Peculiarly Prepared for the Trinity

In the region surrounding the principality of Orhay (Edessa), which claimed for itself the title of the first Christian state in the world, there was also a latent monotheism. There the god Marilaha was worshiped as the universal Lord-God. This proto-monotheism first paved the way for the success of Judaism in Edessa. Since there were in Edessa, as in all of Syria and western Mesopotamia, numerous examples of divine triads, the environment was again peculiarly receptive to Christianity, as it enriched these two concepts with the figure of a divine-human mediator and made them more accessible.

Baumer, The Church of the East, pp. 11-12

What exactly was going on in the progression of ancient peoples away from a pantheon of gods and toward something more like monotheism? And this seemingly right around the coming of Christ? Was the Holy Spirit using the influence of Judaism to slowly disseminate ideas in the ancient world that would prepare the it for the gospel? Or resurrecting an ancient “memory” of the monotheistic origin of the broken polytheistic systems of late antiquity?

Whatever was going on, a remarkable number of peoples in the Roman and Persian empires – and in their borderlands – were peculiarly ready for the preaching of the Incarnation and the Trinity. Perhaps this is one part of what the Scripture means when it says, at the fullness of time (Gal 4:4).

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So Much More Than a Shadowy Existence

… our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, (2 Timothy 1:10 ESV)

2 Tim 1:10 brought life and immortality to light. First-century tomb epitaphs indicate that for most pagans, death was accepted (at best) with calm resignation. In traditional Greco-Roman religions, death was the end of everything. The best that could be hoped for was a shadowy existence in Hades, the realm of the dead. Paul contrasts this world of shadows with the light of immortality that faith in Christ brings.

ESV Archaeology Study Bible

What an interesting contrast between the shadows of the pagan afterlife and the shining glory of the biblical vision of paradise and resurrected bodies. I’ve said it before, but we should not be shy to sometimes speak of ourselves as those who humbly “seek for glory and honor and immortality” (Rom 2:7). Especially when contrasted with the inferior pagan visions of the afterlife. Nothingness? Loss of individuality as we’re assimilated into the Atman? Gardens and virgins? Clouds and baby cherubs? No thank you, we have been freely welcomed into something so much better. Superior glory and satisfaction awaits – a life and immortality of light.

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Somewhere Green and Bright

Today marks twenty eight years since my dad unexpectedly passed away. Or, as my Central Asian neighbors put it, since he made the final migration and was shortly thereafter entrusted to the dirt – the mountain Melanesian dirt which he loved so much. He and my mom were three and a half years into their first term as missionaries when a morning jog brought on what we were later told was asthma-induced heart failure. I was almost five, and my older brothers were seven and nine.

Looking back, I’m extremely grateful for the dozen or so memories I have of my dad. Going to the little Korean trade store with him and drinking strawberry milk together. Riding on his shoulders as we played basketball with my brothers. Playing crab soccer in the yard of the mission house. Watching him teach in smoky village huts by the light of Coleman kerosene lantern, or pulling over to allow yet another villager to pile into the back of his Toyota pickup. He was a joyful visionary pioneer type, a natural people person and leader – and a great dad. I don’t feel like I was old enough to really know him, but the memories, the stories, and the echoes of his life are precious to me, and have served as a godly legacy in which I’ve sought to walk. A big reason I’m a missionary myself is because of my dad’s example of giving everything for Jesus.

This past week I was sharing with a former Marine and friend here how God had used my dad’s time in the US Marines to draw him to Christ. My dad had grown up in a working-class, unchurched home. His dad was a Philly truck driver and his mom was from a coal mining community in the mountains of West Virginia. He knew very little about Jesus or the gospel, even though he had grown up in the Philadelphia area in the 60’s and 70’s. After high school he joined the Marines and was trained to be a combat photographer, stationed in Yuma, Arizona.

