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My Utmost for His Highest

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Brothers & Sisters

Meet Aliif.

At about three years old, he is the youngest of four—the long-awaited, highly-prized little boy in family that had already birthed three older sisters. It took about six minutes of observation to deduce that he was the apple of his mother’s eye, the pride and joy of his grandfather’s heart. Their playful interactions endeared them to my heart. I have often found that the love and affection we feel for our children, serves as its own form of universal language.

Although definitely developmentally-capable, he seemed not to be speaking yet. This was less surprising as time progressed and it became obvious that Aliif’s screams and tantrums produced much more expedient results than any intelligible words he might attempt to produce. My initial observations led me to the quick conclusion that parenting styles and expectations in the West differed dramatically from those of parents in this country. I watched in my “forward-thinking,” Dr-Phil-philosophy-influenced horror, as little Aliif spent the noon meal throwing chicken bones at his grandfather, with no negative consequences. Instead, his bad behavior was often placated with a glass of soda. I found myself quite indignant, when Aliif, not satisfied with his own tea time snack, scarfed up his sisters’ as well, with no intervention from any of the adults. And my heart broke for his five-year-old sister, Hana, when little Aliif’s playful banter took a sudden turn for the worst and he slammed her head into the tile wall, with no form of apology or any sign of remorse.

two north african kids sitting with a lady in a living room

I wondered what it would be like to grow up in a house, subject to the terrible reign of my little brother, doubting my own worth when my parents never came to my defense—what kind of woman would I become if from my childhood I was made to believe that I was less valuable because of my gender? How would that impact me? What kind of love would be necessary to break thru the protective walls I would have to erect around my heart?

Or conversely, what of the tragedy of growing up in a home where I truly believed I was the center of universe; where my understanding and sympathy for the emotions and well-being of others only extending as far my own self-centered humanity? One where I could treat people as badly as I pleased, never being taught what it means to express guilt or remorse, and consequently to never receive forgiveness and with it the security of non-conditional love?

I left their small living room, littered with discarded chicken bones, and tea time crumbs asking myself, who is the bigger victim? What dramatically different forms the depravity of sin can take, and how explicitly manifested is it in the behaviors of small children!

As I carefully picked my way down the dark alley outside their home, making my way back to the house I was struck with a new, even more convicting thought: How far removed am I from either of them, really? Have I not been guilty of erecting walls around my heart to safeguard it in the name of self-protection, when in reality it’s a distrust of a Holy Father to care enough to protect me? And how many times have I been guilty of believing my own needs or whims or impulses were the fuel on which the world turned? Tears slipped down my cheeks as the amorphous “lost” of North Africa took on the form and precious faces of a little boy and his sweet sister with whom I found I had so much in common. How much more should that make me grateful for the redeeming work of Christ in my life! As I walked the streets of my new city, I no longer prayed for the generic Muslim neighbor I might encounter. Instead I whispered up a prayer for Aliif, and for Hana—that they may know the gentle, corrective hand of a Gracious Father, and the validating love of their Creator.

The Sinner's Pew

They call it the “Sinner’s Pew” and it’s common to find one, all the way at the very back, of many of the local churches in Tanzania. It’s used as a social stigma—a type of “holding place” for people that the church doesn’t quite believe have made a full conversion from the Islamic faith yet. New converts to Christianity from Islam are often expected to sit in this pew for at least seven years—proving their commitment to Christ—before the church will baptize them, or marry them, or disciple them in any way. It’s a test of shame: how much are you willing to endure in order to “prove” your true heart for Christ.

view of empty pews in an African church
Because Ali was one of these converts, he was well-acquainted with the Sinner’s Pew. He, like many others, had been born into his Islamic faith and raised in its precepts. He was a genuine seeker, believing his attempts at good works would win him favor with God. He began working for Billy and Leah, and began to dialogue, with another young man, Prosper, who also worked for Delaughters and was being trained in discipleship & evangelism principles. Prosper’s burden for young Ali’s salvation led him to engage often in conversations about the life-giving freedom of relationship with God, that can only be found in Jesus’s life-saving work on the cross. He found Ali a willing and accessible place to apply much of what he was learning from the discipleship training. God also pursued Ali through other mediums. Billy’s parents bought him a Swahili Bible during one of their visits. Ali read it six times, cover to cover, in one year. Eventually, God won his heart, and Ali left his Muslim faith to profess belief in this Christ that brings freedom and access to God. He excitedly approached the local church about his decision, desiring to be baptized, but instead of being welcomed into his new family, found himself relegated to the Sinner’s Pew. Ali clung to his new faith in Christ despite many other setbacks. He changed his name to Stanley, but the found his new life to be full of challenges. Immediately following his conversion, his parents demanded he marry, in an attempt to bring him back to the Muslim faith. They found him a Muslim wife, and he took her with him to the church to be married, but the church refused to marry them. The couple was soon married elsewhere. Soon after, they discovered they were pregnant, but within a few months, the new bride miscarried. Because she was a Muslim, she was within her rights to leave him, believing him to be cursed. Because of the shame of his divorce, his parents disowned him--sold all of his belongings, as if he had died, telling him “You are no longer our son.” A month later he found out he was HIV+, a result of his time in the Tanzanian military.

