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Death speak louder!

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“Remember that one good moment of the time you spent with him and hold onto it….”. The sombre words reverberated in the church hall as my sister inlaw delivered an emotional eulogy.

Yet again death had sucked the last breath out of a loved one’s body. This time our 21 year old nephew who most of us painfully realised we cherished more than we had let him know.

For many, this is not a strange feeling and more so during funerals. This though must never be the norm and as I sat next to the white casket, it dawned that in this moment, another lesson was being re-echoed by and through death.

This particular one came a year and two months fresh after the demise of my father in 2012. My nephew’s death now loudly rang a reminder inside me that the attention accorded to death’s lessons was insufficient.

Living that moment now

Take a while and think through how often we have so many good thoughts we never verbalised when our loved ones were with us.

We are gifted each day with the opportunity to show our affection, pour out our love and enjoy each moment we get with our special ones whilst we have them.

However, many a time this is opportunity spurned due to a misleading unconscious belief that we will all be around tomorrow.

Sadly the truth is that no one can guarantee that with convincing certainity. Even the brightest of minds, richest of lives and most powerful of men have met their inevitable fate without a hint of the precise date or time they will die. Even the person that opts for suicide on a certain day may or may not die.

That in itself should jolt us into rethinking how we handle our relationships, choices and gifts each day. What we have today may well be gone tomorrow.

The permeating truth is that more often than not the death of someone close leaves us with more regret than joy. Not because we are sad to experience the physical departure or we had no clue they would be gone some day.

It simply is because we took it all for a ride.

The final goodbye, unheard and unknown

When I got to see dad a week before he passed on, he had already slipped into unconsciousness. So for those final moments, it was all a monologue. Those words and sentiments of affection a little too late.

This time I was staring at the lifeless body of a young man, resplendent in white. The flashes came back. Those moments I should have listened more than I did. The calls I should have made and that one extra minute I perhaps could have given him.

Alas that was an opportunity lost. Nothing could compensate for it. Not the actions to pull him out of the mortuary or ensure he was well groomed for his last ride in that casket. It was futile now and did not matter. For he sure knew nothing at this stage and had no idea I or anyone else was there. He was no more.

The future repeated

Our biggest challenge is that we have been here before. We have shed these tears before, felt the emptiness of lost chances and broken relationships. But we pay no attention.

With immediacy after a solemn occasion such as this, effortlessly the status quo before the funeral is revived.

As we wheeled the casket to the hearse, the church service over, it was clear death’s voice was not loud enough.

It is the same relationships I have that I would be going back to. Taking them for granted. Keeping those warm words unsaid. Finding it easier to be prejudiced, judgemental and less patient. Only realising what we had and lost when the tears stream down our cheeks when death strikes again.

My sister inlaw’s words pierced the silence of the church. I could hear sobs around the hall as she concluded her heartfelt eulogy to a dear nephew.

I wondered whether this one time many of us had heard the loud voice of death offering timeless lessons.

It could well be you or that person you cherish the most on the last ride.

Death has already provided an overriding enormously rich lesson………….

Do it now.

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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Family matters, Opinion, Reflections

 

The escalator insights

Some insights hit us in the most unusual places. My recent poignant one was at an airport on an escalator.

I was travelling to Gaborone with two work colleagues for a training workshop, connecting through Johannesburg at the OR Tambo airport. As we always expect, I anticipated a smooth passage with no hitches whatsoever.

Alas our connecting flight was delayed by 3 hours. Initially as we confirmed the boarding passes, we were informed the flight would be delayed by an hour with departure now set for 12:55pm. A look at my watch told me it was after 10am. A good two hours plus to spare.

After spending some time at one of the restaurants, we made our way to the terminal. I noticed the speed at which the escalator moved, taking us downstairs. There was no rush in its steady movement.

This made me reflect on my and our so called modern life. It is so fast paced that we literally have no time to take a relaxed seat. At that moment, the instinctive urge I had melted away. The urge to be upset, break something or unleash a tantrum on any unfortunate soul, simply was not there.

Instead I took time to enjoy the ride down, crack a joke, notice people, the renovation works and the general activity.

The public announcer system came on and a female voice enveloped the terminal. But again, it was not time to go. This time, we were informed the flight had now been pushed to 14hrs( 2pm). Amazingly, I still kept my cool and breathed the moment in.

What did I have to lose after all? The training was only commencing the following day, I was not in the office and we were not stranded or stuck mid-air. Just that realisation diluted my negativity.

My colleagues and I chatted endlessly, cracked jokes and explored all we could to while the minutes away.

A few gates away, I had noticed about two or more flights that were destined for Maun in Botswana. Before this I had never heard of the place or if I had, it was passively. It so happens that it is a busy tourist destination and from the number of people on each flight, that was evident.

You must be wondering what that has to do with escalators, delayed flights and a tourist destination. Well it goes back to slowing down and enjoying the slow but steady ride on the escalator. 95% or more of the people that were on the Maun flights were white.

What does that show? They had taken time off their usual daily hustling and lives to take a holiday. This made me think about my life and most of us. Planning for a holiday is almost alien and the default mindset is that we need a windfall of cash at once to make this happen. It should not be this way. We can challenge ourselves to set some money aside for days such as these.

