Tuesday, 30 July 2013

though the fig tree should not blossom...

I've always treasured these words of Habakkuk,

"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, YET I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places."

After our precarious homecoming (see last blog post), we knew we needed a fresh vision of why God has placed us here on 21/7.  There is always a period of adjustment when we come back home to Nassau, as we are re-entering a developing country with many inconveniences we do not experience back in the U.S.  

At first, our prayers seemed to be counter-productive.  Instead of our eyes adjusting to all the blessings of living here, we began to see more of the challenges.  Our refrigerator would not return to working status after the power had been cut for 24 hours, our van wouldn't start, and when it did finally start, it was blowing lots of gray smoke out of the exhaust.  The pool guy was not returning our phone calls and so the pool continued to be a rich green color, playing nursery to many tadpoles.  We were quickly reminded of the happy mosquito population inside our home as we pulled out the OFF spray. 

Then Saturday came.  It was "Spread the Word" Saturday to advertise our upcoming Music Camp-VBS which begins August 6.  We had been expecting at least 20 people or so to come and help canvass the streets, yet only 13 of us arrived at the church.  Other than the Moss and Bunting families, we had only 4 people come to "Spread the Word."  We knew there was a birthday party taking place that had been planned before we set this date, but we didn't realize HOW MANY people it would involve!  So the 13 of us prayed, equipped ourselves with water and sunscreen and hit the streets around our church. 

The two hours or so we spent canvassing the church neighborhood were two of the best hours we have spent living on this island.  I have previously posted about the Kemp Road area...it is a low-income, "don't be there at night" type of neighborhood.  But what joy we found there as we met people, invited them to our Music Camp, and just walked the streets together!  Heaps of trash were just a part of the ambience.  As I got down to talk to one little boy, I was struggling not to eyeball the old shoes, abandoned refrigerator, and countless discarded cans and bottles that surrounded us.  Another boy was ingeniously making a basketball hoop out of an old crate and hammering it to a telephone pole.  I picked up his ball, dribbled it, and shot it through his new hoop.  He stood looking in disbelief that I, a middle-aged white woman, would play with him.  I was touched by how much they wanted to hear what we had to say, people coming to gather as they saw us standing amongst their neighbors sharing our invitations.  Two unknown ladies said they wanted to help spread the word and took a small stack of invitations to hand out as they walked in another direction.

At one home made of plywood, two mothers stepped out with guarded looks at first.  I quickly smiled and said, "We're from Kingdom Life Church and we're having a FREE music camp August 6th through the 9th..."  They took the invitations and began looking at them. Children in a group of 6 or 8 suddenly were there at our side, saying "I wanna come!"  "Me too!"  One young lady, who said she was 17 said "I'm comin' too!"  We looked at each other, knowing the camp is supposed to be for ages 5-12 and said, "Go ahead and come.  There'll be other teens there helping." 

I can't even tell you the good it did our hearts to interact with these wonderful people....people God made and desires to save.  Even now, my heart is full and my eyes are weepy to think of them.  Homes that don't have running water, homes that are ramshackle and surrounded by rubbish.  But people with beautiful smiles and hearts eager to be loved by somebody. 

We hope to go out again this coming Monday, when the team from Metro Life will be here to help.  Honestly, next to Sunday meetings at church and serving out at Adventure Learning Camp, this is the biggest highlight of living here so far.  "For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever." Ps. 9:18

Pray that God will urge the hearts of these mothers to send the kids, and that the kids will remember to come.  Pray that hearts will be fertile ground for receiving the gospel next week.  Pray for souls to be saved.
Keaton, Kristin, and Leslie caught in the rain as we canvass the church neighborhood

Thursday, 25 July 2013

welcome back, or not....

We have made it safely back to Nassau!  And it is no small thing.  Thank you to all who have prayed, provided, and partnered with us in the last 16 days.  Our trip back to the U.S. was a whirlwind of visiting with friends and family, hours and hours of driving (which we don't need to do again for a long, long time!), and shopping for things to bring back to Nassau.  We were feeling pretty eager to get home yesterday, sleep in our own beds and just relax after all the activity of traveling, but alas; that was not what our Heavenly Father had in store for us!

