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In Your Palm

cupped in your palm
covered by your right hand
(safety ‘round my soul)
you hold me close
caress my tears away

and still your hand is busy
flinging star showers
weaving the winds
keeping danger at bay
(it’s skulking all around) 

I’m terrorized, Lord, but
I know you’re watching
I curl into the curve
inside your fingers
where I rest

It has been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, and as a nation we’ve been remembering the devastation. We were overseas in Côte d’Ivoire when it took place, but followed the news with horror and grief. It definitely woke us all up to the fragility of peace and to our vulnerability.

One year after that, we faced grave danger ourselves. We had known that there might be violence in that country; there was much political turmoil and even a military coup. In fact, for about ten years we had studied how to handle risk, and were required to have evacuation plans filed and ready for implementation. Backpacks carrying necessities were sent with our daughters to their boarding school in Bouake. Ours – Glenn’s, our son Bryn’s, and mine – were stored in the top shelf of our clothes closet. We had files for Plan A, Plan B if that main road was closed, Plan C if we might not be able to join the other missionaries further north at all. (We would find a way to “hide” with Christian friends in a more remote village, hoping that news would not spread too fast about the white family staying there. It would be impossible to truly hide.)

But we got used to living with the ‘maybes.” Shortly after the commemoration of that first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we got ready to go to Bouake, the city the boarding school was located, to participate in a training seminar that would qualify us to lead Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills workshops. Bryn was doing 10th grade via online schooling (his sisters were in the U.S. by then), and at first the plan was to leave him in Ferke (about four hours north of Bouake by road), with a friend. But the night before we left he said that he really would prefer going with us. I had just returned from a translation workshop in Mali and Glenn had been at meetings; he wanted less separation. We agreed. Looking back, we believe the Lord made sure he would be with us. He alone knew what was ahead.

We settled into life at the SIL facility in Bouake, where there was a walled courtyard containing a large meeting/dining room and another building three stories tall with dormitory-style bedrooms and community washrooms, kitchens and sitting areas. The training began.

On September 19, 2002, we were sitting in the little kitchen on the 3rd floor where we were lodged, eating breakfast with a few others, when we heard gunshots. Not just one; a whole series! They were fairly distant. We wondered if maybe the police had finally figured out who was robbing various banks and neighborhoods in Bouake and were chasing them down in town. Then one of the other workshop attendees came into the room with frightening news that she had heard on the radio. Rebels were attacking the three largest cities in the country: Korhogo to the north (just west of Ferke, where we lived), Bouake, and Abidjan on the coast.

We discovered that it was the group of government troops in Bouake who were being attacked by rebels led by soldiers who had lost their positions after a president with strong southern affiliation had won the 2001 election. It developed into a conflict between northerners who had felt marginalized and deprived of government services for years, and the southern ethnic groups and power-holders. (News outlets seemed to jump to the conclusion that it was the “Christian south” versus the “Muslim north,” and while it was true that some “Christians” in the south were attacking Muslims who were characterized as “northern” since they had originally come from northern countries, Mali and Burkina, and the north was about 40% Muslim, the civil war that erupted was not fought on religious grounds.)

So there we were, in Bouake, one of the major cities where there was daily fighting, some of it very close to us. What would it mean for the over 200 students at the boarding school at the edge of the city? What would it mean for us, in our courtyard not far from the government soldiers’ training school?

This story will continue in next week’s blog, remembering that crisis and the way we were protected. But right now I want to focus on a major lesson learned: whatever is happening, the Lord knows where his loved ones are, and they must put their trust in his goodness, presence and sovereignty.

The picture of being held in his hand became a comforting theme for me.

One thing we had learned early on in our adaptation to Nyarafolo culture was the importance of the right hand: it is the “good hand,” the one to be used for eating, for shaking hands, for giving something to someone else. The left hand is the “bad hand,” the one for wiping off nasal fluids and excrement (no toilet paper available). So if you were to hand money or something else to someone with your left hand, it would be seen as an insult.  But the right hand was the hand for right action and for showing respect.

It is evident that the Jews saw things that way as well, so the imagery of the right hand comes up frequently (see the verses below). The place of authority and honor was at the right hand of the king or other authority. And God’s right hand is the one that I can count on to hold me securely.

So, when chaos and danger lurk all around, let us rest in the palm of his hand, the one place where we are completely protected. He will not let us go. He holds us fast.