Another interesting thought hit me. This time it had to do with service. Many a time, I have had to put up with agents or staff that simply will not smile or make you want to go back to their shop, office or organisation. They successfully make you feel you are such an inconvenience and they cannot wait for you to be out of their way.

This time though the lady responsible for checking us in was cordial. We shared a joke or two as she did her best to keep us calm.

Having worked with the front-line for a couple of years and having a passion for service, I knew the situation was beyond them. They were screamed at and questioned but after the escalator, I reminded myself that they were neither pilots nor decision makers in this particular case!

Unfortunately for them, they represented the organisation and customers needed someone to vent their anger at. It made me think of the many times our front-line teams face this heat. Simply because of systems that are designed and implemented without the customer at their core. Or decisions made without the customer’s interests at heart. Perhaps decisions that are either not made at all or are delayed.

In this case, the first time it was known the flight would be delayed by an hour, the decision process should have kicked in. With the fleet the airline has, a plan to avail an alternative aircraft would not have been an impossibility. Whatever preparatory checks are done could always be done for such cases. A simplistic thought it may be but a major one from a service perspective.

But that was not the case here and the result was stress, anxiety and a pain point for customers and staff alike. Stealing the very joy and peace that the escalator reminds us of.

The counter side to this experience also is how easily mediocrity sets in. Cases of lost luggage, delayed flights and related breakdowns are almost becoming the norm with this particular airline. Things like this must not be. But unfortunately, even the body language and reaction of most customers showed a resignation to and acceptance of this state of affairs.

How many times in our organisations do we delay customer impacting decisions on account of egos, internal politics, unfriendly systems or rigid policies? And our poor once vibrant ladies and gentlemen in the front-line are torn to shreds by disgruntled customers.

We finally boarded at 2pm and arrived in Gaborone safely. We had further delays after being driven to the wrong hotel. We eventually went to the right one after another hour’s delay, were stuck at the reception because of a power blackout and therefore could not be checked in.

At this stage I was exhausted. But I remembered the escalator. Throughout this ordeal, I maintained my cool and enjoyed light moments with all those around me including some South African passengers we had been with through it all.

We face so many stressful situations in our lives every day. We are in a society that cherishes and applauds busy bodies, suggesting they represent effectiveness and top performance. As a result, we get on the fast train but never enjoy the ride. We never see the beauty around us or realise the priceless effect of a smile.

Our lives are characterised by the daily rush hour traffic, school fees, households bills and needs, lousy customer service or multiple demands at work that mount sustained pressure. If let to reign, these suck the joy out of our life.

But we always retain the power to decide how we react. To lash out in frustration and anger or be the source of brightness. After the escalator, I knew the choice I needed to make each day.

So the next time you have to wait in a queue or are pressured and at a point of explosion, perhaps resignation, think of the escalator.

Do your best. Be your best. Endure the rest and always remember to take it slow. Speed is not always the healthiest option.

Get on the escalator and move slowly, taking in the scene while you are at it.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Opinion, Reflections

 

The kind of God we want

Retracing our roots

We have all grown up with some impression about a higher being, commonly called God. To some, He has been a disciplinarian with thunder for a voice. To others, He has been one that dishes out fury and punishment to the rebellious. He is the all seeing, all knowing and Big Brother supervisor.

Over the years as we grow, this perception of God may be altered as one discovers more about Him. While still others may completely steer away from Him opting for atheism or whatever variation they find comfortable and acceptable.

The choice will always be personal and unique to an individual. What is explicit though is that one way or another, every individual yearns for or pursues something bigger and deeper than themselves.

Looking around in our lives and environment, it becomes an intriguing undertaking to ascertain people’s perception of God. We all harbour expectations while at the same time may not have outgrown the God planted in our young na├»ve minds as we grew up.

Is He what we want Him to be?

So then what kind of God do we see and desire in our lives?

I for one don’t want the dictator we have been told about. The one who insists on His way or the highway. The bully that threatens you with eternal fire. I can always picture that He perhaps does not even know how to smile! I can probably confidently say the same is society’s expectation.

We all want the God that will turn a blind eye to the things we love which He deems wrong. A God who will see corruption and laugh it off as a modern phenomenon.

The God who will turn a blind eye to fornication, adultery and insatiable lusts that His creation is lost in. Because He realises this is a normal part of their makeup and it offers them the pleasure that makes them happy. One who will gladly endorse multiple partners and reckless fun as acceptable.

We would like a God that sees no ill in me being kind to the person I know or want something from but not to the stranger on the street.

One that cares less about how loud I sing and pray in church on Sunday while my mind is on the crazy time I had the previous night. Even better, while I sit there listening to another boring sermon or homily, my mind would be on that irritating man or woman, relative or otherwise, who I loath and would want to get back at.

I’m just being human and I would undoubtedly be over the moon to have a God who has a human mind and understanding of my make up.

Imagine a God that takes a vacation with no particular attention to my appetites, thoughts or the so called sinful drive of my nature!

A God who won’t be so bothered to see humanity pounding each other as a result of jealousy, selfishness, raw ambition and self importance.

I want a God that can see me walk past someone I know needs a meal or a penny to get through another term of school. And He won’t be bothered I just ignored that needy person and walked right into church with hands held high as I sing “Hallelujah”.

