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Stories of Missionary Life in Africa for Children (#6) (part 2 of 2) “The Thief”

mk-story-coversThis story is the SIXTH in the Missionary Kids Stories about the Matthews family who live in Malawi, Africa.

This story is PART TWO of two, begun in the previous story – “Crime in Old Town.” It is immediately below this story.

Each story is written in the form of a letter from one of the Matthews’ children. There are seven children, (but the baby can’t write yet!).

I write these stories so young readers can learn about missionary life in Africa. The MKs (Missionary Kids) will tell stories about cultural differences (and similarities) such as eating DEAD MICE in the first MK story, or why guard dogs are necessary in Malawi as in BIG BLACK DOGS (the second story). They will also show how they face the same temptations, emotions, and problems that all kids everywhere do. I hope to entertain and inform the children, but mostly I want to quietly teach them truths from the Bible, God’s Word, as it pertains to their everyday lives.

So, here is the next story!  (If you are new here, scroll down, or check the list on the side bar to begin the with the FIRST story and meet the kids and their idiosyncrasies in order.)

 

The Thief!

Hi kids!

This is Marshall again. I’m back with the REST of my story. (Sorry it is so long! This part will be shorter. I promise. I hope!)

Last time I told you about catching that boy in Old Town who was stealing Mom’s cell phone?  I ran after him a long way… saved him from a bad beating (or worse) by some men… twisted my ankle… and FINALLY caught him… only to discover that it was… Maya (MY-yah).

I also told you about when I was almost seven years old that my parents decided to become missionaries and move us all to Malawi (well, God told them to) and how I was really mad about it?

I stopped that story on the day we arrived in Lilongwe (lee-LONG-way) and I fell asleep on the couch at Pastor B.’s house at the African Bible College (ABC), where he was a professor.

1

Okay…. Mom woke me up from that nap to eat lunch.  By that time I was really hungry, and it smelled very good.  Mrs. B (Mom called her Anita) had cooked some chicken, and some rice with a very yummy sauce, and made orange Jell-O with tiny pieces of carrot and celery in it.  For desert there were soft and gooey brownies. 

I think I ate more than her kids, Amy and Bradley, together!

(By the way, Amy is the same age as Julie, and they became friends right away. This is very unusual for Julie because even now, 8 years later, she is still pretty shy.)

After lunch, Pastor B took Mom and Dad and me to see the house where we would live.  Julie stayed to play with Amy and Mrs. B promised to watch the twins who were sleeping. It turns out she had a baby the same age as Melody and June.

We drove out of the beautiful ABC through the iron gates that the gateman opened and closed, and out into the dirty, dusty, country.  We drove a little way past some yellowish-green corn fields – oops, I mean maize fields – and turned down a lane that had old rusty car parts lying around. But then the road changed and got prettier with a few plants and flowers and trees.

You couldn’t see any houses – they were all behind huge tall walls that had barbed wire circles on top. They looked like forts! We stopped in front of one with a solid metal gate and Pastor B. tooted the horn.

After a while a door in the gate opened a peek and a dark face looked out.  Then it closed and the big gate starting rolling off to one side.  And there was our house.

I gotta tell you kids, it looked awful!  It was painted an ugly bright turquoise-blue with peach-colored trim. A lot of the paint was coming off.  There was no grass or pretty plants inside the wall, just red dirt and dried weeds. The screens on the windows looked old and torn. In the back, was a garage, but the door hung at a crooked angle.

“Oh, my,” said Mom.

“Hmmm,” said Dad. “Needs some work.”

“Yes, well, okay. Let’s go inside,” said Pastor B, getting out the keys.

All my old mad feelings started coming back. I sat hunched in the car till they said I had to come in. When I got to the cement steps, everyone was inside already. I jerked the screen door and one of the hinges broke.  “Serves it right!” I thought.

They were all in the “kitchen” and I heard Mom say, “Oh, dear.” 

It was pretty awful. Some of the cupboards didn’t have doors. The counter top sagged in one direction. There were dirt and dry leaves blown into one corner because one window and screen was missing. Something wiggled the leaves and I stepped back?  Was there a snake in the house??? 

“It’s a Chop-chop,” Pastor B said, and started kicking the huge, thick spider toward the door. Mom’s eyes were wide and her hand was over her mouth.

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Actually, I thought it looked kind of cool, as long as it wasn’t poisonous.  I decided to go outside and see what it did.  Mom was at the sink, turning the faucet when I went out the door.  I heard her say, “There’s no water….”

