I celebrated my 74th birthday here in South Africa on February 4th. The older I get the faster Father Time seems to be running. He seems to run even faster when I am here on the African mission field, which is just the opposite of what you would normally expect, because Africans never seem to be rushed.
So far this year we have hosted 3 large teams for a total of 43 short term missionaries serving with us. There are many things that we are doing here in South Africa but one of my favorites is observing the incredible spiritual growth in the lives of the American team members while they are with us. I always tell people that a mission trip to Africa will change you forever; the individuals still seem to be surprised at the magnitude of spiritual growth that they experience. Most people who come here plan to assist us in working with the African children by feeding them, helping educate them and showing them the love of Jesus. All of this does happen but the major change is what happens in their own hearts. Most of the African children that we work with are living in abject poverty. They may be living in a tin shack with a dirt floor and no electricity or indoor plumbing. They barely have enough clothes to wear day to day. In summary, they are as impoverished as you can possibly imagine. The amazing thing is that when we interact with these children and even the adults, we find their hearts are full of joy. They are without question happier than most American children who have every toy and gadget that can be imagined. Many of them are obviously not getting enough nutrition, but when we ask them what they need, they almost never ask for material things.
After living in Africa and serving these beautiful children, the message is loud and clear that it is not more stuff that makes people happy. Jesus instructs us in the Bible, when we are ministering to our fellow human beings we do not need fancy cars, boats, multiple homes or even fancy clothes. He instructs us to take with us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So often, chasing after money and material things get in the way of hearing from God and His calling upon our lives. When I was in my mid-fifties, I used to ponder if I had enough money to last me the rest of my life. For the last 18 years my salary has been zero and admittedly my bank account is smaller than it was 18 years ago, but I have no concerns about having enough and I have never been happier. For me at least, a life of generosity and giving my time and talents gives me blessing after blessing.
So many times, I have seen the transition in people’s lives as they minister to our beautiful children here and then spend a few nights sitting around an African campfire sharing with each other what God is doing in their hearts each day.
Over the last 10 years we have had nearly 1000 short term missionaries come and serve with us. I sometimes wonder just how long this positive change lasts in their lives, but I often hear that the change has had a lasting positive effect.
I encourage all of you to pray about coming and experiencing the Africa that we have grown to love so much.