Sitting right in front for my weekly ritual marked as “church” as the “man of God” takes his place. In front of an eager audience, each with their secrets and desires bottled in, concealed from the world.
The man of God who the previous evening had been in the bosom of a congregant, intoxicated after a rather heavy night of sensual satisfaction. Perhaps, a man of God who has taken vows to remain celibate but has a truckload of children and steady partners to deal with his lust. A man of God whose vision includes being wealthy, influential and enjoying the jet setting lifestyle of a celebrity.

We in the audience eagerly sit there so we can tick church off our weekly list of “things to do”. We sit in the pew after an abusive altercation with our spouses or lashing out at someone on the way to church. Hands raised again without thought of the misdeeds and illicit activities of the previous night!

A God that can forget all this and smile it away? Well I would want that kind of God to even run for president!

The kind that is not strict about thieving leaders, hypocritical politicians that promise to work for the people and forget this the minute they taste the luxuries of power.

A God who takes no issue with a man that batters his wife to pulp. Or the person gone crazy that kills another person without any sense of remorse or abhorrence.

If you love me, be glad when I’m happy!

The God we have been raised to know is saddened by my having a nice time. I cannot understand that. Is He not supposed to be happy for me?

Why would a night out partying, filled with booze, loud music and fun be an issue?

Why would He be saddened when a man or woman opts for another relationship outside marriage if it makes them happy? Why would He be unhappy with just one more abortion because a couple are not ready to raise a child but want to still have sex?

This God I have been told about is so strict and that is why in my mind He really has been full of “do’s and don’ts”. It’s either He wants you to do something or does not at all.

Problem is, He usually asks that you do what you don’t want. Stopping you from doing what you have found to be fun and enjoyable.

Just one more stare at that well shaped lady, perhaps a night out with drinks and whatever else follows! With all the flaws my partner has, why not enjoy some refreshing moments with the other man that sweeps me off my feet? He at least looks like he can fix things around the house, maybe put his stuff in the right place, surprise me with gifts and be the prince charming I want! A knight in shining armour!

She looks like the kind of woman I’d love. She’s fun, makes me laugh, turns heads when she saunters past and makes me feel young again.

I feel good about this. Now tell me, why would a God they say loves me have a problem with me feeling good? That is not my idea of love.

Taking charge my way

I want to be me, the king in my kingdom. I know what I love and what keeps me fired up. So this God inhibits me.

I want to scream in traffic when someone cuts in, airing my unprintables to vent my unrelated frustrations at someone.

I want to grin with pretentious joy, exposing all my teeth at someone but be the first to speak ill behind their back.

How about just the routine gossip about the way my office mate or neighbour dresses, walks or the differences they have in their home? After all, I am better than them somehow.

If I turn up in church one day, forget all these things I may have done or said. I’m holy that moment. Can’t you hear my voice churning out the praises? All else does not matter at that stage, let me worship and we carry on later with our usual life when we are done.

That is my life, the life I know. So even when I gossip, drink my head off, lust, lie or stab someone in the back, why would someone think it is wrong?

If I stole a few hours from work so I can be on facebook, chat in the corridor or idle around but expect my full pay, is it so bad? I reported and put in what’s need, at least the minimum.

That should suffice. But wait a minute, this God we’ve been told about has something to say here as well. He says I’m not being truthful and faithful. To who? Myself, others or Him? Why is it always about Him?

What does the world see, want and enjoy?

I cannot mask it. The world as it is longs for a God that has nothing against what we love. Alcohol, drugs, prostitution, extra-marital affairs, divorce, failed marriages, children out of wedlock, prejudice, corruption, neglected homes, absentee parents, homosexuality and grand hypocrisy. These are normal activities of our every day life and we do them effortlessly.

This is who we are and if we are fine as it is, why should we have a God that prefers to put a lid on all this? Where is the humour or love in such a draconian approach?

If it makes me happy and fulfilled, leave me be. After all, it is not like I am killing someone to be happy. I’m just playing my part.

The real story behind the scenes

Let us retrace our roots. Let us explore what we know of God. Let us undertake to know what He stands for, despises and cherishes. Let us examine also what we love and cherish.

What is pointed out above sounds ridiculous and makes you wonder how someone sane can state it so plainly. But with a closer assessment, it becomes evident that indeed that is what the world is saying.

We pursue our sensual appetites and choices, disregarding all that God stands for or calls us to. We know best and are wiser than He is. He does not understand the times we live in, how things have changed and how what was detestable centuries ago has become fashionable today. He hasn’t moved with the modern times.

Or perhaps it is a case of wanting a disposable God? One we can draw out when we need Him and are faced with daunting issues. When all is well, who needs Him? How many times do we scream to Him when jobless, hopeless, facing marital or financial pressures, in an accident, under attack or simply down! He’s our disposable choice.

We may as well tell God just that to His face. Our lives speak far louder than what we profess. Our habits, choices and attitudes say more about our God than we may know. Show me a person’s life, words, actions and I’ll show you their God.

In the end it always is one of two. Either there is a God and He is the one you follow willingly or there isn’t and you follow something or someone different.

If you follow Him, the responsibility lies with you to establish what He loves and why He guides us not to do certain things for our good. Then maybe out of love, we will follow rather than abide by a “do’s and don’ts” code.

If you do not follow Him, it remains your responsibility as well to ascertain the implications, cost and benefits of the decision.

Some things appear ridiculous when uttered but acceptable when done. We see this in our lives every day. How many people can raise a hand and accept that they worship the devil? But yet how many of us live in a manner that confirms this fact?

