Once we walked
for days to get beyond
where trees could grow.
We lay on the granite floor to watch.
For this we walked so far:
God’s show of stars
Obscured by progress
Alive above the timberline.
Once we walked
for days to get beyond
where trees could grow.
We lay on the granite floor to watch.
For this we walked so far:
God’s show of stars
Obscured by progress
Alive above the timberline.
Whitney and her husband, Caleb, are College Church mid-term missionaries to Madagascar. Music projects are part of Caleb's life--while at College Church, Caleb was involved with ChurchFolk.
Listen to the music of Sakalava believers as you read Whitney's post.
A local Christian radio station in my hometown of Houston is famous for its punny slogan, “God listens.” It naturally comes to mind when I consider our calling to work with the Sakalava Music Project in Madagascar. My husband, Caleb, and I are preparing to spend a year on a small island in Madagascar, recording local worship music for a new church that recently received the Bible in their language. All cheesy double entendres aside, the truth of a listening God has informed this ministry in drastic ways.
God does listen to even the least of these, and he is at work drawing these people to himself. The Sakalava people are a minority group of about a million people in Madagascar, and God is sending people to this field white for the harvest, leading an ever-growing church of new Sakalava believers.
God has called the missionaries already on the island to listen, hearing the gifts of local people and the way music is bringing the gospel alive in their hearts. Despite any preconceived plan or audio expertise, they readily followed the Spirit’s leading in fostering and equipping the new believers in the creation of worship music.
God is using music to reach the hearts of the Sakalava people in their own language and style. He speaks their language and loves their songs, and as they listen they are transformed. A local radio station has picked up the song you are listening to now, and is broadcasting the truth of creation throughout the island.
And as we go to serve on this island, recording more of these songs and teaching the local believers how to record and distribute their music for the sake of evangelism and the church, we pray that God would give us the grace to listen as He listens. Because, ironically, that is often the first step in proclaiming the gospel.
This prayer is from A Pastor Prays for His People by Wendell C. Hawley
Father God, we thank you for those of yesteryear who left home and family
to defend our country;
we enjoy the fruit of their sacrifice--we worship you in freedom.
Remember your children, worldwide, who want to worship you openly,
but dare not.
Grant openness to the gospel in those places of satanic oppression.
Remember those of our extended family required to be in harm's way
and all our military family.
Keep them from hurt and destruction.
Shield them from all harm.
Enable them to boldly and faithfully live a Christian life,
and may their testimony before fellow soldiers bear eternal fruit.
We pray all conflicts will end speedily
and the gospel's power will permeate all those troubled lands.
Give divine wisdom to our national leaders
that they may govern in ways that honor you.
We had two dogs in my life. One named Topsy, because my mom was going to a weight loss group called Tops. I know, not very imaginative, but we loved him anyway. An aunt and uncle gave Topsy to us, because they thought he would cure my sister’s fear of dogs. It didn’t. He wasn’t an especially friendly and huggable dog and could be downright mean. We showered him with our love anyway, and he tolerated us when he felt like it, particularly when we gave him treats. And he never listened to us.
Then, in my early twenties, while working at Sears in OakBrook, a customer came to the customer service counter holding this adorable, teeny, tiny apricot toy poodle on a velvet pillow. I fell madly in love with her, but she wasn’t for sale. However, the customer said that the poodle had a brother, the runt of the litter--and he was for sale. My eyes lit up. She told me w here she lived. And one Saturday, without telling anyone in my family, I took a drive out to meet Mr. Runt.
I drove up to an old farm house in West Chicago. I knocked at the door, and the lady with the apricot cutie took me to the back of the house and whistled loudly. Out from the dirt and grime came this bedraggled gray and white thing. I couldn’t tell if it was a dog or a big rat. Its hair was matted, he was covered in mud and had these super long ears. And then he did the unthinkable. He ran right up to me, sat down and gave me a look that only a dog can give a human. He smiled. Yes, he actually smiled. And I was hooked. So, for a whopping fifty dollars, no papers and nothing to place him on in my pristine car, I scooped him up. So there he sat on my clean white shorts, listening attentively, as I told him about his new family.
