I used to go rollerblading in George Bush Park in the Houston area and I encountered many venomous snakes that crossed my path. A snake would pop out right in front of my skate and I could nearly fall on top of it trying to hop over it. I would scream, hyperventilate, become flushed, get nauseous and feel my heart rate soar as a result of the fright. One time on my bike, I was talking to Craig on the phone for just a minute, but long enough for a snake to be in my path, facing me with it’s head raised and teeth showing to defend itself against my cycling attack on it. When I saw it and swerved I nearly fell on it because my shoes were locked onto the pedals. I can still see that snake’s face in my mind. It’s not a happy vision. Imagine what Craig was thinking when I screamed into the phone.
The snakes are out there. I knew that. Sometimes when I was at home preparing to go on a ride or take a skate I was afraid of this happening. Ok. Not sometimes, all the time. It often took a personal battle for me to overcome my fear and go get the fun exercise I wanted. Was I going to give up my fun because of a fear? No. I had to train myself to focus my attention on the path right in front of me. I wouldn’t look too far ahead. I wouldn’t search on the sides in the grass. I wouldn’t count them in the puddles. I kept my focus right in front of me and I was prepared to react. But I also released my fear so I could actually enjoy what I was doing. As soon as I stopped obsessing about the snakes I noticed the blooming flowers, the red cardinals, the beautiful sky, the dense trees and the friendlier creatures like bunnies and deer.
We can choose how to manage our fears. I tell this story because the work we do in Uganda to help orphans and widows to receive the blessings of God is not without its many snakes on the path. These snakes though cause a lot of problems, they don’t just appear and disappear, they bite. It is such a natural response to fight back, seek revenge, and win the battle. I have discovered what a fighter and defender of justice and righteousness I am. I have had many long talks with God about this issue. From reading the bible and seeking his truth I have learned that if I am always fighting back snakes I would not be moving forward on our ministry path. I had to find a way to trust God with the snakes and walk forward with confidence and conviction. I found I could not both be angry and full of love at the same time. I had to choose love. It is love that powers up my faith, and drives this ministry for the orphaned children.
During our last trip in Uganda it was the hottest time of the year in that region of the world. It wasn’t as hot as an Arizona summer, or even a Houston day in August, but it was hot and there’s no air conditioning. The seats in our van are covered in plastic to protect them. The heat, plus plastic guaranteed my entire outfit would be drenched in sweat when I arrived anywhere. The children would hug me and I was soaking wet. I would enter the van in the morning and proclaim, “let the sweating begin”. At night it remained hot and my only comfort was the sweet breeze that would blow in through the window. There aren’t screens if I open the window, only iron bars. In the middle of the night I admit I had fears and visions of someone slipping a venomous snake into my room through that open window. I considered sleeping with it closed of course. But could I sleep in an oven? I lay there talking to God about it. I told him I trusted him to protect me as he always does. I go there to do work for him. I do not go with my own agenda I do not work on my own strength. Doesn’t it follow that he will protect me to do the work he has for me to finish? I think so. I always slip off to sleep remembering the only thing I have to fear is being outside of God’s will for my life. Proverbs say “the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom”.
Bad things can happen. There are risks in every step we take outside of the boat. But it wasn’t until I stepped out of the boat that I truly began to feel alive, full of purpose and that my life had great significance. For so many years my faith was an intellectual exercise. I wasn’t really doing anything that tested it. I hadn’t stepped out of the boat. I wouldn’t trade the education from the hardships we endured to remain safely inside the boat.
During the worst of it all I called out to many wise ministers for help and I received not a single answer. What we were doing left them all speechless. Or perhaps they were biting their lips thinking we shouldn’t have gone in so deep as lay people into the waters of ministry. Maybe they wanted to say “what did you expect?” The answers to my problems that I sought only appeared to me while I was studying God’s word and talking to him in prayer. God was so patient and forgiving with my anger. He alone showed me that I had to choose to continue to love to be able to walk forward in this work. And his word reminded me that He has a plan for those who do evil to the widow and orphan. That plan doesn’t include me. So I can basically ignore the snakes. That’s good news for me. It sets me free to think creatively about what we can do for this family of orphaned children. That’s where God uses my best gifts and talents.
When someone boasts of going to the witchdoctor shrine to put curses on me should I be afraid? Not me, not now, not with my faith and knowledge of the promises of God. There is either light or darkness and there’s nothing in between. I serve the light and the God of light is greater than the evil of darkness in this world. I go with the one who has all the power. That’s comforting news when I hear the ignorant boasting of meetings kept with dark side against me. I hold on to what I know. I was given this work to do. I am strengthened not on my own resolve but the power of God’s love. I figure when I cried out for advice but I received no answer it was because God wanted to show me himself what the answer was to be. I heard it.
Now we are walking peacefully on our path. I can recognize a snake but I am not looking for them, nor am I afraid of them. I am able to see the beautiful fruit of our work. Children are healthy, and learning about God’s truth in the bible. They go to school. They are learning to love, forgive and forbear. They are speaking English. They eat without fear that it could be the last meal for a while. They have comfort but not too much to become spoiled. When I see all this beauty I don’t care how many snakes there are out there, they can’t touch us.