Let us take time to reflect on what our lives are saying about the kind of God we want. Is it the one that wants ultimate good for us and thus guides us? Or is it the one who can gladly look away as we delve into our chaos simply because we are “happy”?

What kind of God do you want? Is He consistent with what your life is saying?

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Opinion, Reflections

 

Why aren’t “sinners” drawn to church?

I recently stumbled upon a posting by one lady on a marriage forum. She had made reference to Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in the USA.

Michelle had rained accolades on her husband, walking the audience through the journey the First Couple had been on since courting and through marriage. The highs and lows of their relationship. I had briefly listened to a part of the speech and agree it was a powerful delivery, coated with humour to drive the point home.

The virtuous woman in a speech

Back to the lady’s posting though. She drew immense value from Michelle’s speech. Not for its delivery from a political perspective but rather the challenge it presented to her. Both as a christian and a wife. According to her, it had brought to life the virtuous woman and her role in a husband’s life.

What does this have to do with sinners being drawn to church?

The forum reacts

Some of the reactions on the forum made me think about “sinners” and church. In the context of why “sinners” find church unattractive and rebuffing.

There were some on the forum that questioned Michelle being cited as a role model. Others took issue with some of the questionable decisions Barack has made while serving as President of the US of A. The fact that interpretations were varied is healthy. However, the loss of value in the lesson that the lady had drawn from the speech was saddening.

There was a section of people that dwelled primarily on the perceived failings of the Obamas but neglected to decipher the opportunity to highlight the urgent need for virtuous women, wives supportive and proud of their spouses regardless of situations or the presence/absence of cameras.

From some sentiments on the forum, one would easily feel they were off track for picking a lesson from Michelle. Probably because she is a secular figure. I was impressed though that the lady held her own in re-stating the precise lesson the speech had offered.

A challenge to the christian

Therein lies the challenge that christianity and the gospel’s advancement face in wooing the “sinner”.

The way in which professed christians carry themselves has the potential to create a barrier between them and the lost. Make no mistake, this is not a call for compromise or not calling sin what it is. Rather it is the unconscious or adopted mentality that works to isolate the sinner.

Perfection, judgement and unworthiness

There is a seeming expectation of perfection that engulfs the sinner. It may appear that they are unworthy of church or anyone called christian. Thus they shy away rather than be made to feel like lepers, unwelcome and contaminating.

Coupled with this, there sometimes is a subtle tendency to be critical or judgemental of one that is not a member of the “club”. One that has been exposed to the depth of a secular life finds themselves feeling inadequate in the presence of christians believing their sinfulness is such filth among the “called”.

This creates a perception of self righteousness on the part of the sinner as they look at the christian. This works to scare away the very people that need church and the message of salvation.

With reference to the lady’s posting, comments went as far as stating that one needs to rest only on biblical truth and further questioned the motives of the Michelle speech.

For a feeble christian or a “lost soul”, this has the unfortunate potential of making them question themselves. Were they wrong to pick a lesson from a secular global figure? Did that moment corrupt them or tarnish their christianity? Did they err in seeing a biblical application for their lives off a speech delivered on a political platform?

Such moments can be catalysed by actions on either side. The expectation of the christian may portray them as perfect people and thus those that join their circle must be “clean” if there is such a thing.

On the other hand, it also can be triggered by the ignorance of the “sinner”, being in a position of not knowing that no one is righteous as far God is concerned. All have sinned. (Romans 3:10,23).

Handling a moment with the “sinner”

It becomes imperative then to establish how christians should handle those that have not come to faith. Each is a delicate opportunity to bring the “sinner” to the light. It also is a window that can be lost if there is the slightest hint of self-righteousness that pushes the sinner into an unworthy corner.

When the sinner feels judged and deemed unworthy, the result inevitably is withdrawal. This shuts the door on winning a soul. The Bible is clear on the position to be taken against sin. However, there must be a distinction between the manner in which a sinner is handled and that of a fellow christian steeped in or losing his/her way to sin.

Taking a leaf from the Master

I am reminded here of Jesus’ approach. I will cite four (4) cases that come to mind.

The first is Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. He knew where he stood and understood his condition. Yet Jesus singled him out and took him in. This obviously disarmed him while disconsenting observers that deemed him as a sinner. But the end result is clear. He was won over. No hint at all from Jesus of Zacchaeus not being worthy of Christ’s presence or time.

Let us look at the woman Jesus met at the well in John 4:7-9, 23,39-42 . It was culturally unacceptable for Jews to mingle with Samaritans. But this was not the foremost issue on Jesus’ mind. Instead He engaged her in a life transforming conversation after asking her for water. This too was a departure from the norm but as we get to the end of this passage, it is abundantly clear yet again what Jesus wanted to achieve.

Enter John 1:46-50 and we see Nathanael. He was not yet a disciple and made his thoughts explicit when told about Jesus. But Christ could evidently pick out a positive aspect about him to share with those around even before Nathanael’s acceptance!

Finally, I will use the example of the woman caught in adultery as recounted in John 8:3-11. Jesus’ focus as opportunity had presented itself was not to remind her of what she had been caught doing. He simply urged her to turn away from her sin having survived a lynching and condemnation.

