We are so excited to be serving in Malawi. We invite you to take this journey with us. Keep the beautiful people of Malawi in your prayers, and us too.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Glimpse of Glory

Colossians 3:4 "When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."

Many of you prayed over the past few days for the ministry trip Fostance, our friend Shaddy, and I (Luke) went on. Multiple strategic planning meetings and focused times of prayer had preceded this trip so by 6 AM on Friday morning, the minibus was packed and we were ready to hit the villages again with the goal of effectively communicating the vision of this ministry with around 40 church leaders in the region of Chikwawa. We had three vision sharing meetings in three different locations planned in just two days. The schedule was packed and we’d be travelling a lot but I was not prepared for the way God would speak to me on this trip.

In order for any church to do sports ministry for the glory of Christ, they must understand what this ministry is and how it can effectively communicate the Gospel and transform lives for all of eternity. Otherwise, we can train leaders but if the church does not support the work in prayer and financially, the ministry is not self-sustainable non-reproducible and powerless.  It is imperative that the pastoral leadership and church elders fully grasp the vision of sports friends and how we are here for the church. We are not an organization that does things outside the church because we know Christ uses His Body to reach the nations.  We’ve got to be strengthening the Body of Christ.  So that’s why we share the vision first with the church leaders.

Day 1: Friday March 22 – After a time of prayer, we left Blantyre at 6 AM to hopefully arrive at Ngabu Africa Evangelical Church by 9 for the meeting.  By the grace of Christ, we arrived at 8:59 AM.  God is so good and He protected us all the way down to Chikwawa.   The meeting went very well with 12 church leaders representing churches from all over the area. They had travelled by foot and bike from their various churches scattered across the region and came ready to hear the vision of Sports Friends.  Although the meeting took CONSIDERABLY longer than we thought it would take (nearly lasting 4 hours), it was an amazing Spirit-led time where we effectively casted the vision of Sports Friends, and informed them in detail what to do next and whom they need to look for in a local church sports minister.   These men of God had many good questions and were thoroughly excited that we had finally come to their villages.  They have heard much about sports ministry and almost every one expressed their thanks to God for the meeting. Praise the Lord.

After the meeting we drove to a nearby village to share the vision with 1 pastor (Ronald) and his family who was unable to attend the meeting that we had earlier because he was teaching.  This was the first experience of the trip that God clearly spoke to me. We spent several hours chatting, laughing, eating a great dinner, and then began to wind down to get ready to sleep.  Just before going to our room, Pastor Ronald and all his family grabbed their Bibles and began to sing. They invited us to join them and we happily agreed.  It was their family devotion time.  After singing 4 praise songs to the Lord, Pastor Ronald opened up the Word to Deuteronomy 30 and we read verses 15-20. The point he focused on and challenged us all was to love the Lord wholly with every moment because in Him, we find life (vs.20). Then, he told us to flip in our Bibles to Colossians 3 and read verses 1-4.  Again, there it says to set our hearts on things above and not on earthly things. And that our life is God’s to spend because it’s in Christ that we have been made alive.  Before Him we had nothing.  Without Jesus we have nothing.  But with Him, we have everything and we are gonna “appear with Him in glory” (vs.4).  Something about these words spoken in a different language in a tiny house in the middle of the villages in Africa struck me. These people have everything.
The written Word of God says it clearly and I read it and believed it but now I was about to experience it on a whole new level.

After singing a few more songs, we closed in a sweet time of prayer.  All of Pastor Ronald’s children were singing praises to a Lord they knew. Then when we prayed, I peeked and watched them pray.  Their faces shined with satisfaction in God. From young to old, the people of this house loved God and experienced His goodness and fullness of life. As we went to bed, I asked the Pastor, “How often do you do this?” His response is what got me, he looked at me a bit surprised and said, “Every night of course.”  This family makes time for worship on a daily basis and because of it, you can see the love and joy of the Lord in their home in such a real way.  From that time, we went off to bed where Fostance and I talked deep into the night (we couldn’t sleep because it was so incredibly hot), about how we want to lead our families like this man does.  Finally at 1 AM, we went to sleep with our hearts full of God and our room full mosquitos.

