God’s Purpose in My Imprisonment

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Our family with friends and future partners from Ghana.

Everywhere I looked, there was someone from my past. My heart surged with joy with each remembered face, as I recounted the memories we had enjoyed together. A few faces from my childhood, some from my college years, and many from our years in ministry, all together to celebrate what God is doing. While it sounds like a vision of heaven, it was a conference. This week, Ken and I attended The Gathering, the clergy conference for The Wesleyan Church. Eleven years have gone by since we’ve been a part of The Wesleyan Church, but it didn’t seem to matter. We had dozens of meaningful conversations, hugged a hundred shoulders, and laughed about times gone by as if we were never gone.

As we told our friends over and over again how God called us to Ghana, and how we knew we were called, I repeated over and over,

“I knew that if God were to call us to Africa, He would have to heal my lungs. I spent over $50,000 in 2013 trying to get my asthma under control, but what modern medicine did not have the ability to do, God did. I’ve been off of all of my asthma medicines since August. I had previously not been able to go more than 2 days without steroids, now it’s been almost six months.”

Kyle Ray preached a message on the following passage at The Gathering.

Acts 16:23-33

After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.


The miracle of the story of God’s deliverance of Paul and Silas and salvation of the jailer starts at a very different place: being flogged with rods for delivering a young girl from demon possession. They weren’t fake rods. It wasn’t an imaginary beating. They had real pain. Real bruises. Real blood drying on their torn skin as they sat with their feet uncomfortably stretched out in front of them and locked in stocks. Between the bruises on their back, the skin tears rubbing in the dirty walls of the prison, and their inability to move their feet, there was no way to get comfortable. There was no way to sleep.

So they might as well sing praises.

The earthquake came. The chains fells off, not only them, but off the other prisoners too. The jailer came to salvation, as well as his whole family.

But the miracle for Paul and all those around him came only after the beating. The chains. The shackles. The skin tears. The bruises.

Would the jailer have come to know Christ if Paul hadn’t sung throughout his misery or stayed in spite of his freedom? If there hadn’t been something radically different about the attitude of Paul and Silas, would the jailer have asked what he needed to do to be saved?

Sometimes God wants to accomplish His purposes through our pain. Sometimes our pain is not about us, but what He wants to do in someone else. Sometimes the purpose of our pain only comes in hindsight.

I think about the last eleven years that I’ve spent struggling to breathe because of my asthma. The massive doses of steroids that I’ve taken. The relentless coughing. The days I spent suffocating, unable to walk even across my living room to get a glass of water. I never stopped to ask God why.

Now that I am breathing freely, and after hearing this Scripture anew, I think I may know why. My asthma wasn’t just about me. The misery I experienced pales in comparison to the joy of talking about His healing. I would not have been able to experience His healing if there was nothing to be healed from. Would our family believe in God’s healing power in the same way if I had never had asthma or been delivered from it myself? Would I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called us to Ghana if I had never had asthma in the first place?

If my former suffering can bring people to see the power of God to heal, than then every strained breath was absolutely worth it. If my release from the suffocation gives me more enthusiasm to serve Him, the suffocation was worth it. If my eleven year imprisonment to my lungs confirms my calling in its freedom, than the prison sentence was worth it.

Sometimes prison is exactly where God wants us. For now, I’m breathing in the fresh air of freedom.


Being a Child Again

IMG_1277When Addie and Palmer first came home from Africa, we had to teach the kids a “boo-boo” routine. When they got hurt, we had to teach them that they needed to come to us, sit on our lap, let us oooo and ahhh over their injury, no matter how minor, kiss it and let them sit with us until they felt comforted.

We had to teach Addie and Palmer to need us. To seek comfort from us. To ask us for help.

DSCN0022Without such instruction, they were daredevils who felt no pain. They would scale tall structures fearlessly, fall and hit their heads, or ride their bikes into spectacular crashes, and they would merely get back up, go back to what they were doing, and pretend it didn’t hurt. It was particularly frightening watching Addie, who had rickets and osteoporosis, play recklessly. Palmer had even more of a wild streak — taking off his training wheels and jumping his bike over curbs — the very first day he learned to ride.

