Preparing for Our Trip

Preparing for a trip like ours is always a little daunting, especially for someone who has never been to a place like Africa. In addition to all of the unknowns (what will it look like, what are the people like, how will I communicate, why did I ever say I wanted to take a trip like this?), the days are filled with questions regarding preparations (do I really need malaria medication? What about mosquito netting and a yellow fever vaccination certification?), packing (how many pairs of socks and shoes should I bring for sixteen muddy days in Africa?), and just plain survival (28 hours of travel each way? How many dozen home-baked cookies will it take to survive?).

With all of the things to think about, it’s a wonder that there’s ever room for God!

(Seriously, you really expect me to think about God when I have so many things to do?)

But that’s exactly what our team has been trying to do during these last ten days before we depart. Each day, we’ve taken time in personal devotion as a way to “prepare for our trip.”

And it occurred to us (just last night, actually), that if you are reading this, perhaps you are praying for us and so, you are also really “preparing for our trip.” So, we thought we would share our devotions of the past days.

Read them over, if you wish. And know how grateful we are for what you are doing to help us prepare for the amazing things God is about to do (even if we do forget an extra pair of underwear).

Ten Days Before Departing (June 21st)
Preparing to Hear God.


One important part of this trip will be to be sure we are listening to hear how God is speaking to us. Not surprisingly, the Bible gives us a good roadmap for preparing to hear God.

Read Luke 8:4-15. This passage lays out a model for ensuring that you are hearing God.

4While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

9His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’”

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”


Listen!

Luke 8:8b: When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

  • Am I earnestly listening to how God might be trying to speak to me?
  • How have I prepared myself to hear Him?

Cultivate Your Mind!

. . . some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up . . . Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

  • Has my mind been well cultivated to hear God?
  • How is my mind like a hardened path, due to pride, fear, bitterness or anxiety so that God’s word cannot take root in my life?


Allocate Time!

Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture . . . . Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.

  • Do I slow down and make time to hear God, or am I hurried and approaching God superficially, allowing my roots to grow very shallow?
  • What will I do to change this?
  • One way to let God’s word sink in is to journal. Do I value what God says to me enough to write it down?


Eliminate Distractions!

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants . . . The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

  • What are the distractions in my life that are keeping me from hearing God?
  • Am I too busy? Beware of the barreness of a busy life!
  • Are life’s worries encroaching? Worry is a sign of being pulled in different directions, sometimes known as a divided mind.
  • What about riches and pleasures? Am I so busy making a living that I don’t make a life? Am I too busy having fun that I can’t hear God speak?
  • Remember, weeds grow without any work; they need only neglect. How have I been neglecting my spiritual life? What are the weeds that are growing in my life as a result of my neglect?


Cooperate with God!

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown. . . . But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.


James 1:22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!

  • God talks to people who decide in advance they will do whatever he asks.
  • Am I ready to say “Yes, Lord, Yes,” and then ask the question, “Now what do you want me to do, Lord?”

Nine Days Before Departing (June 22nd)
The Importance of Hearing God.


Sometimes we grow discouraged and we might be tempted to ask, “Why do I care if I can’t hear God?” What good does it do anyway?

I actually think the Biblical answers to that question are pretty compelling!

It assures me that I’m in God’s family!


John 10:14: [Jesus said,] “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me . . . They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.”

It protects me!

Job 33:14a, 16-18: For God does speak . . . he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.
It’s the secret of a productive life!

John 15:5:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

So, if all of that is true, then I have some serious questions to ask myself:

 

  • Do I listen to God’s voice? Do I recognize it the way I recognize my earthly father’s voice?
  • Am I feeling a sense of belonging to God’s family? How so? How not? Pray about this!
  • Is God’s voice warning me? Turning me from wrongdoing? Keeping me from pride? Preserving my soul? Have I asked God for help?
  • Where in my life have I become self-reliant, rather than relying on Jesus?


And, it alleviates me of the burden of always being right!

Remember, self-sufficiency is insufficient, because it denies us God’s grace.

2 Corinthians 12:9: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Eight Days Before Departing (June 23rd)
Is God Talking to Me?