On the way home, I remembered that I had forgotten to tell anyone about buying a dog. Topsy had been gone for a few years, but no one really wanted to deal with another temperamental pooch. Leaving the gray and white thing in the car, I went in, got a towel, went back to the car, covered the little rat and nonchalantly walked into the house. I hoped to escape notice by my family members having breakfast in the kitchen. Before I could get to the basement door, my eagle-eyed mom asked what the heck I was doing--then she saw my dirt stained shorts and came barreling after me into the basement. She let out a shriek when I placed the towel in the basement sink and it began to wiggle and make strange noises. I hesitantly removed the towel, and both the dog and I were now smiling at Mom, who I think fainted at whatever she thought was in the sink. When Dad heard me yelling for help, he dashed down the stairs, threw some water on my Mom’s face, and now two people were looking at our smiling faces, but they weren’t smiling.
With both parents giving me the parental stare down, I gushed on about how cute the sink rat was, or at least would be once I washed him and combed out his hair. Dead silence. I told them it hardly cost me anything, and he would be my dog and I would always be the one to take care of him. More dead silence. So, I proceeded to ask for some shampoo; my still silent mom handed it to me, and I began to scrub down the wiggling rat in the sink.
What appeared out of the mud and grime was one of the most beautiful dogs I have ever seen. He was gorgeous. After I blew dry his hair, he was even more gorgeous. Soft gray and white hair, big eyes and beautiful long ears.
After giving him a meal of people food and letting him snoop around his new surroundings it was time for bed. As all books said to do with a new puppy, I placed him in a box, with a clock and some towels, and left him in the kitchen where I thought he would just fall asleep, (especially after the meal I had fed him). I don’t know if it was indigestion or loneliness or the enclosed space he was in but he cried all night. After several attempts to sooth him failed, my dad came down and brought box and all into their bedroom, and silenced ensued. So much for trying to do the right thing by never, ever, spoiling a pet.
The next morning, after a sleepless night, I came up with the perfect name for my new best friend. Snoopy. He never fell short of acting just like Charles Schulz’s quirky little beagle, even though he was a poodle. He won over my parent’s hearts within a week and was unbelievably smart. Wherever I went (except for work), he went. In those days he could sit on my lap as I drove to friends’ homes, to parties or family gatherings. On the way to and from our outings he always listened to me chatter on about who we were going to visit, or sometimes I chatted and he slept. I think the steady hum of my voice put him to sleep. I would really not like to think that I bored him into snoring, but either way, it was always great to have him with me.
As time went by, and our relationship got closer, Snoop always watched for me to come home from work, running to greet me when I walked in the door. I loved holding him, taking him for walks and showing him off. On Sundays, after church, Snoop and I would drive over to the Oakbrook Shopping Center in our Sunday best and walk around the outdoor mall (me looking like Audrey Hepburn, Snoop looking like a little prancing poodle prince with his faux diamond dog collar). Those were the days. A girl and her dog. Unconditional love and friendship. Anyone who has had or has a dog, knows just what I mean.
Dogs love unconditionally (sometimes). They don’t talk back but give you dog looks. Sometimes they have “attitudes” of indignation, boredom, or laziness. Sometimes they don’t listen. They need to be totally cared for.
We had Snoop in our lives and our home for fourteen years. He won over my future husband, is in our wedding pictures with me, and became Uncle Snoopy to our sons. Then one day he fell asleep and never woke up again. Do I miss him? Every day.
Eavesdropping on two older sisters was my best early listening practice. It was easy to listen when they didn’t want me to hear secrets, plans or anything to do with boys. I had to control my breathing in the next room and knew they sensed me if they said, “Little pitchers have big ears,” which meant they knew I was listening. The conversation would then become guarded, boring and possibly turn to them passing notes back and forth. While my sisters were an endless stream of top notch information, listening to my parents or other adult conversation was disquieting at times. I was piecing together bits of information and incorrectly filling in the blanks, my senses deceiving me, listening determinedly to connect the dots.