One day while on base, he met some helicopter pilots and they hit it off. As often happened with my dad, he made friends quickly with these men and they were soon joking and laughing together. Later on in the day, their twin-rotor military helicopter took off from the base. A short distance away, one of the rotors somehow came off the helicopter, causing it to crash in the desert. Everyone on board was killed. My dad, being a photographer, was told to go photograph the crash scene – and the bodies of the friends he had just made. For the first time in his life he asked in desperation, “God, where are my friends now? They’re gone, but to where? And are you real?”

These questions drove him to find answers from his chaplain, from a Christian book store, and eventually, from the church my mom was attending. He fell in love with Jesus and fell in love with my mom. It took her quite a bit longer to be convinced, but his dogged persistence eventually charmed her.

As a brand new Christian, there were plenty of bumps along the way. When my mom first told my dad that she was called to be a missionary, he had never heard that term before. He thought she meant a mercenary. His response? “OK! I’ll follow you anywhere in the world you want to go.” Later on he himself would be called to the nations, to a particular Melanesian nation where his extroverted Philly personality would win him countless friends among the tribal highlanders.

Twenty eight years. It’s been a slow grieving realized over time. Late high school and early college were the hardest for me. Yet it has been a grieving also intermingled with gratitude, joy, and longing.

I’ve only ever had one dream in which I was with my dad. It was at a time when secret adultery was exposed among the members of a small group I was newly leading. I was profoundly discouraged and felt way in over my head as our little group of messy new believers reeled from the destruction caused. The night I found out I fell asleep exhausted after hours of damage control. As I slept, I dreamed I was walking with my dad, somewhere green and bright. I felt full of peace and joy just to be in my dad’s presence. He was delighted to be with me as well. At one point I remembered to ask him, “Where have you been all this time?” I don’t recall him answering. Yet it was fine that he didn’t. His smile was enough. I eventually awoke, now profoundly encouraged. However it is that the Holy Spirit works or doesn’t work through dreams, that one couldn’t have come at a better time.

I love our local-language phrase, entrusted to the dirt, because it speaks of death in a way that hints of resurrection. To entrust something or someone can imply an expected return. There’s a little missionary graveyard on a hillside in Melanesia. That’s where my dad was buried, entrusted. That burial service was the first time I heard the hymn Be Thou My Vision, sung by another missionary – also passed away now – the dad of a friend who now serves among our same people group, further up in the mountains. I still can’t hear that song without remembering that day, and the sudden relevance of the line, “Thou my true father and I thy true son.”

Twenty eight years ago my dad was entrusted to that hillside, and to the presence of God. But only for a season. Sooner or later the dirt – and heaven – will give back its trust, better even than it was before.

And then we’ll get to live out that dream, walking together in the new heavens and new earth. Somewhere green and bright.

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A Proverb on Goats and Doom

The goat which is doomed is the goat which eats the shepherd’s food.

Local Oral Tradition

He ate the shepherd’s food, so now he becomes the shepherds food. Out in the mountains, the shepherd doesn’t really have another choice. This proverb seems to be somewhere in the realm of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Perhaps with an emphasis on avoiding the stupidity of shortsighted self-interest. It also makes a nod to the strong emphasis on fate and determinism in this culture. “It was fated to be so,” locals might say, shaking their heads at this kind of goat (or person) when their own actions bring about their doom.

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A Song For Those Wanting to Run Away

Many believers hear an occasional voice that tells them that life would be better if they would chuck it all and run away from God and from their believing community. I know I have heard this voice at times. This song weaves together the logic of Romans 8 and Psalm 139. Where can we possibly run from the God who is everywhere, from the God who even dwells within us? And why would we want to run when he’s already told us that nothing can separate us from his love? Running, far from delivering the kind of peace we are looking for, would instead make us miserable because of the dogged pursuit of the Spirit – who would lovingly never let us go. And he would be kind and right to deliver us from our temporary insanity. I know this thought has stabilized me during particularly discouraging moments. I am helped by this song when it comes around on my playlist, then today I found a medley where John Mark McMillan merges it with the song, “Stand by Me.” Listen for the transition at 4:26. So good!