After boarding the plane at 12:30 and sitting grounded for over an hour, we realized we would not be leaving the U.S. when planned.  The plane had mechanical issues.  We were thankful the pilot never tried to leave the ground.  Eventually the flight was rescheduled for 4 pm. The flight was smooth and safe and we were able to land, go through immigration and customs without any incidents.  This is no small thing, I assure you!  Every time I have traveled back to Nassau in the last 12 months, there have always been issues at the airport, usually at immigration.  God was answering our prayers for a smooth re-entry, and we are so grateful.

 We arrived back at our house around 6:45 last night, having been taxied by Cedric back to his home, where we had left our car (and a receiving a wonderful dinner to take home with us from Alexine!) All of us are a little under the weather with colds, and we were anticipating a few hours of relaxing, after the long travel day, little sleep the previous night or two, and a general need for down-time.  Keith was eagerly hoping for a dip in the pool to cool off before going to bed. Once home and walking up to the front door, he noticed a  yellow sticker on the door, announcing that our power had been shut off that day due to an unpaid balance.  Ahem....the power company here doesn't give warnings or make deals with you, they just shut off the power a few hours before nightfall...and boom...you're in the dark.  Since we are renting, all our utilities are paid through our landlords.  If we don't receive the bill from them...well...you see what happens.

 We also quickly saw that the pool was filled with algae and debris.  It was a lovely greenish color.  OK, not so lovely.  We were confused as to why this would happen, since we had a pool service man taking care of things while we were away.  Apparently, he did not come over the last 16 days.  So the pool is in dire need of chemicals and cleaning, and won't be up for use any time soon. 

We made a few calls and realized we would need a place to stay for the night...so back we went to the Mosses!  What would we do without them?  They gladly put us up for the night and here I am in their guest room, typing this blog post this morning.

As we reflect back on our trip home yesterday and all the details that surrounded it, we see a few things.

1: God is faithful and our lives are filled with obvious blessings.  He took care of us.  He sustained us through all the driving, flights, and changes we could not have planned for.  He provided a smooth entry through immigration and customs, easier than ever before.  Cedric was right on time to pick us up and drive us to our vehicle.  Alexine had a lovely blessing of a warm dinner prepared for us to take home.  We can celebrate the kindness of friends, once again.

2: God is faithful when life is full of unplanned disappointments.  We cannot ever assume things will go as we've planned or that we'll find comfort when we think we need it most.  God speaks through the difficulties, however small and insignificant they be.  A rescheduled flight, a power-less home, overgrown yard, algae-filled pool and having to ask for help yet again, may not be the comfort we were seeking, but they are what God gave, alongside all the positive aspects of yesterday.  Blessings in disguise, I am sure. 

This morning we were able to take some time and pray, asking God to help us have clear sight as we return to life in Nassau, embrace the busy weeks ahead, and get our home back in order.  It was a grace-filled morning after a series of unplanned moments yesterday.  It can be our tendency, as fleshly people, to only speak of the negativities in life.  And of course, in the fallen world, there are many.  But it takes grace to speak of the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  And that is what we want to communicate.  GRACE.  God's riches at Christ's expense.  Always.  In every trial.  In every unseen event.  GRACE.  We live in it, are redeemed by it, and stand because of it. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

the gift of friendship

I have always loved reading of the friendship between David and Jonathan.  Long after Jonathan is dead, David is still showing kindness to his friend's offspring.  God knit these two together. 

When I think of the ways in which Keith and I are richest, there isn't anything monetary to point to.  No nest egg, no Swiss bank account, no valuable real estate.  We live not by sight, but by faith that God will keep providing for us, and this almost always happens through his faithful children.  Our richest gain in this life, apart from Christ, each other, and our family, is our amazing friends.  When I say that we have good friends, it is a vast understatement.  Our friends are the kind that: let us live with them for 6 weeks, collect clothing, shoes, homeschool books, and various other needed items for us, help us in thinking through key aspects of parenting, ministry, and marriage, give generously to us of all they have, pray for us, walk through the hardest parts of life with us, rejoice with us when there are times of celebration, come to visit us in our new country and bring us goodies, make time for us in their already packed lives, love our children like family....perhaps you are starting to get the picture?
I love the verse in Proverbs 27:10:

Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend,
    and do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity.
Better is a neighbor who is near
    than a brother who is far away.