 

I watched the spider for a while then decided to look around. The yard was pretty big and went back a long ways from the street.  It was dirt, but there was a lot of room to kick around a soccer ball.  There was a little house in the back that I was going to go see, but everyone was getting back into the Range Rover, and Dad called me.

“Don’t worry, Audrey,” Pastor B was saying. “We’ll hire some workers to start fixing up the place. It won’t be long, maybe a month or six weeks tops. You will be staying with us meanwhile.

Well, we did stay with them at the ABC for almost two months.  Sometimes the workers did not show up. Sometimes they made mistakes and had to redo stuff. The windows and screens got fixed, new toilets were put in, most of the cupboards in the kitchen got doors, and the outside was painted a nice tan that matched the red dirt.

I found out that there were a lot of rooms inside – five bedrooms, a big living area, a room for Dad’s office; a long narrow room that Mom said would be used for our pantry. They fixed the screened porch into a “breakfast room,” Mom called it.

The room I picked out for my bedroom got painted purple by mistake. YUCK!  It had to be redone. There were three bathrooms…. but when we moved in, there was still no water.  We got big bottles of water to drink.  Mom was very glad that after two days, the water tank up on a tall tower was hooked up and we could take baths.

By then (after a week of very bad throwing up…ACK!), I remembered to never, never, NEVER drink or even taste any of the water out of the faucets.  We were to drink only the water in the bottles or from the big jug purifier on the counter. In the shower I pressed my lips together tightly so none of it would get in. I used bottled water in a glass to brush my teeth.

~

Ah- oh…. Melody just came in where I am writing this. “No, I am NOT writing the history of the world!  I think they want to know how it was when we first moved here…. right kids?”

“Mel, you can leave now. You don’t have to stand and read over my shoulder. Isn’t Mom calling you or something?  Okay, okay, I’ll tell them how I first met Maya.”

She’s right. I do describe way too much!

~

Anyway…. after we moved into the house and got settled, it wasn’t too bad. I hung my Angels Baseball Team posters and cap on the wall, and laid out my small collection of baseballs on one book shelf. 

We had to learn to always put down the mosquito net around our bed before we went to sleep at night… absolutely a MUST!   During the day, the net was pulled up and tied out of the way. Mosquitoes mostly fly and bite you from when the sun starts to go down at night, till after it comes up in the morning.  (The picture is of Julie’s and April’s beds. Mine is way too messy.)

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We met a lot of people at our new church – both “ex-pats” (people from other countries) and “nationals” (people from Malawi).  I made some friends, but not like Caleb and Jake back home.

Then Mom started helping Mrs. Molenaar, who went to a village out in the bush every Thursday to teach Bible stories to the village kids. Julie and I went too. Mrs. Molenaar took flannel boards and paper figures (with strips of flannel on the back so they would stick), and told stories that way. 

A Malawian lady named Mercy, who was a church member too, came with her to translate her stories into Chichewa (Ch’- CHAY- wah) for the kids. There were A LOT OF KIDS!!!  Like maybe 250!!!!  Mrs. Molenaar divided them into younger kids and older kids. They all sat on grass mats on the ground.

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She had a guitar and taught them Sunday School songs in English and in Chichewa.  Her daughter, Rhoda – who was my age – played a guitar too.  After the lesson, the little kids would get a half sheet of paper with a coloring picture on it. They were given a half a crayon each.  They traded with each other if they wanted a different color. 

I’m telling you, when I saw that, I wanted to bring all my boxes of crayons and give to them!!

~

“I’m getting there, Mel.”  I can’t believe what a bossy sister I have!

~

It was there at the village that I first met Mayamiko. (MY-yah-MEE-ko)

After Mrs. Molenaar taught the Bible lesson and songs to the older kids, they all went out to a big flat dirt area and kicked around a ball, like they were playing soccer, but more like keep-away.  But – get this – the ball was not like anything I had seen.

It was made up of pieces of paper trash (probably from some of the coloring papers) rolled into a tight ball, then wrapped with pieces of plastic bags, around and around and then tied in knots.

You could kick it, and it would fly or roll, but it did NOT bounce. And after a while it started coming apart and had to be tied up again.

Mayamiko was a tall boy with brown skin, wearing faded, torn shorts and an inside-out blue shirt.  No shoes.  He had dark, dark, chocolate brown eyes, and flashing white teeth when he grinned, which was often.  His hair – like all Malawi kids – girl or boy – was clipped very short.

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Right away we became good friends. Don’t ask me why, because he only knew a few English words and I only knew a few words in Chichewa.  But boy, could we play soccer, or kick ball, or keep away, or whatever you called it. 