In second grade I was listening to our elderly downstairs boarder, Maxine, visiting with two friends when the topic turned to tornadoes. They were trying to outdo each other with what they’d heard about an upcoming storm. One of them said our little town of Frankfort, Indiana, would be blown off the map; so, I asked my family what it might mean. My siblings shrugged, and Mother said, “It sounds like someone thinks Frankfort may be gone forever, but where did you hear such a crazy thing? Are you listening at Maxine’s door again?” I didn’t admit it, but proceeded to have a series of nightmares, tears and beg for a bright nightlight before I confessed I was very sorry to have listened in on Maxine’s conversation with her friends. All sympathy ceased, and I was promptly told it served me right for being impolite and nosy.
Then at 12, I was reading under the dining room table one afternoon avoiding the front room guests, still within earshot in the odd chance the conversation turned colorful. A guest sighed and announced, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It seemed to be out of the blue, her statement, but it may have been connected to earlier ideas too boring for a twelve-year-old to hang onto. The declaration, however, intrigued me. “Nothing new under the sun.” Well, I instantly knew she was wrong and could prove it in many ways. I’d peeked into the robin’s nest in the magnolia tree and watched the new hatchlings. We were told to leave it alone, that the mother bird would bite us and peck our eyes out. It seemed possible. I hadn’t touched the babies, but I had looked at them many times. The guest stating that nothing was new under the sun received some “Amen sisters,” from everyone. Nearly everyone. No one corrected her.
Surely my father wouldn’t stand for such foolishness. I studied him to see why he had allowed the statement to hang there unchallenged. He didn’t let us get away with wild statements like that for anything. I crawled to a different spot in the dining room and observed him. Glasses in front pocket, he was sitting way back in the easy chair, miles away, quite possibly about to fall asleep. I would seek him later in his study and we would fix this. Later I knocked on his door. When he saw it was me he asked if I was helping Mother as I should be. I knew he was trying to distract me from bothering him. “Dad, you know how Mrs. Willen said there was nothing new under the sun?” He looked over his glasses, “Oh, did she now?” I explained how he was sitting there at the time and the adults all agreed and how it is not true. Dad answered, “And you should read the Bible a lot more and yap a lot less, as the entirety of human kind and the authors of the Scriptures are older and wiser than yourself.” Dad pushed his Bible toward me where he had turned to Ecclesiastes one verse nine. “Don’t just read the one verse either; read the whole book. Of course, I didn’t understand it on anything but the most literal of levels. It was a sad and confusing thing a bit like riding a merry go round at my age. Dad quizzed me about what I learned. I thought the writer grumpy and disregarding the wealth of information stored there, could not agree with “Nothing new under the sun.”
Every day is new. The baby birds are new. “Virginia, I told you to leave those birds alone!” My mother scolded me from two rooms away. “That mother bird is going to peck your eyes out!” I didn’t dare accuse Mom of eavesdropping on me. I continued with my argument for Dad, “Plus at breakfast I saved another box top. Only seven more and I’ll have a NEW Sally Skater Finger Ding Doll from Post Cereal. I really like the Betty Ballerina doll, but Mother says her tutu is immodest and we don’t dance.” Dad began to laugh, “Oh, if only the wise teacher, who is perhaps King Solomon, had access to a box top cereal doll from the Post Company. That would have surely delighted him beyond measure, and changed the plot lines of Ecclesiastes,” He took off his glasses and blew his nose, laughing and laughing. He began his dismissive finger wave, palm down and fingers scooting me forward in the air from where he sat at his desk. It was his gesture to leave the study. He cleared his throat and stated, “Now listen, you’re a child. Everything is new to you. The writer here is someone who has experienced much more. Just trust me that the teacher’s sentiments will be more understood as you grow older. Keep reading.” He kept laughing and teasing me about wise King Solomon and Post Cereal box top dolls nearly every time he saw me for a few days. When the Finger Ding doll came in the mail months later he laughed again. He often told me it was a good thing I brought a little humor to the table as I was a most vexing child.