There is not a man or a beast
Nothing on the land or underneath
Oh, nothing that could ever come between
The love You have for me

I could lay my head in Sheol
I could make my bed at
The bottom of the darkness deep, oh
But there is not a place I could escape You

Your heart won’t stop
Coming after me (Coming after me)
Your heart won’t stop
Coming after me (Coming after me)
Your heart won’t stop
Coming after, coming after me

There is not an angel of the stars
There is not a devil in the dark
Oh, nothing that could change
The way You are, the love You have for me

I could lay my head in Sheol
I could make my bed at
The bottom of the darkness deep, oh
But there is not a place I could escape You

Your heart won’t stop
Coming after me (Coming after me)
Your heart won’t stop
Coming after me (Coming after me)
Your heart won’t stop
Coming after, coming after me

-“Heart Won’t Stop” by John Mark McMillan

Love Bade Him Welcome

This is the story of how a friend came to faith. The same friend, *Aaron, that I had thought was being drawn three and a half years ago. At that time he had shown a strong resonance with the spiritual themes of a poetry group I was leading. But when we had finally connected, God surprised us by saving his best friend, *Darius, instead. And Aaron drifted away. We kept praying for him, but he went dark for two years. That is, until the last week of December, 2020.

My family and I were visiting our previous city for Christmas and were reveling in the chance to connect with believing local friends there. We had even been invited to spend Christmas night with some coworkers and a bunch of the local believers in a mountain picnic house – a fun if freezing time full of chai, conversation, music, and arguments about what kind of smoke is actually going to lead to carbon monoxide poisoning while we were sleeping. The matter was never decided regarding the danger of the wood fireplace vs. the kerosene heater, so one brother stayed up all night making calls to friends, just to make sure the rest of us would actually wake up in the morning. Personally, I was on the side of the kerosene fumes being the only ones worth worrying about! There’s a tale there for another time.

We wrapped up our time at the picnic house and, jet-lagged from the smoke and late night games and theology conversations, made our way back to the apartment where we’d stay for the rest of our time. It was that night that Darius reached out to me.

“I just heard from Aaron! He told me that he is struggling with a huge decision. That he cannot continue anymore without truly knowing God. But also that he is terrified.”

“Really? Aaron? Do you think he is wanting to become a believer?” I asked.

“I am not sure, but it sounds like maybe. Something has clearly changed since we last spoke. I told him that this was a great week to meet up because the three of us can get together again. Can you find time in your visit to meet with us?”

I enthusiastically agreed. One of the harder things about being a new team leader in a new city has been having fewer opportunities for evangelistic conversations like this. “You seemed especially alive when you got back from your trip,” a teammate told me last night. What happened with Aaron is a big reason why.

We met up in a cafe a couple nights after Darius asked. Aaron got right to the point.

“I used to think I was a good person. But I have lost myself. I know I am in the darkness and have been very depressed lately. I know I cannot continue without true faith. But I don’t know what to do. Can you tell me what I need to do? I told God this week I would do whatever is necessary. Since then I have been waiting to meet with you.”

Darius and I just stared at Aaron for a minute. With such a wide open question, where do you begin? Darius, growing by leaps and bounds since he had confessed his faith to his family, was clearly itching to open up the gospel fire hose. But being very kind and honoring, wanted me to start things off.

I’ve found we can never quite predict exactly where gospel conversations are going to start or end up. We rely on the guiding of the Spirit to help us take the same unchanging themes and with them to chart a path through the particular topics and passages needed for that unique context and person. This is exactly why Paul asks that we pray and speak graciously as evangelists, “so that you may know how you ought to to answer each person,” (Col 4:6).

We first encouraged Aaron that his feelings of separation from God and being lost are actually very much in line with the nature of our human situation. We are naturally separated from God, and we can’t shake that sense, no matter how hard we try. Then, because Aaron had said that he needed true faith, we started somewhere I don’t recall ever starting at before, the nature of true faith. We turned to Hebrews 11:1. True faith is simply believing the promises of God, even when we can’t see them. We looked at Abraham, the one counted righteous through believing God’s promises (Gen 15:6). Then we turned to Romans and started looking at how God now counts us righteous if we have faith in Jesus, the one whose death makes God both just and justifier of the unrighteous (Rom 3:23-26). We looked at how true faith is a gift, a free pardon, something given apart from works. How do we receive this gift? By confessing our sin and hopelessness and by confessing our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Aaron was tracking and nodding with everything.