These points I raise above serve to challenge every christian to emulate Jesus’ handling of the “sinner”. He embraced them and through His action, they opened themselves to receive the gospel without a feeling of unworthiness or a reminder of their filth, having found themselves among the pigs like the Prodigal Son.

An open cheque to accept sin?

Sin must not be condoned or its habitual head entertained. But the sinner must find an environment that welcomes him/her while working to encircle and convict him/her under the prayerful guidance of a mature christian.

The above points outline one area in need of improvement to fully exploit the moment created when a christian finds themselves in a sinner’s presence.

Same soul, different garments

The challenge goes further to the lifestyle of the professed christian. Unfortunately, many of us adorn this title like a garment. We want to be known as christians but our hearts and lives are nowhere near what we need to be. Either because we have never known where we need to be or our conversion has not occurred.

We therefore rely on our own understanding, abilities and orientation as we practice our so called christianity.

The moment there is no clear distinction between the saved and the lost, the sinner and the christian, it becomes a mountain to woo the sinner. After all, are the two sets of people not just the same?

This challenge transcends church or what we profess. It questions our ambitions, daily pursuits, conduct and even reaction to events in our lives or around us. If the perspective of the christian is driven by the same fuel, it is no wonder sinners will not be attracted to church or christianity.

The distinction must be there. But it is not one that is flashed in a sinner’s face for them to know they are lost. It is one that is spoken by the unspoken through attitude, lifestyle and one’s conduct.

The Christian mission

The ultimate call of every christian is to win souls for Christ. To make the world a better place based on following Jesus. If that is the intent and focus of the church, then an opportunity with a sinner will be considered delicate and precious without prejudice, judgement or isolation.

Instead, Jesus’ approach will take precedence with the sole intention of leading one to see the light.

Forget the theology, historical orientation or church position on such issues. Think Jesus, think salvation of one’s soul then move believing God will work His way. I tend to believe now that perhaps christianity and the gospel have been overly complicated. Corrupted by human interpretations, preferences or doctrinal inclinations.

This has resulted in the creation of classes even when unseen. A classification of “them and us”, making church and christianity a no-go area for those outside the “club”. As a result, the very lost that need to hear the good news shy away.

Was I won over?

As I thought about that lady’s lessons derived from Michelle’s speech, I strongly realised the urgent need of taking time to view every moment as an opportunity to offer someone a lifeline. I was simply reading the postings on the forum but noticed the automatic divide which made it easy to conclude that she had erred to cite Michelle’s speech as an inspiration to be a virtuous woman.

And I was simply in the sidelines and yet felt the divide or form of rebuke. I was happy though that the lady had seen a window to let scripture come to life through a secular example and speech.

I was also glad that I have a different journey, learning new things and undergoing spiritual rehabilitation.

Otherwise, I’d have been one to simply slip away silently into the lost world thinking “this is not for me. I’m too sinful and they cannot take me in”.

Who knows? Maybe someone could have slipped away just like that instead of being drawn to seek and know the Truth?

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Reflections, Spiritual

 

Death in Chitokoloki: The challenge of selflessness and service

Sparkling water

Chitokoloki I have come to learn means “sparkling water”. The name is an appropriate choice given the location along the banks of the mighty Zambezi river.

The mission itself is about 43km from the district headquarters in Zambezi. I have never been to the mission but was in Zambezi for the first time in 2010 when I attended the traditional ceremony Likumbi Lya Mize. One fact that is unmissable is the distance to this part of North Western Zambia. It is a good 10hrs from the Copperbelt, which perhaps means 14hrs from the capital Lusaka. Coupled with the state of the road (at least on my last visit), it is quite an undertaking when one makes the trip.

An unexpected “noise” in the silence

The hitherto muteness that surrounded Chitokoloki was broken. Some have heard of the Mission, established in 1914, while it has taken an accident to bring it to others’ attention.

Noble works such as those that happen at the Mission and areas around it, will usually go unnoticed and unheralded. But still they continue as simple and ordinary folk dedicate their lives to serving others.

The month of June catapulted Chitokoloki into the news albeit steeped in sadness. A young couple Jay and Katrina Erickson met their end when their plane crashed into the Zambezi after hitting an electricity power line. The Ericksons were in their 20s, leaving behind two children aged 2 and 1.

They had come to Zambia to serve the Mission at Chitokoloki, which is under the umbrella of the Christian Mission in Many Lands (CMML). The death of these missionaries has evoked such sadness culminating in a day of national mourning declared in their honour.

One can only pray they rest well and the legacy they leave challenges all of us, known and unknown to them.

Missions, Missionaries and Moving on

The Erickson story and legacy has made me think about missions and missionaries. I am overwhelmed with respect and admiration for these people that leave their comfort zone, cultures and families to make their homes among a strange people. All in the name of service, faith and personal decisions bordering on responding to God’s call.

I have found it strongly intriguing that it seems our colleagues, mostly from the western countries embark on this missionary journey more than we Africans. I have seen more white missionaries than black. And this is not meant to be a discussion of race but rather the openness to missionary work.

My mind goes to a close friend of mine, Pastor Phil Hunt who over 20 years ago came to Africa as a missionary with his wife, Lori. So many years later, they are at home on our continent, serving to the best of their abilities.

This story is mirrored when we review the many missionaries we may have come to know such as the Hunts, Ericksons and even a number of Catholic priests that Africa has seen. There is a decision of sacrifice that they make as they embrace a different challenging life for the good of mankind.