2012-01-12 13.25.38Because they had been in an orphanage with minimal adult influence, and even less compassion, they had learned to fend for themselves. Even before they were in the orphanage, the kids were remarkably independent. Addie was still young enough to not have achieved premature adulthood in the Congo, but Palmer would go shopping by himself, go to work, and care for younger siblings when he was no more than 6. We tease that he seems like a little old man, because he especially learned independence at a very early age.

2012-01-12 13.33.41We have had to teach Palmer to be a child again. We had to teach him to ask for help.

This Christmas season, God has been teaching me about humility. The most difficult part of the missionary journey for us has not been the thought of giving up our possessions, learning new languages, giving up clean running water, or living at the edge of a desert. It’s not risking our health and security in a more primitive part of the world. It’s not sharing Christ’s love with Muslims, treating AIDS patients, or moving to a brand new field where we will be alone as the first Global Partners missionaries.

The most difficult part of our missionary journey is asking for help.

Ken and I have three master’s degrees between the two of us. We have diversified our skills so we would always be employable. We have lived with no extended family nearby to depend on for our entire marriage. The vast majority of holidays: Just the two, or now four, of us. Our first objection to going to the mission field was that we didn’t want to have to be dependent on others. Yet in The Wesleyan denomination, missionaries raise all of their salaries and living expenses, plus their operating and administrative expenses. If God wasn’t so clear on what He wanted us to do, we wouldn’t have even started the process.

But He is clear. He spoke through our children, He healed my lungs, He showed us first-hand how our skills would meet the needs of the Ghanaian and French-speaking people of Africa.

God is teaching us to be children again. He is teaching us to ask for help.

We are asking for people who will partner with us in prayer by making a prayer commitment here (Yes, we need you to sign up!), and for people who will partner with us financially in faith promises or donations. We cannot go until we are 100% funded and supported in prayer. At this point, we are at less than 10% for each, and have many opportunities for people to invest, not in what we are doing in Ghana, but what God is wanting to do in Ghana through us. Moving to Ghana, ministering to pastors, healing the sick, and teaching others about the good news of Christ is simply too big for only four people to do on their own. What God is doing in Ghana is so amazing, we know that He is calling hundreds of others to be a part of what He is doing there as well. We are called to go, even more are called to send.

This Christmas season, I am putting into practice what God has been teaching me, as I humbly ask you to consider partnering with us to be a part of our sending team, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves — be one of 400 prayer partners, and be a part of our financial partnership team. We are not asking you to give what you feel what you can afford, but asking you to give what you feel God is asking of you. We’d love to have you on our team!

A Christmas of Questions

I scratched my head in frustration as I tried to make a Christmas list this year. With our upcoming move to Ghana, I’ve realized that tangible gifts are a bit silly. A new sweater? What will we need sweaters for? We’re going to be living at the edge of a desert! New roller blades? There won’t be paved roads to use them on there. A new panini press?  Are we really going to pay to ship a panini press all the way to Ghana? When I’m about to give up the vast majority of our worldly possessions, why buy more?

As I’ve looked for Christmas gifts, or even around the house, I’ve realized that we have a lot of “stuff.” I feel a bit nauseated not only what we have, but how much we have to get rid of in the next year. Knick-knacks, decor, furniture, electronics, books, toys, bicycles, clothing, shoes and on and on.

All these are things we cannot take with us to Africa.

Ultimately, none of us can take tangible things with us into eternity either.

photo (18)How is it that the season of celebrating the Divine descent of humility has ended up a celebration of excess? Spending too much, accumulating things we do not need, trying to find the perfect gift for that someone who has everything. While Christmas certainly celebrates the greatest Gift of all, would not a more appropriate celebration be expressions of humility rather than gifts of extravagance?

In celebration of Christmas this year, I’m reflecting on the humility of Christ by asking these questions:

  1. Do I consider myself better than others?
  2. Am I joyful that all of my possessions, physical health, and vocation belong to Christ and are merely on loan to me?
  3. Do I feel pride when I help someone poorer, less educated, or in a lower socioeconomic status? Do I use the misfortune of others to feel better about myself?
  4. When I have a misunderstanding with another person, do I find it difficult to apologize for my part?
  5. Do I feel annoyed when I do something nice for someone else, and no one notices?
  6. Do I face hardship, failure, and challenges with an attitude of resistance or with  submission?
  7. Am I able to admit to and laugh at my flaws, or do I try to hide them from others?
  8. Am I seeking God’s will earnestly in daily reflection in His Word, or do I find myself too busy for Scripture in order to avoid its challenges to the way I want to live my life?
  9. Do I meet God’s call to be generous to others with hesitancy or with joy?
  10. Do I care more about what others think than what God thinks, especially when He asks me to do things that others would consider foolish?

In Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I’ve never quite understood how being humble of heart would give me rest for my soul until I began to look around at all of the things that I have to rid myself of in order to follow Jesus to Ghana. I’ve heard it in the voices of others around me as well. People say to me every week, “I could never do what you’re doing!” or “Better you than me!”

Why is it so hard for us to follow God’s leading into hard places?

I now realize that the houses, decor, furniture, and knick-knacks we possess often shackle us to our own plans for our own lives. Indeed, I see the truth of the statement that it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. The humility of allowing God to say, “Go,” or “Give,” or “Tell”–without having to worry about the logistics of how to make our lifestyle accommodate what He asks of us — should be liberating. When we love Jesus more than our stuff, the burden of worrying about how we will follow His call is light. Saying yes to His call becomes easy.

The most difficult part of following God’s will is exchanging what we want for what He does. And that is the heart of humility– the obedience exemplified by the Son as He said, “Not my will, but yours.”

May God bless you this Christmas with the feather-light yoke of humility, questions to challenge your heart, and the freedom to say yes to whatever He asks.

Matthew 11:28

Six Months to Surrender

What started as a simple conversation at a Sunday lunch 6 months ago has culminated in our appointment as missionaries to Ghana, West Africa. How exciting it is to be asked to be a part of God’s work!

It certainly wasn’t an overnight surrender, but a process of clarifying what God was asking of us:

We realized that during our adoption, we had never considered living incarnationally, going to where our children were most comfortable, rather than bringing them where we are. God challenged us to consider moving our children back to the culture of their birth, where they would be in the majority, and we would be in the minority.

We discovered that the needs in both of our ministry fields were tremendous in the region of northern Ghana. There is one physician for every 93,000 there. Only 4 ordained ministers serve the more than 50 Wesleyan churches in Ghana, and one of the fastest growing areas for Christianity is just across the border in French-speaking Burkina Faso.

Addie and Palmer have had important voices in our decision, and both of them have let us know that they have hearts for those still in Africa. They have prayed about it and understand that God has asked us to move there. Almost every day, the children ask about Africa, and are excited to have an experience in Africa with an intact family, food in their bellies, and Jesus in their heart.

God confirmed His call through them, and also through the healing of my asthma. I’ve been off of asthma medicines for four months now, when previously, I could not go more than 24-48 hours without a sense of suffocation. What tremendous freedom I have now to breathe deeply and easily, and now I want to use my new-found breath to carry His healing to Ghana!

After traveling and seeing the needs up close, we decided we will be living in Tamale, in northern Ghana, approximately 100 miles south of Burkina Faso. I will be learning tropical medicine with the intent to both practice and create sustainable health practices in Wesleyan churches in remote areas where access to medical care is limited.  Ken will be helping to develop pastors and churches in French-speaking Africa, especially Burkina Faso, and also in English-speaking northern Ghana. Addie and Palmer will be developing friendships and sharing the love of Jesus with kids their own age. Because they won’t have so many of the cultural barriers that Ken and I will, and they know what a difference Jesus has made in healing their hearts from their wounds of the past, we think the kids may be the very best missionaries of all.

Now, it is time for us to begin the process of getting there.

We will be spending as long as it takes for us to raise a team of supporters who will partner with us in prayer and in finances so we can answer God’s call. We know that God has already begun to call people to surround us — many of them, if not most, read this blog.

Has our story challenged you? Inspired you? Made you excited about what God is doing? If so, we believe God is speaking through our story, and inviting you to be part of our partnership team.