He had a good voice and taught me how to sing the songs in his language – there is a lot of repeating when Malawians sing. I think that is because they don’t have printed song books – or overhead screens. One person will call out the words, and the rest will repeat it, clapping and doing little dances around.  It was really cool!!

Every Thursday we found each other right away, put our arms around each others’ shoulders, and never left each other till the very last minute, when we walked down the trail, across the bridge over the stream and I got into the Range Rover that Mrs. Molenaar drove.

On other days, a few students from ABC came to the village to teach English classes, and Maya went every time so we could get better at talking.

Then Maya missed a Thursday.  I asked some of the other big kids and they just shrugged.  One boy got a scared look on his face and shook his head quickly.

Then another Thursday went by and I was worried and sad and really missed him.

When he finally came back, he didn’t run to meet me, or grin that big teeth-showing smile. He seemed to stand taller too.

Right away I noticed his chin was different. It was a little swollen and looked like he had scratched it or cut it on something.  When I got closer I saw that it WAS a cut that was healing, and that it was in the shape of a “W”.

When he saw me looking at it, he turned his head away. 

“What happened, Maya?” I asked him?  He shook his head and looked at the ground.

“C’mon, tell me!” I begged him and tried to softly punch him like we used to do.  He took a step back. His arms stayed straight down by his side.

“I cannot come to Bible study and singing again,” he said. “I cannot play games now.” He looked over his shoulder. “I cannot come here again.”

“But why?”

He looked at my eyes a long time – just like when I found him so many years later in Old Town after that chase – his dark, almost black eyes staring into my blue-green ones.

“I am next,” he said. Then he turned and walked away, his back upright and stiff. He never looked back, and I knew he didn’t want me to follow him. I watched him go through the bush and felt a stinging in my eyes.

It was a very sad day for me because he never came back to Mrs. Molenaar’s village ministry again.

I asked her what he meant by “I’m next,” and she shook her head sadly.  “It must be that he is in line for some duty in his village, and that he is in training to become a leader in that.”

“Wow!” I cried. “You mean Maya is going to be chief or something?”

She hesitated, then asked if he had any new marks on his body.  I told her about the “W” cut on his chin.  She took a big deep sad breath and let it out slowly. “Then he is in line to be a village medicine man, and we have lost him.”

2

Well, that last scene in the village was flashing though my mind in that alley in Old Town after I turned Maya over and saw who it was.  I had just tackled my old friend after he stole my Mom’s cell phone and ran away.  How did he get there?  What had he done?  Why had he become a thief??

I helped him up, and then I couldn’t help it – I grabbed him and hugged him real tight. He was so skinny!  I said some of our old Chichewa “friend” words to him. I heard him groan. Then I remembered his bruises and cuts and quickly let him lose.  For a minute I thought he was going to run again. His muscles got tight and he glanced down at the cell phone.

We both looked at it, frozen in our places. Then he sat down hard on the ground, pulled up his knees, put his dirty hands to his dirty blood-streaked face and began crying. Big huge sobs.

I started crying too, but I didn’t know why. I was fifteen after all.  Fifteen and a half.  I sat beside him and said nothing.  The cell phone was still lying in the dirt, forgotten. After a while Maya sniffed and wiped his face on the bottom of his tank top. It just smeared the red dirt and tears and snot and blood.

He looked at me. I grinned. He grinned back that wonderful white-teeth smile, except one tooth was missing off to the side.

Then the cell phone rang!

We both jumped. For another second, I thought Maya was going to bolt away.  If he did, I decided I would let him. I reached for the phone, holding my breath, but he didn’t go.

I looked at him as I swiped the screen. “Hello, Mom,” I said. “I got it. And have I got a story to tell you!”

Actually, it was Dad on the phone and I told him where I was. I told him I wasn’t alone, that I’d caught the thief, but that he was not to bring any police. I would explain when he got there.

Just a few minutes later he and Ngunda came into the alley and trotted over to where Maya and I sat. We got up to meet them.  Dad stopped about ten feet away and stared.

“Mr. Matthews,” Maya said softly, and waited.

Dad had only seen Maya twice when he came to the village with Mrs. Molenaar when the twins were sick and Mom couldn’t go. But he knew who he was, my best friend.

Ngunda stood a way off and frowned. He looked like he was ready to give chase if this thief took off again.

“Go get the Rover,” Dad said to him.

3

Well, we took Maya home with us. Mom recognized him right away and I could tell she wanted to “mother” him and make him “all better.”  How was that going to work out, I wondered.

April was afraid of him at first – after all he looked a little scary.  Dirty and bloody with torn clothes and no shoes.  She saw me chasing after him too.  But when she realized we all accepted him (except Ngunda) and Maya flashed her his great grin, she got over her fear.

