“I have no greater joy than to hear of my children walking in the truth.”
III John 1:4
As we prepared to go to Africa, this is the verse that kept running through my head. In my mind, though, the phrase was “than to see my children walking in truth…I have no greater joy than to SEE THEM walk in truth...” And from this mom’s perspective, seeing my children live out their faith on foreign soil was a visual image I wanted to invade my memory, never to leave.
You see, in 25 years of marriage and 20 years of having children in our lives, we have never had our entire family of four on the mission field together. I have been overseas with Frank about 4 times, one of those times with Amber & Frank, 6 other times with just Amber, a bunch of other times without anyone in the family with me, but never have either one of us been able to serve overseas with all four of us. (And in case you’re not keeping track, that means the missing element has always been Jacob.) Not only was this trip a dream come true, but we both believed it was a mandate from God to allow Jacob this opportunity before he graduates and moves on in his next phase of life. We also knew another opportunity like this was quite unlikely, so trust me when I say that I did my best to soak it all in and savor the moments and memories.
Jacob is…well, let’s just say he’s a typical teenager. He is anxious to conquer the world, but if I try to offer advice along the way, it is too often quickly discarded as irrelevant and unfounded. Hanging out with mom is something he does only under duress, and I suspect that isn’t going to change until he really lives the hard-knocks life of adulthood. I believe that one day, he will realize mom is one of his biggest advocates, and I’m clinging to that tenet! Until then, he remains a typical teenager who tomorrow morning will begin his last “first day of school”.
I look at him and wonder how that bright eyed, silky haired boy with the big dimples turned into a big-haired mustache wearing almost 18 year old.
Alas, I digress. Forgive this mom for the reminiscing.
Back to Africa…
It was our last day of ministry, and in fact, it was our last day before we started our return to Texas. We were to leave early the next morning, and the one memory I had hoped for had not yet been made: I had yet to hear Jacob share his faith -- not even once during the entire trip.
Early on in the trip, Frank was able to go out with him; Amber had teamed up with him a few times; and even Dr. Vance, one of our other team members was able to go out with him one day. But me? Nope. Jacob wanted nothing to do with that idea, and in fact, he vetoed the opportunity when it was presented. Providentially though, on that last day, we were a bit short on translators. That my friends, was about the best news anyone could have told me. Not only did we spend the day together, but an added bonus: Amber also joined with us. (Frank was at East Africa Christian College finishing up the class he was teaching, so I am the sole possessor of this priceless parental memory!)
Our translator Willfred was on a mission, no pun intended. He knew where he was taking us, and it’s probably good he didn’t tell us ahead of time. We crossed the road and followed him on an adventure that none of us will forget.
It was clear that the only way to forge this hike was with high steps through the fields.
Our guide had a brisk pace, and we all had our eyes on the ground, trying to dodge the cattle dung. We trekked down the side of a cliff-like ravine, crossed the stream, and then we pressed on up, up, up the mountain.
I lagged behind the others as I tried to snap some pictures to capture this experience. By the time we stopped at our first home, we weren’t at the ‘top’ of the mountain, but we were definitely a lot closer than I ever thought we’d get!
The above pictures is with full zoom, looking down on where the church is located.
When I snapped this, we weren't even all the way up the mountainside yet!
As I said earlier, our translator was on a mission. Every step up that mountain was intentional. Willfred knew exactly where we were going and why: to tell his friends about the Lord. We came upon a central area where we were met by some of his friends.
In Swahili, Willfred explained that we had come to Tanzania to share with them, and together, they went and gathered together all the extended family who were available to listen. We must have had about 8 adults and 15 kids that finally gathered around – maybe more. They were all waiting to hear from these strange white people. (I’m pretty sure some of those children had never seen a white person, but you’ll have to wait until the next blog entry for that story.)
With all the extended mountain family together, it was determined that I should be the one to share with them first. I shared my testimony of how as a small child, I made the most important decision I could ever have made: the decision to put my faith and trust in Jesus. I went on to share the specifics of what the Bible says about becoming a Christian, and Amber then shared the Evangecube with them. She started out by asking what they knew about a man named Jesus. Their response: They knew nothing; in fact, they had never even heard His name. Can you even imagine that? We live here in the USA where most of us hear the name of Jesus being taken in vain nearly every day. Yet these people had never even heard the greatest story ever told – the story of Jesus and His unending bountiful love for us!
As Amber shared, they hung on her every word. Before she even finished, one of the adults interrupted and said, “I want that for me. How do I get this free gift of salvation for me?” Wise beyond her years, Amber is ever-so-cautious of leading someone in a prayer without them fully understanding the commitment that it means. So she finished articulating the Gospel to make sure they fully understood what it meant to put your faith and trust in Christ and accept His free gift of salvation. Then each family member, along with some of the older children bowed their heads and prayed a simple prayer of forgiveness, confession, and commitment.
The angels rejoiced; this mom did too, because I have no greater joy than to see my children walk in the truth.
The next home we visited was just a little further up the mountain. (We didn't think it was possible, but it was!)
It was a similar scenario as the last hut: Willfred had us stop in a central area while he gathered up all the extended family so we could share with a max amount of people possible. At this hut, however, it was Jacob’s turn to share why we came to Tanzania. He opened up the Evangecube, and as he began to speak, this momma’s heart was about to explode with pride.
I watched in silence; I listened intently; I pinched myself. At times, Jacob would struggle to find the right words. As if they could read each other’s minds, he just had to glance over at his sister, as if to make an invisible “tag” for her to take over. Then and only then, would she jump in to bridge the words he struggled to find.
And as soon as the thought was complete, she in turn would invisibly tag him back, allowing him the ability to take the lead in sharing the Gospel. It happened like that about three times, maybe four. If telepathic tag-team witnessing was an Olympic event, they would have won the gold medal, hands down.
Sometimes you wonder if it is really worth it...all the hours you pour into your children trying to "train them up in the way they should go." You wonder if they really "get it" and if anything you have taught them really sinks deep. Of course I know it's always worth it, but it was at that moment, as I watched my children lead others to Christ that I said a silent prayer. I thanked God for allowing me the privilege of witnessing my children share their faith....not my faith, but their own personal faith. And I thanked God for answering my prayer to see it happen.
There are truly no other words to express the overflow of emotion in my heart when I say, “I have no greater joy than to see my children walking in the truth.”
-- Beth Banfill