I have a philosophy that has proved to be very helpful for my life in Madagascar. HAVE LOW EXPECTATIONS. When my expectations are low, my stress level stays under control. A fifteen minute stop at the bank. Nope. Expect three hours and be pleasantly surprised when it only takes two. A quick trip to the bush. Nope. Expect to get stuck in the mud and have a flat tire and be pleasantly surprised with a maintenance free adventure. A steady flow of water, electricity and internet. Nope. Expect none of the above and be thankful for the trickle of water, sporadic electricity and snail-paced internet.
The philosophy works, until, for whatever reason, I abandon my philosophy, raise my level of expectation and then come spiraling down when my elevated expectations are not met. For example when I expect a trip to take three hours and in reality it takes six and a half, I start to lose it. When I have a ten minute window to run to the store before it closes for the afternoon and think surely I can make it in time…what could go wrong? I hit a guy with my truck. Oops! Expectation fail. (FYI: He was not hurt.) When I irrationally think that the power company will understand their mathematical error and will obviously change my erroneous bill from $1600 to the more appropriate $20, and instead they suggest having me pay another bill with made up, arbitrary numbers, I cause a scene in the bosses office. Why? My expectations were way too high. Why would I expect logic and reason to win out? Lower your expectations, Ben.
On the first Sunday in July my expectations were pretty low. I had been asked to fill in for one of our national partners to preach at his small village church since he had been in too much pain from a recent tooth extraction to preach himself. I had very little time to prepare and left that morning with a sense that the day was truly in God’s hands (not that it isn’t normally, but sometimes I forget).
That morning Ashley, our youngest daughter, and I headed out for the thirty minute drive to the village. I did not expect to need four-wheel drive, but non-the-less it was needed. I did not expect to be pulled out in the middle of the service to go to a man’s house, but that’s exactly what happened.
About an hour into the three hour service, the pastor motioned for me to come outside and proceeded to explain that a man in the church wanted us to go to his house to help him remove his charms and idols from his home so he could truly follow Christ. I thought, “Right now?”. Then I thought, “Sweet! Let’s do it!”. I wanted to take my nine year old daughter with me, but the pastor thought it best if she stayed with the other parishioners in the rented out school building where they were holding the service. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, so I agreed to leave her there.
After a twenty minute drive we arrived and parked outside his hut. Following the customary greetings to the nearby villagers we entered his one room mud structure. Others in the community had gathered around to see the spectacle. We prayed and then the pastor looked at me and said, “Do you have anything to say?”. Thankfully 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 and 17 was part of my sermon for that morning, so I quickly turned to the passage and had the pastor read the verse: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
My mini message was simply this, that when a person follows Christ his old ways are put to death. He is a new creation in Christ. Jesus is now Lord of everything, and that includes his home.
The pastor then asked him to gather his idols and charms. He stood and pulled an idol from one corner of his hut and then reached over his bed for something else in another corner. He opened draws, unpacked bags, pulled things from everywhere in the house. After a pause in the action we asked if that was all, and then he remembered a few more and reached around to retrieve them. What happened next intrigued me. We went outside and he started digging a hole. I thought he was preparing a place to burn his idols, but I was wrong. He was digging up more things from the yard. He found an idol here and an idol there. There were idols everywhere! He went back to his home and started digging in front of his front door. There were charms there too.
Eventually he completed his quest and gathered all of the items in a plastic bag. By this time the whole village was out spectating and/or helping him dig. When he finished he shared with his village his story of why he had returned to worshipping idols. The reason was that his wife was sick and he was afraid that she would die. He put his faith in zebu (cow) horns, sharp blades and any number of other crazy things instead of trusting in God. He confessed that he was wrong to not trust God and announced that he wanted to follow Christ instead of worshipping idols.
We left his village and returned back to church where my poor daughter had been sitting for the past hour and a half. I preached a very short message and then the young man stood to share his story again with the church. After the service we all gathered at a nearby home where he burnt his idols. There were no gold images, statues or special jewels. His idols included a live bullet, a Chinese book, and cow horns. It felt strange, but very Old Testament.
Madagascar life is always an adventure. I suppose the lesson for me is yes, keep expectations low when it comes to getting my way. But, never, for any reason, lower my expectations on what God can do. He always exceeds my expectations!
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20