Finding the bottom-line

Rule # 17: Omit needless words
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. – William Strunk Jr & E.B White

Judging from my previous three posts, it should be clear that I still have quite a way to go before I have mastered this rule.

As Francois and I have been keeping up with the exhilarating speed at which our OM journey has begun, our ideals for staying in contact with you via this blog has been disillusioned a bit. We remain determined though and hope to be able to publish more fresh news for you here.

If you are a Facebook fan, we would love to invite you to our existing group there – White African Aliens – which is easier to maintain on the run than this platform. Please apply there in the meantime if you are as curious as I am as to what will happen next!

The bottom-line for us for now sounds like this:
1) As of 1 July 2013 Francois is wing-man (aka the COO) to the OM South African Country Director and I am heading up the Communications Department. There you have it.
2) Our financial support is still at 25% which is distracting us from focusing on our work and team building, but we are confident that the Lord will be faithful as always in providing for us.
3) Urgent prayer requests:
a. That more congregations will adopt us as missionaries – which will generate more prayer support around us as well as potentially more financial support.
b. For focus and clarity on our current priorities at OMSA – adapting to the new schedule and recruiting the right team members.
c. That I might understand (super-naturally) what I need to about several new software technologies and finish our website, Givengain page and obviously this blog so that we can stay accountable to all our existing supporters – individuals and churches alike.
4) Recent testimonies:
a. Two days ago we returned from the Go Challenge 2013 in Hartenbos where we were able to be part of OMSA’s annual Missions Mobilising Conference. This year there were over 350 attendees who are currently still serving – for some this is their first cross-cultural outreach experience – with 13 local church congregations from a variety of denominations.
b. I am grateful to announce that Issie Pellisier – a vibrant young Ausie gal – will be joining our Communications Team. She will join me and Jo Koeun Jung – from South Korea as we begin to pioneer our new communications strategy.
c. Francois and I are proud of our achievement to spend the longest time away from our two cat-children Mouse and Lika – a whole 10 days!

Short (ish) but sweet 🙂

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In the eye of the beholder

 Yesterday I listened to a colleague who was reflecting upon the story told in John 6:1-14 where Jesus fed the 5000+ people with the boy’s five loaves of bread and two fish. He compared the different responses of Philip and Andrew to the same challenge observed by the Miracle-maker in v.5-6:

“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.”

(Note to self: Remember that both Philip and Andrew had drunk the wine that Jesus had made from the bath water at the wedding in Kana.)

Philip – probably a type A person – makes a quick analysis of the situation, checks the available petty cash and announces that it will take more than a man’s annual income to give everybody at this picnic something to eat. In layman’s terms: “It is impossible.” Another fellow mortal, Andrew – the background character who invited his big-mouth-brother Peter to meet Jesus at the beginning of this revolution – looks at the same conundrum but sees something else:

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9)

 Andrew sees a ‘little’ bit that could become enough when it is placed in the hands of the Miracle-maker. Here he passes the test that Jesus was putting to Philip. Actually when Jesus thanks his heavenly Father for providing the ‘little’ he turns it into more than what was needed to satisfy the crowd of people. But this is not where this lesson ends.

A bit later in the training of these twelve men, Jesus gives them the same test recorded in Mark 8:1-8 where there are 4000+ people who need to have a meal together:

“I feel sorry for these people. They have been with me for three days, and now they have nothing to eat. I should not send them home hungry. If they leave without eating, they will faint on the way home. Some of them live a long way from here.”

This time all of the disciples fail the test and Jesus needs to make the observation of the ‘little’ that they have in their possession in v.5:

“How many loaves of bread do you have?”

In this story they find seven loaves of bread and Jesus needs to repeat everything all over again. Why did Jesus do this? Did he perhaps expect his disciples to see the seven loaves and pray over it and see it multiply the same way that it did when he had asked his (our) heavenly Father to bless it? Did Jesus expect that they would recognise the fact that he was still the Miracle-maker and at least have enough faith in him to multiply the seven loaves like before?

I don’t think there is a single right answer to these questions. I do think however that the repetition implies that Jesus was expecting them (and me) to recognise what he was modelling here.

Do I see the need in…(complete the sentence with your own challenges at the moment)…the world/my immediate family/my job etc…like Philip who frantically wanted to make a plan with his own and God-limiting understanding? Or do I see my current crisis like Andrew did who used his human eyes to find something that he could entrust into the safe and super-natural hands of Jesus?

Today, I want to introduce another voice on the spirituality of fund-raising namely that of well-known author Henri Nouwen. I have in my possession* an eight page unedited transcript of a talk** given by him to the Marguerite Bourgeoys Family Service Foundation held on 16 September 1992. I would like to share it with you in tiny bits over the next few weeks.

