Thursday, June 24, 2010

Multi-Tasking during the Soccer Game

I am not much of a soccer fan, but even I have been caught up in the World Cup mania. When Landon Donovan scored the last second, game winning, sending the USA to the next round goal in the yesterday’s game, I was sitting at my computer watching the drama unfold while talking with a young pastor in another state about a matter in his church. The conversation went something like this:

Him: Hey Rob, I need your opinion on an important matter…
(Donovan kicked the ball in the net)
Me (Screaming at the top of my lungs): GOOOOOOOAAAAAAL!!!!!!
Him: Umm… I am not sure that is the answer I was looking for…

I am not sure my friend will call back for advice anytime soon. Oops.

Multi-tasking is not one of my spiritual gifts.

God is different. It blows my mind to imagine with six billion people on planet earth at any given moment there are millions if not a billion or two prayers being uttered in one form or another. The Bible is quite clear that God knows not only the intricate detail of each and every request, but even knows the minutia like the number of hairs on even the most adamant atheist’s head. God is the Uber Multi-Tasker. Moreover, our conversations with the Creator don’t get lost in the shuffle of the millions of other appeals; they are not misplaced on a Divine “to-do” list that never gets done. God hears our prayers; He knows our needs; and He supplies them exactly when needed.

You’ve heard me say it before but it’s worth repeating: He knows what we need; He knows when we need it; we can trust Him.

I’ve had to remind myself of that truth this week. We returned home from our trip to Michigan to find that our house had experienced a few mishaps while we were away (a leaky roof; a wet basement; there was mildew and a “pleasant” aroma filling the air; a leaking pipe; and a broken dishwasher…. All in the 24-hour, welcome home period! WOW!) Now we could look at all of those troubles and lament: “Why us? Why now? Boo Hoo hoo…” (Ok maybe we did that for a minute or two, especially when we were running the rented carpet cleaner in the stinky basement).

But soon verses like Deuteronomy 7:9 came to mind: “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” And Lamentations 3:22-23: “Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

In other words, God knows what’s going on. He is faithful. Maybe there are 6 billion others on this twirling globe, but He hasn’t overlooked you. He’s not so consumed with a soccer game that he’s forgotten you; He’s not sleeping; and He’s not on vacation. He is very much aware of your situation. In other words, He knows what you need. He knows when you need it. You can trust him. So hang in there and trust—we serve a faithful God!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Leaky roofs and flooding basements

I was sitting in my car;
In a traffic jam;
On I-435;
In the rain;
In route to my doctor’s office to receive a shot in hopes it would end a long lasting headache;
When Alex called me.
“Dad,” he said, “Our house is about to float away.” That is not how you want a conversation to begin. He proceeded to tell me that the great rain of Tuesday not only was finding its way into our basement, but was also coming in through the roof. The same roof that the roof guy “repaired” three weeks ago and assured me that he “got the leak, no problem.” In other words, we had what experts in troubles, problems and woes refer to as a “double whammy” – a flooding basement and a leaking roof.

Then I really had a headache.

When I got home I discovered that my #1 cherub is not a liar. Our house was collecting so much water—the people at the Schlitterbahn Water Park were calling to see if our place could be their next attraction. It made me long for the days of living in a parsonage. When the roof at the Bad Axe parsonage leaked; and when the sump pump stopped working; and when there were bats flying around our living room; and when there were mice in the kitchen; and when… well you get the idea-- the parsonage in Bad Axe would never have been confused with a mansion. Still when troubles arose, I made a phone call to one of the men of the church and he would come and make all things well. Parsonage living had its advantages.

Fortunately when I finally got home on Tuesday, Alex and a friend had everything under control. The water in the basement was sucked up and gone and there were buckets in strategic places in our hearth room. The next day, the roof guy came out and he believes that both my basement water and the roof leak are the same problem and that he can fix it…. “No problem.” (Haven’t I heard that before?)

In any event, we hope to have a handle on the house that is now a sieve.

