Monday, May 31, 2010

Piece by Piece

By Jennifer Grant

Standing in the grocery store, comparing the prices of two boxes of cereal, I hit a snag. One is priced by the ounce and the other by the package. I look from one to the other. My mind wanders; math is not my strong suit. “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” Tina Turner bellows over the store’s sound system. I toss a box of cereal into my cart, aware that I am to be able to feed my children well with little effort.

Only last month, I was in Zambia with people for whom this grocery store might seem more like Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory—mind-blowingly strange and obscenely lavish.

I went to Zambia as a journalist, asking questions and jotting down ideas. And I wrote down numbers. Big numbers like 15-18 million, the number of children globally who have been orphaned by AIDS. And 9.5 million, those who live below the poverty line. I wrote down smaller numbers, too. Like 38, or how many years from birth the average Zambian will live.

Words are my thing. Words and stories. And even before I arrived, people started telling me stories about Chikumbuso Women and Orphans project, established in 2005 by Linda Wilkinson. Chikumbuso. It’s nice to say out loud. And when people talk about Linda and Chikumbuso, their eyes light up. I knew I had to go there.

Linda’s husband Bruce Wilkinson has worked with World Vision in Africa for decades. Bruce told me that before they relocated for his current job in Zambia, Linda just knew that there was work there for her to do. Although she didn’t know what it would be, she asked their network of friends and church supporters for donations for a new, as yet unidentified, ministry. They responded.

That work, of course, became Chikumbuso. When she started Chikumbuso, Linda hoped to help one widow and her seven children. Today, more than 300 children attend school there. More than 60 widows make and sell beautiful purses, jewelry, and other items. In a kitchen, women grind and press soybeans and make tofu and soymilk. Young men make bags and t-shirts with repurposed fabric.

Here’s another number for you: three. Three is the number of acres, surrounding Chikumbuso, on which the 9,000-10,000 residents of the Ng’ombe township live. Ng’ombe is what academics sometimes call a “self-help” or “settlement” housing area; others refer to it as a densely populated slum.

(For comparison, my hometown of Wheaton, Ill., has a population of 55,000 and we live on more than 7,000 acres. Even if—like me—you’re bad at math, you likely get a sense of the crowding and lack of material resources in Ng’ombe.)

Linda told me that some people assume that Chikumbuso’s tidy compound, with its water pump, large wooden play structure, school rooms, and the rest came into being all at once.

“When you see the project, you think that it has been a well thought-out and greatly organized, but the fact is that Jesus gave it to us piece by piece, knowing just how much we could handle,” Linda said. She asks for prayers for the children at Chikumbuso, “that they may feel the love of Jesus and the community center all around them so that their minds can rest.”

What’s love got to do with it?


When we believe this, we can draw courage from Linda’s story. We can have faith that when there is work to be done but we’re not certain where to start, we can trust Jesus to give it to us, piece by piece.

(Note: Linda Wilkinson will be in the U.S. this summer. If you would like to speak with her about the project, contact her at Chikumbuso is also on Facebook and is on the web at

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dixie Cup Gardens

By Elisa Morgan
My first garden was planted in a Dixie cup. My kindergarten teacher passed out Dixie cups and marigold seeds, and then troweled mounds of dark earth into each of our "flower pots". Tiny servings of water were added to our dirt to create what looked like mud to me. Finally she instructed us to gently punch the marigold seed down into the dirt.

I took my Dixie cup garden home, carefully carrying the cup in my chubby fingers until I safely arrived and lodged it on the kitchen windowsill - just above the sink. Each morning I sprang from my bed to check its progress. I'd race from my bedroom to the kitchen, drag a chair to the counter and clamber up to peer into my cup. It always looked the same to me: brown, muddy dirt in a cup. Faithfully, I watered the soil. Loyally, I turned the cup so that all sides experienced equal exposure to the sun and the view from the window.

But each day, the inspection of my Dixie cup garden revealed nothing. Zip. I remember one morning I was particularly impatient. I scrambled up on the chair and peered over its edge. Brown dirt in a cup. Bother! I ran to get my mom and begged her to let me dig up that stupid seed so that I could see what it was doing down there in the dark. My mother wisely explained to me that I could certainly dig up the seed but that if I did, I would interrupt its growth and it then might not grow at all.

So much of life is like this Dixie cup garden. We fill a cup with our best provisions and punch in the seeds of our dreams and desires and then sit-waiting-starring at the brown dirt in a cup, wondering when something will grow from our efforts. Gardens of dreams for this season and the next. For our leadership to yield fruit. For our marriage to be more meaningful. For our homes to reflect our values - and tastes. For our children to need us just a tiny bit less -so that we can breathe! We plant the seeds of our dearest dreams today...and wait for what the future will bring out of what looks like just brown dirt in a cup.

I supposed God must feel a bit like us as he waits for the seeds he's planted in the soil of our days to sprout. But unlike us, he knows what flowers he has planted. He understands the right circumstances (sun, water, manure) that will help us grow. Where we see brown dirt in a cup in our own lives, he sees beneath the soil to what is developing in us. He provides a model of how to wait for growth to occur.

Despite my doubts, that seed in the mud eventually sprouted and stuck its head up and over the edge of its Dixie cup container. Seeds grow in the dirt, in the dark, over a long period of time. They demand patience, persistence and a tremendous amount of faith. Help me - holy, heavenly Gardener, to resist the urge to dig them up.