In most Bible versions, the word "neighbor" reads as "friend."  And for us, it has almost always been our friends who are near, since we have moved around so much and not been near family.  God has ordained that for us, and in the absence of family over the years, God has given us the rich gift of deep friendship.  This past week and in the week to come, we have the privilege of staying with friends, meeting friends for meals, sharing our lives and hearing about theirs, hugging, reminiscing, and laughing together.  Friday night we spent the evening at Kevin and Becca Deming's home in Holly Springs, NC.  Becca was my college roommate and matron of honor.  Kevin was also our college friend and has been serving as a youth pastor for about 20 years.  They are amazing!  We laughed, cried, listened, and spoke of the goodness of God together.  They are partnering with us in our mission to Nassau, even though they aren't in the Sovereign Grace family of churches.  They showered us with gifts and love during our stay and we are forever grateful.  They hope to return to Nassau to visit us (they were just there on a mission trip in June) within the next 2 years or so.  This time, they (hopefully) will bring their boys!  God is so good to us, giving us friends who love in thought, deed, and action.  This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, we are at CROSSWAY CHURCH in Lancaster and are staying with the Randy and Tina Wenger, and Dan and Julie Garner are here at the house with us as well, doing a family sleep-over so we can enjoy extended times together.  Tina and Randy were our care group leaders upon first moving to Lancaster and quickly became close friends.  Dan and Julie go WAY back with us and have been through so much with us, as well as being responsible for our move to Lancaster.  Our children love being here, as it is the last "home" they think of from our time living in Lancaster.  Last night, Quay and Shannon Hanna and their kiddos came to visit, and we had a wonderful time of reconnecting.  Shannon has been collecting shoes, handbags, jewelry and gifted the girls and I with all of it last night.  What a blessing she is to me!  This morning we get to worship at Crossway Church for the first time in over a year...and in the NEW BUILDING!  Keith will lead worship and we will get to reconnect with all of our sending church.  We go with full hearts, aware that our riches are the people who love us, surround us, and keep us always on their hearts and lifted up in prayer! 
The Demings and the Buntings...friends
since 1991!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Meet the Finlays

In a few of our posts, we've referred to the ways God is growing our church here in Nassau.  I've introduced you to the Seeleys.  Today, I present: Blair and Alissa Finlay!   Blair already had a cousin living here with her husband and children.  Blair and Alissa moved here in January for Blair to take employment as a project manager for one of the newer developments on the island.  They have been a blessing to our family in so many ways.  Last night we had them over for a belated Independence Day get-together.  Blair hails from Calgary, Alberta, Canada (so he may not care so much about our American independence!) and Alissa from Wichita, Kansas.  They've been married about 4 years.  Aren't they a cute couple?  Alissa is a fellow homemaker,recipe lover, writer, and lover of books.  She graciously has offered to keep the Bunting girls current with haircuts FREE OF CHARGE, as she uses her skills from her previous work as a hair stylist.  Blair always engages with children wherever he finds them, being zany and fun.  He and Alissa have both agreed to serve in significant ways at Kingdom Life, including sound room work and projection, as well as play a large part in our upcoming Music Camp/VBS in early August.  Last night after having a Mexican meal (Well, really what is American food?)  we engaged in a fun game of "Things."  This is really hilarious.  Somehow the answer "Pirates" kept being given by one of us in answer to many various questions.  We were laughing so hard a few of us shed tears of joy.  For instance, "Things that hang..."  Someone gave the answer "Pirates" (meaning they will hang for their crimes).  But then later topics like "Things girls talk about while going to the bathroom together" or "Things that should come with instruction manuals"  And people kept giving the answer "Pirates."  To us this was Laugh OUT LOUD funny.  If it's not to you, well, it should be. 

We had such a great time last night.  I haven't laughed like that since we've moved here, I'd say.  We are blessed that God has brought this couple into our lives and church.  May God bless them beyond their imaginations as they seek to be salt and light in this nation.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

hands that serve

It's easy to become overwhelmed with the needs around you, around your church, around your family.   And then there are the needs around the world...so big, so dire, so untouchable...it would seem.  As we recently celebrated one year here in The Bahamas, we've done some accounting.  Finances are always a piece of the pie.  But accounting for time and usefulness and service...these are blurry figures.  Which comes first, the poor child in the street, or the low-income child I know by name and hug each week at church?  Which comes first, the unemployed stranger living out of his car or the single mom with little to no income at church?  It can feel hard to know.  I can rationalize that the needy loved ones at church will be taken care of by someone else at church while the poor stranger may only have me in his corner.  Yet God's word says, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith." Galatians 6:10.  And then Luke 6:30 says "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them."