 “I must say at the outset that fund-raising is a subject I seldom speak about. But I was invited to say a few words about it to the directors and some of the board members of L’Arche, and that it is how I came to talk to you about it.

 

In a way the whole subject came up in our community because quite often, fund-raising is something that happens as a response to a crisis – you don’t have enough money – you’re in trouble somewhere, and so you say, “We need some money, how are we going to get it, we have to start asking for it.” And suddenly you realise that you aren’t used to doing this, and you feel awkward about it, and you feel a little embarrassed about it. So you start thinking: “Gosh, how do you do that?” It’s interesting that most people I have spoken to about fund-raising feel somewhat uneasy with the idea that they have to go out and ask for money.

 

By a way of introduction, I want to say that fund-raising, if you think about it from the perspective of the Gospel, is not a response to a crisis. Fund-raising is first of all, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing your vision, and inviting other people into your vision with the resources that are available to them.

 

Fund-raising is proclaiming what you believe in and proclaiming it in such a way that you offer the other person an opportunity to participate in your vision. So it is precisely the opposite of begging. It’s not saying, “Please, we have a problem, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard.”

 

It’s saying, “We have a vision that is so exciting that we are giving you the opportunity to participate in that vision with the resources that God has given you.”

Today both Francois and I received out formal letters of invitation to serve in our distinctive roles in the field office of OM South Africa. More details about this to follow later. Consequently, we are both so excited about the vision that the Lord has entrusted to us through this opportunity for the next two years. May He reveal something fresh and challenging in your own life today, which you can place in his hands and see it multiply to His glory and also invite others to participate together with you?

*I have no idea who gave this to me but I am so grateful!

**reprinted with the generous permission of L’Arche Canada Foundation

Lavish generosity

lav ish /’laviSH/:
adjective = Sumptuously, rich and elaborate.
verb = Bestowing something in generous or extravagant quantities upon.

synonyms:
adjective = profuse – generous – prodigal – bounteous – extravagant
verb = squander – waste – dissipate

Three days ago we attended – as guests of honour – a graduation celebration feast. We were about 20 people crammed into half of a bachelor flat in a run-down part of the city centre which most citizens of my country prefer to avoid. This is where all the African immigrants now live. When it came to the meal there was food for about 50 of us! This was one of those experiences that will affect the way I see and appreciate the world forever.

I am somebody who grew up privileged enough to attend school in my mother-tongue, live in safety and freedom in a house of bricks with electricity, running water and a huge garden. Afterwards I had the choice of attending any university in the country and a decade or two later, I was able to complete my Masters in the USA. Compared to my life, the story of our friend who had invited us to share in this special moment, sounded like he was from another planet.

Jonathan – the Master’s graduate (with distinction) – turns thirty-one in two days. He had been married for three months when he moved here alone in 2010, seeing his wife once a year for a month thereafter. The reason for this is that Jonathan and his wife hails from Goma, the war-torn part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have been to his hometown twice and during my longest stay there, I washed in well-water from a bucket that somebody else had kindly fetched and heated over a coal fire for me.

My friendship with Jonathan began in my hometown of Pretoria, South Africa, rather coincidently. He was part of a small group of Congolese post-graduate students that we had received for dinner at our home. As we were sharing our little bits and pieces of stories and commonalities over roasted chicken and my grandma’s apple tart, we discovered that I had met Jonathan’s father four years earlier during one of the leadership development workshops I hosted in Central Africa. His dad’s insight and patient advice about finding a good husband – translated from French to English by another patient Ugandan brother – had resulted in a serious standoff between myself and God which lead to me meeting Francois almost a month before my deadline to the Almighty were about to expire.

How does having fried fish and cassava fit into our reflections on sacrificial giving? Myles starts his entire thesis about this topic with the fact that the most well-known verse in the Bible (John 3:16) is about giving – revealing the essence of our Heavenly Father’s nature. He makes the point that we are all “receivers of the service of our Lord Jesus, who gave his life for us (Mark 10:45).”

He continues to use the example of your child using some of his or her pocket money to buy you a gift and the fact being that the child is using some of your money to bless you. It is the same principle that applies when we give towards God’s work. This was true more than 3 000 years ago when King David and his leaders lead by their example in raising funds for the construction of the first temple:

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hands.” (1 Chronicles 29:14)

Thinking about and modelling sacrificial giving is quite a foreign concept in the majority of today’s worldviews where money is worshiped and God is marginalised. Myles however shares a radical but true story of one of their supporters:

“The husband of one of our long-time supporter couples has worked most of his life in a bank, rising through the ranks to a senior position with a very healthy income. Yet they live quite modestly, at a level way below their peers. Instead of simply tithing and giving ten per cent of their income to God’s work, they sit down each year and work out what they feel, under God, they need for their own use. One hundred of everything else is given away.
One year his division had done particularly well and he got an unexpected, and significant, bonus. Because they had already worked out how much they needed that year, there was no discussion about how much they should give and how much they should keep – it was all given away.
That is counter-culture. But it is an example of the practical reality of God’s spirit working in the day-to-day lives of an ordinary Christian couple. This is not the kind of act of faith that is given a trumpet fanfare and has magazine articles and books written about it. But by quietly reflecting God’s view of giving, this couple has had, and continues to have, a massive impact for the gospel throughout the world. Unheralded, but crucial.”