Sometimes, like my house, it seems that our problems are coming from all sides. Look down - there they are. Look up and all you see is more trouble. You might feel like you want to agree with Woody Allen who once said, “Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.” But instead of Woody-- I like the way the Message version reads the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4. It says: So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

In other words, don’t look at the size or the number of the problems—look to the One who can help in all things. So don’t give up! Hard times are small potatoes! Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and He will see you through these “light and momentary troubles.”

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Swaziland Update #5

The Lenexa Central team has had a great week in Swaziland! Yesterday, Friday, June 4, was a busy, busy day for everyone. The education team met at the school for the opening assembly and then spent the next hour and a half talking candidly with the teachers of the primary school about the similarities and differences between the educational system of the USA and Swaziland. Then at 10:00 we were joined by the school board and commenced with a formal presentation. Drs. Linda Alexander and Romona Stowe presented special gifts from our team to the school’s principal and assistant principal. Each teacher from our team also presented gifts to the coordinating Swazi teachers and left candy and small trinkets for all of the students at the school. The final gift we left for the school was the beginnings of the first ever elementary library at the Enzengini primary school. There were over three hundred books, many balls, jump ropes, school supplies, and games given to the school. After tearful goodbyes to the Swazi teachers and students, the team headed to work with the ladies of the mission and continue putting up block on the home for nurses.

Since many Swazi ladies do not know their date of birth, the ladies celebrated a universal birthday party with cupcakes, party hats, blow horns, songs, candles, streamers and cards. The Swazi ladies also taught our ladies how to make a grass mat. They then lovingly gave the mat to our Central ladies. Today the ladies all met together and talked about “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the gospel…” It then made perfect sense and fun to help the Swazi ladies make flip-flops by tying colorful balloons on each pair. The ladies were so impressed with their new shoes! Next they had a wonderful Spirit-filled time of devotions, songs and prayer. Wow! The power of God came on those ladies and each one was powerfully moved.

Today was the final day at the work sight of the Diane Garrison Memorial Home for Nurses. Our team worked for several hours and then met in the house to share a time of dedication. We were joined by the head nurse of the mission and several other Swazis. We sang three of Diane’s favorite hymns then heard some words of dedication from both Brent LaVigne and Dan Rexroth. Paul Garrison presented a memorial plaque and welcome sign to the head nurse who will be living in the home when it is finished. This service was again a special time for all the whole team. We loved Diane and were happy to be able to build a house in her honor.

Our team finished the day by visiting the famous Harmon Schmelzenbach rock where he saw the smoke from a thousand fires and committed his life to serving God in Swaziland. Many photos were taken as we gazed upon the beauty of the Lord’s handiwork in Swaziland.

We want to wish you all well and are praying that God will continue to sustain you until we see you again in a few days. From our team in Swaziland to our family and friends in the USA…We love you!

Friday, June 04, 2010

PALCON and Imperfect Umpires

I’ve been at PALCON this week. PALCON stands for Pastors and Leaders Conference, I think. I write “I think” because I’ve checked and rechecked the brochure and I didn’t come up with actual words for the acronym. So, with that being in mind, I decided to come up with a few alternative meanings for the PALCON acronym:

Please Admonish Lame Comments On Neanderthals (I like cavemen)

Permanently And Lovingly Consider Outlawing Neck-ties (I don’t like neck-ties)

Preaching A Lesser Christ Only Nauseates (It’s kind of theological, an occupational hazard of mine)

Maybe they should stick with Pastors and Leaders Conference.

I am really not much of a conference guy. I’ve said many times that the reason God called me to preach is that He knew I couldn’t sit through a church service. My mom used to say I have “ants in my pants” (not true by the way). But I am fidgety. I take candy. I try to listen. Still when the preacher mentions some scripture, my mind goes in a million directions on how I would preach the passage or what points I would bring out or what illustrations I would use.

