Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Folding chairs and an Assistant Director

Have you ever helped after a church dinner to pack away the folding chairs?  When I was a teenager this was an activity that gave me surprising pleasure.  After the dinner was over while a few people were still lingering enjoying the fellowship, someone would start folding up the chairs and “breaking down” the tables.  Without anyone telling us to, a small group of men and youth would suddenly start working together.  The older ones would show the younger ones how the chair should hang upside down on their racks, all neatly facing the same way. The little ones would ride on the empty chair carts.  Kick, kick!  You hear the sounds of the supports of the table legs being folded up, as big men and teams of younger ones carry them away.  With each chair and each table there is a sense of satisfaction.  We are serving like Jesus!

One night (still in my teens) my dad started reading a simple little book titled Improving Your Serve to my brother, Josiah, and me.  It was an assignment in preparation for our first-ever mission trip to another country. We would work hard stripping paint, join the youth there in plaza evangelism, kill cockroaches with flaming hairspray (not really a recommended activity) and avoid drinking the tap water.  But all that is really another story.  As my Dad and Chuck Swindoll (the author of the book), walked me through Jesus’ teachings about serving, this same joy of serving like Jesus filled my heart.  But also, I began to be aware that the call to serve was something much bigger than volunteering to put away chairs on a Wednesday evening.   Jesus calls me to follow him in giving the service of my whole life, even at times when it is not my choice!

Thus, I find myself writing to you from Nigeria, far from family we miss, shower water you can drink, and outlets that give power 24/7. Yet surprisingly, though I wish I could just sit and be with my family, and I occasionally get frustrated by the unpredictable nature of life, I find that these are actually an easy part of service.  I have chosen to serve here, and find far more pleasures and joys in Nigeria than it costs to be here.

Recently I was convicted by two phrases that seem to echo from my mouth more often than they should: “in the last ten years since I came to Nigeria” and “but I am the Assistant Director for Scripture Engagement”. I have found that these two phrases sound like a variation on the theme song of the “Rulers of the Gentiles” who “lorded it over" those under their authority.

Not long ago I threw myself prostrate onto the bed in our prayer room, beating the pillows in frustration as I tried to pray.  It was just after two weeks of the intense period of visiting potential ministry partners and sometimes making calls in the evenings.  (See Primary and Pharmacy).  I was recovering from some bug that had given me a fever and though the fever was gone, I was still not back to full strength. I had just spent two hours of my official time off in the office working through a solution to a scheduling problem.  We had come up with what seemed like a good solution, and I finally got back to the house expecting to rest and recover when suddenly I got a text message.  As I read it, I realized that our whole solution was going to be thrown out, and I didn’t understand why.  I beat the pillows and cried out, “Why God?  Why?  Is it just my pride?  Does this thing I am working for really matter?  What should I do?”  All my experience and authority rushed to my mind.  I just couldn’t let go.  The struggle—not only with the situation, but also with my blinding pride—went on for the next three days.

I can’t sort it out on my own.  I need God’s help.  I can’t easily see what things are motivated by my strong desire to serve well, and what are motivated by pride.  That’s why I wrote these stories.  I encourage you to join me in prayer in this struggle.

From today (Wednesday) through Sunday our group is going on retreat.  The theme seems perfect for me: “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ Jesus.”  Please pray for the Holy Spirit to make great advances in cleansing me and renewing me this week.


  1. In times like these, I find the old liturgy helpful:

    We confess that, [apart from you], we are sinful and unclean [...] For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and renew us that we might [abide in you the vine and] delight in your will to the glory of your holy name. Amen

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Collaboration, vulnerabity and trust

From Tuesday through Thursday, leaders of 24 Bible Translation organizations have gathered to discuss how we can work together more intenti...