God Blessed The Work Down In Africa

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jennyWe got back from our two-week trip to Iringa, Tanzania after midnight last night. Despite my jet-laggy exhaustion and disorientation, I wanted to give everyone a quick update of how the trip went.

As a team, we spent most of our time conducting personal Bible studies and inviting over 2,000 Iringa locals to the three-day seminar we conducted downtown. I personally spent quite a lot of time at home with Magan and her three precious girls (our hosts for the two weeks) helping her as much as I could with cooking, dishes, and laundry as she became acclimated to life there (they’ve only been living there as missionaries for a month), as well as helping her with the overwhelming task of hosting four additional people besides the five you care for all the time! When I wasn’t helping Magan, however, I was out with the guys handing out flyers, accompanying them on Bible studies, or holding precious Tanzanian children, as you can see in the picture. On the day before we flew home, we got to go on a real African safari, which was pretty remarkable, to say the least.

Here are a few things I learned (or was reminded of) while in Tanzania:

1.    America could learn a thing or two about sincere, open-minded truth seeking.

As is the case with most third-world countries, we were amazed and refreshed to find just how many people were starving for Biblical teaching and guidance. The work to be done there is overwhelming, but not in a how-can-we-ever-get-people-interested kind of way, but a how-can-we-find-time-to-study-with-all-the-people-who-want-to kind of way. In America, it’s surprising if you find a non-Christian who wants to have a sincere, truth-seeking Biblical discussion with you. In Africa, it’s surprising if someone doesn’t want to soak in whatever Biblical truth you ask to share with him or her. We were amazed, in a good way, at the receptiveness of the area. We were also amazed at the crowd’s behavior at the seminar we hosted in the city library. The seminar lasted around 3 hours every day, usually with no break. When a break was offered, no one moved, but rather asked that we continue, so that they could get as much Biblical teaching as possible during the allotted time. These were non-Christians we’re talking about, people! Just awesome. Every single attendant actively took notes and asked thought-provoking questions that revealed a genuine desire to learn rather than a hard-hearted agenda to prove a point or to attempt to be “right.” It was all about what the Bible says and what we’re supposed to do about it. We had several denominational leaders in the community show up, and their humble, open-hearted questions reminded me that this is the attitude we should all have when presented with an opportunity to search the scriptures, as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11).


2.    We’re just so rich.

 According to American middle-class standards, my husband and I don’t seem wealthy in any sense of the word. We’re that couple that shops at Goodwill and yard sales exclusively and doesn’t get to eat at nice restaurants unless we have a great coupon.  But when you get home from being with African families who live in mud huts with no bathrooms, no heating and cooling, no internet, no nice clothes, no security systems, no showers, no running water, no clean drinking water, no car, no insurance, little money for medical help, and no assurance that there will be food to eat each meal, you realize just how rich you really are. I think most of us here in America could use a good wake-up call once in a while—I know we needed ours.

africanhome —>A typical Tanzanian house

3.    Women, as a general rule, are not treated with respect in Africa.

 One of the most heartbreaking things for me to observe was just how pathetically women were treated there. Women are expected to work extremely hard making just enough money to feed their children while, in many cases, the fathers of those children are either nowhere to be found or too lazy to provide for their families. Women, never men, are told to stand up if all the seats on a bus are full and a man steps on the bus and can’t find a seat. Oh, and the reason you always see pictures of women carrying large heavy items on their heads is because you rarely see the men carrying anything heavy—always the women, and no one offers to help them with that load.  And don’t even get me started on what women have to go through to deliver a baby over there. And once that ordeal is over, daddy is never around to help with those children. It’s just really sad. I wanted to hug and comfort every woman I saw, because I know each one of them is fighting a horrendous battle just to survive.

Tanzanian Woman Barrel

4.    Children have to grow up super fast in Africa.

One of the things that shocked me the most was how many precious little children I saw having to do very adult things, like constantly care for younger siblings all day long. Even more than that, it was shocking to see the hundreds of children we saw running around all day with no parent in sight. We’re talking 2 and 3 year olds who may or may not have an older sibling nearby, but no parents. Once babies can walk, they’re pretty much turned loose and taught to fend for themselves. I never once heard an African baby or child cry or whine. They are taught to be extremely tough and self-sufficient in order to survive. And as a total side-note, I was fascinated by how small they all are. I saw so many 4 year olds that looked like 2 year olds, and 16 year olds who looked like 12 year olds. Growth is stunted there, so I was always surprised when I discovered the ages of tiny children.


5.    American women need to study African culture for a lesson in modesty.

One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced was not in Africa, but when I came back to America. This is because ALL the women in Tanzania are always covered from their necks to their ankles. It’s considered immodest to wear pants there, or to reveal your knees at all. Extreme or not, it was so nice to see a culture completely untouched by the immodesty that saturates our culture here in the states.