Our housekeeper, Asala, jumped when she saw him come into the house, her eyes wide in fear or anger, staring at his chin. But when Maya bowed his head at her in respect, she eased up, and went to get some of my clean clothes for him as Mom suggested.

After Maya washed and ate a ton of the leftover rice casserole Mom had made the night before. And after he met Julie again, and Melody and June, and Gus who right away grabbed his hand and sat down beside him on the couch… and after he let Deek come up to him and gently put a finger on a cleaned-up-but –still-nasty-looking cut on his knee, Maya told his story.

He spoke pretty good street English and we could tell that he had been out of the village and in town for a while.

He put his finger on the W scar on his chin and looked at me.  “If you do not know, when I left you and Mrs. Molenaar and the Bible study, I was to become one day the medicine man of our village.

“Is that like a doctor?” asked Gus.

“Shhhh!” June said.

Maya shook his head. “No, not THAT kind of medicine.  In our village, there is a chief who looks after the people and tries to make things good for them. There is also a medicine man who is just as strong as the chief in the eyes of the people. Maybe he is even stronger than the chief when they disagree on something.”

“How can he be stronger than the chief?” interrupted Gus again.

“August,” said Mom, “Let’s let Maya tell his story.”  Gus frowned at the use of his full name and sat back with his arms crossed.  Soon he was leaning forward and “into” the story again.

“That is because village medicine men use “bad” medicine. We… they…. are trained to know about plants and tree bark that can make people feel better…. or make them feel worse, even die. The village people are afraid of medicine men.  And those men like that, and sometimes do evil things, like burn down a hut, or a maize field, or kidnap a child and take him away, to keep the people afraid of them.”

“Wow! That’s awful!” It was Julie who said that. She was biting her lower lip, and Mom put her hand on Julie’s arm to remind her to stop.

I noticed that Deek had toddled over to sit on Melody’s lap on the floor and she was rocking him. His eyes were drooping, and his stuffed bunny fell out of his hand.

April, the avid reader in our family was staring at Maya wide eyed, as if he was telling  the most interesting story ever.  I guess he was.

Maya went on, “I remembered the stories that Mrs. Molenaar told us from the Bible, about how good Jesus was… how he healed people and never hurt them. As I was learning about the plants and tree bark I thought about these stories. I wanted to make people well, like Jesus did, not make them sick… or die.

“The old medicine man I was learning from tried to make me do bad tricks on the people when they didn’t pay him enough for his “good” medicine. I had to do it, but I didn’t want to.”  Maya hung his head when he remembered.

“I saw an old woman crying when all she had was burned up. I tried to help her get more food, but the medicine man found out and whipped me.

Asala, our housekeeper was looking around the doorway to the kitchen and listening. She was nodding her head like she knew what he was talking about.

“Well,” said Maya sitting up straight, “One night when I was supposed to put some poisonous beans into a family’s water pot because the father had been arguing with the medicine man, I went to the river instead and sat down.  I looked at the beans in my hand. I looked up at all the stars in the sky. I didn’t know what to do.

“Why didn’t you ask God what to do?” said our little April.

Maya grinned.  “That is exactly what I did, Miss April. I said to Jesus who was somewhere up there in heaven – like Mrs. Molenaar told us – that I did not want to hurt people. I wanted to be good like Him. I was sorry for the tricks I had played on the villagers to please the medicine man.  I asked Him to forgive me and be my friend, my forever friend. I said I wanted to obey the words in His book, the Bible.”

“And I asked him to show me what to do, even if it meant the medicine man would….. kill me.”

“What happened?” June wanted to know.  Was she thinking how her own life had changed after she was sorry for being so mean last Christmas and knew that Jesus had forgiven her?

Maya leaned forward. “Nothing.  I was sure Jesus had heard me – Mrs. Molenaar said He always did when we asked Him to forgive us.  But He hadn’t told me what to do.

“So I got up with the beans still in my hand.  I looked back to the medicine man’s hut where I lived too. Then I looked down the path to the family’s hut where I was supposed to poison them.

“One way, I would get praised by my “teacher” and maybe even get some reward, but I would become a killer.  The other way and I would have to run away from my village forever. The medicine man would probably send men after me to punish me or kill me. I would have to beg or…… steal…. to live.”  Here, he looked at Mom and bowed his head.

“What did you do?” asked Gus impatiently.  Of course we all knew – except maybe for him – because Maya was NOT an important medicine man. He was a thief.