Day 2: March 23 - I awoke at 5 AM to the stench of the result of a sick chicken with a stomach problem and it’s whole family that lived under our bed. I was the lucky one!  Fostance stepped in it in his bare feet as he was getting out of bed. Yuck!  We took a nice bucket shower, packed up our things and said farewell to Pastor Ron and his precious family. He was a servant leader and a man I really would like to spend more time with.

The next place we were to share the vision was in the center of Chikwawa.  We arrived to find no one at the pastor’s house except for him and his family.  To our surprise, only 7 church leaders showed up to this meeting and after 2 hours, we finished up and were on our way. To be honest, we were a bit discouraged by the small turn up of church leaders at this meeting but we pray that God will fuel those who were there to tell others.
(Photo: Beautiful tree in the village)

Then, immediately from this meeting, we jumped in the minibus and headed 30 minutes up the road to a different location that is very rural.  As we drove, God reminded me of the night before and the passage that impacted me, “Christ, who is our life.” I thought, “Hmm. Thanks for the reminder Lord.” But I had not clue what I was about to experience.

Hardly any outsiders visit the remote villages we were going to because of the horrible roads and extreme heat.  But, we were determined to at least cast the vision and see what God would do.  We had to stop the minibus about 3 miles from where we needed to be because the road was atrocious.  From there, we hiked up into the rocky hills in the blistering heat to find 12 local church leaders with all their wives discussing ministry and church matters for the whole region.  Fostance knew the one and only pastor in this region who looks after all 13 churches covering 50 square miles. The pastor had invited us to their all-area church council meeting with every key leader from all the churches present. This was a huge opportunity and we praise God that we were able to get there while they were still all together.  After waiting about 30 minutes for them to finish up another topic, they invited us into the thatched-roof church building to cast the vision of Sports Friends.  All three of us visitors (Shaddy, Fostance and myself) were deeply humbled by these godly people who live on so little material possessions but on so much of God.  They knew the Lord and I could feel it the moment I stepped into the room with these men. The entire time we shared the vision, their wives were cooking and singing outside, it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in all my life.  Their joy was uncontainable.

God really led our time of vision sharing and we clearly felt His leading in the whole meeting. Next, we asked if there were any questions or comments and several of these men stood and testified about how people in the past came and shared a vision of a different ministry and then never returned.  They said time and time again they and their churches have been let down but this time they knew something was different.  Others stood up and said how effective they think this ministry can/will be in their local church.  Their excitement was so refreshing to our hearts.  They got it!  As we were leaving, they came to us and insisted that we stay and eat the best food they had (goat and nsima). We happily ate the food they gave us and listened to them sing and dance.  The pastor said, “We are so happy you are here. That is why the ladies are singing like this.  We’ve heard about this ministry and never thought it would come to us but God has brought you today. Thank you. God is so good.”

After eating, with our hearts and stomachs full, we stepped out of the hut and began our way down the hills.  And as we passed the wives who were singing, they all circled around us and were dancing and singing at the top of their lungs praises to God. They sang about how Satan has no power in their village anymore and how Jesus is better and sweeter than any other thing.  This was one of the most humbling experiences in my whole life. Their joy was like nothing I’d ever seen.   The Holy Spirit was so present and Fostance, Shaddy, and I could only smile and laugh at the goodness of Christ.  Finally, they stopped their singing to greet us and sing a blessing over us.   They didn’t know us but they loved us and respected us as if we were Christ Himself.  Our hearts were so full from the joy and love they showed us. They took the Word of God seriously and treated their visitors like Abraham did the 3 visitors in Genesis 18. If there was ever a time that I wish I had a camera it was this time…but I didn’t have it with me.  But I think it was for a reason because it was such an unforgettable moment that will forever be seared in my mind as a picture of love for God and His people. They had very little materially but had much more of the Lord and His Spirit than anyone i’ve ever met.  They experienced and expressed what the verse means “Christ, who is our life.”  They knew Christ and He knew them and because of that, their hearts were happy and they couldn’t contain their singing.  It reminded me of John 10:10 and that abundant life that Jesus is talking about.  It’s not this garbage prosperity Gospel that you see preached all over the TV, nope! This full Life is found in relationship with our Creator and you can have that and absolutely nothing else and have uncontainable joy.  These people had it and as we walked away, I said, “This is why we do what we do.” Fostance just smiled and we praised God for the rest of the day and the whole trip home for allowing us to come in to contact with those people.  Fostance said, “We are definitely coming back here! These people are gonna do great things with this ministry.”  Praise God!