To further complicate matters, last night a very fine preacher was scheduled to preach. Unfortunately, just before the service I checked the baseball scores on my phone. My beloved Detroit Tigers were playing the Cleveland Indians. When I checked the scores, the Tigers were winning 1-0 and Armando Galarraga (the Tiger pitcher) had not given up a hit. Wow! He was pitching a no-hitter.

So every few minutes when I knew the Indians were batting I would go back to my phone and check the score. Sing a verse—check the score. Pray a prayer—check the score. Galarraga continued to pitch great. In fact, he was pitching a perfect game—which means every batter he faced made an out. It was that way, all the way through the ninth inning. I know I was supposed to be listening or singing or whatever it was we were doing at the conference—but I was so curious—would Armando pitch a perfect game? (It has never been done in Tiger’s history. In fact, in all of Major League Baseball’s history it has only been done 20 times!)

If you are a sports fan, then you know the story. With only one out to go (Galarraga had gotten all 26 batters he had faced to make outs), the final batter in what would have been his perfect game hit a grounder to the first baseman. The first baseman caught the ball and flipped it to Galarraga who was covering first base. All the replays show that the batter, Jason Donald, was out, but the umpire mistakenly called him safe. In so doing, it ruined Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. AAAARGH!!! (I almost shouted a mean comment or two about the umpire right then and there, which would have been quite awkward with the PALCON service in full swing).

Some people are calling it the biggest blunder by an umpire in baseball history. The ump would later admit he missed the call, felt horrible and apologized. Lesson learned: Umpires are human too.

So are preachers. So are you. We all make mistakes. We all say dumb things. We all do dumb things. There are times when we don’t do what we know we should do (like paying attention at PALCON last night). That’s the problem with living on this sin-stained planet. I look forward to experiencing Jesus’ prayer, “On earth as it is in heaven.” I look forward to a time when I won’t be putting my foot in my mouth, when I won’t forget appointments, when I will know how to appropriately respond to all situations. But until that day, like Paul, I want to say “I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14 The Message) In other words, I might not be perfect, but I want to keep moving forward in becoming more and more the person God desires me to be.

Well, I am “off and running” back to PALCON. I sure hope the Tigers don’t have another game like last night or I won’t learn a thing.

Swaziland Update #4

Thursday June 3, 2010

Greetings from Swaziland. Another day has come to an end and as most of you wrap up lunch we are wrapping up dinner/devotions. The last two days have been busy for the entire team, which would explain our silence yesterday. The main event for Wednesday was time with The Luke Commission ( . This organization is composed of both Swazis and US Americans and serves all over Swaziland. It was started by a husband and wife who are a physician and PA team. Twice a week this organization sets up in various locations and provides medical care for everyone that shows up, including many who may have walked great distances. The care is free of charge and includes stations for eye exams and glasses, testing for HIV, blood sugar, blood pressure, tuberculosis, spiritual guidance, physical exam, post-test HIV counseling, special personal transportation devices for the disabled, and pharmaceuticals for any identified conditions. We don’t know how many patients were seen, but the team left the site at almost 10 pm. The educators continued to educate and the construction continued with only a minor “delay” from a broken down cement mixer. The women’s ministry has been fortunate enough to learn from the Swazi women some of the techniques used in their native handy-work including floor mats, beaded jewelry, clothing, etc.

Thursday Ramona, Mike, and Melissa taught the sixth and seventh grade students Excel bar graphs. The local pastor from the Endzingeni Church of the Nazarene spoke in the elementary school chapel for all of the students. The teachers sat in the front and the students stood for the entire service. The construction project and ditch digging (for a drinking water pump pipe) continue and the progress is beginning to be evident. Some of the team was able to listen in on choir practice at the high school and elementary school, both teams are going to competitions next week and are truly amazing. To date there have been no major injuries, thanks be to God. Tomorrow we hope to begin the trellis framework, assuming the materials arrive.

Grace and Peace from Swaziland.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Swaziland Team Update #1

We are in Swaziland enjoying a rainy Sunday.