Here is what we need:

  1. Prayer warriors. We need 400 people to sign up to support us at least weekly in prayer. We will be calling on these people to pray for us in changing circumstances, and give praise to God when He chooses to work through us.
  2. Financial supporters. We need churches and individuals to partner with us financially, especially in faith promises starting now and for the next four years. Faith promises are a demonstration that you believe that God will provide for you financially in order to support us. You are serving as a conduit of His blessings, and get the joys of being a faithful manager of His resources. Often, faith promises stretch a person beyond what they feel comfortable with financially — that’s where the “faith” comes in! We need:
    1. 17 churches to partner with us at $500/month; or
    2. 170 individuals to partner with us at $50/month; or
    3. 340 individuals to partner with us at $25/month; and
    4. One time financial gifts to help us with our start-up costs, since we will be the first Wesleyan missionaries to Tamale!
  3. Opportunities to share our story. We know that the Holy Spirit speaks through what He has been doing in our lives, and the more we share our story, the more others are drawn to Him and what He wants to accomplish in hearts in America, Canada, and Africa. We are available to speak at churches, retreats, conferences, etc. and would love the chance to tell how God is working miracles to bring more people to Himself.

If God has spoken to you through our story, we believe He is calling you to be a part of our team. To sign up, please click here. Know that if you join our team, we will pray for you, share with you our updates, news, and prayer requests, and communicate with you through newsletters, emails, and even snail mail on a regular basis. We are fully aware that we cannot do this without you!

Thank you for reading our story. Is it your turn to be a part of it?


Everyone Loves a Baby

Ken and I sat in the back of the first ever Ghana North Wesleyan District Conference behind dozens of other delegates. We were thankful for the fans overhead, which blew against the mid-90-degree heat, providing some relief from the rising temperatures. After Ken gave the morning devotional, we sat watching this newly formed conference conduct business for the first time.

A pastor and his beautiful statuesque wife arrived a few minutes later, and sat near the back just in front of us. As the wife sat down, I noticed their sweet chunky baby strapped to her back.  The baby definitely noticed us. Her deep brown eyes were wide open and affixed on our very white skin. She likely thought she had seen two ghosts, or that her vision was failing. I attempted to entice her to smile, giggle, wave, with no success. Her lips sucked on her dimpled fingers and her Afro-puffs bobbed in the air, but she would not react to our attempts to woo her. Still, I adored her.

Aren’t babies the best? The chubby cheeks. The fat rolls on the legs. The babbling of newly formed words.The slight-tipsy awkwardness as infants learn to touch, grasp, crawl, and walk. Babies are fascinating to watch. You can almost see their brains processing new information, figuring out how to apply it, making mistakes, and learning from them. What babies learn is so important in their early years because it shapes much of how they will grow for years to come. Yes, babies can be a lot of work, but the work is so gratifying because there is so much immediate learning when something new is taught.

The business of the district conference began, and we were fascinated to hear the reports of the officers. In this northern region of the country, where 62% of citizens live on less than $1.25 USD/day, 75% are illiterate, and only half of children are enrolled in school, funding ministry efforts is a significant concern. How can churches be built to provide for congregations in the rainy season? How can pastors be paid to care for flocks when most members can barely care for their families?

The goals of the Northern Ghana District are to be self-administrating, self-propagating, and self-supporting. The district delegates discussed the use of farming to supplement income brought in by tithes and offerings, and ways churches could work together to raise crops and livestock for God’s glory.

Not one car wash was discussed. Nor were there any fundraising dinners suggested. No jewelry sales, bake sales, or gift auctions. Disposable income is not a concept they are familiar with. But they are familiar with farming, and hard work. They even voted to require all members of all churches to give above the amount of their tithe to build new churches in the district.

Another moment later on that caught me off guard was the discussion of childrens ministry. The goals of the childrens ministry was to train the Sunday School teachers how to teach a Bible story, sing a song, and play a game with children. No discussion of video production techniques, worship band formation, or security tracking systems. The simplicity was fascinating. Children’s ministry was so new and unencumbered by things most of us consider essential.

Christianity itself was new. At one point one of the delegates raised his hand and asked, “Can I ask? What is a Wesleyan?” The church is exploding at such a rapid rate in northern Ghana, most Wesleyans were Muslims or animists in the recent past. Discovering who Jesus was is central to their journey of faith, and John Wesley isn’t found anywhere in their Bibles. How does one explain not only what a global church is, but also John Wesley’s role, in two minutes or less?