6.    Africans (even the ones who speak English) do not understand sarcasm.

It’s a completely foreign concept to them, so adapting to their humor was a challenge, especially for me.


7.    When people wave at you like this, they are not really waving at you, but asking you to come toward them. If you want someone to come to you, you should definitely do it like that, instead of like this, since that would be a major insult, considering they only summon dogs that way. I learned all of this the hard way.

8.    America is really a wonderful place to live.

America is the land of job opportunities, air conditioning, safe evenings out, malaria-free mosquitoes, clean tap water, clean public restrooms with toilets (as opposed to the choos like this that you’ll find in Africa), ice, free refills, convenience stores, smooth roads, and so many other things people take for granted. My husband took me to Logan’s steakhouse for lunch today, and we felt almost guilty for all the food, napkins, rolls, and drinks we got—things most people don’t really think about. They also never have sweets over there. I had to teach most of the children I met how to open the Tootsie Rolls I gave them, as they had obviously never seen wrapped candy before. Another thing I love so much more about America is that it’s so much easier to get things done quickly, whereas, in Africa, it takes much longer to do anything. Everything is a process, whether it be due to lack of technology or lack of education. We made daily comments about how something that would take us 20 minutes to accomplish in the states was taking us several hours to get done in Africa.


9.    Overseas missionaries deserve your respect and your support.

 People like our hosts, the Evans family, sacrifice all the luxuries and comforts of home to share the gospel with people in areas of the world that most Americans avoid. They face struggles every single day that most of us will never face. They need our daily encouragement and prayers more than anyone. The missionaries you know are most likely the bravest people you know. Treat them as such—with tremendous admiration, love, and support.

evans—>The Evans Family

10. Primitive Christianity works.

One thing I’ve noticed about the church in Tanzania is that it’s really no different from the church in America. It’s as though God tailor-made the church to work in every single culture and every single age. I guess that was the point. And that’s awesome. His plan for the church, and the example he gave us of that church in Acts 2 is timeless, flawless, and profoundly effective, yet beautifully simple. When you go beyond the Biblical pattern, there are so many adjustments you have to make, depending on the culture and region.


This list could go on and on, but it’s finally bedtime here, and my jet-lagged mind and body are so ready. But before I sign off, let me just say, in closing, that the trip was, I believe, a tremendous success, as many seeds were planted and many doors were opened for further church growth in Iringa. I believe I’m better for having gone, and my fervent prayer is that souls were and will continue to be brought closer to God because of my having gone. Thanks so much to everyone who kept us in your prayers!

Sleep well, friends! Or in Swahili….Lala Salama Marafiki!




The Ultimate Disaster Relief

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I’m teaching a class for teen girls (a total of about 125) on the topic of personal evangelism every day this week. Exhausting though it may be, I absolutely love being able to do this at Horizons every year. I see some of the most beautiful hearts in the world in the eyes and sweet questions and comments of these girls who sincerely just want to do right and go to heaven. I just hope I am able to bless them as much as they bless me by their sweet spirits and courage to boldly live for God when their peers and Godless high school culture are trying to destroy their faith.

In collecting my thoughts for my class theme this week, I began to ponder what has become a HUGE trend among young people in our culture. Currently and over the past 10 or 15 years, a movement has swept over the youth of our nation. To my generation, at least, it was introduced by books like “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne and various books by Rob Bell and other writers. It began entering every aspect of the lives of young people—even fashion. Everyone knows the cool thing is to wear Toms shoes, whether or not they know what the purpose of the organization actually is.

It’s cool these days to use your time and energy to serve others in ways such as providing food and/or clean water for the hungry and thirsty, reliable shelter for those who have a shabby, broken house—or no house at all—giving money to charitable organizations, doing random acts of kindness in the community, sending clothes or shoes to some third world country, and other wonderful works of kindness and love.

So why would that bother me? Before I answer that, let me just say as a disclaimer that I have MANY friends who I love and respect who love to involve themselves in organizations like these. It gives them a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment, and for the record, I get that.  But I’m still bothered by it.

Here’s why.  I’m hearing at so many youth devotionals, camps, and seminars that if we want to be more like Jesus, we will do things like feed and clothe the homeless, send shoes and clean water to Uganda, and other good works. But here’s what most of those speakers and counselors are failing to get across to these kids—maybe because they themselves don’t see the big picture: When we help to take care of the physical needs of people without making a serious effort to make sure their spiritual needs are met, do we really love them? If, in all our worthy efforts to provide food, clothing , and shelter without helping them make their souls right with God so that they can spend an eternity with Him, do we really love them?

