up to the
heavens.  Dirt was kicked up off the ground as people moved their feet
to the beat.  Smiles covered every face.   I looked around and read
advertisements for cell phone services and perfume on the tarped
walls.  With the JOY of the Lord so magnified, who cares about the
dirt or the advertisement-covered walls?  Tambourines draped with
ribbon rang with praises.  Everyone was on their feet worshipping the
great God – the one true and holy God.  Our God.


After worship, the children performed a drama challenging the
congregation to live out Isaiah 58:7 –


Is this not the fast that I choose...
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Isaiah 58:6a, 7

Props and costumes abounded throughout the play.  The people used what
they had to create the characters.  Triangularly folded cardboard made
the hat.  Ribbons strapped to cardboard made the shoes.  A torn piece
of fabric created the main character.  An oversized jacket and bright
red necktie dressed the “pastor” in the play.  The simplicity was
beautiful.






As for the story, I wish every person in America could have seen it,
because it was being performed in a poor Ghanian community on the 
dirt floor of a church.  Talk about irony.  The drama was based on the 
life of Cornelius in Scripture and was written by Pastor Fred.

Cornelius is the father of a small family with two children.  Before
leaving in the morning, he leads his family in devotions, prays for
them, and challenges them to live out Isaiah 58:7.   After leaving his
family for the day, he meets a naked man on the street.  (A young boy
dressed in tattered, ragged, filthy clothes and wearing boxer shorts.)
 Cornelius gives the boy some clothing of his own and dresses him.
(Tears begin to flow down my cheeks as I see Cornelius use a Tate’s
Day Camp shirt as the prop signifying the new piece of clothing for
the naked child.  Gifts that have been sent here to bless naked
children are now being used to teach the people here to do the same.
Wow!  All of the kids were dressed alike in Tate's Day Camp shirts!)  


After Cornelius leaves the naked boy, he finds two boys
fighting over a small piece of food.  They are desperate from their
hunger.  Cornelius reaches into his knapsack and again offers food of
his own to feed the two boys.   The two previously-fighting boys are
grateful for the gift of food.  They run off happy after thanking
the man for the something to fill their empty bellies.  (Tears came
again for me.  The young boy fighting over the food, Wisdom, is a
child we deliver food to every month with Feeding the Orphans.  What a
picture.  Before we began bringing him food, he would go for days
without eating.  He would call Pastor Fred when the hunger pains
became unbearable.  He has known the desperation of hunger to act in
this role.  Wow!)  

The drama ends as Cornelius goes to a church where many
children are worshipping together.  Cornelius gives a financial
offering to help the church have a nicer place to gather.  (This too,
brought tears, as I looked around everything surrounding me.  People
have sent us Bibles, and congregants in this church bring them every
Sunday.  Holzman translations and Good News Bibles are in the hands of
nearly everyone – every Sunday.  People have donated clothes, and
people in this church are wearing them. This morning, there were
Tate’s Day Camp shirts, pillowcase dresses, and new Christmas shirts
from Feeding the Orphans on the sponsored kids.  In early December,
God challenged our family unexpectedly to help this church
financially.  A gift had been given to us and that gift literally moved 
this congregation into the structure where they now worship.  Before this, 
they were huddled under trees while village priests gave sacrificial offerings
to the village gods within eyesight and earshot of everyone worshipping.   
Soon after the congregation had moved into the structure covered with 
tarps, a church in the US provides the funds for a roof!  Our great God!  
In the drama, Cornelius gives an offering so the children will have a
nicer place to gather and I looked around to witness how God had
already done the same for this body of Believers.  Wow!)

My attention is drawn back to the drama in front of me.  The lead in
the play is Isaac.  He acts in the role as Cornelius, a righteous man
according to Scripture.  Isaac and his two siblings are sponsored
monthly for food through Feeding the Orphans.  Seeing him in this role
is overwhelming.  Isaac is a fatherless young boy who lives with his
grandmother.  If he were with his mother, she would sell him into
slavery.  Isaac is a young boy who has led five people to Christ in
the last two months. Five.  Yes, it is fitting to see him in the role
as Cornelius because of the way he is leading others toward
righteousness.

At the end of the drama, I found myself praying continually thanking
God for the privilege of witnessing what He is doing.  I realized He
has given us a front row seat to see His work here.  Wow!  Oh, wow!

Reid had been asked to give the sermon.  He opened dialogue between
himself and the congregation.  It was an unusual way to give a sermon,
but the receptivity was wonderful.  He allowed the congregation to ask
questions.  It was a launchpad to testify to what God has done and is
doing.  Reid challenged the congregation to care for the fatherless in
the community.  (James 1:27)  He shared our own adoption story about
Godwin, and the people were very intrigued.  Sadly, legalized adoption 
is somewhat foreign to most people in Ghana.