So, once we are prepared to listen for God’s voice, it is important to know how he might speak to us and to discern “His still small voice within” from indigestion or anxiety, or a host of other things that can cloud our thoughts and mind. So how does God speak to us that can be distinguished from everything else that’s going on?

God speaks through His Word!

2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

  • Am I spending time in God’s Word so that He can speak to me and light my path?


God speaks through gifted teachers.

Ephesians 4:11-12:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

1 Corinthians 2:13: This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

Is God speaking to me today through others? Teachers? Pastors? Other believers?

God speaks through impressions from the Spirit.

John 14:26: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Job 33:14-15: For God does speak – now one way, now another – though man may not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds . . .

  • Is God speaking to me today through impressions from the Spirit?

God speaks through pain!

Psalm 119:67, 71-72: Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Proverbs 20:30: Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.

  • Is God speaking to me today through pain?

Hebrews 3:15b: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts . . .


Seven Days Before Departing (June 24th)
Requesting God’s Guidance.


So, if I’m ready to hear God, are there things I should be seeking His help with?

God cares about all the details of your life!

Matthew 6:31-32:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

Scripture tells me that God knows the hairs on my head. What detail of my life have I failed to take to him?

Ask God specific questions!

Phillippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  • Am I asking Him specific questions?
  • Can I ask God today, “God, is there anything you want to tell me?”
  • Can I ask God today, “What’s next, Lord?”
  • Can I ask God to show me the way.


Psalm 25:4-5: Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Believe God wants to answer!

James 1:5-6: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

  • Expect God to answer!! When we expect an answer, we really pray!
  • God honors faith!

Six Days Before Departing (June 25th)
Receiving God’s Guidance.


Then what? What if he actually answers my questions? What’s next? How can I receive that and use it as He fully intends?

Habakkuk 2:1:
I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

  • I can receive God’s guidance, if I withdraw, wait, watch, write and worship.

Withdraw! Stand watch!

Luke 5:16: But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Where are my lonely places? Do I withdraw there to be with God? Or are my lonely places simply places where I withdraw from others?

Be still and wait! Station myself!

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 62:5:
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.

2 Kings 3:15: But now bring me a harpist. While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha.

  • When do I take time to “be still?” To rest my soul? Can I use music to help?


Watch for what He will say to me!?!


Habakkuk 2:2b: I will look to see what he will say to me . .

Ephesians 1:18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

  • I often sing for the Lord to open the eyes of my heart. But am I watching for Him to speak to me visibly?


Write it down!!

Habakkuk 2:2: Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.”

Worship God’s faithfulness!

Habakkuk 3:2a: LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.


Five Days Before Departing (June 26th)
Servanthood/Humility


“I don’t know what your destiny will be but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Albert Schweitzer

Matthew 25: 34-4034 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”


Matthew 23: 10-1310 “Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”


Philippians 2:1-1 1 – 1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

  • did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,

  • being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

  • he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—

  • even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

  • and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

  • in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The values of God’s Kingdom are different from the values of the world. In the world, greatness is judged by the power a person exercises over others. In the Kingdom, greatness is judged by service to people. As children of the King, we follow Kingdom values.

When God chose to connect with humans He did so as a servant. It was a most unlikely way, for servants are usually invisible. People look past them and rarely acknowledge them until needed for a chore. Their rights are few, their power negligible.

  • Why would Jesus choose to come as a servant?
  • What examples has Christ given me for being a servant?
  • What might lie in store for me, in the realm of servanthood?
  • What attitudes must I overcome to become a humble servant?
  • How can I put my pride away and become a humble servant to my teammates and to the people I meet in Ethiopia?

Four Days Before Departing (June 27th)
Openess: Welcoming others into your presence


Luke 15:2 – This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.
Openness is the first step of servanthood. In discerning the process for becoming a servant, we can look to Jesus and see the steps he modeled – starting with the last.

  • Serving – You can’t serve someone you don’t understand.
  • Understanding – You can’t understand someone until you learn about, from and with them.
  • Learning – You can’t learn important information about and from someone until trust develops in the relationship.
  • Trusting – To build trust with someone, they must know that you accept and value them as a person, which often means you must trust them.
  • Accepting – Before you can communicate acceptance to someone, they must experience your openness – your ability to welcome them into your presence.
  • Openness – Openness with someone different from yourself requires that you willingly step out of your comfort zone and initiate and sustain relationships in a world of cultural differences.