Yes there are some black colleagues that in their own way have also taken to missionary or priestly roles. I know of Pastor Saidi Chishimba who opted for full time ministry instead of a secular career. Or Charles Chilufya, a colleague from Copperbelt University who was recently ordained and is a member of the Catholic Jesuits.

These are people that have taken the hard, oft unpopular route. I admire the zeal that they radiate as they discharge their responsibilities. I am certain they too have peculiar frustrations in their roles but still they pursue this noble aspiration.

I know too some people that have joined the priesthood over the years with the motivation of attaining an education or as an escape from poverty.

The motives may be varied but the choice I extol is obviously that of people that have an opportunity to follow a secular path yet they deem it necessary instead to trek to the mission field.

The black and white in missions

However, the Chitokoloki and Erickson story brings me to a point where I question why we see more white missionaries than black. Could it be an insight into selflessness, a willingness to detach from what we treasure or circumstances that make it paramount to chase a secular career than missionary work?

It is true that not all can be called to be missionaries. But the ratios seem to tell another story altogether. Are our brothers and sisters more open to this call than we are?

What holds us back from also taking to the mission field in humble service? Sometimes the best answers to such searching questions lie in assessing ourselves.

I for one know a decision such as this is not an easy one. Mainly fear sets in, of the unknown it may seem. Fear to step out of the comfort zone. Fear of challenging times as one thinks of what survival will be like. The burden of responsibility and how one may support not only their nuclear family but also those dependent on them, beyond the immediate home circle.

This is a truth I have seen before. Some time back I had lightly raised this issue with my wife as I pondered on the tough decisions people make as they venture into missionary work. It was evident the thought and idea was very testing for her. The reaction was the same once when I teased my mother about it. The immediate concern for both, including myself I guess, was how we would manage without a full time secular job (read: salary I suppose)!

Usually, this is where the battle starts and a decision to go into missions meets its death here. The trappings of our careers have us hooked. The thought of detaching to do something deemed less rewarding financially is a daunting one.

It cannot be disputed that finances, obligations and family responsibility have a telling influence on such a decision.

What would be of interest then is whether such influences are only unique to us and not our western peers. They too have families, careers and financial obligations but serve they do. Why does it seem the decision is easier with them than it is with us?

Missions in our daily lives

The mission field, it is argued too, transcends being a missionary as we have come to know it. It has been modified now to also mean one can be in their careers and secular jobs as missionaries. This has been a convenient justification or explanation for not taking the full time missionary path. I know because I have used it too.

The cardinal question then becomes whether we even do that missionary work in the secular roles we use as reasons not to pursue full time missionary work.

The decision to serve must have a firm foundation and be thoroughly thought out. That is why the best motivation inevitably is the response to God’s call and an urgent need to serve mankind through our time, talents and commitment. I believe perhaps that this lightens the demanding burden of deciding to trot onto the mission field.

Maturity in faith, selflessness and a willingness to sacrifice clearly have immeasurable influence on such a calling.

We know many among us of strong faith and selfless big hearts but still we do not see as many black missionaries. Or can it perhaps be a case of limited visibility?

Questioning ourselves

The death of this young couple in Chitokoloki ignites introspection. To establish how in our roles, we serve God and mankind. To also determine why we see less of us blacks dedicating ourselves to the missionary field.

The Erickson couple so young must challenge us to assess our lives, choices, priorities and motivation. What really matters to us? It shows in our interests, time and choices.

They settled where roads are poor, where there are no proper facilities and electricity challenges are a norm. This they did having sacrificed the rewards of life in their home country in order to pursue a different path, related to their training and career but with missionary work at the core.

As we celebrate their lives and the choices made, we must also push ourselves to reflect on what drives us in life and what we will be remembered for.

In the end, there must be a greater call on our lives that influences all we do and the choices we make.

Jay and Katrina are among the many that have opted for noble vocations. Lives dedicated to evangelism, service and selflessness. It remains for us alive to consider how we can also serve. Further it matters how many more black missionaries we can see taking to the field with our white brothers and sisters, all with the intent of serving a higher calling.

The question of missions needs to be answered by all of us where we are, in our roles, careers and for the called, even further leaving the comfort they know in order to pursue the mission field on a full time basis.

This will remain the enduring testimony and challenge that this young couple’s death lives with all of us. To emulate their courage, sacrifice, selflessness and dedication that saw them serve so many kilometres away from the home, life and comfort they knew.

Their lives were ended in that plunge into the Zambezi but what they achieved in simplicity and service will be told for a long time to come.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Opinion, Reflections

 

The Obama test and our choices

I had a thought provoking chat with my niece a couple of days ago. The discussion touched on Barack Obama’s recent endorsement of gay marriages. It did not end at that though. We took it further to assess ourselves as individuals, religious people and even more so called christians.

Switching roles: If I were Obama.

Pertinent questions were asked as the two of us dissected the issue. Would we have taken a different approach and given another position? Are we better than Obama and stand in the right place to castigate him for his public statement? If either of us were American, would we still vote for him?

The spontaneous discussion and ensuing questions jotted my mind into action. Simply because the Obama position had inevitably polarised opinion on the issue. On one hand, yet again there is no running away from a topical cultural, moral and social dilemma. On the other, it challenges everyone not to be in a rush to simply cane homosexuality but rather to turn the microscope on our lives too.