The church continued to reject him, at his lowest point in life, and despite all he had given up for the sake of his faith. Through his discouragement and shame, a penalty worse than losing his family, Stanley clung to his Christ. Prosper continued to encourage and disciple him, and the bond between the two men became stronger, as only brotherhood in Christ can do. Stanley began meeting with Prosper regularly and eventually left the Sinner’s Pew to join Prosper in his house church. As the house church grew and developed they decided to launch their own church plant, and Stanley became one of the original establishing members of the Moshono Christian Church. Now, Stanley no longer sits at the back of the church, shamed in the Sinner’s Pew. Instead, redeemed by the blood of Christ, he oversees the youth group, discipling teenagers in the same way Prosper discipled him.

Humanity in Grains of Rice

I could feel the sweat rolling in streams down the backs of my legs. Heat pressed in on me from every direction, overwhelming my body’s cooling system. The smell of coffee was so strong it burned the insides of my nostrils—not the sweet Starbucks-treated and patented aroma, but the harsh smell of beans that were most likely handpicked that morning and were roasting over the exposed fires that dotted the sides of the street, burnt and suffocating. Coffee mixed with the smell of a dozen distinct spices mingling with a couple hundred thousand people and live animals. I couldn’t hear my thoughts over the noises of the horns screaming from the busses on the street, in psychedelic colors, with strange American R&B lyrics grafittied along their long aluminum ribs. The chatter of Arabic was all around me in sounds I couldn’t even pronounce and my brain searched for the words included in my developing vocabulary similar to that of a ten-month old child.

There were people everywhere, and I felt for the first time that I understood what it meant to be engulfed in a tide of human beings. My mind’s eye could imagine zooming out to wide-angled shot of the square in which my blonde hair would be visible for miles. Donkeys pulling carts brought occasional division to the waves of people. Our close proximity didn’t seem to be bothering anyone but me, as I scrambled to regain my American bubble of personal space. But everywhere I moved there were people—a sea of blacks, and browns, punctuated by white teeth and pink tongues, and every color and pattern of scarf imaginable. I bit my lip to keep from crying from exhaustion. I had been awake for seventy-one hours and my exhausted mind felt fragile. There was simply too much happening, and I understood none of it. I heard words but no meaning; voices, but no people.

a market place in a north african city with chickens in coops, beef hanging in shops and a lot of produce.

There was a name for this. They’d called it something in orientation—something that at the time felt like it didn’t apply to me: Culture shock. I suddenly wished I had been paying more attention. What have I done?I thought to myself, nearly in a panic. Why am I here? What possessed me to think I could do this? I fought the urge to hike up my heavy skirt and sprint back to the bus, demanding to be taken back to the airport and the safety of my home culture—the simple-ness of the neighborhood grocery store. But my family needed to be fed. There was no food in our new house of twenty-four hours and my babies were counting on me to return from my first trip to the market with something they could stomach, and all I had been able to manage so far was to purchase five oranges for what I realized later to be an exorbitant equivalent of twenty US dollars. So I whispered a prayer for courage, cheaper produce and more honest vendors, and pressed forward.

I felt lost in the masses. I remembered an illustration we had used to help our friends back home understand the context we were moving into. Dumping a bag of uncooked rice into a clear, plastic container, I said, “Imagine this is our city.” I then held up the palm of my hand and counted out five grains of red rice from another bag. “These grains of rice represent the number of local believers.” I dropped them into the container of white rice and began to the stir the grains deliberately. “This is what we are up against when we move to North Africa.” The irony of our color choices was not lost on me, as my bright white skin stood in stark contrast to the rich complexions that surrounded me.