Openness is the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe.

The cross may be the single greatest symbol of openness. On the cross Jesus’ arms were open wide. In His dying breath he still signaled his openness to receive those who would come to him in repentance. Openness is grounded in the very nature of God.

Scripture warns that our unwillingness to be hospitable may cause us to miss out on a divine encounter. As the letter to the Hebrews advises, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

  • What obstacles must I overcome to become more open?
  • Do I consider this group a safe place (or not) to be fully open? What would happen if I fully trusted my teammates?
  • How can I show openness to my teammates and those I encounter in Ethiopia?
  • What examples of openness has Christ modeled for me?

Three Days Before Departing (June 28th)
Acceptance: Communicating Respect for Others


“If we do not accept as good, God’s shaping our person and life in our own culture, we will never be able to accept his work in the lives of others who are culturally different from us.”
Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers

Romans 15:7 – Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Acceptance and its opposite, rejection, are among the most powerful behaviors in the human race. Cherished experiences probably are a result of feeling completely accepted – one of the group, trusted, secure, respected, wanted, valued, desired. Life is good when we feel accepted.

Acceptance, rooted deeply in the character of Christ himself, must be more prevalent in our relationships if we are going to grow into his likeness. Our acceptance by Christ and our acceptance of others have enormous implications for all of life.

Something amazing happens when the people of God become accepting people. It reveals the glory of God. Accepting one another may be among the most powerful acts of love we can offer to each other because it promotes oneness. Oneness in Christ is so wonderful that the natural expression is to sing the praises of God. The world notices the healing love and wholeness of the body and sees a great and mighty God. They see his glory.

Blessing, a major theme in the Old Testament, is a way of communicating acceptance. To bless someone is “to bow the knee” before them as a sign of honor and respect. Even more importantly, blessing means “to highly value someone.”

In the Bible, by blessing humankind, God is telling us how highly he values us. When we bless one another, we remind one another how important and significant our lives are to each other. And when we bless God as in worship, we are telling God how important he is to us.

  • What does it mean that Christ has accepted me?
  • How can I show acceptance to those around me while on this trip – team members, hosts, the Ethiopian teachers and other Ethiopians I encounter?
  • What Bible passages come to mind when I think of Christ’s acceptance of the people around him?
  • How can I bless the people around me?

Two Days Before Departing (June 29th)
Trust: Building Confidence in Relationships


“The most important step in entering a new culture is to build trust. Only when people trust us will they listen to what we have to say.” Marvin Mayers

Relationships travel best over strong bridges of trust. Trust binds us together, and we function best when that bond is strong. We can define trust as the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.

Trust must be built from the other person’s frame of reference. When we don’t know the language of the local people, learning and trying to speak their language actually signals our desire to know these people and build relationships of trust.

As human beings we must connect with each other in order to survive. Our inability to value culture and ethnic diversity increases the complexity of building and maintaining trust. Yet God wants that diversity to be respected and harnessed in such a way that together we strive for the glory of God and unify around the work of his kingdom.

Ephesians 4:3-6 – “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:2 – The prerequisite for such oneness is: “to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

  • What can I do to build trust with my teammates, our hosts, the teachers and the other Ethiopians I encounter?
  • Where did Christ show complete trust in his father?
  • How can I show complete trust in Christ?

One Day Before Departing (June 30th)
Learning: Seeking Information That Changes You


“A missionary friend of mine once said, ‘Things were simple before I went to Africa. I knew what the African’s problem was, and I knew the answer. When I got there and began to know him as a person, things were no longer simple.’” Elisabeth Elliot

Proverbs 27:17 – As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Matthew 20:25-28 – 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 23:5-125 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’”

8“ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Learning about others - their history, culture, values, religious practices, language, families, organizational structures and other facets of life – is a good place to start, but learning about is insufficient for effectiveness. We can learn about without building a single relationship. Learning from others is considerably more powerful than learning about others.