Darius, evidencing the solid discipleship he’s been getting from my coworkers, wanted to make sure that Aaron really understood himself to be a lost person, guilty and shameful and separated from God. This is wise because popular Islam treats sin as something like an excusable mistake. When we looked at Jesus as the good shepherd in John 10 and the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15, we had our answer.

“That’s me!” Aaron said, “That’s exactly me! I’m the lost sheep. I’ve been so lost… and now Jesus is coming to find me, even though I don’t deserve it.”

Aaron continued, “What do I need to do now?”

We turned to look at Romans 10 and Aaron joyfully confessed the gospel with his mouth. We offered to pray for him and both in turn asked God to confirm and establish our friend’s brand new faith.

“How do you feel?” we asked, curious to see if Aaron was internally experiencing things that matched his words and the wonder in his eyes.

“I feel… amazing. Jesus is my shepherd now.”

We wrapped up shortly thereafter, after some initial advice on how to walk with Jesus as a new Christian. It was one of the most straightforward gospel conversations I’ve ever been a part of. I think Darius and I were both second guessing ourselves because it had been so easy. But Aaron was simply that ready.

The Spirit is full of surprises. Apparently, we had been wrong to think we were wrong that the Spirit had been drawing him three and a half years beforehand. It just wasn’t harvest time yet. Aaron had been the only one in that poetry group who had resonated with Herbert over Henley, Love III over Invictus, humility and grace over prideful self-autonomy. Turns out it really was a preview, just as we had desperately hoped, an initial flicker of the new life that would flood into his soul years later.

We said our goodbyes and I got back into my frigid car. After praising God for such an amazing evening, I sent a message and the text of George Herbert’s Love III to Darius and Aaron.

“Remember when we read this one and you really liked it? This poem is actually all about the gospel of Jesus. We have been praying for you ever since. Welcome to the family.”

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Looking back, Aaron’s conduct in our meeting was one of the clearest embodiments of this poem I’ve yet seen. Knowingly undeserving and yet welcomed in regardless. The man knew he was lost and marveled that God would actually be so kind to him. Two weeks later, he publicly professed his faith in front of the small church of local believers.

Pray for Aaron, he may have a very hard road ahead of him. Grandpa is a mullah, an Islamic preacher/teacher, and his relatives are known for their hardcore devotion to Islam. This usually means new believers lose their housing, marriage prospects, and sometimes work. It can even mean physical attacks. As we parted, we emphasized to Aaron that the church is his new family now, no matter what his physical family tries to do to him. Pray that no matter what comes, Aaron will cling to Jesus and that the family of faith would be with him every step of the way.

*Names changed for security

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Transmuting Pagan Values

How did Patrick do it? We have noted already his earthiness and warmth. But these are qualities that make for a lowering of hostility and suspicion; of themselves they do not gain converts among the strong-willed. We can also be sure that the Irish found Patrick admirable according to their own highest standards: his courage – his refusal to be afraid of them – would have impressed them immediately; and, as his mission lengthened into years and came to be seen clearly as a lifetime commitment, his steadfast loyalty and supernatural generosity must have moved them deeply. For he had transmuted their pagan virtues of loyalty, courage, and generosity into the Christian equivalents of faith, hope, and charity.

Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 124

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I Didn’t Come Here For the Other Foreigners

“I didn’t come here for the other foreigners.”

I’ve said it. I’ve felt it. I’ve heard it said by others. It’s the kind of statement a cross-cultural missionary can say with a deep inner sense of fiery rightness. Yes, we did ultimately come here for the lost locals, and not for the other missionaries. Or did we? This statement alludes to the danger of getting sucked into the attractive expat bubble – where they speak my language, feel my culture, and let me be my own cultural self. This expat bubble – full of birthday parties, meetings, and game nights – has claimed many a victim, lured so deep in that there no longer exists any compelling inner response to the lurking question, What am I doing here? Not to mention what it does to actual culture and language acquisition. It’s wise to be aware of this danger of too many hours with other expats.