“I couldn’t decide,” he said. “I was pulled one way and the other.  If I did this ONE thing, maybe I would never have to do it again. And I could help my village with all the good medicine I knew about. How could I help them if I was not there? I could become a GOOD medicine man!  It was just this ONE time……”

I’m telling you, kids, our room was silent right then and no one moved a hair.

“Well, I just called out His name. ‘Jesus! Help me!'”

“Then I heard a rustling sound in the leaves to my left in the direction where the family’s water pot would be.  I looked down, and with the starlight I could see a deadly black mamba snake, not this far away.”  He measured about four feet between his hands.

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“I threw the beans at the snake and took off running in the opposite way. I ran and ran and ran. I ran through the bush and even through the river which was not very high then. I ran and ran till I came to the road to Lilongwe.  I found a pile of old tires and hid behind them to rest.

“Before it got to be daytime, I started walking fast. It would seem strange to see someone running along the road – everyone else walks. I walked all day and I thought about what I had done.  Did Jesus bring that snake to show me not to go that way? Or did it just come by itself. Had I been foolish? Or could I trust Him?

I started looking around; thinking every man I saw was going to tell the medicine man where I was. I found a place to hide until it got dark. I was so hungry. ”

“Me too,” said Gus. “I’m hungry too!”  Everyone laughed at that and took a breath. We didn’t know we had been holding them.

“What did you do then?” asked Dad. “Did you pray again?”

Maya hung his head. “No,” he said softly. “I didn’t ask Jesus what to do. I was so afraid of the medicine man. I forgot the lessons Mrs. Molenaar taught about God supplying our needs if we would ask Him.  I didn’t see how that could happen. I didn’t trust Him.

Maya took a deep breath. “So I became a thief.  At first I took only food that I ate right then.  I got chased away, but never got caught. I slept in alleys. Then I took some clothes I saw drying on the rocks by the river. Not a lot!  Only what I needed.  Right then, I didn’t think I was SO bad.

“Stealing is stealing,” said June. “Even if you NEED it. God would have given you something to wear, I know it!”

“That is the truth, Miss June. But after that, it got easier and easier to take things. I started stealing bigger things and selling them for kwacha (Malawi money). Sometimes I went alone. Sometimes, like today, another boy and I did it together and shared what we got.”

Here, he looked right at Mom. “Mrs. Matthews, I am so, so sorry!  I was not hungry. I didn’t take your cell phone so I could eat. I just saw it sticking out and took it.  Jesus will never forgive me now!  I should be in Maula Prison.  I do not blame you if you take me there… or… even back to the village. It would be the same thing for me.”

Mom looked over to Dad and he nodded.  He stood up and said, “C’mon Maya.”

“WHAT??” I cried. Was Dad going to take my friend, my long-lost friend, to prison or back to the medicine man? “No, Dad. NO!”

Maya got up, looking scared. “Just so,” he said, his shoulders slumping.

But dad took Maya only as far as his office. He left the door open so we could see. He talked quietly to my friend for a while, although we couldn’t hear the words.  Maya nodded. Then nodded again, and covered his face with his hands.  Then both he and Dad knelt down beside a chair.

Dad put his arm over Maya’s thin shoulders and then looked up to heaven and prayed.

I’m telling you, we ALL prayed right then.  And when Dad and Maya were done and came out, we all could see his bright, happy, shining face.  Forgiveness will do that to you!

 

And that’s my story!  It got long again, I know.  I promised, but… you didn’t want to have a Part THREE, did you???

Hey!  Melody just came in and hugged me.  I guess that means I’m forgiven too, even though I had to take a lot of her scolding along the way.

Maybe April will write to you next.  I don’t know what she will say…. all she knows are books, books…. and more books!

See ya!  Marshall

 

“Come, my young friends and listen to me. And I will teach you to honor the Lord.”  ~~~ Psalm 34:11   Good News Bible

The Law of the LORD is…

I’ve been reading through the book of Psalms in the Bible, one each night before I turn out the lights. It’s amazing what wonderful sleep you get with God’s words the last thing on your mind. The Psalms are familiar, I have read them many times and have always received help, hope, a lightened heart, and at times a bit of scolding as well. It’s good for me.

Bible blog1Psalm 19:7-14 is very well known.There are praise songs and hymns written from its words. It extols the Law of the LORD; tells readers the aspects and wonders of God’s commandments and principles, and reminds them of the rewards of cherishing and obeying them. Written by Israel’s King David over 3,000 years ago, it nevertheless is God’s Word for us today.

These phrases are from the Good News Bible, a modern, easy-to-read translation that I am using for the Psalms, as a change, so I don’t run over them too quickly from familiarity. The thoughts and insights about them are my own as I review again, this lovely portion of scripture. Thank you, David. And thank YOU, my God.