If you think about it, one might argue that what we’re doing is enabling them to continue living in a lost state—just more comfortably due to  the new roof we’ve built them or the new fleece blanket we’ve sent to them. When we volunteer to serve at soup kitchens for the homeless and when they return to wherever they sleep, we make sure they go with warm coats and blankets, yes, we are providing comfort and a solution to meet an immediate, albeit temporary physical need. And that feels good. It’s rewarding to know you’re making someone feel better. But when we meet those temporary physical needs, and neglect to try to meet their eternal spiritual needs, we are sending them away to live more comfortably in their lost state, not thinking about eternity at all.  And, in the cases of many homeless people, we’re enabling them to continue in their lazy, entitled lifestyles when we provide them with the physical needs they themselves could obtain were they to get a job and work hard to provide for themselves and their families.

“But Hannah, Jesus was so benevolent! How can you possibly take issue with caring for others?!” That’s probably what you’re thinking right now. First of all, please understand that I am NOT suggesting we stop helping people. On the contrary, I think it is our duty as Christians to help people. I just think it should be accompanied by an effort to save their souls rather than just their earthly bodies. Second, Jesus was benevolent, but his benevolence was all for a spiritual, eternal purpose. If the purpose of his benevolence was merely the desire to meet people’s physical needs, would he not have healed ALL the sick and provided food and shelter for ALL the poor? Obviously, he didn’t do that. He could have, but he didn’t. Indeed, Jesus Himself was criticized for allowing a woman to worship him by pouring a precious ointment on his head rather than selling it and giving the money to the poor. He scolded them for their shortsightedness: “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Mark 14:6-9 NKJV) I think Jesus was implying that physical benevolence is good, but it’s not what truly matters forever and ever. What truly matters is making sure the souls around you know how to go to heaven because of your teaching and influence. Indeed, Jesus did state his purpose, and it wasn’t “The Son of Man has come to provide warmth, nourishment, and shelter to all those in need,” but rather, “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV)

“Well, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” you may be thinking. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I wish church leaders and youth ministers and anyone else in the church who stresses physical benevolence to others would drive the point home into the beautiful hearts of these well-meaning young people—the point that benevolence is needed and important, but we should always pair it with teaching that will help these people to not just live comfortably on earth, but to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the roof, the coat, the shoes, and the soup will one day all be ashes, but the soul will still exist either in eternal tormenting fire or around the throne of God? So many times we can offer both temporal and eternal disaster relief simultaneously, but if we’re content to just offer temporal comfort, it is just that—so temporary. True love is being involved in the ultimate disaster relief. Hell is the ultimate disaster.

I know this post might be controversial. That’s why I want to encourage you right now to comment and if necessary, help me in my own understanding. Am I wrong about this? I covet your thoughts.

 Request: Please review my comments policy before commenting below.

Muddy Feet

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While I was a student at FHU, a community series was conducted at the Estes Church of Christ in Henderson, Tennessee by Dr. Brad Harrub. That weekend, Dr. Harrub, founder of Think magazine, defended the existence of God and discussed current societal issues like abortion and stem cell research. At least two weeks prior to this uplifting event, after the Estes church spread the word through newspaper advertisements and other methods, Christians in the Henderson area began inviting members of the community by going door to door inviting each resident personally.

To fulfill a class assignment, one of my friends and I participated in this outreach for at least 10 hours—two Saturdays and a couple of weekdays. While this method of evangelism (door-knocking) was a first-time experience for my friend, I was familiar with it. I’ve participated in door-knocking efforts several times before during my high school years. I have not, however, had a lot of experience with door-knocking in such rural areas within the states (I have, however, done work in foreign mission efforts in 3rd world countries).

We arrived the first Saturday morning to work and were encouraged by the Christians who greeted us at the church building. They reminded us of the purpose of the work we were doing, and worshiped with us briefly before going over instructions about the routes we were to cover.

The route we were given was an area where many of the residents lived in mobile homes and were far enough from their neighbors that we had to drive to each house rather than parking the car and walking house-to-house. We didn’t know what to expect about how people would respond to our personal invitations, but we certainly faced a wide variety of reactions. Some people would crack the door, grab the flyer, and shut the door in our faces. I’m happy to say those people were in the minority. Most people politely listened to our invitation, took the flyer, and thanked us. Some people told us they were members of a denomination (usually Baptist). One man said to us, “I’ve been Baptist my whole life, and my daddy’s a Baptist preacher. If I ever went to ANYTHING at the church of Christ, I think my family would disown me.” We talked with him a while, emphasizing that it was a community series, not just a “Church of Christ function,” and by the time we left, he said he was interested and might come. We ran into several people who told us they were members at Estes, which brings me to a story.