And yet it’s a statement that only acknowledges one deadly cliff off the side of a ridge. There’s another one, it’s evil twin as it were. This inverse danger has to do with the absence of biblical love toward the other missionaries. Like it or not, the other foreign Christians in our contexts are a part of our witness toward the locals we are trying to reach. In pioneer contexts, they may be the only other brothers and sisters in the faith around. So these teammates, partners, and fellow expats we awkwardly run into in the grocery store have an important part to play in what we communicate about the kingdom and household of God.

Like our own children, our local friends are always watching. They are wonderful observers. They are sometimes terrible interpreters, but they see far more than we might initially think. Do we really think that local believers won’t pick up on the inconsistency if we are exhorting them to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10) when we ourselves ignore and keep a distrustful posture toward the other missionaries, our siblings in the faith? Sure, we might not be actively working against them, but is respectful distance really enough to count as biblical love? Our actions, our modeling, must match the words we use in our evangelistic and discipleship relationships. When our words match our lives, that is when we are living a compelling witness. To model love, we must be open to healthy relationships with the other believing foreigners.

Jesus makes some pretty incredible promises related to these things. He says that the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). He prays that we would be one so that the world may believe that the Father has sent the Son (John 17:21). The love of believers for one another proves we are true followers of Jesus. Our unity proves the Incarnation – no small thing for those like us working among Muslims! Notice the absence of a qualification that says these dynamics are important only between missionaries and their local disciples. Sadly, many of us have drawn an arbitrary line where we justify our cold treatment of other foreigners because we are pouring ourselves out in love for the locals. Yet notice what’s happened here. Love for one group of people has become an excuse to not show love to another group. Is this OK? Maybe we should run that one by the Sunday School children and see what they have to say about it.

We will reap what we sow. God is not mocked (Gal 6:7). Geography and calling doesn’t nullify the one-anothers of the New Testament. If we conduct ourselves like pagans toward the other foreigners and only act like Christians toward the locals, this will catch up to us. It will undermine our work again and again, as countless missionary teams have learned over the years. The number one reason missionaries are said to leave the field is because of team conflict. I believe this is because we missionaries are so strongly tempted to live a double life of love toward the locals and pettiness toward our fellow expats.

It would not be so common if it were not so easy to justify. But oh, can we justify this double standard. Think of the number of lost going to hell every day! What is a birthday party compared to that? Think of the scandal of there being no witness in this huge language group! Why should I invest hours every week trying to get along with my teammates whose personalities are so different from mine? Can’t we just merely tolerate each other so I can get back to pouring into the ones I’m really here for?

But just as the body can’t ignore any of its physical members without experiencing eventual pain and harm, so missionaries who are part of the same body of Christ must not pretend they live in a vacuum separated from their fellow members of God’s household. We are intertwined by the blood of Christ. We need one another. Spiritually, we are already one with one another through the work that Christ has done. To live otherwise is to live out of touch with true reality.

If we missionaries live in a context where there are other foreign believers, then we must broaden our sense of calling. Have we been given a specific secondary call to reach a certain people group or city? Great! But we have first been given a deeper primary calling to love the bride of Christ, every part of her. We have to mature to the point where we can see that loving the other foreign believers well is an integral part of reaching the locals. Often, sacrificing some ministry time with locals for the sake of healthy team or partner relationships will be the right call. Pressing as the needs of the work are, we can’t afford to tourniquet these members of the same body merely because they are expats like us.

God sent us here for the locals – but yes, for the other foreigners too. The sooner we embrace this broadening of our calling, the healthier models we will be of a mature and compelling faith. There is danger in spending too much time with other expats, especially if we are doing this to retreat from the culture. But there is also great danger in failing to love the other foreigners in a manner worthy of Christ. Let us strive to walk that proverbial ridge without falling down the cliffs on either side.