Recently, I prayed, “Dear Lord, I have nothing to say. I am so tired of myself saying the same things. Asking for the same things, chewing and chewing on the same things. I am so bored with myself; how bored must you be with me? I am going to listen now. I want to hear your voice. I need to hear your voice.” I promptly fell asleep until the next morning. I tried the prayer again while awake and alone; all conditions set for quiet time. I found myself staring into space, Scripture verse written twice on the page to hold my attention. The page was covered with doodles and a grocery list begun on the side. While driving, I prayed again to hear his voice. In short order I was complaining aloud about things I have no control over such as drivers making dangerous lane changes and ubiquitous road construction.
As I begin to write about listening, I realize I am weak, but his Word is strong. I hope to learn to do better as I explore the idea. I wonder if I have ever listened. Truly listened to God even one time. Ever? Or if I’ve been in a cosmic argument stirring doubt and fear punctuated by the occasional seed of hope around and around my whole life. It isn’t just being still, though that’s a start. It isn’t just being quiet, though that’s a start. We learn to not speak, but that isn’t listening, it’s waiting for one’s turn. So, I will walk with the promises I read in his Word. I will sing truths. I will practice listening in active worship. I will walk in his world, listening to the waves, wind, bird calls and the thunder. I won’t listen because I’m told to but choose to listen because I want to hang onto his every word. I want to be a little pitcher with big ears listening, listening for his still, small voice.
The Sunday night of missions festival Bob Enstrom came up to me at the evening service excited about summer. I got to know Bob several years back at the summer book group, and he was an enthusiastic participant when he was in town.
We talked about different summer plans. I couldn’t talk to Bob without feeling lifted up; this meeting was no exception, his interest and care always genuine. Bob encouraged me when he heard some of what I was thinking about with this summer’s group. He told me how much he enjoyed participating, told me some of his plans, and then it was time to head over to the Global Café.
Bob seemed to be in fine shape, but Tuesday of that week, I received word of his unexpected death.
Yesterday I went to his funeral. Right after, I headed to the prayer for the persecuted church group. In it, we lifted up people, churches, countries where being a Christian is costly.
We prayed for Andrew Brunson, whose trial is scheduled for this week. We prayed for the Korean Americans who are possibly going to be freed in the days ahead. We prayed for one who came to faith at a church service where one of our congregants preached in a hostile country. We prayed for churches in Nigeria, China, Kenya, Ethiopia. We prayed for refugees in many countries, some facing repatriation. We prayed for the persecutors, longing for Saul-to-Paul conversions all over the world. You can see our prayer sheet from yesterday here. Feel free to join in the prayers.
So there’s a lot of suffering in this world. It can get heavy. As I write this, I’m listening to ChurchFolk, finding some solace in the music of friends singing “Jesus Lives and So Shall I”
Jesus lives though once he died
In the ground he was forsaken
Yet the stone was rolled aside
How the gates of hell were shaken
Death obeys Him, yes it must
Jesus is my hope and trust,
Jesus is my hope and trust.
Time is short. All of us—we’re just passing through. We don’t have forever to do whatever it is God has designed for us. And I’m thinking of how every prayer and every encounter we have with people is precious and can’t be taken for granted.
God, I need ears to hear and eyes to see. There is a particular “wonder” to today—whatever it may hold, whoever I meet, whatever happens to me or the ones I love or the people who are “the enemy.” I want to go forward like Christ, more mindful than I’ve been of my call to be like Jesus, a diplomat, an ambassador, representing to this world I know so well, the other world, the one that though I don’t know it so well, is my real home. Let us live as a city on a hill, salt, light, a lamp on a stand.
From our favorite wanderer . . .