Friday, November 28, 2014

thankfulness, laughter and that time I cracked the windshield with...

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving here in Montepuez.  It's not your typical fall celebration (instead of pumpkins and cool temperatures, we've got falling mangoes and stifling heat!).  And over the years we've developed some fun traditions of our own.  This year we had 42 people celebrate together - our team, a couple other missionary families from the region, six Peace Corps workers and a few non-Americans who we've lured into the day's festivities.

First, there was the slip-and-slide for the kids at the Smiths, then we moved to our house and tried not to overstuff ourselves with the plethora of amazing foods offered at the Thanksgiving feast.  That was followed by a time of worship and a chance to share what each of us were thankful for.  After that we moved to the backyard to let the kids try to take down a pumpkin shaped piñata.  Once the kids' piñata-pumpkin-bashing work was done, we moseyed over to the teacher's yard where we attempted to dance away the calories by doing the limbo, the Hokey Pokey, the Cotton-Eyed Joe, etc.  And at sunset we came back inside and finished the day by enjoying dessert (I have to admit I'm a sucker for pecan pie).

Even though we missed celebrating together with our families back in the U.S., it was a great day - filled with fun, food and laughter.

Yesterday's events, though, made me remember a time when my thankfulness tank was very low.

That was the day I cracked my windshield with my own rear end.

That's right, I literally "rear-ended" it!

About five years ago I had been out in a village that I don't usually spend much time in.  After the church meeting was over and it was time to leave, a bunch of people piled into the car for a ride and one lady was insistent that I take her bundles of firewood into town.  The truck was so packed, though, that I had to put them on our roof rack.  As we drove into Montepuez, she began complaining and her lack of thankfulness (and my own attitude that day!) put me in a sour mood.

Now, one thing that we've noticed living among the Makua-Metto for so many years is that in this culture people don't verbalize their thanks as much as people do in my home culture.  It was seared into my brain at an early age that I was to always say 'please' and 'thank you,' but the expectations and cultural rules surrounding requests are different in this context.  It isn't necessarily expected that a person will say 'thank you' when someone else has helped them out.  There seem to be many reasons for this, but one of them may be the perception that saying 'thank you' closes off the 'transaction' and for some people seems to signify the end of that relationship.  More than a few times, I have heard people say "kihosukuru" (I thank you), in a tone that sounds less like gratitude and more like a curse!  That's not to say that our Mozambican friends are never thankful, it is just that when they are thankful they often express it in different ways.

Anyways, back to my story.  So, the attitude and speech that the woman directed towards me that day were thank-less.  When we arrived at her house, I had to climb on top of my truck to hand the firewood down to her.  Unfortunately, some of the sticks had shifted during our ride down the bumpy dirt road and the bundle was stuck.  I moved to get a better angle and ended up standing on the front part of roof rack, facing the opposite direction of the truck.  But, as I yanked on the bundle, the cord broke and I lost my balance.  Falling backwards towards the hood of the car, my rear-end landed on the top part of the windshield with a sickening crack.  Thankfully my hands caught the front of the roof rack and kept me from tumbling head first to the ground.  Clinging to the roof rack, I struggled to climb back on top of the car, frustrated at the way I had extended a crack in our already damaged windshield.  The woman's expression remained unchanged, though, and with a blank stare she received the wood from me and walked off without a word of sympathy or thanks.  I got back in the truck and drove away stewing in my embarrassment (I mean, who rear-ends their own windshield!) and irritation at the lack of gratitude I perceived from her.

By the time I made it home, I recovered enough to confess to Rachel and the girls about the origin of the extension of the crack in the windshield.  As they laughed about it (after expressing an appropriate amount of sympathy, I should add), it was easier for me to recognize just how ridiculous the story was and to be thankful that the fall and the damage to the car could have been much worse.  I'll admit that it took me some time to get over my wounded pride (and bruised bum!), but eventually I was able to join in the laughter.

Reflecting on that story yesterday made me consider again the connections between laughter and thankfulness.  As I think about our living room yesterday, filled with smiling and laughing people celebrating a day of Thanksgiving, even far from home, I am reminded of how important laughter is to helping put us in a posture of gratitude.  Our hearts seemed wired in a way that what most leads us to a place of thankfulness are the times set aside to enjoy and take joy in those around us.    

May we be a people whose laughter leads us to a spirit of gratefulness and thanksgiving!