Elisa Morgan is Publisher of FullFill™ ( and author of She Did What She Could ( For twenty years, she served as CEO of MOPS International ( and is now President Emerita.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The GIft of a Prodigal

By Judy Douglass

Eighteen years ago, God sent us a son. He was 9 years old when he came into our family. His first years had been very difficult and challenging. And he brought many challenges into our home.

We sought to love him, provide for him, accept him, encourage him—and we saw some good things happen in his life. But as he entered his teen years, he increasingly made choices that countered all our efforts and put him at great risk.

The years that followed were difficult and painful. Nothing we did seemed to convince him of our love and acceptance nor help him to make positive choices for his life. We were driven to our knees as the only help for our son.

Over the next years, as we spent many hours and days beseeching the Lord, God slowly brought changes in his life. He finally began to believe that we loved and accepted him. He began to make more responsible choices, to comprehend the serious consequences of the path he was on. He is still paying the price for some of those choices. He is not yet where we would like to see him, but he is moving in a good direction. We are grateful for the better path, though often impatient to see even greater transformation. We are eager to see all that God has in store for him.

But for me, as difficult as it has been, this journey has been an incredible gift. God has used our son to reveal weaknesses I didn’t know I had—and strengths I didn’t realize I possessed.

And God has used our son to show me so much more of Himself. I understand unconditional love at a much deeper level—and that unconditional love doesn’t demand love in return. In urging me many times not to give up on my son, God has reminded me that He has never given up on me. And certainly I have made many stupid and sinful choices that merit grave consequences, but His mercy has prevailed. When my feelings turned to anger, God reminded me that he has redeemed me with tender mercy and wooed me with lovingkindness.

In earlier days, in my thwarted desire for my son to love me and the pain that created, I got a glimpse of the pain I have often caused my Savior. When I have preferred someone or something else, when I have thought something else would satisfy my longings or when I have put another higher in my affections than Jesus, He has felt the rejection. Yet still He lovingly welcomes me back and delights in me.

One more gift: My prayer efforts for our son led to a Worldwide Day of Prayer for him every June 2. After several years of focused prayer from hundreds of friends, we began to see slow but real change. God said I should share the blessing and the Worldwide Day of Prayer for Prodigals was born. Every June 2 thousands come together virtually, or individually, or in small groups to pray for a list of hundreds of those needing a touch from God. We have an active website——that is full of resources and is an amazing prayer community.

Struggle and pain, for sure. But I wouldn’t trade them because of the gifts I have received through this prodigal are of far greater value. I am so grateful to God for him.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Afraid to Share Your Faith?

By Jonalyn Fincher

Two Conversation Stoppers and One Major Mistake.

I have yet to meet a woman who confidently shares her faith without the inadequacy monster looming its ugly head. Isn't it easy to think we shared too much, or berate ourselves for sharing too little?

In high school I would proselytize because I feared my friend's future depended on my courage. I wanted to prove to God that I wasn't embarrassed of him. In the process several friends prayed the sinner's prayer, but very few have lives that still show their allegiance to Jesus.
From failed attempts, from awkward and "successful" witnessing experiences in airplanes, from seminary training and five years of itinerant ministry, I've re-visited the art of sharing my faith with my husband. Read on for two conversation stoppers as well as one major mistake Christians make when sharing our faith.

First, beware of the phrase "Just take it by faith." Our neighbors hear "faith" and assume it means "blind leap" or "something gullible people do" (a concept that does not show up in the Bible). "Just take it by faith" kills conversation by inadvertently communicating that Jesus isn't real enough to know, that we don't have reasons to trust him. And if we're honest, taking things by faith sometimes masks our lack of knowledge. If we don't know, better come clean and admit it. Our friends will respect this honesty. And then we can link arms with them and begin to search for answers together.

Second, avoid justifying any belief with "That's just the way I was raised." It may be an appropriate response for a grammar age child, but in adult conversation it ends any chance of productive spiritual digging. If our childhood justifies our belief system, then why discuss Christianity with my Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Mormon friends? They also believe what they learned as a child. Our upbringing cannot be the clinching reason adults subscribe to a religious view. No son of a slave trader would get away with that excuse.

Finally, consider the reason we share our faith. We don't talk about Jesus to get people to join our church (as rewarding as that might feel). We don't prove the inerrancy of the Bible so people will pledge allegiance to our Holy Book. Instead, we're inviting people into a life we enjoy with Jesus. Jesus called it abundant life.

If we get the chance to talk about Jesus, we must refuse to be side-tracked by questions that are molehills compared with the mountain of God's love. We've stopped arguing whether Jonah really was swallowed by a big fish, the place and duration of hell and the timeline for the earth's creation, because we know Jesus is waiting in the wings for an introduction. He can accompany each friend we make into their doubts and frustrations. He is the companion we want to rave about; he is the Mountain compared with these molehills.

For more ideas, check out our book, Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk (April 2010). Or join the online forum discussing challenges and solutions for sharing our faith at

Lately, Jonalyn has been enjoying baby-wearing their new son, Finn, into coffee shops around town. She is co-founder of Soulation (, a non-profit dedicated to helping others become more appropriately human. Read more at her blog( pick up her first book dedicated to unearthing the unique qualities of a woman's soul (Ruby Slippers). From their home in the Rocky Mountains, she and her husband, Dale, work as a national speaking/writing team.