When we learn from someone, it is one of the great honors we bestow on them. When we ask questions, seek understanding and probe their thoughts, we are saying in effect: I need you to teach me. I can’t do this alone. I may even fail unless you help me with your knowledge and insights. Asking others to teach us not only honors them (showing acceptance) but also gives them permission to tell us what they actually see, feel, know and experience. By learning from them we affirm them as human beings. They are people who love, hurt, play, dream – like ourselves.

However, learning with others yields authentic partnerships where each person probes deeply the mind and heart of the other, bringing interdependent growth and culturally sensitive ministry. “We – they” categories are replaced with “us” categories.

Serving people is not just doing what seems good in our own culture but seeking out the knowledge of the people, learning from them, knowing their cultural values and then acting in ways that support the fabric of the culture to the degree possible. After taking these steps, we will have served them.

  • For me, learning in Ethiopia is . . . ?
  • What do I want to learn about people while I’m in Ethiopia?
  • How would Jesus interact with the people he would encounter? How can I model His example?

Understanding: Seeing Through the Other’s Eyes
“The key for successful relationships and ministry is to understand and accept others as having a viewpoint as worthy of consideration as our own.” Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers

Understanding is the ability to see patterns of behavior and values that reveal the integrity of a people. People’s behavior generally fits within a cultural pattern that works for them and gives them meaning and control in their lives. Too often we assume others are foolish or illogical simply because their reasoning is not self-evident to us.

A tapestry can be used to illustrate the process of understanding another culture. A tapestry is pieces of cord or yarn that are woven together to form a picture or design, which when finished is hung on a wall. When we look at the front side of the tapestry, we see the picture. But when we look at the back side of the tapestry, we see a confusion of dangling threads, no pattern or theme. Entering a new culture is like seeing the back side of a tapestry – there’s no obvious pattern or picture to help us understand the culture.

We must discipline ourselves to see the patterns of the new culture. Cultural understanding emerges slowly, over time. Occasionally we get a peek at the front of the tapestry, where bits of pattern emerge. It may take months or years to see clearly, nevertheless , we must continue to work at it even if our stay is short.

Biblical Perspectives on Understanding – The Bible exhorts us to understand God and his ways. For example, Job declares that God is so great he is beyond understanding (Job 36:26). Yet he graciously gives understanding to many things (Job 32:8; I John 5:20). The book of Proverbs tells us to apply our hearts to understanding (Prov. 2:2) while being careful not to rely on our own understanding. (Por. 3:5) Understanding of God is priceless (Prov. 4:7, 6:16). It’s the fountain of life (Prov. 16:22).

  • How will I increase my understanding of the Ethiopian people in my short time there?
  • How will I increase my understanding of my fellow teammates?
  • How will I increase my understanding of God and His purpose for my life?

Serving: Becoming Like Christ to Others
“‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” Isaiah 41:9

Serving is the ability to relate to people in such a way that their dignity as human beings is affirmed and they are more empowered to live God-glorifying lives.

The servanthood model that we have been pondering each day has progressed along the following steps: Openness, Acceptance, Trust, Learning, Understanding, Serving. Now let’s look at the steps backwards to see how each depends on the previous one.

Serving: You can’t serve someone you don’t understand. At best you can only be a benevolent oppressor – like forcing someone to say “I’m sorry” when that is an unnatural way to apologize.

Understanding: You can’t understand another person until you have learned from them and eventually with them. A learning attitude signals humility and willingness to identify with the people.

Learning: You can’t learn from another person until you have built trust with them. People won’t share important information with someone they don’t trust, especially cross-culturally.
Trust: You can’t build trust with another person until they feel like they have been accepted by you – until they feel that you value them as human beings.

Acceptance: You can’t communicate value and esteem to others unless they feel welcomed into your presence and find themselves feeling safe.

Openness: Openness with people of another culture requires that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone to initiate and sustain relationships in a context of cultural differences.
Each element builds upon the other to help mold us into humble servants like Jesus Christ demonstrated while he was on earth.

  • Have I served with humility each day? In what way?
  • What was most difficult for me when I tried to serve others as a servant of Jesus Christ?
  • How did Christ demonstrate each element discussed above as he interacted and served others?