A man guiding a donkey laden with propane tanks down a cobble-stone street

I heard the unmistakable cry of a toddler being forced against her will, and I found her sitting in a pile of tulle gathered up to her armpits, a defiant scowl on her face that I instantly recognized as hunger. She was tangled in the long black skirt of her mother’s jalabya, and had set up camp at her feet, refusing to move another step. My eyes took in the three other children standing nearby, disgruntled looks marring the otherwise flawless faces of three young girls that appeared to be the same ages of my own daughters. And I caught the mother’s eye. In her look we exchanged an understanding that transcended all language. She told me of her exhaustion that came partly from the demands of shopping on foot while keeping track of four little ones, and party from the frustrating knowledge that she was to blame for her circumstances because she had pushed them one errand and missed snack too far. My smile told her that I too had had days when I found myself with a cart full of groceries and a tantrum-throwing toddler. I knew without speaking to her that we had both spent nights rocking fussy babies, tears worrying about sicknesses we were powerless to treat, and laughs of delight that only a child can coax from your heart. In that look I was struck by her genuine humanity. This was a real person.

I knelt in front of the bawling two-year-old and offered her one of my four dollar oranges. I smiled into her eyes, and then stood to offer the rest of my fruit to the woman, introducing myself in a broken attempt at Arabic. I showed her a picture of my four kids and in pantomime invited her to our house to share some tea. She smiled warmly, and gave the customary Arabic response, “Inshallah”—if God wills it. She thanked me, gathered up her entourage of now happily snacking girls and moved on. If God wills it…I heard the Holy Spirit repeating the phrase to my overwhelmed, culture-shock-saturated, doubt-filled heart. I smiled to myself. I had just met my first grain of rice.

A Nun's Prayer

Sandra, an Indian from Madagascar, was a young woman that had struggled for most of her life with severe, disgracing acne. As a teenager, her parents had tried every kind of medicine, eventually becoming desperate enough to pursue solutions based in local witchcraft traditions. Nothing worked. Eventually, Sandra encountered a group of Catholic nuns who prayed for her. Much to her astonishment, after this encounter, Sandra’s acne completely cleared up. Unable to deny the power of God she had so personally witnessed, she secretly converted from Hinduism to Christianity, withholding her decision from her family. Eventually, her parents found out, and reacted by saying to her, “Fine, but you will marry a Hindu man.”

a hut in the Tanzanian countryside
Sandra met Raymond, who decided to marry her, despite her faith in Christ. After many years of marriage and faithful prayer, Sandra led her husband to Christ. Raymond’s brother, Charles, and his wife, Nina, were furious about his conversion, and often became quite agitated and violent when Sandra and Raymond would come to family events. The relationship was very antagonistic, and eventually, Sandra and Raymond felt they had no choice but to avoid interactions with their siblings.

Not long after Raymond and Sandra made this decision, Nina began to have very disturbing dreams of snakes, and would often wake terrified. This continued for many months, and her health was suffering from the frightening dreams and lack of rest. One night, Sandra also found herself trapped in one of these disturbing dreams, not as a participant, but as a witness to Nina’s terror. In the dream, she shared many of the same visions Nina saw in her own sleep, but as an outside observer. She heard a voice she sensed was Christ telling her to go to her sister-in-law. When she woke, she was sure she had misunderstood the voice, believing her presence would only cause Nina more anxiety. She and Raymond decided it would be best to ignore the dream. Sandra felt no peace about her decision to stay away, and wrestled in her spirit for several weeks. Finally, after much prayer and discussion with her husband, Sandra decided to visit her sister-in-law and offer to pray with her, that the dreams would stop and she would find peace and rest.

She mustered her courage and went to Nina’s house. When Nina opened the door, Sandra told her she had come because God had told her to. Nina responded, “We know. We have been waiting for you for weeks.” This began a long dialogue between the four adults about the love, peace, and hope that comes with a relationship in Christ—a dialogue that resulted in the baptism of both Nina and her husband. The couples began attending church. During one Sunday, Billy was visiting and invited the congregation to begin discipleship classes with him. Charles responded, showing interest in being trained to reach out into the distinct Indian community of business owners so prevalent in this part of Tanzania, to help others grow in their love for Christ. He began meeting with Billy regularly.

After their conversions, the four were ostracized from their Hindu families and community of friends, but they consistently reached out for relationships with others, in hopes of bringing them to Christ. The four started meeting with others regularly, and out of these interactions a local group has begun meeting on a weekly basis, and has continued to grow. One member of the fellowship has been able to trace five generations of disciples, all under the leading and teaching of a man and his wife who were once outcasts in their own communities, but have become leaders because of one nun’s willingness to pray with a young girl over her skin—someone’s willingness to respond to someone who was ready to respond to God. Look at what God can do with our simple obedience!

Crowl's Retirement

Howard, June and Chris Crowl are officially retiring after 66 years of missionary ministry.  Read all the details here!