The Law of the LORD is perfect.  And that’s because HE is perfect. He spoke no laws that need rescinding or amending.

It gives new strength — when we see the attributes of Almighty God in the Word and trust Him. When we see the Way that we should walk. When we see justice poured put on evil. When we see what reward He has prepared for for His faithful children.

It is trust-worthy. And that is because it is perfect. Because God is good. Because He is faithful and keeps His promises always.

It gives wisdom to those who lack it. Because it is truth, ALL truth and applicable for all life.

It is right/righteous. Because God is holy and right. Because He can do no wrong at all.

It brings happiness to those who obey it. Because God knows what is best for His children.

It is just. Because God is omniscient, knowing time, from eternity past to eternity future. Because He knows all the heart of man, even the secret parts. Because he is good and perfect and holy.

It gives understanding to the mind. So we will know God, make good decisions, live as He desires.

It is always fair. Perhaps not to our finite, sinful minds, but in God’s sovereign plan for the world. Because He is righteous. He alone knows the thoughts and intents of the heart and judges accordingly.

It is more desirable than the finest gold. To know God in His word is eternal life. To possess it in the heart is riches beyond imagination.

It is sweeter than the purest honey.  It soothes anxiety and fear. It brings joy unspeakable. It comforts and strengthens. It reveals the great love of God.

It gives knowledge. To know God is to trust Him completely and to love him with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. To truly know Him means we long to tell others of His goodness and wonderful works.

It rewards obedience. With peace and assurance. With intimate access to God. With purity of heart.

None of us can clearly see his own errors. God’s Word lovingly but firmly points them out and shows us ways to avoid them.  If we “hide His Word in our hearts” (memorize and meditate on it), it will keep us from both HIDDEN FAULTS and WILLFUL SINS, and give us the strength to resist temptation.

 

           Oh LORD God, may MY words and MY thoughts reflect Your perfection, Your righteousness and holiness, Your faithfulness and purity, Your wisdom and truth…today and always.

 

THOT: God’s word is meant to be BREAD for daily use, not CAKE for special occasions.

My Testimony

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When I was about 9 years old, I asked Jesus into my heart at an evangelistic meeting at our youth camp at Hume Lake. I confessed that I was a sinner, thanked Jesus for dying on the cross for my sins, and told Him that I wanted to live for him.

Did I understand all that that meant at age nine? No. Was I sincere? Yes. Did I believe I was saved? Yes. WAS I saved? Later, I questioned that very thing.

*****

Already plugged into an evangelical, Bible-teaching, missionary-minded church, I went to Sunday School, morning and evening services, and Wednesday Night prayer meeting with my mom. I prayed to God during those young years – simple, childish requests – and believed that He would answer them. And He did.

I was a part of the monthly missions emphasis in the elementary grades, junior high, and on into the Women’s Missionary Assoc. I learned about our mission fields and missionaries, supported, and later hosted them in my home. At the beginning it was mainly Sierra Leone, West Africa, but later we had missionaries in Hong Kong, Macau, Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and eventually India.

I never dreamed then that I would ever get to see any of those places, but God has been so gracious to allow me to go to Africa twice since we moved down to OC and came to FBC. How good he is!!

(The old timers that I grew up with in missions at that church are the ones who faithfully supported me through prayer and giving when I went to Malawi.)

I met my husband at church when he moved here from Oregon and was living with his aunt and uncle, who attended. After we were married, we got involved in different ministries in that church, including leading the older youth group for a while, some Sunday School teaching, and the building program.

Sadly in the several years that followed, I strayed from my love and commitment to the Lord. Family trials after we adopted a son (and the bitterness that sprung from them), outside interests (including immersion in Musical Theatre that helped me escape from the anxieties at home – after all, they had romance, carefree songs, and happy endings!), resentments and bitterness (from things not turning out as I’d hoped), rebellion, and unconfessed sin left me feeling distant from God. I continued in superficial service, but my heart was far from Him.

GCCMeanwhile, our little congregation disbanded and sold the church building to a growing Hispanic congregation, and we started going to Grace Community Church. I was faithful in attendance, but only to Sunday School. (The worship services with the huge, multi-voice choir and full orchestra reminded me too much of Theatre, and I’d finally gotten out of that deceptive “world.”) My heart remained cold and withdrawn. I knew I needed to “get right” with God, but I stupidly resisted.