Compared to what we have received as redeemed, eternal souls – considering the way we view our money takes on a new perspective. If everything belongs to God anyway, and He chose to spend himself completely for our sake on the Cross, how does this affect the way we plan about, provide for and spend our lives?

Jonathan’s sacrifice is being done for the sake of giving something back to his home community in Goma. The focus of his studies will contribute to the betterment of the lives of generations to come after him. As a small community of humble foreigners, they prepared a table for us filled with a choice of dishes – giving away to the point of wastage. I close with this intriguing question from Wilson:

“If God is the ultimate giver, and it is more blessed to give than to receive, what blessing does God receive by giving his son that is more than the blessings we gain as receivers of this ultimate gift?”

The Ultimate Family

Yesterday, we began reading a fantastic book about building a support team called “Funding the family business – a handbook for raising personal support” written by Myles Wilson. We fasted the day before, spending much of our time praying and confessing our individual unbelief and fear regarding this huge task ahead of us. While we were sharing our respective experiences and thoughts about what we felt the Lord was asking us to do, we concluded that an inclusive prayer effort with all our friends is the first condition for any success in raising our salaries.

As soon as we had read the introduction of this book, we were both convinced that we wanted to share this life-changing information with you because it was clear that whether you are a goer or a giver, this book had precious life and faith principles for all of us. He writes:

“When I realised that this was truly a partnership of equals within God’s family, it caused two reactions in me. First of all, I wanted to insure that our own personal giving was as sacrificial as it could be. While I may have been starting out on a road as a receiver, I knew that I could also play my part as a giver too. After all, Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35) so I didn’t want those who were primary givers to have all the fun!
Secondly, I realised by encouraging our friends to support us, I truly was introducing them to an involvement in God’s family that they might have otherwise missed. It was about God’s children working together, each dependent on the other, to see God’s plan fulfilled in the lives not only of the givers and receivers, but in the lives of those who were still outside the family.”

Francois and I were introduced to each other for business purposes in 2009. Within the first two of that six-hour long coffee appointment, we immediately shared a mutual passion for social justice, professionalism and expanding God’s kingdom through global missions. I (Leani) used to earn my living as a registered architect and had made the switch to full-time vocational ministry in 2004. Up until four months ago, Francois was still financially sustained as a full-time trainer and management consultant.

Through a magnificent story – for another time – we were engaged three weeks later, married within two months and embarked on an adventure together with the Lord pursuing the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of His calling upon our lives as a couple. God only answered our prayers three years later. It happened at the end of 2012 while attending the Love Africa conference when Francois said yes to what we now refer to as the “Kabwe Calling”. With a single sentence he rearranged my whole world: “I am resigning at the end of this year so that we can commit to full-time service in the New Year.”

I remember feeling at first so relieved and overwhelmed that he had finally made this courageous decision. Within seconds though, I felt my heart tighten and a voice inside my head asking: “How on earth are you going to stay alive and have a reasonable life style if he stops working?” This brings me back to today: the first day of the first month since this new season in our lives when we woke up with an empty bank account with bills to be paid. And yet, all those corny-bumper-sticker-quoted-verses spring to mind and perhaps for the first time ever, they make sense and feel REAL:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7)

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The more we learn from older saints through conversations, reading their books and watching them live lives of complete dependence on the Lord’s daily provision, the more we discover how much we have missed out on by thinking – in our ignorance – that when we were ‘earning’ our living, we were doing it through our own strength.

As (an almost middle-aged) lover of risks and new challenges, the beginning of this chapter of our lives is certainly the most exhilarating. As part of our global family in Christ, we pray that the gems we glean from this book might bless you too.

So whether you have been investing money, time and prayers into missions for a long time or only recently began considering it, may the next few weeks be a mind-blowing experience indeed. We pray that the Creator of the Universe will reveal more of Himself, His love for you and the eternal scope of His plan with your earthly life as we reflect together on this topic. Myles writes about the example he saw in his parents:

“ My parents were an unspectacular couple with a spectacular impact for God’s Kingdom…The whole focus of their lives was to use everything they had in the best way they could to ensure that people heard, saw and felt the love of God.”