On that first Saturday we worked, we drove down a long, narrow dirt driveway with deep ditches on either side, and no room to turn around by the two mobile homes at the end of the driveway. It was very muddy everywhere because it had rained most of the day.  We knocked on the doors, and the people who answered told us that they were members at Estes and planned to attend the seminar. We told them we would look forward to seeing them there, got back in the car, and then I struggled to back out of the narrow driveway slowly. Unfortunately, my tires slipped off and my friend and I landed in the muddy ditch.

As we stumbled out of the car and climbed out of the ditch (I was wearing a skirt, by the way), one of the men we spoke with came outside and, with an attitude of kindness and good humor, attempted to help push my car out. Due to the depth of mud and the depth of my car in the ditch, pushing wasn’t enough. The gentleman pushing went and found a neighbor of his who owns a large tractor, and his friend laughed at me and was kind enough to pull my car out. We thanked him over and over. He laughed and winked in response.

As we were leaving, the quiet, gentle man who was a member at Estes talked with us a bit. He thanked us for what we were doing, and begged us to keep going as much as we could. He told us it meant a lot to him to see young people working for the Lord as we were. We thanked him, and apologized for causing him trouble. He told us that it would be difficult NOT to fall into the ditch like we did with the rain making it slippery and the driveway being so narrow. We thanked him, and finally left to find the next house.

Although the experience was somewhat embarrassing and humbling, I cannot help but think it was providential that it happened at the home of a brother in Christ who was loving enough to patiently help us as needed. The things he said after helping with my car reminded me of the seriousness of what we were setting out to do. It was just what I needed to hear. I needed to be reminded that our efforts were not about a class assignment, but about lost souls who need Jesus. It was refreshing.

Participating in door-knocking efforts always gives me a variety of emotions: Excitement, discomfort, joy, sadness, and sometimes a hint of anger. The excitement is always there right at the beginning before I actually start exiting my comfort zone and talking to people about the Lord. The discomfort comes whenever awkward situations arise, like the overweight man who came to the door in only his boxers without any embarrassment on Monday of our door-knocking days. The joy is almost overwhelming when someone responds well to the invitation and commits to coming. The sadness comes when someone seems to care little or nothing about spiritual matters based on their response. Occasionally, however, I feel angry when the response is rude or spiteful towards us. In times like those, I’m reminded of what it means to love as Christ would love. If Christ could come and die for people who were hateful, cruel, and unloving, it’s the least I can do to be patient and kind with people who are not kind to me.

While I believe the effectiveness of door-knocking efforts pale in comparison to that of “friendship evangelism,” if one person came to the community series because of a flyer I handed them and because of a kind word of personal invitation, it was worth every moment we spent. The existence of God was defended, His word was taught, and His holy Name was glorified. I’m thankful I was able to attend. I’m also encouraged by the thought that, even if many of my contacts never showed up for the seminar, they were given clear information and what I hope was a pleasant impression of Christianity.

“…How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” –Romans 10:15

Can feet be muddy and pretty at the same time? You bet!

Coffee and God

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I was talking with a friend recently about the topic of evangelism and of each individual Christian’s responsibility to share the good news of Christ at every opportunity. Knowing him to be a highly effective individual for influencing others, I coveted his thoughts. He said to me,

“You know, I just heard about something a man did that I would really like to try. Let me tell you about it.”

As I listened, he proceeded to tell me the story of a man who sat outside a coffee shop in a busy downtown area of a large city with a cardboard sign on which he had written, “Let me tell you about my experience with God and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.” He had several takers and some good, long Bible studies with people who were searching. On the second day, he did the same thing again, only this time his sign read “Tell me about YOUR experience with God and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.” According to my friend, there was a line out the door that didn’t go down until the end of the day.

While I’m not sure his approach was the best (the very best is what’s called “friendship evangelism,” meaning you form relationships with people and then try to touch their hearts with the gospel), I think the story makes a very valid point. Some people are interested to hear you have to say about the Lord, but a lot more people are more anxious to tell you about their relationships with God than to hear about yours. Don’t get me wrong—it is so important that you share what you know about the Lord and about salvation, but your message will likely be much better received if you treat that person as though their point of view is every bit as valid and important as yours is.

I remember numerous times growing up when my dad would answer the door and two Mormon ‘elders’ would be at the door asking if they could come in and talk to him about the Bible. My dad would stop what he was doing and eagerly welcome them in and serve them sweet tea as they talked to him about the Mormon doctrine. When the conversation allowed him to comment and ask questions, he would ask them questions using scriptures that he knew they would be unable to answer with scripture while adhering to the Mormon doctrine. His questions were kind and polite and his comments were loving and calm. Oftentimes, they would sit in our kitchen for hours–deep in study and deep in thought about simple Biblical concepts the Mormons had never been taught.

I would venture to say that evangelism isn’t just about teaching. Half of evangelism is just about listening.

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” –Proverbs 29:20

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” –Proverbs 18:2