The flights were long but uneventful. We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa about a half hour early and were able to eat dinner before making the 5-hour drive straight to Manzini, Swaziland. Even though many were very tired, we were all awake about midnight to go through customs into Swaziland. It did not seem like it had been almost 31 hours since we had left Kansas City.

Sunday morning we enjoyed a spirit-filled service at Sharpe Memorial Church with several hundred Swazi’s. Much of the singing was in Suswati until we sang the song "Our praises go up so the glory will come down". As we all sang, the Lord’s Spirit was so real as the words to the song came true. The pastor preached a great sermon that was translated into English about the wide and narrow gate as he compared it to the enthusiasm of the teams playing in the World Cup. It was a great 2+ hour service.

Later in the afternoon, we went to Brent and Micaele’s (Mission Corps Missionaries) house to load up 30 buckets of food that we will deliver Monday afternoon to those who are suffering with HIV. After putting the various basic food items into the buckets, Dan Rexroth lead us in a prayer of consecration, asking God to bless the $18 worth of food that we were delivering to strengthen the bodies of the sick. The money the Central Church is giving will be able to feed many people for a long time.

What a great day it has been. Tomorrow, we will visit the hospital and spend the rest of the day visiting those with HIV. Please pray that Holy Spirit will go before we visit and will guide our actions tomorrow.

Swaziland Team Update #2

Hey Everyone,

It’s Monday evening, May 31. We spent a very atypical Memorial Day! After breakfast we loaded up in our 3 vans and headed to Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital here in Manzini. It is part of the 25 acre mission compound which includes Sharpe Memorial Church, the nursing college, School of Education, a high school and missionary housing. For those long-time Nazarene’s, it is a place we’ve all read and heard about all our lives. The director of the hospital, Leonard, took half the group and Brent, the Mission Corp volunteer took the other and we spent probably 2 hours touring the facility. It was almost surreal to be there and meet the staff and see the patients. It’s the largest hospital in the country. Many different organizations have contributed to the growth of it including your US tax dollars! It was a very busy place. They have a separate entrance for the HIV/AIDS patients to use to help remove some of the stigma of having the disease.

When we left there, we went to the regional offices to pick up the leaders of the AIDS task force to go with us on the home visits. Our van had Mary Magagula who is the retired nurse who began the force along with Evelyn Shongwe and a man who is working with them. Each van had 10 large buckets filled with food and other necessities and a list of clients to visit. Our group was able to go into most of the ‘homes’ and look all around their homesteads. The first lady we visited was 65 or 70 and all alone. Her children had all left to work far away and could not be there to help take care of her. Her only visitor is the volunteer who comes to see her a couple times a week. She was beyond thrilled with everything but especially the 5lb bag of mealie meal which is a major staple in their diet. Mary said there had been a drought and no one had been able to harvest any so they were all thrilled. We sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and prayed with each person. Most of them were Christians and were thanking Jesus for this blessing. Mary was very compassionate with them and checked all their medical papers to tell if they were improving or needed hospital care or whatever. Our group also had small mirrors in rubber cases and we gave them to the patients and also to some of their families. They LOVED seeing themselves! We also passed out Tootsie Rolls and stuffed animals to the kids. We added a couple new clients today because one was visiting one of the clients we were visiting and she also had the disease and another as we drove by and Mary just wanted to stop and check on the people. That man had been sick for a few months and they used Becky Ellis’s stethoscope to listen to his chest and determined that he probably had TB and needed medicine. Mary told him to go to the hospital tomorrow and be checked. She said there is a very good cure rate for TB with the medicine.

The other two vans had even more exciting stories! (I forgot to tell you that our van went to Stegi and the others went other places.) Anyway, both other teams led people to Christ! One group was at a home where two brothers, ages 19 and 22, both had HIV/AIDS. Eric Kesselring was praying with them and asked if they knew Jesus and they said no. So, he prayed with them and they both accepted Christ!!! Isn’t that awesome!! He said you could really tell the difference in them immediately! Their mom was already a Christian but they were not. It was just an amazing experience for all of us. These homes were in very rural areas and many where exactly what you picture when you think of Africa…round huts with thatched roofs.