Sorry for the length of this update but I just wanted to pass on what I experienced over the past few days and encourage you that we serve a Living God who is powerful and mighty to save anyone and set them absolutely ablaze for Himself. Be encouraged because we serve an awesome God! And if you just read this and have not experienced the incredible Life that’s found in Jesus Christ, please stop what you are doing right now and give your whole self to Him to fill you up.

All that to say, we had a good vision sharing trip ;)

Love you guys.


Friday, March 15, 2013

When Winning is Losing

Today was an interesting day.  At 2 PM, we had a scheduled game with our local sports ministry team Lyzee United Football Club. By the time 2:15 rolled around, I found 50 kids around me ready to play.  These boys are our family. We know them each by name, we know their families, and they have taken a special place in our hearts and prayer life.  Most of the time, the joy that these boys bring us is uncontainable and we write about it but today was something different.

Watt is one of our under 10 boys
The whistle was blown and the under 10 boys began their game.  While they played their tails off, I noticed many of our boys who were watching, were verbally quarreling with one another.  This is not a norm at our kids club as we teach them the Word and we’ve seen the Holy Spirit transform many of their lives.  I was surprised at this behavior but did not take immediate action. Many of these young boys don’t have a living father or mother so Becca and I are like their parents. Today I realized how much I love these boys and it was because my heart broke when they acted contrary to everything they know and have learned in the past 2 years. 

What happened is, in a matter of 5 minutes, we witnessed several of the boys from our older team mocking some of the younger boys and the individuals being made fun of were those who did not have the same football skill level as them.  I felt pain as I saw the faces of a few of the younger and less-gifted footballers being bombarded with negativity.  I saw the damage it was doing to their confidence and self-worth and it ripped me up.  But..i waited in silence, from a distance in hope that my boys would shape up and love one another.  Today just seemed like a fluke day because we were at a public pitch where many other Gospel-less community teams were watching intently. I thought to myself, “They’ll calm down. I’m sure they are just nervous because many other teams and coaches are here so they are trying to make themselves look cool.” But my hopeful (possibly foolish) assumptions were wrong. 
About 30 minutes later, just as we were leaving the football pitch to go home, a fight broke out between two of our boys. No punches were thrown but they each had each other by the collar and were ready to go at it. Many harsh words were said in the presence of many lost people watching on.  At this point I lunged in and broke it up and all 50 of us walked 30 minutes home in silence.  Without a word being said, they knew they needed to come to my house because we had to talk.

As we filed into our home, my heart went out and the Spirit of God spoke to me.  I was deeply impressed by the Lord to make the most of this awful situation in which the name of Christ was not shown in good light to outsiders.  Many community teams that are involved in all sorts of bad activities and far off from Christ were present and saw this scuffle happen and they know who we are and what we stand for and Who we live for.  They know the Word of God is clearly taught several times each week to these boys and they saw a picture of hypocrisy. And it grieved God’s heart. 

But He was not done with my boys. What God clearly showed me is that this is an opportunity for a teachable moment like I’ve never had before that sports have brought about. 

So often we talk about these ‘teachable moments’ or real-life situations that sport brings about that we as Christian coaches must pour the Gospel into.  But, I must admit that I rarely give good examples of what these ‘teachable moments’ look like practically.  This platform of sport has enabled us to have a deep relationship with these boys and today that relationship was painful.  My heart broke as I saw those two precious boys so angry with one another, not focused on reflecting the glory of the King to all those around.  Honestly, they usually do an incredible job at showing the glory of Christ to visiting teams or wherever we go.  They have spent the past year and a half learning the Word of God chronologically with us and many of them have surrendered their lives to Jesus and we see clear fruit from it.  But today was not one of those days.  Even though we had won the game, every one of us left the football ground dejected, humiliated, and knowing that something was wrong. We had lost something much greater.  And I as the coach was faced with a decision: Should I punish them, extend grace, cancel the next week of practice, only punish those involved in the fight or what?   I had no clue so I asked the Lord for help.