This second verse...the Luke verse, pains me from time to time.  Begging is common here.  At street lights, at entrances to stores or pharmacies...there are people asking for help, some in wheelchairs, some who appear to be deaf.  Our local friends have told us to be cautious, and when in doubt not to give.  It could be dangerous for me to wind down my window and reach my hand out to a man on the side of the road.  But this nagging feeling stays with me.  "Won't God protect me?  Won't God do what he says?  Will God let me be harmed if I give without knowing this person's true state?" So I keep praying, keep asking God for sight to know what to do, what to risk.

The last 2 of 3 weeks my girls and I have followed the Lord's prompting to serve at Adventure Learning Camp, where a church member is the director.  What joy we have found as we arrive early in the morning to prepare breakfast for 40-60 people who are visiting from the states to do mission work.  Seeing these young people and their leaders refreshes my heart.  They have only part of their last day to do sight-seeing and a trip to the beach.  They are doing hard work.  They are caring for people at our local AIDS camp, ministering to children at VBS meetings, building roofs, walls, repairing homes, and in the midst of it all, sharing God's love through Jesus Christ.  And our care for them, by cooking and providing sustenance for them twice a day, is helping their mission go forward.  I find myself literally beaming at times as I serve up the food, asking "one piece or two?"  "Green beans"  Or "Peas?"  I love seeing God's people come and fall in love with the Bahamian people as we have.  I love that they are willing to give up weeks of their summer to come to this hot, buggy climate where they won't get air conditioning all week and still end the day with a smile, praising and worshipping God for all He has done through Jesus. 

So for now, this is how we help.  This is how we make a difference.  This is how we do mission.  And it's only been all blessing.  This is how we grow hands to serve.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

where we found Joy

Kendall was intent on spending her $2.  And she knows how to haggle at the straw market.  All my girls do now after living here 12 months.  My brother Neal was looking for some souvenirs to take back to Atlanta and so we hit the local Straw Market last Friday. 

Souvenirs bought and bagged, we wanted to leave.  But Kendall still hadn't found her item.  She was hoping for a bracelet.  She was eyeing a few in one of the booths and the vendor began with the usual haggle-talk, "What you lookin' for pretty girl?  You like those?  Which one you like? "  Kendall blushed and looked back at me.  "How much for these?" she asked.  "Will you take $2?"  The vendor frowned, "No, those $5."  Kendall said, "ok."  Then the vendor said, "How much you got?"   Kendall said again, "$2."    "OK...pretty girl.  You know what...take it.  I give it to you."  I told Kendall to give the lady her $2, as we once had a vendor say she was "giving" us necklaces but then wanted "donations...for the children."  I wanted this transaction to be fair and square.  "No" said the vendor.  "Let me tell you something, mom.  It's not about the money.  It's about givin' and receivin'....it's about puttin' the children first."  I butted in..."I understand.  We're a pastor's family.  We know Jesus."  She stopped, wide-eyed.  "You a what?"  "A pastor's family," I replied.  "You see 'dere...I didn't know who I was dealin' wit.  Now you gonna pray for me and I'm gonna get a blessin' from God" she said.

I asked her for her name, and she said "Joy...it's Joy....and I need healin'...physical, spiritual, and mental."  I said, "I'd like to pray for you right now Joy."  And I did.  My big brother, my girls, Joy and I all held hands, laid on hands, and prayed right there in the straw market.  Tears filled my eyes.  Tears filled Joy's eyes.  Jesus was there in the midst of us. 

I don't know if Joy is a Christian.  If she is, I think she probably attends a church that is of the "name it, claim it" variety.  Christian karma wrapped in a type of gospel.  If you do good, good will come back to you.  But that's not what Jesus said.  It's only by his goodness that we can do anything eternally good.  And so I am thankful our paths crossed with Joy.  It was a moment God ordained.