The world’s #1 citizen

Let me start with Obama. Unlike me or any other ordinary citizen, the US president yields immeasurable influence. Following his public endorsement, we have noted reports that the black community in the US may tone down on their view of homosexuality/gay marriages and perhaps be more receptive. Whether this will happen and is an accurate representation cannot be determined here. What can be concluded and not contested is that Obama is an influential opinion leader. What he says transcends borders, cultures, races and beliefs.

I therefore feel that when it comes to delicate issues of such a nature, tact is of essence. Homosexuality (now also christened as alternative lifestyles) is unnatural across cultures. That is why it has struggled to gain legal or society’s acceptance. Obama should have taken this into consideration before his endorsement.

Different cultures, different rules?

There is also the little matter of cultural uniqueness. America has been known to be one of the most permissive of nations on the earth. It has been a leader albeit negatively on some scores. For this reason, the LGTB movement has garnered strength over the years. So perhaps, the way an African leader and an American one would view homosexuality stands in sharp contrast. Of course with the exception of Joyce Banda (going by recent media reports) and South Africa. That would be one way to understand where Obama is coming from.

Power, pride and money

Then there is the pursuit of power and all its trappings. America is in an election year. There is a lot at stake and Obama stands in the centre of all this activity. He is the answer to some people’s hopes and a stumbling block to others. Either way, each side has an agenda and where dynamics take this route, inevitably money has a part to play. To remain in power and keep the influence, financing has a critical role.

Sadly, all financiers have investor minds one way or the other. Their returns are the ultimate prize. Either they want more money, influence, poverty alleviation or whatever the cause. Money chases money, power and influence. That is the precarious position Obama finds himself in. The White House, security detail, global leadership status and influence are perhaps more important than his personal beliefs and principles. Could that have been the motivation behind the public pronouncement? To earn re-election? Raise campaign funds?

Shifting principles and beliefs?

Beyond the power, pride and influence of money, the question of principles arises. What do we believe in and how strong are those beliefs? Further, one may ask are the beliefs adapted to suit a changing environment or should it be the other way round?

Obama is a professed christian, I would like to believe. If that be the case, it becomes necessary to determine the authority of a christian. The underlying and never changing authority will and must be Jesus Christ and the Bible. The position of authority as outlined in the Bible then must govern one’s choices in all situations. Was the endorsement in line with the Bible’s position?

Society continues to evolve and with this transformation, we have seen a rise in immorality, materialism, corruption and secularism in its many forms. There will always be two sides for as long as the world and we its inhabitants remain imperfect. But the unchanging fact will remain that truth does not change. Truth and its accompanying principles must remain as they are and a fast changing world must adapt to that truth.

From where I sit, Obama’s principles adapted to a changing world and its demands. The price paid for one more term in the White House, on the global stage and to keep the influence. It may just be that in such prominent roles, one does not own themselves and one is no longer in full control of who they are or what they do.

The pertinent question always remains that does wrong change to become right? Was what passed for wrong evolve into right? Has homosexuality taken a turn for good from being abominable?

Seeing beyond Obama

It does not end there though and this is not just about Obama. It is about you and I. Do we adapt our principles every day to suit our changing environment? To be accepted or popular? To avert punishment or harsh consequences? Is it the challenge of being so christian or principled when in church on Sundays or when attending “christian” meetings surrounded by “holy” company but a different picture when we are back in our world?

That is what matters the most beyond what Obama said. We may call ourselves christians, religious or good people or whatever we deem. But like Obama, how many times do we succumb to a popular view for a shot at fame, influence or acceptance? Would we have been any different had we been in his place?

It is easy to castigate him. It is even easier to overlook our own shortcomings. But then we must take time to assess ourselves, root out compromise and strive to be loyal to our beliefs and principles. It is widely held that it is easy to “preach” about something wrong when you are on the other side. But once in that very situation, you change your perception.

That is very true. But then again, is that the way it should be? We must hold onto all-weather principles and history offers such examples that inspire hope. The Abraham Lincoln legacy is one that lives because he stood up against slavery, a popular thing in his time. We have our own forefathers in Africa that lost their lives challenging colonialism because they believed in freedom. Those were not the popular options of their time but principle triumphed over popular sentiment.

Take a look at yourself

What about us? What happens to our principles or beliefs when we gossip? When we feed our excessive insatiable appetites and habits? When we opt for a deal to win business opportunities than drop one more ball of sweat? When we embrace corruption for our gain at the expense of the people? When we fall in the arms of another man or woman in preference to our own? When we are dishonest at work or home to save our skins? Or even when we turn up at church to show face and play the role than genuinely be christian?

Obama is human and this latest episode proves just that. I do hope he has had time to rethink what he said and the lives he may have influenced. But even more importantly, his position left me to challenge myself and where I stand on so many things in my day to day life.

The challenge is to live out my principles and beliefs everyday even when my immediate environment makes it easier to abandon them. That is the cardinal side to President Obama’s chosen stance.

Is any of us able to stand on a pedestal and condemn him? I think not. And the truth of the matter is that this is not condemnation to make ourselves look good. Instead it should be a conscience call that does not beautify wrong by using a different name for it or letting society dictate what the ruling principle(s) must be.