And once again, our great God came through…just in the nick of time.  As I opened the old rusty gate to our compound, God impacted my heart with overwhelming love for the boys….and for Him. It was truly overwhelming. That’s the only way I can describe it in writing.  They all sat in the front yard completely silent and motionless probably thinking, “Is this club finished forever?  Have we messed up so bad that we are never gonna come back?  Is he gonna scream at us for acting so foolishly?  I sure hope coach only punishes those involved in the fighting.”

As I looked to them I said, “Guys I love you and I love the Lord.” And then I started to tear up which completely caught me by surprise and it was at that moment that I saw their eyes.  It was their eyes that God spoke clearest to me thorough.  We all were experiencing the terrible feeling of sin and guilt and not brining glory to the One who has created us…and our hearts grieved because of it.  The Spirit of God in so many of the boys and in me grieved and longed for the glory of Christ to be shown.  But we had failed and every single kid knew it.  Sin is miserable.  It feels good to walk the fence of sin or even slander someone else but in the end, when God’s name is blasphemed because of it, the Spirit of God inside of us aches.  It aches because Jesus is better!  He is better than any sin or good-feeling thing we can do.  He is better than winning a game. He is better than scoring a goal. He is better than ace-ing an exam or winning the lottery.  Nothing compares to the satisfaction that knowing Christ and then reflecting His face to others brings.  And it was this moment with my boys today that I realized this truth to a whole new level.

In Chichewa I asked them, “How did today go guys?”  Three hands instantly shot up.  Their answers: “Horrible.” “We messed up big.” and then “We spoke unkind words to one other which escalated into us fighting and looking like idiots in front of many people who know who we are: a group of kids who love Jesus and know His Word.” Ouch.  His high-pitched voice in what once was a foreign language to me pierced deep and more of my tears began to stream.  They saw their coach (me) tear up and, naturally, many of them did the same. It was then that I could see that God has been working in them.  Despite the terrible day, they had conviction.  Even though they won the game, they knew they had lost something much bigger today.    I told them, “You are probably feeling horrible because you’ve hurt me but please don’t try to change your behavior because of me.  I want you to run to God and ask Him to change you from the inside out because He is the only One who can initiate lasting change.   When you guys die and face God He is not gonna ask you, ‘Did you play soccer well? Or ‘Did you make a lot of money?’ or ‘Did you travel the world?’  No guys! He’s gonna ask you, ‘Did you reflect my face to people who needed to see it?’  And that is the only thing that matters!  Football does not matter. Winning does not matter. The everlasting kingdom of Jesus Christ matters and you know that’s why we’ve come to Malawi. We’ve come to tell you about and show you this Kingdom and the King who reigns and who is worthy and that’s why we are gonna stay here.  This King is Jesus. He is real and He has loved us and is our fountain that will never run dry and because of that our love for you guys will never run dry because He is our source.  Guys, there is something much bigger at stake here.  Let’s seek His face.  Let’s ask Him for help because we need it today. We cannot do this on our own. Without full dependence on Christ, it’ll be impossible for us to change our wicked ways so we’ve gotta give Him everything.  Who is ready to do that?  Who is ready to repent about what happened today?”

I didn’t have to say anything else before my two captains of the team popped up.  My leaders who I’ve poured into more than any others showed their leadership and led in repentance and prayer.  It was beautiful.  God is great.  Please pray for us as we seek the face of Jesus like never before.  We need His help to live out His commands and be light to our community.  Don’t we all? 

Becca and I talked extensively tonight and I just couldn’t get over the goodness of God in our lives.  The pain and then deep love I felt for the boys today moved me.  I’m not the same.  I love Jesus more than ever because of what happened today.  As I’m writing this, I cannot type three sentences without thinking about the greatness of our Father who cares for His children.  Today, I really felt like a father to these boys and God showed me just a bit more about how He feels when we seek other things to satisfy our souls.  When we seek the things of the world in any way, shape or form, we’ll leave the Father tearful and find ourselves feeling stupid and unsatisfied, even if we win (in the world’s eyes).

Please pray for wisdom and direction as we attempt to love and lead these kids from our community by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Most importantly, pray that God would grab hold of our entire team and fill them in such a way that they cannot contain oozing His goodness all over this country, continent and the nations.

My prayer for these boys tonight is Psalm 79:8 – “Do not hold against us the sins of the (our) fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.  Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.”

I long for every one of these boys to be singing the song of heaven some day with me at the feet of Jesus with people gathered from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Humbled by His mercy,