Well, someone will say, how about those who do die in the war? The only answer is that in God’s timing, it was then that he wanted to bring them home to unending peace. They were still held tightly in his hand.

And we are held too, when we belong to him, whether in ongoing life with opportunities to serve or in great release from all this world’s troubles when our time has come. He is a good, good Father, and King of the world!

FROM THE WORD:

Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. (Ps. 17:7 NIV)

You give me your protective shield; your right hand supports me; your willingness to help enables me to prevail. (Ps 18:35 NET)

Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered. (Ps. 60:5 NIV)

I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. (Ps. 63:8 NIV)

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. (Ps. 73:23 NIV)

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps. 139:9,10 NIV)

The depths of the earth are in his hand, and the mountain peaks belong to him. (Ps. 95:4 NET)

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The Dance of Worship

pum da pum da 
bum da pum
dancing with Bintou
balaphones booming
dark arms beating out
rhythms and tones
Bintou’s feet move 
shuff-ta-shuff-ta
shoulders turn
to face the fire
then swerve to bow
to the velvet night
my foreign feet
try to follow her
beat for graceful beat

then flip into high gear
suddenly whirring
I’m dancing in heaven
my soul flies high
joy in the making
of worship and praise
our song rising smoothly
our lips mouthing truth
“These are the sweet words
that Jesus taught us” –
thirsting for righteousness
panting for peace
clapping for Jesus
and all of his wisdom

loving my neighbor
we whirl and stomp
and the balaphones bellow
a clarion counterpoint
Bintou is dancing
and so am I
these Baptist feet
have learned to worship
this white-skinned heart
is joined in oneness
with this sweet sister
the dust is rising
billowing upwards
and so is praise

I was surprised when I found out that “celebration” is one of the practices that can transform us spiritually (cf. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, pp. 27-28), and that it includes many ways to recall God’s goodness and express your joy in him. One sentence that stands out to me is this: “To celebrate God’s grace to you, write a song of celebration, make a collage that represents your joy, write a poem of praise, play music and dance before the Lord . . .”

One of the most precious things I learned from my Nyarafolo sisters in northern Côte d’Ivoire was the way they lived out the concept of celebration in community. Having grown up in an American church culture that frowned on dancing, learning to dance with them was like entering another dimension. It had not been common during my youth in the same West African area, either, but by the ‘70s the nationals were adopting ways to celebrate that fit their own culture. It was my privilege to discover that, yes, I could use my whole body to worship my beloved Lord and Father.

At first, of course, I had to concentrate on the steps. The poem expresses one of those moments when learning catapulted to free participation as I danced with a Nyarafolo friend in response to a particular song one night. I felt unity in praise in a way I never had before.

That culture usually relegates women to a back seat and silence. But singing and dancing are liberated space where women lead, then others join as they initiate a dance response that fits the situation, following each other. The counter-clockwise circle with its various rhythms and body movements may express meditation on a biblical event, or joy at a milestone moment (such as a baptism, or the dedication of Scriptures in Nyarafolo in July which is in the video above), or heart-felt gratitude. When the song’s theme or rhythm changes, so do the steps. It is all about celebrating together in the community of believers.

Joining my sisters in expressing their love for each other, for music, and for Jesus became a highlight of going to church in the village, singing with the Nyarafolo Group on Sunday afternoons in my backyard, and dancing into the wee hours during celebratory “wakes” at Bible conferences, Christmas Eve, and Easter Eve. The stomping feet raised dust in the air, so occasionally the women would bring out buckets of water to splash around, and we would then go on until dawn. The dance steps would become especially energetic when the young men participated, often leaping when a song of celebration reached its climax (as in the video above).

Cross-cultural ministry requires learning new modes of expression, something I found exciting. Each culture has its ways of translating emotions or messages into the public sphere. Here in my American home church, I still worship in song but need to change my movements to those that are appropriate for praise or for community participation, such as raised hands or clapping. Sometimes, when next to certain African-Americans or other friends who cannot help swaying, I can move more freely. Churches often have very different expectations in this domain.

But we believers are called to find ways to join with others in the Family in praise. How do you feel at home and free to praise and celebrate the Lord where you worship? Is it in joyous singing? Do you move? Or do you find movement distracting? What promotes that joy in worshiping with others, for you?

What is important is that we praise our Lord together in ways that honor him and speak clearly in our communities. The Scriptures do not command us to adopt a certain style. But Psalm 150 lets us know that the Hebrews loved instrumental and full-body involvement when they sang praise to Yahweh. He accepts our voices (we have breath, v.6) as well as dancing and instrumental accompaniment, in the sanctuary and elsewhere. This is an invitation to us to use music for his glory in our various settings!

