Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wrestling with Manna

Last night Carter and I read Exodus 16 before he went to bed. I know what you're thinking, "Seriously? You read 36 verses to a 5-year old?" I did not. I read a whopping total of 11 sentences from his children's Bible that so impacted me that I had to sit down tonight and try to mentally sort through it. Which just goes to show, you should never underestimate the power of the Word of God in any form. Even a highly condensed form.

Here is the passage we read in all of its abbreviated glory:

The whole community told Moses they weren't happy. "In Egypt we ate all the food we wanted. But you have brought us out to this desert to die of hunger."

The LORD said, "I have heard the people talking about how unhappy they are. Tell them, 'When the sun goes down, you will eat meat. In the morning you will be filled with bread.' "

That evening quail came and covered the camp. In the morning thin flakes appeared on the desert floor. Moses said, "It's the bread the LORD has given you to eat." The people called the bread manna. They ate manna for 40 years until they reached the border of Canaan.

Jeff and I have some friends that are missionaries in Sudan. This was their blog post last Monday. This was their blog post on Friday. I had an impossible time reading through either of them without feeling compelled to try to find a way to help. Should I send baby formula, baby clothes or money? Bethany responded to me by saying (among other things) that they wanted to make sure they started something they could sustain.

Right. About that issue of sustainability. I'm in complete agreement, but last night I was also angry to the point of distraction. I serve a God who supplied fresh bread six days of the week for 40 whole years to the Israelites. He clearly gets the concept of sustainability. My question is why help the whining Israelites and not the dying Sudanese? Baby Amana and baby Rahab are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg in Yabus. What stops God from seeing their desperation and coating the entire country in manna?

My combined sense of helplessness and uselessness continued into this morning. Thankfully, as we drove to Lowes to pick up some supplies for a class I'm teaching tomorrow, the haze began to clear. 2000 years ago, God did not have another entire continent full of people fully able to acknowledge the problem and choose some element of self-sacrifice in order to meet the need. It was He, and He alone that had to come up with a sustainable feeding program.

It seems also that the hands that are outstretched to embrace and provide for the orphaned and destitute matter. The Israelites had full comprehension of God and had a relatively interactive experience with Him. Compassion wasn't a requirement to convince them that He cared. But we live in 2008 and 1 John 4:7-12 seems crystal clear that there is no other way.

For the last decade, Jeff and I have felt very much at peace with the decision not to return to Africa. It has been a difficult decision at times because to some degree you feel like you sold out. You choose to embrace comfort, materialism, and accessibility, over ministry and/or helping people who simply cannot help themselves. That said, we have never felt out of the center of God's will. We have been abundantly blessed to be in a place financially where we have been able to enable others who did make the decision to return. Giving has always been a high priority for us, but writing a check is no longer feeling like contribution enough. I know money is useful, but because I'm not personally motivated by it, it almost feels like I've missed the true point of sacrificial giving. And if I should get the point, could my circle of influence be larger? Could my impact on the world be greater?

I was going to try to end this on an upbeat note, but I just don't have it in me. I will say this one last thing: I think it's no accident that I received the 2008 SIM Gift Catalog in the mail today. I couldn't help but notice for the price of my new Italian ceramic and travertine tiled shower a deux, that I could have fed 40 orphan children in Malawi for 8 years.

I wonder if those 40 kids would have considered that a sustainable feeding program?


  1. Okay, so I just typed out a huge long comment. A lot of words to basically say, "Stop beating yourself up." No where is there anything that says wealth--and even enjoying that wealth--is wrong. You guys have worked hard for what you have and you do give--a lot. We all have a qualification, a gift and a place. So you and Jeff don't fit into a typical "mission" job description--that doesn't make you any less missionaries. Keep with what you are doing. There are those who are eternally grateful.

  2. I always admire your sensitive heart to those in need--although I had some misgivings when you wanted to stop the car and help the poor people who were injured from a gasoline tanker truck (lorry?) as large quantities of gasoline flowed down the street waiting for some soul to light a match and send the whole mountain side into the eternal kingdom. Despite your cries (words which should not be repeated) we didn't stop. Maybe my faith was smaller than yours at that moment.
    Again your sensitive heart of mercy and love comes through as you contemplate the ugly world of poverty. After reading Sider's book on Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger with my class, I suppose I should have some answers. I don't. But I do know the questions you pose are right and good. They need to be asked again and again, chewed on, contemplated, talked about. Just asking the questions changes my life. But too often I "forget" to think on these questions--particularly when I am on my way to Lowes or Starbucks.