As I listened to the messages each Sunday, I realized that our former church’s doctrine about how a person gets saved was different from Grace.   (Arminism & Calvanism)

I had grown up believing that you heard the Gospel and through the Spirit’s “wooing,” you made a decision for Christ. But under the teaching of John MacArthur and Don Green, I began hearing that Jesus’ atonement was not for the whole world as I’d learned in John 3:16, but that God foreknew and chose and called “some” (His elect) for salvation before the world even began.

  • For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, he also called, and those who me called he also justified, and those whom He justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

Suddenly I began to doubt my salvation. What if I wasn’t one of His elect? How would I know? I hadn’t had a huge night-day conversion like some had. I’d simply asked Jesus into my heart and believed that I was saved.  It was true that I had grown in the knowledge of God and love for Him over the years, but what if I was just deceiving myself?  What if I hadn’t been “chosen” by God to be saved?

The current rebellion and coldness of my heart made me fear even more.

open Bible pen & glassesI went up and down with this issue as FIRST I heard the teaching about God’s sovereignty, and THEN reviewed the details of my life over the past decades.  That feeling of distance from God at the time didn’t help. Was I saved or not? I asked Pastor Green how you could KNOW if you were God’s elect. He referred me to passages in I John, which we were studying.

By this we know we have eternal life….

  • If we walk in the light (1:7)…
  • keep/obey His commandments (2:3, )…
  • walk as Jesus walked (2:6)…
  • does the will of God (2:17)…
  • practice righteousness (2:26)…
  • don’t practice sinning (3:10)…
  • love and sacrifice for fellow believers (3:16-18, 4:7)…
  • believe in the name of Jesus (3:23)…
  • the witness of the Spirit (3:24, 4:13)…
  • believe that Jesus is the promised savior (5:1) and the Son of God (5:13)…
  • and love the Father (5:2).

I tortured myself asking how I measured up to all those “by this we know” verses.

I was still anxious and confused inside (okay, I was DOUBTING) when we moved to south Orange County and began attending Faith Bible Church. One of the first sermons I heard was Pastor Koh quoting John Piper asking if we would be satisfied in heaven if Jesus was not there. My heart answer scared me. Did I truly love Jesus supremely? If not, was I truly saved? Sometimes I just wished I’d led a horrible life of debauchery before, so I could see a huge difference at my conversion.

Sunday sermons kept hammering on the question of true salvation, urging us to examine our hearts to make sure we weren’t just living a “good Christian life” without truly knowing the Savior.

Gradually, during my quiet times (Yes, I had begun them again) I began to see the resentment, rebellion, and sin in my heart that I needed to deal with. I confessed those sins and more as God brought them to my mind, pleading his mercy, and receiving His forgiveness. Like the prodigal son I was coming home, but that big “election” issue still remained unsettled.

I knew Jesus had “died for my sins,” but I hadn’t then grasped the awesome truth of what that meant.

I prayed that God would just settle this question for me. To somehow SHOW me I was a Christian. Couldn’t I just see His “stamp of approval” on me – you know, instead of the Antichrist’s “666” on my hand or forehead, a “777” just so I could be SURE!

Then one morning when I was praying, begging, for some sign, I suddenly realized what a great sin I was committing. I was asking God Almighty, Creator of the universe, to single me out and show me special treatment just so I could believe, that I was one of his chosen.

I was like the Pharisees – having Jesus in their very presence, preaching and doing miracles, they had the gall to ask Him for some “sign” to prove to them who he was, before they would believe.

I was asking God to prove something to me too instead of just believing His Word!!

woman-kneelingWhen God showed me my heart – revealed this great sin of unbelief – I was horrified and I crumpled before Him. Such audacity! Such great pride! I couldn’t get low enough before Him even if I fell through the floor and kept going.

Oh, my God! I cried. I’m so sorry! How could I not just believe what You’ve said your Word instead of putting You to the test? Oh, what sin!  What a sinner I am!  Oh, God, please forgive me!

And with His great love and grace, He showed me the complete forgiveness of my sins. All had been paid for on the cross. He’d said it in His Word, but my sin, and doubt had blinded me.

Suddenly the gospel scriptures I’d read had fresh meaning.

  • In this the love of God is made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (accepted punishment) for our sins.  1 John 4:9-10
  • But God shows His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
  • There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2). 
  • But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5).
  • And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross(Colossians 2:13-14
  • For our sake He (God) made Him (Jesus)to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

What a glorious moment of assurance. Despite being a prideful, arrogant sinner, one who had strayed disgracefully away from Him, I was His child. He knew me, loved me, chose me, and sent his Son to save me.

All God’s righteous wrath was poured out on His innocent Son because of my sin. Jesus stood in for me and took the punishment I deserved. Then God raised Him up to prove that He was sinless in Himself.