One thing we love about Palace Chapel is the fact that the pastor
takes the mandate to care for the fatherless seriously.  While there
are not “legal adoptions” taking place, the men of the church have
risen up to spiritually adopt the children of the church.  Looking
around the seats, it’s evident about 65% of the people gathered are
children – most come to church without parents.  Of the children, 60 –
70% of them are fatherless.  Pastor Fred informed me that the ones who
do have fathers still basically live as fatherless children because
the dads are never around.   The men of this church provide guidance,
leadership, and authority for these children.

As the service ended, Pastor Fred informed the congregation that a
few men of the church had pooled their resources to provide a
Christmas meal for the children and congregation of Palace Chapel.
Five men - Fred, Benjamin, Opatta, Chris, and one more man gave to
provide a meal of rice and chicken for about 100 people.  This may
seem like a small thing, but the reason they had the resources to give
is that they sacrificed having a Christmas meal with their own family
so the children of the church could have one.  Did you get that?
These men did not have a family Christmas dinner with all the
trimmings.  They gave the provisions they would have spent on their
own family and used it to feed the children of the church – most of
whom are fatherless…most of whom received nothing for Christmas except
the gifts from the outreach…most of whom do not have meat with any of
their meals at home – only rice, gari, or cassava.  A piece of chicken
defines a meal fit for a king!  These men with meager resources
provided everyone with a royal meal!

As our boys helped serve the hot plates of food, an older woman came
through the doorway of the church.  I did a double-take and realize
the woman is the grandmother to Abraham, Emmanuel, and Wisdom!  We
have been praying for her and longing for God to draw her to Himself.
Each of her three grandsons are provided with food every month because
of sponsorship through FTO.  Our family has the privilege of
delivering it.  This grandmother has struggled to provide for her
grandsons desiring to keep them off the fishing boats.  She has sold
fish in the town, but it has not been enough.  The food from FTO has
given her new hope.  This old woman has trusted in the idols of the
village.  She has worshipped in shrines.  She has spent her life
without God.  Witnessing her walk into the doors of the church
revealed that God IS revealing Himself to her.  The food we bring each
month comes from Him.  God is the one providing it!  She is realizing
that and is being drawn to the Truth.  Oh, another front row seat to
witness God’s Hand at work!  We praise God!  What a testimony to what
YOU do through your sponsorship of children here!  God used the
provision of food for this family to draw this grandmother to church.
Prayers are being answered.

(I will insert here that nearly all of the sponsorships for FTO are
done with the help of a local pastor here in Ghana –both food and
education.  Because of this, the recipients understand the love of
Jesus because it is being brought by His people.  Recipients see the
gifts as coming through the local church.  In helping the children
here, we desire to see them drawn to Jesus, not to our family, not to
the white man, but drawn completely to God as the provider of “every
good and perfect gift.”  -James 1:17  God is using the gift of food to
bring this grandmother to church!)

At the end of the service, Pastor Fred recognized our family and gave
us a framed Certificate of Appreciation.  Documents like this carry a
great amount of significance so we were deeply touched by the generous
gift.  Tears streamed down my face because WE ARE THE BLESSED ONES.
WE ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE BEEN TOUCHED.  WE ARE THE ONES IMPACTED BY
THIS LITTLE CHURCH WITH ITS DIRT FLOOR, TARPED WALLS AND CONGREGATION
MADE UP MOSTLY OF CHILDREN.  OUR FAMILY HAS BEEN CHANGED BY THE PEOPLE OF PALACE CHAPEL.  What a gift.

Today as we were driving out of the village a little boy came running
toward the road waving his hands.  Emmanuel.

He was running in the exact same place where we met him – in front of
the main village shrine.  I have not shared this on the blog until
now, but our car struck this little boy in September.  He actually ran
into the side of our car while we were moving.  We took him to the
hospital, and monitored him until he returned home.  Now our family,
in many ways, has assumed the care of him physically.  We’ve paid the
hospital bill, provided his school uniforms, provided food for the
family, etc…  (In Ghana it is customary to take care of someone if you
are the first to touch them after an accident.  Our car doors opened
within 15 seconds of striking him, and people piled into our vehicle
for us to take him to the hospital.  It was quite traumatic.  Planning
on it or not, we received the responsibility of his care.  However,
this family clearly needed help and God has made it clear our
unexpected meeting with Emmanuel was for greater purposes than we can
ever imagine.)


