August 2020

Last gathering before departure

Our Granddaughter Hannah on the plane to do the Lord's work!

Dear Blessed Earth family and friends,
On Wednesday, my wife and I cleared away toys, books, diapers, and other evidence of the little ones who have had the run of our home in recent weeks. Nancy thought it would make her feel less sad if these objects were out of sight. She washed small handprints off the windowpanes with matter-of-fact efficiency. But when she found Luke's half empty bottle in the refrigerator, she broke down and cried. I put my arms around her, and we sobbed together.  
Our children and grandchildren have gone back to Africa. On Tuesday, we loaded up four-year-old Hannah, fourteen-month-old Luke, their parents Clark and Val, four backpacks, thirteen containers with fifty pounds each of precious N95 respirators and other gear, and then dropped them off at the airport. Our children and grandchildren have returned to East Africa where Clark serves as the only board-certified pediatrician among two million people. To make their return even more challenging, the newspapers just reported that doctors and nurses at all of Kenya's government hospitals are on strike. Only the mission's hospitals are fully operational.
The day before they departed, I brought up the strike. Clark replied, "Dad, can you think of a better way for us to show what Christianity is all about than for us to go and serve at a time like this?"
My answer: "No, I can't."
Two biblical passages quickly came to mind.  First, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul writing to Timothy (2 Tim 4:10-11) detailing all those who have left him, except one, the "beloved" physician Luke. I also thought of Hebrews 13:14: "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek that city that is to come."  Two weeks ago, I listened to my son-in-law Zach preach on this passage, one of my favorite in the entire Bible. As followers of Christ, we must serve, save, and sacrifice to build this world so it can look more like the kingdom of heaven; at the same time, we must never lose sight of the home where we long to dwell forever-"the city that is to come."
This tension of earthly and eternal needs is especially evident today. We are all living in a time that tests our faith. So I ask you: How goes it with your soul? Is your faith growing? Is there fruit on your vine?
I recently read a classic account by Rosalind Goforth, a missionary in China.  Her book is titled How I Know God Answers Prayer.  If you haven't read it, I highly recommend that you seek it out. It is an account of God at work in the setting of a missionary family during times of great upheaval. Five of Goforth's children perished on the mission field, yet this courageous mother focuses on God's grace and loving care.
So many of us long to see God at work. We pray, and then we wait for God on the couch. Often we wait in vain...or settle for a tame, domesticated god. Historically, however, God tends to show up in hot spots--just ask Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Yet this doesn't mean that each of us must fly off to foreign soils. Close to each and every one of us, there is a person who does not know the Lord.  Near us, something needs to be done that reflects God's beauty, generosity, thoughtfulness, and shalom.
When was the last time you gave a Bible to someone? Baked cookies and left them at a neighbor's door? Wrote a letter of encouragement...or a note of apology? When was the last time you sent a check to someone in need? Nancy and I have found that many of the giving opportunities God puts in our path involve a friend with cancer, or a neighbor adopting a child, or some other pressing need-not just certified charities. God never promised us a tax deduction for our generosity.
Such acts, no matter how small, are like the handprints our grandchildren left on the panes of glass. Even if they are barely seen, even if they are washed away, their impact is still there.
When the Lord returns, when the last trumpet sounds, I believe that these acts of love will endure. The dross and the chaff of our lives will be burned away. Only the gold and the truth will remain. Things as intangible as a prayer, or as fleeting as cut flowers in a mason jar left at a neighbor's door, will be as solid and eternal as a rock "in the city that is to come."
Your brother in Christ,
Matthew Sleeth


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