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Tonight we had our annual chinese New Year dinner with our team. We’re blessed to have teammates who so eagerly join with our family in this important cultural celebration. Of course, who wouldn’t if it means getting some of Maureen’s cooking. This year we had fried rice, rice and beef satay, stir fried vegetables, and baked chicken. All the kids enjoyed getting their traditional ang pow (red packet) from Auntie Maureen. Jenna and Louise came over in the afternoon to help with the preparations. This year’s celebration seemed to mean more to everyone as we realized that this is the last one that we will celebrate in Togo with this team.

We do wish all of you God’s richest blessings in the new year.

By the way, this is Maureen’s year. I get a kick out of telling people I married a dog. Of course, that only applies to the Chinese zodiac, as the photos below will readily attest. (Shouldn’t they have called it the year of the fox?)

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Our Family on the first day of Chinese New Year

Our “family” reunion dinner–the Watchi team joins the celebration

Tucker gets his ang pow from Auntie Maureen

Have you ever seen two finer looking Chinese boys?

Maureen and I have been reading a book called Boundaries with Kids by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  I’ve found a lot of very practical help in the book in dealing with my kids, such as empathizing with their frustrations and yet setting clear boundaries.  Yesterday, the kids had a friend over after school to play.  When dark and supper time drew near, I told them that I would need to take their friend home.  Jonathan, my youngest, did not like that idea at all.  I cut off his protests and explained to him that it also made me sad when my friends had to leave, but that if he didn’t straighten up, then his friend would not be able to visit next time.  Knowing that I was serious, Jonathan accepted reality and went inside.  When I returned from taking the friend home, Jonathan had already had his bath and was ready for supper.

OK, so it’s not exactly the wisdom of Solomon, but I do appreciate the practical help.

Another principle in the book is that parents should look for ways of discipline that hurt, but do not harm, the child.  In the early years, that may be “hurt” that the parent physically applies to the child.  As they grow, the hurt comes from structuring consequences that come from the child’s own choices, and allowing the child to experience them.  It’s hard to see your child hurt, but they will not learn self-discipline without experiencing pain.

Hurt, however, is not the same thing as harm.  Children should be allowed to experience hurt, but it is the parents’ job to protect them from harm, and certainly to never do anything that would harm the child physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually.

I’ve been reading about the resurrection of Lazarus, and I’ve been intrigued with Jesus’ delay in coming to Bethany, where Mary and Martha had been waiting for him to show up and heal their brother.  Have you noticed that, when Jesus does finally arrive, Mary and Martha both greet Jesus in the same way?  “Lord,” they both say on separate occasions, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32).  It sounds like they had been saying this to one another  — “If Jesus would just show up, he could heal him.  If Jesus had come, none of this would have happened.  We called for Jesus.  Why hasn’t he shown up?”

Maybe you’ve felt the same way.  Maybe you’ve called for Jesus, but he hasn’t shown up.  Why does he let you hurt so badly?

Jesus knew that he intended to do something much greater than healing Lazarus – he was going to raise him.  But he also knew that in order for that to happen, his friends had to hurt.  But what keeps this from being a cruel manipulation is that Jesus was hurting, too.  In his commentary on John, F.F. Bruce translates that Jesus “shook with emotion” and “burst into tears” (John 11:33-37, p. 246).  In her earlier confession that Jesus was the “Messiah” and the “Son of God” (John 11:27), Martha had been exactly right.  But Jesus was also the Son of Man.  Even more than it hurts me to see my kids hurt from the consequences that I impose on them, it hurt Jesus deeply to witness the pain of others – especially pain that he himself had caused. 

But Jesus would not allow his friends to be harmed.  As he had already told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  In Jesus, even death is not ultimate and so, in spite of death, no ultimate harm can come to the believer.

Jesus allows—sometimes even causes—us to hurt.  But because he is resurrection and his is life, he always protects us from harm.

It’s been a while since I posted anything—maybe the family news and creative juices decided to take a post-holidays holiday.  Several of you have found Maureen’s recent post.  If not, I encourage you to wander over to Maureen’s Musings and have a read.

Several weeks ago, the guys on our team started reading some excerpts from devotional literature and meeting together weekly to share our thoughts and reactions to what we are reading.  This week we’re reading some selections from Thomas Merton, a recently modern (mid-20th century) author.  Merton writes about meditation, which is something that I don’t know much about.  The suggested activities after the writing include spending fifteen minutes a day meditating on a single theme.