For Christmas, we followed the lead of Feeding the Orphans, and had a
new shirt made for Emmanuel.  Today he was wearing it.
Reid pulled off the road and stopped the car.  We talked to him
briefly and Reid asked him if he had been to church that morning.
We’ve been urging the father to take him to church with him.  Emmanuel
has never gone - partially because he didn’t have appropriate
clothing, and partially because he wasn’t invited by his father.
“Yes,” was the answer, “with his father.”  Oh, again I could have
cried.

Emmanuel has not been to church with his father because Emmanuel is a
step-child.  He is not the biological son of his father’s wife.
Emmanuel’s own mother has died.  In most homes, step-children are
disowned.  They are not accepted into a new family.  However, Reid and
Pastor Fred have been talking with Emmanuel’s father about his
responsibility to care for him.  They have been urging him to live in
his role as Father.

AND today Emmanuel went to church!  WITH HIS FATHER!  Oh, God
continues to move.  He continues to draw people to Himself.  People
are moving toward the Living Hope.

We returned home to our house.  Our family now has a young single mother now living with us.  She is a precious 28 year old woman with an adorable one year old son!  She's experienced many "firsts" with our family since joining us - baking her first cake, using a gas oven, taking a hot shower, riding on a escalator, seeing the ocean, and eating in a restaurant.  We love having her with us.
(A picture from the day we finally opened our Christmas gifts at home - December 26th.  We delayed celebrating, so we could minister all day Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  This morning was the first time in a very long time Etornam had received a gift - for any reason.  She wept.  I did too.  She was extremely blessed this Christmas, not only by our family, but there was also a family from the US who sent gifts for her and Elyon.  What a "first" to feel so loved on Christmas Day.)

This weekend, Etornam went to see the baby's fathers family for the first time since moving in with us several months ago.  I will not share details, but the Father has not made choices that would be fitting for his role as a pastor.  When we met him, Reid challenged him directly.  "What does the Bible say about what you are doing?  How can you live this way and continue to lead a church?"  

Very flustered, he admitted he wasn't perfect and had his own struggles to which Reid continued to press him as a brother in Christ.  At the time, we were disheartened by the answers he gave.  So, we have prayed that God would begin to change his heart.  And, guess what?

Etornam returned home sharing about the redeeming work God is doing!  The father repented for his actions.  He sought forgiveness.  He gave some money to help care for Elyon.  He desired to have a grounded relationship with his son, and he was willing to make the effort to do it.  He told Etornam that he kept talking about Reid and said, "I want to be a man like that."  Who would have thought he would have that response after Reid challenged him about how he was living?  Wow!  Elyon's father is becoming a new man.  We can not praise God enough!   

God is using donated t-shirts, dresses, Bibles, and money to impact
lives here.  God is using people who are sponsoring children through
FTO to impact lives here.  God is using the monthly provision of food
to bring a grandmother to church instead of a shrine.  Monthly food
provided has given a young man confidence in a God who provides to
lead five people to Christ.  God is using a car accident to change
entire family dynamics.  God has anointed conversations of correction 
and admonishment to have a man examine the choices he makes.  
Lives are changing.  God is making people into new creations in Him.



I am amazed.

But God is also changing us.  God is using men who give up a family
Christmas meal to provide a Christmas meal for children to challenge
my own approach to sacrificial giving.  God is using a drama performed
by children about sharing their own food, clothing and resources to 
realign my thinking.  The children in the play would sacrifice tremendously 
to share any of those things, because, by our standards, they don't have 
it to share.  Their own resources are very scarce.  Yet, the leadership of 
this church challenges all of the congregants to LIVE OUT what we are told to do
in Scripture. Those with little are called to share what little they
have.  Wow!

It’s an honor to have a front row seat to see our magnificent God
display Himself.  Today was testimony to some of what HE has done here
over the past seven months.  It is incredible.

Today was filled with so many “God Sightings.”  What a gift to see
them all.  His glorious, splendorous, magnificent Self was on display
today.  I was so thankful for the front row seat.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29

P.S.  Our family has not always lived on the mission field.  In fact, we are very new to it.  I wrestled through the disparity of "two worlds" while I was lived in the States too.  This post, Sacrifice? and Profile of Lukewarm, both from 2010, are a reminder of the struggle I faced in America too.  What a work God was already doing in my heart to prepare me for the life we live now!  We are grateful to our Life Group friends for the continual push toward living "on mission."

1 comment:

Tyvon Jamallia Petway said...

God bless you and your family. I look forward to every new blog you post. We are in the process of adopting from Ghana and that's how I found your post. My husband and I have done small mission trips and some of the things you say have been our thoughts. Your journey is encouraging and convicting at the same time: God sent!!