God sees me through the blood of His Son – which blots out all my sin – and sees only righteousness. I don’t know how that can be, but God said it, and I now totally believe it.

I still need to read the gospel verses over and over to remind me of my position in Him, especially when I’ve allowed sin and distractions to take my eyes off Him. And I still struggle with pride, self-righteousness, conceit, love of glory, disobedience, and stubbornness.

*****

reading_bibleRecently I’ve been asking God to show me how to kill these sins in life, and He reminded me that the Holy Spirit uses His Word (the “sword” of the Spirit, Ephesians 6:17) to do that, so I’ve been reading the Bible more, with more thought. I’ve also asked Him to teach me to obey quickly, to submit to Him and to other authority, and to humble myself before Him.

It’s a tough learning process, and I’ve only begun. And sometimes He’s had to take me through some dark places. But it is WORTH IT.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

SHIPWRECKED!

Reading Acts 27 today.   What a lesson!

ship_stormPaul, on his way to Rome to appeal to Caesar on trumped up capital offense charges from his Jewish brothers, is aboard a Roman transport ship, the second one since leaving Caesarea,  accompanied by the Centurion Julius,  more prisoners and soldiers, the ship’s owner, pilot and crew; two hundred, seventy-six in all.

They got a late start (late October/early November) due to (1) the various hearings Paul endured before the Roman Governors Felix and Festus and King Aqrippa, and (2) the observance of the Day of Atonement, the Jewish high holy day. The weather had turned foul, typical for that time of year, but the ship made it all the way to FAIR HAVEN on the off-wind side of the island of Crete.

PAUL: Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.  Stay here for the winter!

THE MAJORITY: (Ship’s pilot, owner, and the centurion in charge of prisoners who had the final say): NO. This is not a suitable place to winter. Let’s make for Phoenix. It’s only a short way.

So, they departed, a deceivingly auspicious warm south wind taking them to sea.

And then the TEMPEST broke loose. A Northeaster of epic proportions.Terrifying, devastating. They were only able to pause briefly on the lea side of a tiny island long enough to run supporting cables under the the boat, haul in the dingy and lower the sails. Then they could do nothing but run before the wind and endure the ferocious gale and sea. So fierce was the storm that they had to cast off the cargo, the dingy, and all the tackle just to stay afloat.

For FOURTEEN DAYS they endured this mighty storm of wind and sea and darkness, with not a glimpse of light from sun, moon or stars. They were not able to eat a bite of food. They were terrified. Abandoned. Lost. All hope of salvation gone.

And then God spoke to Paul in a vision: “I have ordained that you must speak before Caesar, therefore, you and all 276 souls with you… will NOT PERISH.”

PAUL: We must run aground on ‘some island’ (not Fair Haven where they could have wintered). Meanwhile, let’s eat a little….

They did, then threw the rest of the wheat into the sea.

CREW: (After “sounding” the depth several times) LAND, HO!!

They released the stern anchors (holding them facing the island) and let the ship go her way. But instead of landing on the beach in the bay, a reef caught her fast by the bow and the stern began to break up under the terrible pounding surf.

SOLDIERS: We must kill all the prisoners! If they escape we will be killed!

CENTURION: (Looking to Paul, remembering the promise of God that none would perish) No! Those who can swim, jump over and swim to shore. Those who can’t swim, grab a bit of flotsam and ride it to shore! GO!!!

Every person arrived safely on shore and then turned to watch the ship disintegrate into the sea. A needless total material loss.

~  ~  ~


Wow. This story taught me to “Trust in the Lord with all my heart, and LEAN NOT ON MY OWN UNDERSTANDING, to acknowledge HIM in IN ALL MY WAYS… because He will direct my path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)  Obedience and trust. God’s way is always best for us. But if we think our ideas are better, choose to go our own way, disregard the warnings in his Word, then we will suffer loss.

Sure, many of the natives and probably the shipmates were blessed in Malta where Paul and the others were marooned for 3 months – God works ALL THINGS together for our good for those who believe him.

But oh the blessing for the the ship’s owner and pilot if they’d have stayed in the safe fair haven when first instructed and warned… if they hadn’t taken things into their own hands… and if Julius hadn’t feared losing control over his prisoners in that town.

How do you and I respond to the warnings and the promises of safety revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

“For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him WILL NOT PERISH but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Sure, perhaps we might have another chance at the end of our life (or perhaps not), but what a waste!  Yes we may be saved, but what COULD we have done for Him with our lives?

WARNING:  There might not be a Paul “aboard your ship” when the end of your life is near. You may just be entirely ON YOUR OWN…