Do you know how hard it is to spend fifteen minutes focused on one thing, even if it is multi-faceted?  My thoughts for the day are on “hope.”  I knew that if I didn’t write some of these thoughts down, I would lose them, and this seemed to be the most secure place to put them—at least as long as Blogger stays in business.  (Did you ever wonder what will happen to all these millions of posts when they decide eventually to hang it up, or someone else decides for them?  It’s bound to happen one day.) – Now, see what I mean about the difficulty I have focusing?

It occurred to me that my hope is always tethered to the second coming of Jesus, but even that hope is anchored in the resurrection.  My thoughts then turned the original disciples and that lonely, hopeless Sabbath they spent between the crucifixion and the resurrection.  It was only a day, but if you’ve ever been without hope, you know how long a day can be.  And the nights on either side.  Night time can be the worst.

It didn’t matter that Jesus had repeatedly told them, “I’m going to die, and on the third day rise again.”  They couldn’t grasp the first part, so the following promise didn’t sink in either.  Yet although they had lost hope, hope itself was not lost.  Beyond all hope, Jesus did rise again, did again appear to them, and did pour out his Spirit upon them.  In spite of their hopelessness, Jesus was faithful to his promise.

Jesus has told me that he is coming again.  While I think I have a little better grasp on that than the disciples did of the resurrection, my thinking and behavior often betray the fact that I don’t have a great deal more faith than they did.  How often do I think and act as if this were the final epoch, that this world is all there is?  And while I know Jesus will return, it’s hard to live in eager expectation.  And I have so many questions about what the new world will be.  What is the “new heaven” and what is the “new earth”?  Sometimes it seems this present reality will be totally replaced, at other times it seems that it will be renewed.

I gain some encouragement from the knowledge that my confusion is not as great as that of those early disciples.  Because they bore faithful witness to the resurrection, I have even more to hang my hat on than they did.  Yet sometimes my hope does grow weak.  But just like them, even though I may be tempted to lose hope, hope itself is not lost.  Just as the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on their grasp of his promises, so the promise of his appearing does not depend on me or how strong my faith is.  For hope is rooted in God, and not in me.

And so it is when it comes to all the other things that I hope for—for my own maturity, for my family’s future, for fruitful ministry, for the strength, stability, and growth of the Watchi churches.  Even if I lose hope, hope is not lost, for hope is rooted in a faithful God, and not in my foggy vision.

Another 4 more months and our lives in West Africa will come to an end. 12 years for me and 13 years for Anthony have been spent in the countries of Ghana, Benin and Togo. What will the future hold? Where will we be going? What ministry will we be doing? At this stage, we do not know but the only sure thing is that we know that God has a plan for us and we are to wait for Him to reveal His plans for us.

Just as Anthony has mentioned in this week’s Tabligbo Times, our team’s newsletter, “One danger that missionaries face as they prepare to leave a field of service is "checking out" too early–being physically present but emotionally uninvolved in the work. Our household appliances seem to have gotten word that we are planning to leave, and have decided to "check out" before we do. So far, we’ve lost two refrigerators, two DVD players, a television, a microwave oven (which we have been able to get fixed, sort of) and this week our gas oven decided to check out–a hard-to-replace thermostat mechanism went out, meaning that the oven will not even light up.”  And this happened over the past few months.

It is frustrating. I have been asking myself what God is trying to teach me in all this. Yesterday, as I was driving to a village with Christine, my teammate, and as I was voicing my frustrations to her, I heard myself saying that “Boy, am I glad that in heaven, there will be no broken down things. Every thing will be perfect” and that’s when I realized that I have my answer from God. Everything on earth is just temporary and I am not to be attached to things on this earth. I am reminded about my time here on earth, people will get sick or old and die, things will get broken eventually, but what is important is not things that are tangible but eternal and that’s one thing that no one can take away from us. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your heart is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21. I pray that God will help me not to be discouraged or be too frustrated with my broken down appliances but learn to be thankful for what I have.

I praise and thank God for His Son Jesus, whom He freely gave, that we may have eternal life through Him. I am thankful for His providence of everything we need. A teammate has loaned us a small fridge to use and other teammates have offered their ovens for me to use. And I know that He will continue to provide as the needs arises! OUR GOD IS GOOD!

Imagine your schoolroom was a thatch-roofed hanger on wooden poles, with no walls and a dirt floor.

Imagine your desk was a narrow wooden bench that you shared with another student.

Imagine you had no text books.

Imagine your student-teacher ration was 100:1

Now imagine you could not use your hands.

May this young man, AKPLASSOU Yao Atchou, who lives in Amoussime, Togo, encourage us all to overcome whatever challenges lie before us in 2006.

God bless and Happy New Year.

(Photo courtesy of my neighbor, a different Yao, who I wrote about on this Grace Notes post.)