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary! Praise him in the sky, which testifies to his strength! 2 Praise him for his mighty acts! Praise him for his surpassing greatness! 3Praise him with the blast of the horn! Praise him with the lyre and the harp! 4Praise him with the tambourine and with dancing! Praise him with stringed instruments and the flute! 5 Praise him with loud cymbals! Praise him with clanging cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! (Ps. 150 NET)

Drenched but Keeping On

Somber clouds seemed to be
on the horizon, but suddenly
they spread overhead
and the sky was weeping.

Unprepared, I was still
two miles from my goal,
the cabin across the lake.
No umbrella. No hood.

Forty-eight-degree-Fahrenheit
water was chilling my head
and shoulders, soaking
through jacket and jeans,

leaving pearly droplets
all over my glasses
My normal gait turned
into an energetic power walk.

I kept my path under branches
leaning over the road
but autumn was passing,
leaves mostly crunching underfoot.

My calming hour in nature
had become almost a run.
Would rescue come?
Should I keep on keeping on?

A voice within chuckled,
urging me to notice
“this long obedience
in the same direction.”*

It would take determination;
this trial would breed patience,
perseverance. I could indeed
make it home, drenched but fine.

My fast pace thumped rhythms
of joy in the challenge,
and I sang “Amazing Grace”
as I weathered the storm. 

Did you notice that serious staring face in the cloud just over the road, in the image above? I took that photo several days before I got drenched by such a cloud, but I should not have ignored the warning. Those dark clouds can sneak up on you and have unexpected impact!

Intermittent rains punctuated our last days at Piatt Lake, so whenever the sun came out we knew it was time to get outside. I am a walker, and the 3.6-mile (according to my step-tracker) trek around the lake was not only exercise but a time for meditation on the beauty of creation. I just had to stop and take pictures along the way: a village of mushrooms, lily pads on the lagoon or by the bridge, and the autumn colors of crimson and gold even as they turned to deep rust.

Sometimes I grabbed the umbrella found in the closet, one my mom had left behind as part of the whole cabin’s legacy. Of course, those days it did not rain. But on this last trek I shrugged off the threat of rain, left the umbrella by the door, and got caught in a long downpour. Two miles of speed-walking a muddy road in that cold weather was not in my game plan. I have often commented that my preferred temperature is 79 degrees and above. The wet onslaught felt icy. It was soaking through my gloves and fall jacket, and there was no forest shelter left over the road.

When joy penetrated the slight panic in my heart I realized that I was being made to see an obvious parallel with that teaching in James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (Jas. 1:2 NIV). Okay, so here is another test run, I said to myself. Can I experience joy in this increasing freezing downpour and make it home? It should be good training!

I did make it home. But to keep myself going, I sang, silently, and “Amazing Grace” repeated itself over and over as I pressed on. I have already been rescued, not only from doom but also from a long walk with no meaning: God’s grace has truly brought me through many “dangers, trials and snares” during my life journey. I do have adventures and challenges to write about, memories that encourage me because every time, it was the Lord who made a way where there seemed to be no way.

Perseverance on the race here on earth will make us “mature and complete” (James 1:4). That is a much higher goal than the desire for physical fitness that keeps me walking! Rain penetrating my hair and coat, I was no longer feeling the intense cold now that my heart was doing a great job, circulating warmth to my body as I pushed ahead with my power walk. Grab that imagery and apply it to the long walk of obedience Home: as my heart beats more and more in rhythm with my Lord’s heart, he builds endurance into my character and walks with me all the way to destination, each time that there is a challenge along the way. And eventually I will reach full maturity, my fears put in perspective, his song breathing joy into the journey.

It was not my idea of a great last circuit of this lovely lake. Underneath my jeans my skin felt frosted. I had to hang up my garments to dry and take a hot shower. But my heart was stirred by the message from my Lord, and I can see that the rain was a blessing, after all.

Something like that cloud-face might spook me, and I might get caught in a downpour, but I just need to remember who is always with me, no matter what happens. He can remind my heart that he is the source of my joy, even in the tough times. He will help me finish the race.

Are you feeling drenched by a storm? Don’t focus on the dark clouds. Rather, remember to exult in the confident hope that those of us who belong to the Good Shepherd share: his goodness and love will pursue us, ALL the days of our lives!