All of us stand shyly condemned when we stand in the mirror and honestly question ourselves. When we stare our real self in the eye and see the many times we compromise or set aside our principles and beliefs for the sake of expediency, influence, pride or whatever reason.

Can any of us say we pass the Obama test when faced with such decisions, whether complex or simple, in our daily lives?

Each one of us knows best.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Reflections

 

Church membership: losing the plot

I attended a funeral service yesterday. These are always sad times that offer reflection on the life left before that inevitable appointment.

This particular funeral bewildered me and was a point of reflection beyond the usual sombre disposition associated with death. The deceased had his “church” service conducted at the cemetery. What is the big deal, you may be asking. Well this was not a criminal or church exile that had no home church being buried. He had been a regular congregant at his local church.

Along the way though, he met the woman that became his wife and they wed in a church different from his own. It may seem this disqualified him from a final procession through the church he had been loyal to up to his demise.

He was Catholic and the wife a member of the United Church of Zambia (UCZ). I am sure all other churches aside from the two mentioned have their own set of rules governing membership and eligibility.

I agonised as I thought about this scenario. Do I need to reflect on my church “loyalty” and membership or end up stranded even though I will have no idea? Or is there something fundamentally wrong with this episode I witnessed?

There is something amiss. Granted every church needs to register its members and for various purposes keep their database. Whether it is for support in critical times, discipleship, activities or financial reasons, this is a necessary undertaking.

Over time I feel and now believe the motivation may have changed. If a member who has made it a point to be a regular at church ends up not being accepted in church for his funeral service, something is not right. There will be several questions posed. Was he aware that his membership status was compromised? Was the church accepting his tithes or time when he volunteered for activities? What spiritual support did he get being a member of the church? I’d find it immoral and unthinkable if he offered himself, his time, resources and the church took this without reluctance. All this only to be dumped in death and accorded a farewell by a Priest at his graveside.

It brings me to the thought on the essence of a church. In the context of this discussion, church refers to denomination and/or community of christians. Not necessarily the global family of Christ’s followers which is a collective entity.

People come together in Christ and make one family. Their unity of purpose and intersection is Christ, a result of their salvation and acceptance into the family of God.

Over the centuries, several denominations have arisen, all differing on various aspects of theology, beliefs and interpretations of the Bible. The climax is the number of churches we see today. From the traditionally old Catholic Church that has existed for as long as some of us can remember, we have several protestant churches, cults and whatever forms denominations have taken.

The Bible clearly highlights that we are all different parts of one body. Therefore, we all play a critical part in this body, commune for our edification and also support others that need us.

That is the ideal. But when membership takes the twist cited in this blog, we have a challenge. A person joins a community to enjoy and be a part of a support system for their growth. Their growth likewise offers opportunity for the entire body to also benefit more people, even those outside the immediate environment.

Therefore, the cardinal thing is one’s spiritual welfare. The core responsibility of a christian is winning souls and turning them to Christ. This primary role matters far much more than church politics or technicalities. As such, when one in our midst passes on having been a member of our church, there should be no technicalities. All that will matter then is a joyful send off of a brother or sister that has come to the end of his/her journey having served their purpose.

Death is the last act and in death status is rendered irrelevant. The only opportunity one has to turn to God is when they are alive. In death, nothing we do can alter the deceased’s spiritual condition. It then becomes so saddening and trivial to make an issue of membership at such a time.

In a case like this one, it is even sadder as it involves a person regular at church. It suggests he was known, a part of the bigger family. How then can an issue of where he wedded matter? In addition, how does the UCZ also state that they cannot hold a service in their church because their member is the wife?

The church as it is today loses opportunities to win people over to Christ. Simply because of inattention to the ultimate mission of christianity and the church.

Several people walk into church every week with a host of issues, in need of comfort, direction, guidance and salvation. I know this well because at several points in my life, I have needed and still yearn for that timely support system to get me through. We all have a void to be filled, usually ultimately by something higher than ourselves. None higher than God.

Today though when we walk into churches, that opportunity to reach out to the seeker is lost. Lost in egoistic preachers obsessed with their eloquence, perhaps materialism disguised as blessings and the only way to see God at work or even sermons bordered fully on national politics. All these have their place but they are not the core. The focus remains Christ and each time one stands in the pulpit, the motivation must be to present the all important message of salvation.

I left that funeral heavily burdened and wondering whether we have our focus in the right place. How does marriage ostracise you in death? How does a church that ought to be family take your time, resources and commitment but deems it unfit to have your funeral within its walls? How does a church recognise your spouse and not you even when they are aware you are married?

As I sauntered away from the cemetery, I wondered what impression was made on a bystander that may have attended that funeral service and knew about the unfortunate politics surrounding that burial. If I were the one on the verge of a decision, I know I’d not be looking at the two churches for a home. What should have been an opportunity to bring people to Christ was wasted on trivia.

All church administrations ought to review their membership criteria and open themselves more to new members especially those silent troubled souls that visit quietly with a view of finding elusive meaning in their lives.

In the end, doctrines, church politics, eligibility rules or biases will not matter. Only one’s status in Christ will matter.

As long as churches do not reflect that in the way they conduct their affairs or manage their members and visitors, a great opportunity to present Christ is lost. Not only for the individual but even those people around that witness this unfortunate situation like I did.

There is a far much bigger cause for the church than pettiness. We must wake up to that reality now.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2012 in Religion and faith

 
 
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