We all need to get to sleep early tonight because we still haven’t made up for sleep loss from the trip and tomorrow is a very early day, especially for the education team. They have to leave here at 6am to be in Endzengeni by 8am for a special school assembly planned just for them. It will be their first day of teaching. Please pray for them. They are a great group of girls and we have really enjoyed having them on the team. The rest of us will leave here at 7am and begin construction on the nurses house and do our women’s ministry. We will spend 5 days working and then go to church with the people next Sunday.

Please pray for all of us. We keep very busy and are all very tired, but thoroughly enjoying all aspects of the trip. It’s chilly in the morning and evening and warmed up nicely today. Wish we could tell you so many more details but that will have to wait till we get home.

Blessings to all of you.

JoAnne Rexroth

Swaziland Team Update #3

Swaziland Update #3

Hello All,

Roger Alexander reporting for the crew tonight from Maguga Lodge, Piggs Peak, Swaziland, SA. Look it up on the web…we are suffering with beautiful views and getting ready for dinner at 18:30. The lodge overlooks the Maguga Dam. Beautiful. Drs. Linda Alexander and Ramona Stowe and their seven MNU students along with MNU grads and teachers Mike and Cheralea Purcell woke this morning around 4:45-5a.m. to travel two hours to teach by 8a.m. The Purcell’s taught a 7th grade class and the others younger grades. The Purcells were prepared for the day but were surprised by the teacher asking them to do 30 minutes on American history…so, TIA (This Is Africa), they did 60 minutes on American history with the teacher asking most of the questions…”have you met your Prime Minister?...we don’t have one….what?...Have you met the President?...

Dan Rexroth, our leader reminded us in our meetings to be flexible… We are flexible! The construction crew joined with a team of workers from Manzini (about two hours away) who had already started their day by laying cinder block walls. Our team tried not to slow them down by joining them. By lunch time we all were in synch and made quite a bit of progress by adding around 5 more courses. One section of the Diane Garrison Memorial nurses dorm is almost ready for us to pour concrete for the tie beam (a beam that runs along the entire top of the outside walls tying it all together for strength. The Lord willing tomorrow we will be able to complete the other half of the dorm and do their tie beam….Lord willing. Other members of the construction crew started digging a foot wide trench, two feet deep and fifty feet long. They only hit one large water line and one small water line…repairs begin in the morning and the neighbors will be happy (a joke…the leaks are very small but supplies take time to get as everything typically comes the two hours from Manzini.) I have learned the dorm is basically a duplex with two bedrooms, a bathtub and sink room, a toilet room and a living room on each side for a total of 4 bedrooms for nurses. With this setup four nurses could be on each side or some nurses could bring a child to live with them in their room. TIA. The nurses will have to walk about 30 feet to the clinic.

Tomorrow a group of doctors and nurses will be at the clinic and have agreed to see every patient who is in line. The clinic will start early in the morning and has been known to run until one or two in the morning. People will walk for miles for this primitive care. It makes me want to stop complaining about traffic lights and having to wait five minutes in a Walmart line.

Everyone is fine (except the author who used his 6 foot 4 head to hit a 5 foot 10 inch door jam…not too many tall people around I noticed somewhat late so there is no need to waste wood on taller doors apparently). We are working in Piggs Peak, Swaziland area where the Church of the Nazarene’s first missionaries were stationed. I heard today that it took the missionary three years for their first convert. May we all be so persistent in sharing our faith. A little about the area, it is VERY hilly, about 5-6,000 feet, the sun is shining and dry, about 65-70 degrees. The local people are running around freezing with coats on and we are in shirt sleeves. Well, that is about all for now. Thank you for your continued prayers for our team. We are learning a lot about the country and ourselves.

God is good all the time.

Roger AlexanderCub Reporter