As I sat and listened to the discussions, contemplations, and questions, I realized that this is how the apostle Paul must have felt on his missionary journeys, working with new churches, training pastors, clarifying doctrine. Everything churches were doing was being done for the first time. How exciting it must have been to see churches grow and learn in their faith first-hand!

Yes, new churches can be a lot of work, but the work is so gratifying because there is so much immediate learning when something new is taught. What new churches are taught is so important because the information will shape how they grow for years to come.  In all of Ghana, there are only 10 licensed ministers and 4 ordained ministers for over 50 churches. With no Wesleyan Bible schools in Ghana, training pastors is a challenge, but a tremendous opportunity for hands-on investment with monumental Kingdom rewards. A significant part of Ken’s job in northern Ghana would be working with these new converts-turned-church leaders, training pastors, clarifying doctrine. Everything these churches are doing is being done for the first time. Watching these new gatherings of believers grow and change has to be one of the best parts of building God’s Kingdom. After all, aren’t new churches the best?!

The First Conference of the Ghana North District of The Wesleyan Church. Also, Ken’s impersonation of “Where’s Waldo?”

Friend or Foe in a City We Don’t Know

By the time we left Accra early Tuesday morning, I was in love with the city. Ranked as Africa’s second most liveable city, I loved how Accra was the best of Africa and the best of the West. Roadside market stands sold everything from yams to microwaves, yet supermarkets rivaled any American supercenter with fresh produce, appliances, and a great selection of frozen food. The people of Accra were very friendly, and didn’t seem to notice how white our skin was in a sea of beautiful black faces. The Wesleyans have a 24-hour clinic just outside of Accra that I could easily fit into. And even though I have lived in the Bible belt for many years now, I was surprised that Jesus was incorporated into almost everything in the city. “Lion of Judah Taxi Cabs,” “Light of the World Bicycle Shop” or “Higher Ways Hair Salon,” were just a few examples of faith statements in local business. What surprised me even more was that even American companies adopted Christian slogans, “Start the day God’s way: Nescafe” or “Blood of Jesus: Coca Cola.” The steeple of a church rose above surrounding buildings on nearly every block. Obviously, there was no separation of church and anything!

But Accra wasn’t the only place we were to visit during our time in Ghana. We also were to visit Tamale (pronounced TOM-ah-lay). We were going to be visiting with the pastors there, but also evaluating Tamale as a place we might potentially live. Tamale is the capital of northern Ghana and is the fastest growing city in all of West Africa. While Accra was clearly Christian, Tamale is predominantly Islamic. Muslims and Christians tolerate each other, and under the best of circumstances can even be friends. I was anxious to see how this relationship worked in person.

The plane landed on the runway of Tamale Airport early on Tuesday morning as the arid sun pierced the landscape. We taxied toward the single-gate airport, and witnessed the massive earth-moving machines constructing a new international airport to support the growth that Tamale is experiencing. As we parked on the tarmac, I noticed that there was a crowd dressed mostly in white on the other side of the fence, just yards from our plane. As we stepped off the plane, the crowd erupted with shouting and heart-piercing African drumbeats. I was close enough to recognize traditionally dressed Muslim men and women. Hijabs and kufis adorned every head.  As we exited the airport with our luggage the still-screaming crowd pressed in on the sidewalk, yelling, hands waving high in the air, with drumbeats underscoring the tension. There was no way for us to exit the tiny airport other than to walk straight through the crowd.

I was wearing very conservative clothing, but not compared to a Muslim woman. I had on short sleeves. My ankles were visible below the edge of my maxi skirt. My head was uncovered. I was clearly not one of them. This was my first time in an all-Muslim crowd. An all-black Muslim crowd. In Ghana. In a predominantly Muslim city.  I had no idea what to expect. Would they fight me? Push me? Ignore me? The only way to find out was to push through the shouting crowd to get to the parking lot beyond. I took a deep breath and stepped forward.

The crowd shuffled aside to let me pass on the sidewalk, but their cheering did not stop. Rather, it ramped up in volume. It took me a minute to understand what they were saying.

Wait, what was that?

“Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!” they shouted as the women lightly patted my shoulders. The drumbeats somehow seemed less ominous, and somewhat more celebratory. I looked into their faces and saw excitement, and even kindness.

My new best Muslim friends

The crowd of Muslims leaving the airport after celebrating our plane’s arrival.

As I exited out of the other side of the flock of my new closest Muslim friends, I smiled in relief, and hoped that the rest of my visit to Tamale would be just as pleasant.

Unfortunately, Tamale had a few more surprises in store for me.

Cacophony of Christianity

The police flashlights swept quickly through our vehicle — over our faces, into our laps, into the back of the vehicle. I held my breath as the all-too-familiar scene of being stopped by police in Africa played itself out.

And then they waved us on.

And then it happened again. Police skimming our vehicle with flashlights. Identifying the foreigners.

And they too waved us on.

Finally I asked Rev. Ocran why we kept getting stopped.

“They are making sure we are not coming into the neighborhoods to rob houses. And we are not, so they are letting us continue. They just like to keep the streets safe at night.”

I realized that my mind had gone too quickly into “Congo mode,” and that Ghana was a new game. My previous concept of Africa was based on the expectations I had developed in Congo, and I needed to adapt to a new country and new expectations. Perhaps more sleep and more daylight would bring greater perspective.

Morning came all too early the next day. We had to travel to another town for church, where Ken would be preaching in the morning service.

Daylight quickly warmed the humid air left behind by the heavy rains the night before. We rode the still rough but now well-lit roads through Tema, Accra, and into Medina on the way to church. The urban neighborhood streets leading to the church were washed out by the rains the previous night, and we had to call for help to get us to the church — just in time for the end of worship.

We were quickly ushered to the front of the open air service, facing the cheerfully singing congregation. Though the songs were not familiar, the spirit was. The air was filled with not only the sounds of praises from our church, but 5 other churches in the immediate area. The cacophony of worship wafted to the heavens in a dissonant melody that was grotesque and  glorious at the same time.

Ken preached an moving message with the help of Rev. Ocran, who translated into the local language of Twi. The pastor of the church, Rev. Kwame Frempong closed in prayer. After the service was over, we were greeted with hugs and handshakes from our Ghanaian brothers and sisters in Christ.

The next 24 hours would be filled with conversations and meetings regarding the state of The Wesleyan Church, especially in southern Ghana. While we had seen a beautiful example of God’s people worshiping together, the church overall is experiencing growing pains. Of the dozens of Wesleyan Churches in Ghana, there are only four ordained ministers. There is no Bible college for Wesleyan pastors in Ghana, so creative methods have been employed to train pastors as quickly as possible.

One pastor pulled us aside after one of the meetings and quietly asked, “Do you have a study Bible? Next time you come would you bring me one? I need help preparing messages.”

At another point a different pastor asked for Sunday School curriculum. “We don’t have any Wesleyan curriculum, and we struggle to know what connects us to The Wesleyan Church as a whole.”

Another reminded us that since he had an open air church without walls, his congregation would leave when the rainy season came, to attend one of the neighboring churches that provided more shelter from the rain. “Some walls would protect our congregation from getting wet during worship while it storms.”

Their requests and wish lists were not complex.

A study Bible. I knew that I have at least 5 sitting at home on my shelf.

Curriculum. Ken and I are curriculum collectors and writers. My first job out of college was writing curriculum for The Wesleyan Church. Ken has written or adapted his own curriculum for the past two decades. They had none.

Walls for their church. Not marble floors, nor a baptistry, nor a giant spinning globe to prove how missional they were, nor air conditioning for the awful heat. They wanted walls to enclose them and protect them from the rain during the rainy season.

The remark, however, that challenged me most was being asked, “How much does it cost Americans to convert one person to Christianity?”

I didn’t know the answer. I was afraid of the answer. Since I’ve returned to the States, the answer has been more disappointing than I had anticipated.  Research has shown figures as high as $1.5 million dollars spent by churches per baptism in the United States. Not that we spend that number directly on each person, but others studies show that of all of the money spent by The American Church, there are relatively few converts. Statistically speaking, if a church is older than 10 years, it takes an average of 85 people to win one person to Christ. The vast majority of church budgets are spent on staffing and maintaining the church, not reaching new souls. For years, I have wrestled with church dinners, youth group all-nighters, seasonal children’s parties, ski trips, even mission trips where not one new person is reached with the gospel. We have become master maintainers, instead of master soul winners and disciple makers.

