Peace To You Family:
Most everyone at this time of year reflects upon the year gone by. We look back and try to sum it all up in that thing or experience that has captivated us the most. Once again I had the privilege to enjoy Christmas with 133 children and twelve of my South Sudanese staff members (our precious mamas and amazing watchmen), my team, and a team of foreign missionaries. It was a day filled with joy, not a single complaint, and everyone working together to help each other, the older kids helping the smaller. Two days before Christmas we received a small boy of ten years whose mother died in June. He has since been living on the streets, digging in trash cans, sleeping under some cardboard, drinking alcohol and doing all sorts of other things I am sure. He is pretty rough around the edges and I have been giving him lots of hugs and love. He is happy just to have a bed and food.
Every year for Christmas our children receive badly needed clothes, most of them are second hand clothes, new toothbrushes, a “stocking” (plastic bag) with about 20 pieces of small candies and some variety store cheap plastic birthday party type toys that your child would take home in a candy bag. Our older children got a wristwatch this year, many of them already needing a battery which is already not working as they are very cheaply made and they got a small packet of rubber band bracelet making stuff. The younger children got a stuffed animal and the middle children got a coloring book and crayons. The boys got eight marbles each and the girls got a pair of small costume jewelry stud-earings.
Not one single child complained because they didn’t get an iPod or iPhone or new computer or the latest Abercrombie clothes. They came and thanked me so much. They smiled all day and tried on all their used clothes with joy. I received no presents on Christmas morning and didn’t even realize it until early evening when the missionary team brought me a small gift, no frills, but brought with lots of love. Living here in Africa I have learned the true meaning of Christmas, that it is an every day gift. It is not about the receiving but about the giving all year long. Christ in you, this hope of glory, for all mankind, every day, that is the meaning of Christmas. He is an every day Savior for an every day world in need. I know He comes to our rescue all year long.
On Christmas Eve we visited the local prison and these guys have no bed, just a spot in the dirt. They wear the same clothes every day and have to figure out how to wash them. Women are in the same area as the men and probably live in fear every night. Many are in there for things that we in the west would just pay a small fine for. We brought small packs of cookies and small bottles of juice and a Bible for all who needed. They were so thankful and there was no complaining there. They have nothing and what we gave them was a visit to those held in chains, coming to set captives free in their hearts on the most depressing day of the year for those who have nothing.
I have over 2,500 Facebook friends, about 90% who have befriended me, and many I have never actually met. So I get a lot of posts to scroll through. I read some of these posts and am reminded of the old me, who would complain about bad restaurant service or waiting too long in a line, or the cable guy not coming quickly enough for me, or a policeman who didn’t cut me a break, or paying overnight shipping and not getting it for two days or someone saying something not nice about me. All of that was so important to me six years ago, and such a tangible part of my life, ever impatient and lots of self-centered thinking. Now I look at these things as such pointlessness and inconsequential trivialities in life. Like, does it really matter in the big picture, really?
Now when I see these posts I cringe because I know what it is to be in need, to have to spend all day on a wooden bench at a local clinic for myself or with a child that has a 104 fever with malaria and typhoid and no amount of complaining will change a single thing; to have to pray every time I want to drive in our old truck because it mostly never starts and is really on its last wheel but so desperately needed as one vehicle is not enough for all of our needs; to eat beans and maize mixed with water every single night because there are no restaurants open at night; to wait for an hour for food when one does go to a “restaurant” which is mostly a tin shack and we definitely don’t get silverware or napkins, not considering the sanitation aspect, or lack thereof, of these places; to have lizards and spiders permanently living in my house because there is no way to seal up a house here to keep them out; to know that rebels are about in the bush sometimes and criminals and if they came here there is no one to come help, no one; to sit in a church for three to four hours every Sunday on hard wooden benches in the heat under an iron sheet roof and still encounter the joy of the Lord each and every Sunday.
I could go on and on, having no hot water, or even running water for that matter, no electricity so no refrigeration or cold drinks, hand-washing all of your laundry including sheets and blankets, trying to keep massive amounts of bugs out of the house at night because they are all attracted to your light powered by solar, no indoor plumbing and pit latrines, no beauty rest mattresses, just a four inch piece of foam that sinks in the middle every night so that you can feel hard wooden bed slats, etc… And then trying to even travel anywhere in Africa is an adventure in itself, whether by unpaved roads, or by air or public taxi where fifteen people are crowded into a minivan or catching a ride on the back of a motorcycle, no helmet, totally trusting the driver guy whom you’ve never met.
All of these things no longer bother me or concern me. This is my life and I am content, no complaints. Sometimes we talk about things we miss from the “real” world and I seriously don’t miss things. I am very content with my life, no matter where I am. I actually sleep better here than anywhere in the world. All of this to say that when I see people complaining about seemingly meaningless things to me, I really wish they could see how “most” of the world truly lives. My life is more real world than those in the first world countries. Again, I used to complain just as good as the next guy so I am not pointing fingers. I have learned what is truly important in this life. It’s not all of the things that make us comfortable. I know many people who have everything to make them comfortable and they tell me they wish they could be content with so little like us here in South Sudan.
When I started to let go of all those things, material things, attitudes, impatience, self-importance, personal ambition, that is when I found peace and fullness. I fully live for Jesus Christ and what He desires of me at any given time. I have given so much away and still do because I never want to desire anything more than Jesus ever again. I have learned that when I hold onto nothing, He gives me everything I need at any given time. I rely on Him for all things, all peace, all joy, all contentment, all rest.
I have learned so much from this culture and from my Sudanese family about humility and hospitality and compassion, putting others before myself, and giving my last thing to make another happy, to see that person full of joy, and to even have joy in all situations. I have never seen so many people go through so much tragedy yet still smile from the inside and still find hope in the Lord, no matter what. They give and give and give so that none will suffer if it is within their power to help. God has made His gift of giving my favorite gift. When you give and never look for a return or ever expect one, your heart is filled with gladness. There is so much freedom in holding onto nothing, to be willing to let everything go, all your complaints and even your comfortable life, because Jesus has so much more for us. Tomorrow, Sunday, I will preach at a small local church about the freedom of living our lives in and through the Holy Spirit. For it is only in Him that we can ever hope to live such a life that is fully given over to Jesus Christ.
This next year I want to give more, more peace, more Good News, more food, more love, more time, more joy, more rest to as many as will receive. I want to pour myself out completely so that Jesus can fill me up to overflowing with His kingdom riches, however they make look. I encourage all who read this, that this coming year of 2016 that those who need to will let those things go that really don’t matter in the big picture of our lives. There are so many around the world who have nothing, no home, no bed, no food, no clothes, no shoes, no water. Bad service, long lines, people not doing what they say they will do, people not pulling their weight, no pay raises, no new cars, all these things will fade away eventually. Rather let us fix our sites on all that Jesus has to give us, if we just let go and let God. It is in this place of total release that one will see and experience the fullness of God in their lives. He is worthy and so worth it all. The cost is so small to have all of His fullness. How much better is He than all the things of this world? Peace, joy and love to you my family.