“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
I waited patiently for the Lord.
He heard my cry for help and set my feet upon the Rock.
He has put a new song in my mouth,
A praise to our God;
Many will see and trust the Lord.
As we are living here in a foreign land, the temptation is to focus on the strangeness of it all. It is only natural for us to be intrigued and fascinated with African landscapes, buildings, lifestyle, methods, and culture. We understand that learning to live here is an important part of the effectiveness of our work in building up the Church. We strive to live close to the people, to lessen the barriers that occur naturally from cultural and financial differences. However, the real question is not how do we learn to live an African lifestyle, but rather, how do we “sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” What is the message that we give to the people? Is it merely that we are funny foreigners who can’t talk right, have difficulty buying peanuts, and don’t know which daladala would take us home?
Psalm 40 gives us the answer: to wait patiently for the Lord’s help, to let Him firmly establish us, and to trust Him to put a new song in our mouths: a song of praise to our God. That is, a manner of living that reflects the Glory of God so that those who see us will trust the Lord also. This is our challenge. It is a new song because we are in a land that is new to us. But the message of this song is an old one that is the same in every land. I was talking with the Bishop yesterday and said, “I have an apology to make; I don’t have anything exciting or clever to preach in the churches here. I only know to preach Humility, Obedience, and Unity.” He laughed and said, “Is there anything else to preach? This is the message our churches so desperately need to hear right now!”
I have been invited to preach many times. I could be busy preaching at a different church each Sunday if I would accept all the invitations. Sermons are good, but the effects of them can be short lived without real relationships being established. There is a need for the song of the Lord to be sung here by our lifestyle. The song of humility, obedience, and unity. The churches here are full of enthusiastic people who desire to be a witness for Jesus Christ, singing their songs loudly (figuratively and literally!) Yet this particular song is often lacking and the Church here is crippled in her efforts to effectively do the work of the Lord. This song may be sung differently in America, England, or Australia, but it is still the song of the Lord: a song of praise to our God. Yet, how can it be True Praise unless it comes from a life of humility, obedience, and unity?
Even here it is hard to get away from the lifestyle issue. Many Tanzanians are surprised that a “mzungu” family would want to live as they do. The common expectation is that since we are “White People”, we would come with lots of money, live a lavish lifestyle, have great wisdom, and have the answers to all their problems. We are trying to show them that it’s not about living like an American or an African; it’s about living for Jesus Christ. This takes a great deal of patience. We have to model it day by day in small ways: in picking up trash around the compound, carrying buckets of water to our neighbors, taking time to ask about their families, playing with their children, sitting with them in the evenings, and in portraying respectful attitudes with our eyes and voices. Always being aware of the need to live as Jesus would. This is the challenge for us. Isn’t it the same for you where you live?
I have completed editing and rewriting two courses for the Bible School: Principles of Bible Study and Principles of Sermon Preparation. Now I am working on a Survey of the Books of the Bible. It is very helpful to be here to discuss ideas and concepts with the local pastors. Mama Anna (my wife) is teaching English for two small classes here on the compound. The older girls are volunteering at a local orphanage, learning to work with young children. It is a difficult situation with many struggles, compounded by the language barrier, but they are persevering because of their care for the children. On Sundays we are mainly attending the English service offered at the Anglican Cathedral in downtown Mwanza. Visiting a church service in Swahili is interesting the first couple of times, but isn’t very edifying on a regular basis. I am preaching several times a month, in both the English services and in Swahili services at other churches as well.
We come with so many expectations of what we are going to do, of what we are going to accomplish while we are here, of how many people are going to be “changed” because of us. Yet as George Carleton said, “God can sanctify others without your help: the only person whom God cannot save without your help is You.” It may very well be that the greatest good done here will be what God does through changing us. We have to let Him put a new song in our mouth, a manner of life that gives praise to our God. If we let Him do this, then others will see and trust the Lord.
May the peace of Christ be with you,