Utoaji and Sadaka…

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Another thought I’d like to offer up comes from my understanding of “utoaji’ and “sadaka.”

Utoaji= offering

Sadaka= sacrifice

What do these words mean to you?…

To me, both have significant value but in differing ways. You can offer your service or help to someone. You can offer some advice or an explanation if the situation arises. You can lay an offer on the table as an asking-price or compromise for something desired. In American churches, we collect an offering each week. Offerings generally seem to be focused on giving from what you already have and thus, describes something manageable to give from our way of life.

Sacrifices, on the other hand, describe a thing which is given up for something or someone. We sacrifice our time to others. A “sacrifice fly” in baseball prevents one person from trying his chances on the bases in order for another teammate to advance and/or score. Many conversations about love and relationships mention sacrifice regularly. Sacrifices are usually difficult, painful and thus…rare.

Churches in Tanzania, however, don’t give offerings…they give sacrifices. So what? It’s just a word, right? What does it mean when one chooses to sacrifice something than simply offer it? How would your support of your church and community be different if you sacrificed more for it?

Week after week, I’ve seen Mark 12:41-43 (check it out here… 2 copper coins…) lived out as people give as much from their heart as they do the change tucked away in the pockets of their Sunday best. It isn’t an offering but a sacrifice they lift up to God… They could have used it to comfort-ize their lives a little more but they didn’t…

What in your life are you offering to a friend, a loved one, a church, school, or some organization or even…God… when a sacrifice could reflect your love more?

When I reflect on my life, the people who have influenced me the most were the ones who made sacrifices to help me be who I am today. I think (and of course thank also) my parents, my family, a number of teachers and pastors, several friends from the L-E days, the Wofford ways and my stint in the Queen City (you all know who you are!) and others who arrived at various points in my life quite providentially. To these sacrificers, I am grateful and will never forget not just what you did for me…but what you gave up for me.

 

I hope you find the time to write down a similar list and, better yet, seek them out to share that gratitude. May your life be filled with offerings and sacrifices to those around you.

And each day, may you witness the sacredness of sacrifice.

Does it LOOK like I work here?

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Ten months into my life in Tanzania and I still encounter incredible t-shirts. I’ve seen many shirts that reminisce the glory days of the Charlotte Hornets…. tacky ones such as “A Ninja stole my Homework” and “Welcome to the Gun Show” (both worn by teenage girls interestingly enough!) I’ve seen clothes to remind me of home: Hilton Head, Clemson and a plethora of gaudy Myrtle Beach ones. But one shirt that recently caught my attention said this:

“Does it LOOK like I work here?”

At first glance I chuckled as I envisioned myself wearing my athletic attire to a coat-n-tie event. (surprise surprise…) But then I worked on my reflection some more… If my life, what I do, constitutes my “work” here on earth…what does it look like to earth? When I serve or love others, does it seem “out of character” for me? Are my beliefs evident in what I do and how I do it?

What do you believe in?

TRY THIS! –> If you could choose three words to describe yourself, what would they be? … Now that you’ve chosen three words, do those words actually portray your life’s actions and words well? If you believe in God’s love, does your life reflect and emanate God’s love to others? I took this opportunity to reflect on life, (something I’ve had a fair amount of time to do here…) what’s important to me but also to the people of this world. And I began to ponder: does my life look like

love?

compassion?

peace?

encouragement?

Or are these simply things I seek to do when bored, feeling guilty or seeking attention?

I challenge you to make a list right now of what you believe in. Then compare it to your life and note the results. I’ll go first…

1. God’s unconditional love for all people
2. The beauty, power and significance of relationship
3. The dire need for encouragement, self-confidence and self-worth in our lives (especially the children and youth of today)
4. The necessity of laughter EVERY DAY in our lives

Now comes the hard part…practicing what I preach…

Fill in yours here!

1.

2.

3.

4.

(*Okay I know you can’t actually write your list here on my blog but I figured if you saw the numbered lines you might be more encouraged to try it. Did it work?)

God in the Unexpected!

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Recently I read about a short guy that saved the world WITHOUT shoes, saw a flower growing out of a cement wall and watched a goat eat a banana peel like candy. Normal day, right? Perhaps I should explain myself…

 

Several experiences in my life lately have one more proved to me that God knows more than I do. (Although I still don’t know why I pretend it’s the other way around…) I’ll start with the goat!