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps. 23:6 NLT)

Like me, you may have learned that verse as “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” It was in the process of struggling to translate it into Nyarafolo that I learned that “mercy” was hesed in Hebrew, what is now mostly translated as “unfailing” or “steadfast” love. No English word can convey the whole meaning, but this kind of love is faithful. It can be counted on. And it does not just “follow me,” which I picture as just coming behind me like a shadow. The Hebrew word there is radap, which means “pursue.” That is powerful. My Shepherd’s love is constant, purposeful and chases me down, never leaving me alone; his goodness does the same thing.

He walks with us, and he can give us the strength to do whatever kind of “power walk” is necessary to face the challenges. We just need to be aware, thankful for this amazing grace, and persevere.

This Momentary Mist

Powdery mist lifts
off dark waters
as the sun calls out
from the lake’s far end,
beckoning morning to begin.

The translucent clouds 
obey, heading east
then gradually vanishing
into the light,
having finished their course.

I am like these vapors,
called to come
by the Son,
made to live this moment
where I am.

I might have just
one minute left.
May I reflect Him
and the grace He gives
before I am no more!

We have been spending this past month in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in Chalet Shalom, the legacy left our family by Mom and Dad (Dwight and Barbara Slater). The Chalet is on the south shore of Piatt Lake, surrounded by forest. My morning haunt has become the ancient desk in the Pine Room that looks out through evergreens and birches at a stretch of lake bordered by forest on the other side. Most mornings as sunlight begins to edge over the eastern edge of the line of trees, mist rises off the waters. The wind blows it gently toward the sun. And then it slowly disappears.

I’ve been meditating on James 4, and the parallels cannot be missed.

One of our quests in this early retirement phase is to discover what we should plan, what activities we should join at church or in the community, how we should spend our time. James warns, in 4:13, that the danger for believers is to focus on self-interest. His example is making plans to enrich ourselves by focusing on some business that we will accomplish somewhere, next year. Then he says:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. (Jas. 4:14-16 NIV)

The older we get the more we realize that it is true:  we are “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Only our Lord knows what tomorrow holds for us. Planning my activities without relying on his guidance is arrogance! This also requires letting go of control and of my fixation on what I desire. My existence is dependent on the Lord’s will; if it is in his plans, I will “live and do this or that.”

This actually takes the pressure off me and leads me to a place of quiet rest, waiting for him to show me how to live out his plan, moment by moment. It means remaining alert to his directives. He may open the door to certain ministries; he may indicate that it is time to rest after running a marathon, or time to deal with physical infirmities. What is key here is recognition that life will not last forever, and in each moment my responsibility is to be tuned to him.

Verse 17 rounds out this segment with another warning:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (Jas. 4:14 NIV)

Ouch! If I see an act of kindness or justice that I should do, but I turn my head away, this is not right. (The word “good” can also be translated “right”, cf. ESV, NAS.) Something I had not realized until studying the book of James more in depth is that when the author talks about the “law” he refers to the “perfect law that gives freedom” (1:25), and that those who truly love God and who will inherit his kingdom (2:5) and life there (1:12) will persevere and keep on doing the key thing he has asked them to do, the right thing:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”1 you are doing right. (Jas. 2:8 NIV)

James points out that this includes caring for the needy, practicing impartiality, being a peacemaker – the list goes on. So here I am, in this moment. How is the Lord asking me to live out his royal law, doing what is right, right now in this gift of time?

The unpredictability of life’s span was underlined for us this spring when Glenn’s sister, just a few years older than he is, died suddenly during the night. She had traveled from Pennsylvania to Michigan to spend several days with her mom, Elva Boese – the one who just turned 100 this month. Diane was known for her kindness and her affectionate ways of encouraging people, and that week she cared for her mother with those giftings. She expected to leave early Good Friday morning to go home for the holiday weekend, but she woke up in heaven instead of here on earth. Her husband, Pete, now reminds us all frequently to always remember to say, “I love you,” never knowing what may come next. Those words are powerful acts of kindness too.

Jesus told his disciples that if they practice loving their neighbor, as well as loving their God with all that is in them, they are actually keeping the whole law (Mat. 22:22:38-40). Living out those two will prevent breaking the other commandments.

We are here on earth momentarily, but if we do right, we can make a difference in the lives of others. And that is what our loving Lord wants. So today, and tomorrow if it comes, let’s do our best to listen for his prompting and follow through, living this moment the way he wants us to. Working at being more like him.