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When Systems Fry and Fail

Last week I wrote a post on the upsides of local houses. Well, there are downsides as well. The quality of the construction materials and infrastructure here in Central Asia means that things are regularly and unexpectedly breaking. “It takes forever just to get to zero here” is how one partner used to put it. In other words, by the time you’ve got your electricity working again, water back in your tanks, the squatty potty unblocked, and the cockroaches squashed, your energy and motivation to go out and invest in locals has taken a big hit. You’ve worn yourself out just getting to zero – and you haven’t actually done any “work” yet. Because of this, we’ve learned that part of living wisely in a place where things regularly break means having backups. And backups of those backups.

When a system we rely on breaks, that can throw a wrench in other very important plans. It can turn a day focused on good proactive work into a day consumed by reactive scrambling. It can also lead to a rush of stress and anxiety as we strive to fix said system ASAP while the children scream and the parents’ other tasks start piling on top of themselves. This kind of thing can be weathered occasionally, but no, it’s not sustainable. One of the reasons I’ve come to be a believer in backups (and backups of those) is because they simply allow my family to keep on humming along, even when we’ve somehow run out of water – again. Backups also crucially give me a bit more margin to fit in that repair or replacement without nuking my entire schedule. And I also find that I’m practically able to go about the logistics of the fix with a bit more patience, respect, and intentionality – in short, more like a Christian. Which is good, since I am a missionary, after all.

Two nights ago we got back from a Sabbath day excursion to the mountains. The real winter weather had finally arrived in our semi-desert city and I had left some small electric heaters on low so that the house would retain some of its heat while we were gone. The cement houses here quickly turn into iceboxes if their residents don’t vigilantly fight to maintain a low and steady heat inside. Well, we got back to see that our whole street had electricity, but our house alone was dark, as if we had tripped our power again. “Well,” I sighed to myself, “Here we go again!”

Our local electricity situation is quite complex. There is the dirt cheap national electricity which is very inconsistent, but almost unlimited in amount when it’s available. When it’s on, residents tend to binge use all their appliances at once. “Quick! Turn everything on before it goes away again!” When national electricity is off, each neighborhood uses its own private generator. Residents choose how many expensive amps they’d like to buy and can use only that amount of electricity when they’re running on neighborhood power. We buy just enough amps to be able to use one AC/Heat unit, plus a fridge and lights.

However, this neighborhood system still doesn’t equal 24-hour electricity. That’s led us to set up a battery-inverter system to run a few small things during the regular blackouts – things like internet, some light bulbs, and a sound machine for the kids. Beyond this, we have propane stoves and heaters, plus flashlights and candles. A family can actually hold out on battery and flame-powered devices for quite a while. This is what we end up doing when the neighborhood generator breaks down because of extreme temperatures or when the national electricity transformer at the end of our street gets fried by a very unlucky cat (true story). The longest we’ve gone without electricity here is about three days – not bad compared to the Melanesian village I lived in as child. But then again, there are no winters in Melanesia. Nor summers with 120 degree desert heat. In fact, the mountain valley I grew up in was known to have one of the most ideal climates in the world. But I digress.

When we got home from our mountain excursion we saw right away that we had no electricity. I first checked to see if we had tripped a breaker in our courtyard in a power surge. This sometimes happens when national electricity turns on. And it sometimes leads to 2 a.m. electrical fires (once again, true story). Nope, no tripped breaker evidencing a surge. Then I checked to see whether we were on the backup neighborhood generator. An indicator light told me that yes, we were supposed to be on neighborhood power. So I went out to another breaker we have up on a pole across the street to see if we had somehow tripped that one. Negative. Neighborhood power, our backup, wasn’t working for some reason. So I went inside and flipped the switch to the battery lights, our trusty backup of the backup, expecting the battery-wired bulbs to immediately flicker on. Still nothing. Here I started to get a bit concerned. The backup of the backup wasn’t working either. I remembered that a friend had just warned me that it was coming time to replace the huge battery we had bought four years ago for our inverter system. The aging battery must have run out of juice after running for several hours. Now it was completely dead.