Upon visiting the furthest western city in Tanzania in mid-September I saw where the United Methodist Church was started by missionaries from, not the US or Europe but, the Democratic Republic of Congo. (DRC) I spent a lot of time with a pastor and his family there and part of that family included a bug-eyed goat with a peculiar palate. One day after lunch I watched the goat vacuum up the crumbs and leftovers from lunch and, out of complete curiosity, asked if the goat also ate banana peels. He said let’s find out and sure enough…they do! I wanted to tell the goat (and those of you that know me understand that yes I did indeed try to converse with said goat) that animals “shouldn’t” consider the peel appealing (except in Mario Kart….then it’s absolutely necessary!) But he ate, enjoyed and repeated the following days. What a Tanzanian-twist on the proverb “one man’s trash is another [goat’s] treasure!” And it’s a great reminder that when we see our lives (or even ourselves) as a waste, God sees treasure of great worth waiting to be discovered or simply peeled open…

Also on this voyage to the edge and back, I read all 1300+ pages of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (along with the Hobbit!) Simply INCREDIBLE! But, really, what else do you do with 57 hours round trip in a bus? It was a glorious story about Frodo, the small hobbit, that saves all of Middle Earth by taking a self-less adventure to save his friends and countryside. And he does it barefoot because that’s just how hobbits live. (So I guess it’d be a challenge to walk a mile in his shoes then?) But again I noticed the unlikeliness of this small person, a halfling, to save ALL the world filled with brave men, wise wizards, and intellectual elves and stalwart dwarves. But isn’t that just how God works? God takes the “unable” and makes the impossible happen. If that isn’t hope for each one of us then I don’t know what is!

I also stumbled across the oddity of a flower growing directly out of a concrete wall 3 feet from the ground. Apparently no one told this flower that’s not how things work here but it’s hanging in there nonetheless. Isn’t it amazing when something beautiful seems to stem from nowhere? My grandfather has written several books about such serendipitous experiences. His stories have taught me that beauty is everywhere and God is visible to those looking.

How’s this for unexpected….5 years ago I was hiking on a trail with some friends in the Tennessee mountains and as we crossed a river, I found a nice Wilson volleyball. We hadn’t seen anyone else on the trail all day so I picked it up and it joined us the rest of the way. For 4 years it rested in the trunk of my car save for the impromptu beach volleyball match. Then when I decided to come and serve in Tanzania, Wilson joined me too. Now the girls at our school use it to play netball on their newly-made court. So from a Tennessee river to a Tanzanian school ground, this volleyball has found its purpose. My life is similar to this volleyball…and perhaps yours too! Moving forward not certain of where I’m going but certain that I’ll be well-used wherever. Then looking back on the path that brought me here I can only smile, laugh and praise God. Knowing I am, for this moment, where I am supposed to be is a reassuring feeling.

 

Life is full of meaning and a lot of those lessons come from the most unlikeliest of places. Where have you seen or experienced God unexpectedly lately?

May your life be an expected place of God’s compassion and peace to others that cross your path…

Mwanga or Nuru: This little light of…yours?

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Light is an intriguing phenomenon. A glimpse of light can awaken an entire room of darkness. Light wakes and warms the body, reveals what was once hidden and has the uncanny ability to life and even lighten the soul. Our days quite literally revolve around light. Even at night (the absence of the sun’s light) we are presented with the moon who offers us borrowed (or stolen if you prefer) light from the sun.

Every now and then I’m taught 2 words in Swahili with the exact same meaning. And for my most recent enlightenment, I’ll shed some light on the situation for you.

Mwanga: n.  light

Nuru: n. light

Does that help???

But after some further investigation I’ve learned there’s much more. “Mwanga” is used mostly as an older source of light (like the sun in the form of daylight) while “nuru” could be described as the luminescence of a light bulb or even the shimmer of stars or glisten of snow in the sun. (Okay…obviously the snow imagery is NOT from my experiences here in Morogoro but it felt like like a plausible depiction to me…) Some people use “mwanga” in reference to more traditional forms of light that we use (fires and candlelight) while “nuru” could describe more modern uses of lights (flashlights, overhead lighting and those ever-annoying high beams.)

Light imagery shines throughout the Bible. God’s first words in the Bible were “Let there be light” and guess what?… there was. Psalm 119:105 tells us that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. And Jesus calls himself the Light of the world. To put it lightly, expressions of light are highlighted EVERYWHERE!

This brings to me (and now I guess YOU TOO!) some questions…

What kind of light is God in your life?

Is God an old-fashioned lantern that you only use when nothing else works or in case of an emergency? Is God the main source of light to perceive life through…or a mere reflection placed behind other priorities in life? Does the glory and beauty of God shine in your attitude and interaction with others? Have you realized that even with the smallest ounce of love, peace or faith that God (like a match lit in a pitch-black room) can do incredible works?

The light of God  is here and ready to enlighten the world…

are you going to let it shine?

 

 

 

If you want my advice, I’d recommend:

Let it shine!
Let it shine!
Let it shine!