“I tell you,” he contrasted, “that it is very inexpensive in Ghana to reach people with the gospel. Here, people are coming to know Christ for the first time, not merely changing churches. People of other religions are calling on the name of Jesus, and we are struggling to support them. If a Muslim converts to Christianity, and he is seen meeting in a Wesleyan church under a mango tree, or in a church without walls, his life is in danger. Even if he does come, do we ourselves have the ability to disciple him in his growing faith without curriculum?”

Another pastor continued, “Our dilemma is this: Should we stop reaching out to people with the gospel if we cannot support them after they surrender their lives to Christ?”

The dissonance of the Western culture of Christianity and the dilemma of the church in Ghana was just as cacophonous as the melody of worship on Sunday morning. While we are all worshipping God simultaneously, we were doing so in such different ways. I had defined the activities of the church according to cultural Christianity in the United States, rather than having the global perspective of The International Church.

When in America had I ever been a part of a church that considered stopping evangelistic efforts because the church could not support all of the newly converted Christians?

Just as I had to redefine my expectations of the police in Ghana versus Congo, I had to begin to rethink my expectations of Church and my role in God’s Kingdom.

What is the purpose of The Church? If I have but one life to live, where would God have me invest my life? Where will I be most effective accomplishing the mission of The Church?

Was God calling me to change my tune?

And A Child Will Lead Us

Ken and I have been very cautious about talking to our kids about going back to Africa. It’s not a far off strange place to them. Africa is a place where our kids most closely identify with and remember vividly, and those memories are not all positive ones. Actually, most of them are not.

We also wanted to account for the different personalities of our kids. Addie is emotional and spontaneous. She loves easily, laughs easily, and forgives easily. She also has the gift of intercession. While she may struggle with communicating complex thoughts otherwise, she does not when she prays. Addie is a mighty prayer warrior wrapped up in 80 pounds of chocolate brown skin.

Palmer is our logical child. He analyzes, reasons, and thinks through things. He asks tough questions and doesn’t settle for easy answers or half-truths. He wants the whole story, he wants to follow the rules, and has a heart for what is fair. His question to me, “Mommy, why are there so many doctors in America and not in Africa?” shows his level of a sense of justice in the world — and not for himself, but for others.

It was at an evening dinner in August when we finally broached the subject. I began, “Daddy and I have listened to your stories about Africa, and they are very important to us. We know that had there been a doctor there, or someone to tell you about Jesus, your lives might have been very different. We are thinking about moving to Africa to help people there when they are sick or need Jesus. What do you think?”

Both kids faces fell in disappointment. The pain of their memories was written in furrowed brows and downcast glances.

Ken continued, “But we are not going to go there unless we go there as a family. We will not make you go. We all have to decide this is right for us. And we promise that while you are there, you will never go hungry. You will always have a home to live in. You will have toys, and books, and even video games. This is not the Africa you remember. This is Africa with our family.”

“I’d like for the two of you to think about it and pray about it. God speaks to you, just like He speaks to Daddy and I, and we want to know what He is telling you. That will help us know if we should go or not.”

“Should I pray right now?” Addie asked enthusiastically.

“You can pray anytime,” I giggled in return, “but I would like you to spend some time in your room after supper praying and asking God if moving to Africa is what we should do.”

To be honest, I was a little surprised by the kids’ reactions. I was expecting that they would be excited to go back to their homeland. But their faces said otherwise. Dinner ended much more quietly than it had begun.

A few hours later, I was working on a lecture in the living room when Addie came skipping by. “He said ‘yes’” she verbally tossed my way.

“Daddy said yes about what?” I inquired, not being clued in to the real subject at hand.

“I just got done praying in my room, and God said He wants us to move to Africa. And He wanted me to tell you.”

What Ken and I had wrestled with for months was settled in the mind of our 8 year old daughter in a matter of hours. What we had made complicated, Addie had made simple.

Luke 18: 16-17, NLT

“Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’”

We had Addie’s answer. We would have to wait much longer for Palmer.

Jewett (37)