I went upstairs to check yet another set of breakers (all fine) and then turned a propane heater in our central room on high. At least we would have some heat. Then I came down and started pulling out all our neglected flashlights and putting fresh batteries in them. With the aid of the flashlights, my ninja wife was able to get our campfire-scented children bathed. We praised God that hot water was left over in the boiler from earlier in the day. We had hot water, some propane left, batteries for the flashlights, and some candles. Not bad, actually. The backups of the backup of the backup were saving the evening. With these things my wife was able to move the kids toward bed (somewhat) as usual. And I was able to start problem-solving the situation, knowing my family wasn’t going to bed in a house that was completely cold and dark.

I quickly called up our neighborhood generator man. Someone else picked up and told me that the man I needed was actually asleep. However, they had another guy to send who promptly gave me a call. I asked him if he knew the house where the only Americans in the neighborhood lived. “Of course I know where your house is, it’s me, Muhammad!” Which Muhammad? I thought to myself. Most first-born males in our city are given that name, meaning the name alone doesn’t do much to call up a certain face. So we end up tagging them in our phones with some other descriptive – Security Muhammad, Baker Muhammad, Taxi Muhammad, Crazy Muhammad, etc. So with “Electrician Muhammad’s” help I learned that some kind of national power surge had indeed burned up the conductor unit next to our courtyard breaker switches. And this was preventing our neighborhood amps from getting through. Alas, that conductor had lasted a whole three months since we had installed it to replace the previous one – which had burned up after only three weeks.

With some skillful screwdriver work by Muhammad and only a couple quick runs down to the neighborhood bazaar, we had everything we needed. To my great satisfaction, after only an hour and $20, we were back up and running on neighborhood electricity. We were also good to go if national electricity decided to come back on, and our battery-inverter system was also getting recharged again (Which I actually had to use during a blackout as I wrote this post). Systems restored.

We then went on to finish a quiet Sabbath evening.

If anyone has made it this far, I’m impressed that you slogged through all of these details. What is my purpose in writing about all of this? Likely, the misadventures of our backups of backups might strike only a few as oddly interesting. But truth be told, over here we actually spend quite a lot of time thinking about, talking about, and fixing these kinds of issues. We don’t write home about them very much, but they are the day in and day out stuff of real life in this corner of the mission field.

“What did you do yesterday?”

“I spent all day recovering from an electrical fire. You?”

“Ran out of water again. Good times.”

For churches and supporters of missionaries, if you know workers on the field, it’s worth asking them if there’s any kind of backup system that they don’t have that could really serve them. Maybe something solar or battery-powered. Maybe a well or a generator. Sometimes we’re not sure if we’re supposed to spend money on things like this, even though we know there might be great practical payoff.

For any future missionaries out there, you may want to seriously consider investing in some basic handyman skills. And also know that it’s not overkill to spend some cash on good backup systems – and on backups of those backups. There may be those days where being able to fall back on that backup will enable you or your family to keep humming along, hopefully at a pace and posture more conducive to spontaneous ministry and steady faithfulness.

After all, when you’re hosting a local and getting close to sharing the gospel, and the power or water or something else goes, it’s wonderfully practical to simply fall back on the backup system, knowing that you can fix the other stuff tomorrow. Turn on the the battery lights. Fire up the propane heater. Bring in some water from that extra tank to flush the toilet. Make a good-natured joke about things falling apart. And then keep on sharing the gospel as if you never missed a beat.

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

A Proverb on What the Fox Says

The fox who couldn’t reach the grapes said they were sour.

Local Oral Tradition

What does the fox say? Well, in this proverb he criticizes something he himself has been unable to experience. Naysayers are often like this, but really, we can all sometimes lean this way. Our critique can come from a place of frustrated envy, rather than from a place of wisdom and experience. A better way is to humbly admit that we haven’t had the pleasure of said experience and then to defer to those who have.

Photo by Qijin Xu on Unsplash