Author: Beth
•Tuesday, December 07, 2010
The old adage says that you learn something new every day. Spend a day in a third-world foreign country and you're guaranteed to quadruple your chances of doing something you've never done before.

I came to Sudan with a construction resume that accurately depicted my level of expertise: I could name a few tools in the box and had pounded a few nails. However, the combination of necessity and an excellent teacher (Julie Ward) breeds opportunity, and thus I found myself behind the Darth Vader-isque mask with a welding rod in my hands.

Welding is one of those trades that carries remarkable intrigue, especially to someone like me that knows little of the complexities of electricity or coalescence. It requires a steady hand, a little bit of know-how (which didn't come from me, obviously), and a few safety measures here and there. Many weeks and a dozen metal shutters later, I reemerged from behind the mask with a new respect for the craft (and the people who can make it look so easy) and a few sparks of thought that were starting to mold something permanent in my head.

Back at our little hut one afternoon, I picked up my small travel Bible and a few verses caught my eye.

" that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19)

That simple phrase "rooted and grounded in love" stood out to me like the bright light that I had seen behind the welding mask.

In welding terms, a "ground clamp" is attached to the work to complete the current and allow the electricity to pass through the metal being welded. Without it being properly attached to the pieces, the welder runs the risk of electrical shock.

To be "grounded in love" therefore presented a challenging mental picture, bearing a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of resemblance. I may be able to speak and communicate with brilliant eloquence, but the words mean nothing unless they are spoken in love. I may have the faith that can obliterate obstacles, but without love, there is no point. I may live in Africa (or anywhere else in the world) and give all that I have, but there is no true gain without love. It is love that gives sense and bearing to work; it prevents burnout or injury from energetic efforts without any foundation. To be completely "filled with the fullness of God," I have to know this Love and be firmly grounded in it.

What wondrous love is this?

"God saw Abraham's sacrifice and said, 'Now I know that you love me, because you did not withhold your only son from me.' (Genesis 22:12). But how much more can we look at His sacrifice on the Cross and say to God, 'Now, we know that you love us. For you did not withhold Your Son, Your only Son, whom You love, from us.' When the magnitude of what He did dawns on us, it makes it possible finally to rest our hearts in Him rather than in anything else." - Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

In the light of the gospel of this glorious sacrifice, the foundation and "grounding", everything else is "electrified" and made useful in His sight. Why are these families here in Sudan, giving up successful careers and comforts, for the sake of their Dinka neighbors? Why are there tireless efforts put into training men, building churches, raising children, running households? Why is there hope in the midst of discouragements, perseverance in trials, joy in hardships?

Behind that welding mask, watching the sparks fly, I caught a glimpse of it.

It's all because of Love.

"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, that we might live through Him." - 1 John 4:9

Author: Beth
•Wednesday, December 01, 2010

If someone had told me a few months ago that I would be writing this from a small white plane flying over barren African plains, I don't think I would have believed them. But now, I'm looking out of small windows at the brush and sparse greenery below, with an occasional dirt road snaking into the distance. Occasionally, a small cluster of thatched roofs appear, but that is the only sign of civilization below. In an hour or so, my feet will be touching the ground and the adventure will begin.

What does faith look like?

That's a question that coursed through my brain as I sat in the airplane seat. A few hours ago, I had boarded the plane without a second thought. I had buckled myself in for the ride, grinned at 6-year-old Samuel sitting next to me, and soared into the sky headed for Southern Sudan. The two international flights that had brought me to the other side of the globe a few days earlier were much the same. I didn't think about the pilot who literally held lives at his control. I didn't give a second thought to the plastic and metal being the only things that protected me from the elements. I didn't even reconsider the laws of science that held the plane thousands and thousands of feet in the air.

In our culture, flying is just how we get from one place to the next.The "radical faith" that takes is widely accepted and hardly questioned.

Can I live with that kind of faith, in the spiritual sense ... on the ground?

Thankfully, I didn't have to look too far into my past to see that the Pilot had already been faithful to navigate through some storms. Recounting the events of the previous few months left me with no other choice than to look confidently into the future.

It had been exactly eight weeks since the day an email appeared in my inbox, asking if Laurie and I would consider going to Sudan. At the time, we were both shocked that God would answer our months of praying in that way. Our small faith was about to be tested in every possible sense.

Me? In Africa? What about my responsibilities here? What about the money? What will people think of such a quick decision? Am I doing the right thing? What if I don't come back? ...

Each question that surfaced demanded a miracle in its own way. God was answering prayers, but He was doing it in such a way that stripped us of every ounce of ourselves and caused complete surrender. A.W. Tozer once said, "If something is of God, then your dependence on God will increase." That became our heralding cry for needed grace. If God was going to have us on a plane in a few short weeks, it would be nothing short of a miracle.

Faith. Can you do this, oh my soul? Has He ever failed you yet?

From my reflections on that little white plane, I began to see the shadows of three pillars that gave my shaky faith the wings to fly.

Peace. When God calls His children to things much bigger than themselves, He knows our weakness and inadequacies -- which is why I believe He fulfills His own words to give backbone to the task ahead: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you...let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27). After praying intensely about the decision, Laurie and I found that God had given an deep-rooted and inexplainable peace, even against all odds.

Providence. How else can you explain the acts of God, when you have no other alternative -- no "plan B"? How do you account for details falling into place, jobs being covered, money being provided, and needs being fulfilled? It is, as the Westminster Catechism puts it, God's works of providence: "His most holy, wise, and powerful, preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions." When God has His fingerprints all over something, even preparing me months and years in advance, it's hard to look the other way.

Promises. Faith is not easy for us nearsighted, fallible, insecure creatures, which is why God gives us firm foundations to rest our weary feet. He then gives us times such as these to prove that that every word of His is actually true. For my little faith, stepping forward into to this desire of my heart meant that His promises would have to be more than just letters on a page. Thankfully, but not surprisingly, every single promise is always kept. Always.

With those three pillars holding us up, we turned our faces towards the wind and our Pilot put us... on... that... plane.

Weeks later, as I sat waiting to disembark and feel the hot African sun on my face, I returned to that question of faith.

What is this going to look like for the rest of my life? Can I take my faith so seriously that flying clear around the world will seem like nothing in comparison? Can I trust that God, my Pilot, will keep me above the clouds, above the terrifying depths below? Can I have the kind of confidence that when He does "land the plane," He will not leave me to wonder where to go from here?

A few hours later, not only was I on the ground, but I was standing in front of the little round hut that was going to be "home" for the next few months. As I looked upward, I saw a rainbow that stretched delicately across the blue expanse, as a welcome banner from my Lord.

There was no doubting.
No turning back.

A radical life of faith, with Jesus as the author and the finisher, is the only life worth living.