Grace and Peace,

Thursday, November 20, 2014

the beauty of being repurposed - funnels and disciple-making, take 2

Our Mozambican friends are great at repurposing.

Everything in this part of the world gets reused or recycled.

Kids turn trash into toys.

Scrap paper and bamboo shards are used to start cooking fires.

Even a busted fridge can be turned into a piece of furniture!   

The other day, in a nearby neighborhood, I came across a guy selling cooking oil.  He dipped a cup into a bucket of vegetable oil and would pour it through a funnel into little bottles to sell to his clients.  But, what caught my attention was his funnel.

In my previous blog post, I talked about the ways that the process of making disciples is like a funnel.   It is an illustration that I use all the time.  I try to encourage people not to act like a cup, but to use what they learn and act like a funnel by passing on what they know to others.

And on this day, the vendor's funnel caught my attention.  Someone had taken an empty, used tomato can and reshaped it into a funnel.  I think it's beautiful - it's a piece of art. 

Now, tin cans are nothing special.  They are containers that we throw away without a second thought.

But a funnel - that can be an important tool.  One that is used over and over again.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the fact that in order to be good at making disciples, we must be reshaped.  To become a vessel that is effective in making disciples we will need to be repurposed.  Like that tin can, we'll need to be formed into something new - a funnel.

The world may have shaped us in a certain mold.  And because of that we may be under the impression that our purpose in life is to store and hold onto what we've got.

But there is something beautiful and redemptive in realizing the truth that we can be remade into something that serves to bless and fills others up.

Now, the process of being reshaped into a funnel may be painful.  We'll be bent and stretched in ways that may be uncomfortable.   But, that's the only way that to become a useful instrument for making disciples.

May we see beauty in the way that God is working to repurpose us - shaping us into funnels that channel blessing and life to those around us.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, November 6, 2014

The funnel and disciple-making

There's a teaching illustration that I have found to be extremely useful for encouraging disciple-making to take place in the church.   I learned it from Murphy Crowson who explained it in an email this way.

"Emphasize that they HAVE TO PASS THIS ON! This is not a leadership training school where they will get a paper diploma. Their graduation certificate will be those who they've discipled who are discipling others! They must have an outward focus on this material and an "I'm learning to teach others" attitude from day one. I use the visual illustration with my leaders of a glass and a funnel. Some leaders/churches/Christians are like a glass, always receiving and never giving. When the glass is full, God can't pour anymore wisdom/blessings/etc. in.  A funnel however constantly receives and gives.  Always receiving more and always passing it right along."

Murphy shared this insight about the difference between a funnel and a cup to me back in 2007 and I have used this illustration more than any other to describe the process of disciple-making with my Mozambican friends.

But a couple weeks ago, a church member offered a new insight that deepened the imagery of the funnel and the cup for me and the rest of the group.

I had taken a basic, plastic water bottle to the church cluster meeting and cut it in half in front of the students.  The bottom half was shaped like a cup and the top half had the form of a funnel.  I talked (once again!) about the need for each of us to be like a funnel.  And this time I took advantage of the fact that this water-bottle-funnel had a lid on it.  We talked about how sometimes we may want to share what we've learned with potential disciples, but until we remove the lid, we will be unable to effectively share.  The word for lid in Portuguese is "tampa" and the Makua-Metto version of that is "itampa."  So, I emphasized how changing our practices could help us remove the lid from a strategic point of view and help us become the funnels we were created to be.

Then one of the church leaders made an important insight.  He noted that sometimes our best intentions and even our best practices for being funnels will be limited by our own sin and lack of integrity in our witness.  Interestingly, the word for sin in Makua-Metto is "itaampi."  It is not just that the lid that limits us (itampa), but sin (itaampi) also keeps us from fulfilling our calling.  The group all laughed at the truth found in this play on words (okay, so maybe I found the pun more interesting than the others did :) ).

The task that Jesus commissioned us for is to make disciples (Matt. 28).  But we will only be able to do that well when we have been liberated from a life of sin (itaampi) and when we've removed the lid (itampa) that keeps us from opening ourselves strategically to minister and pass on the gift of living water to others.

So, Murphy, thanks for being a funnel so long ago and passing on what you learned.   That illustration is still blessing people and bearing new insights and fruit even over here.

May we be a people who let neither itampa or itaampi get in the way of making disciples of Jesus.

Grace and Peace,