P.S. The poetry that I journaled over the past 20 years, about becoming sensitive to the Lord’s promptings, was published this year, When He Whispers: Learning to Listen on the Journey. You can find the book on the following marketplaces:

Direct from the publisher, WestBow Press: https://www.westbowpress.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/824658-when-he-whispers

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/When-He-Whispers-Learning-Journey/dp/1664224106/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=when+he+whispers+learning+to+listen+on+the+journey&link_code=qs&qid=1620606002&sourceid=Mozilla-search&sr=8-1

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-he-whispers-linnea-boese/1139300248?ean=9781664224100

Christian Book Distributors: https://www.christianbook.com/when-whispers-learning-listen-the-journey/linnea-boese/9781664224100

100 Years: A Life Lived Well

Navigating a century, 
a span of 100 years, 
is no small feat!
But she did it with joy. 
That’s not saying it was easy!

What brought her through
was the realization
that she is never alone.
She is daughter of the King,
chosen and loved.
She clung to the truth
and let it overflow to others, 
wherever her life path took her.

And she has now arrived
at this outstanding milestone! 
We applaud her generosity,
her love poured out along the way.
Look around and see
the fruit of a life lived well!

The day that she was born
God’s plan for her took off!
She raised a family to be kind,
love others, use their gifts.
And here’s one special goal 
we know God had in mind:
to reach the Nyarafolo!
She helped to shape her son.
Now look what God has done!

When I met Elva Boese I had just begun to date her son, Glenn. She was 49 then, almost halfway to the century milestone she just celebrated. Of course I had no idea back then what she would eventually mean to me. But I will never forget some of those earliest moments that showed me her sweet character.

The first time I ate with Glenn and his parents in Saginaw, Mom had prepared a special meal of a roast, with potatoes and vegetables. I was just beginning to cut my slice of meat when Glenn and his dad got up from the table. They were done eating! Startled, I noticed that his mom had just slowed down in order to accompany me as I ate. That was the day that I learned that his family inhaled their food and moved on to the next activity. I was used to a family that hung out together at mealtimes – my parents’ medical work often meant that it was one of the rare times we could be together. But I was touched by Glenn’s mom’s selfless change of her norm, for my sake.

Another time, I was told that Glenn’s oldest brother, Dan, was celebrating a birthday. Glenn was the youngest of six kids, and when I learned Dan’s age I realized that Glenn was only eight years younger than that firstborn! I told his mother that I was astonished at what she had done, giving birth to six kids in just eight years; what devotion and energy that must have required! She assured me that I had miscalculated, so I pointed out how true it was. She had never realized what she had done, just doing her best all those years of raising a family!

After Glenn and I had been in Côte d’Ivoire in ministry several years, she and Dad Boese came out to live with us and help as they could. I had just hired a young Nyarafolo man, Sikatchi, to help with housework so that I could devote more time to my linguistic work on his language and also begin homeschooling my daughter. Mom and Sikatchi had no language in common, but she mentored him, sharing her housekeeping skills. The most challenging was teaching him to sort the laundry by colors – not knowing that the Nyarafolo culture only has three colors (white, red and black)!

We were beginning to disciple the first believers in Sikatchi’s village, Tiepogovogo. Often we would go there just to develop our language ability as well as friendships. We were astonished at how much Mom loved being in that simple, traditional village setting. She became attached to one of the oldest women there, the chief’s wife, and would help her with whatever she was doing, such as shelling peanuts. No language was needed for trust and friendship to develop between them.

She still cares intensely for Sikatchi, asking for news about him, praying for him. We asked him to send her a message for her 100th birthday, and he did – we translated it. His special memory of her is the way she demonstrated her trust in him one night, grabbing onto his arm for security as she walked by a sleeping man that had some character issues. That gesture spoke to his heart!

She has touched the lives of so many people, from her youth to this milestone, dropping out of high school to work to provide for a younger sister’s needs (growing up in a poor family), giving her all to raise her family, sewing a huge number of items to send to needy people overseas or in her area. Now, she cannot do physical service, so she prays, tells her stories to friends, and reaches out to loved ones through Facebook!

Her life story can encourage all of us to live well too, never underestimating the impact of small gestures and selfless generosity. She passed that on to her son, my life mate, something that has blessed me as well as so many others in so many places. Loving a “neighbor” is, after all, the royal law of the Scriptures, the one our Lord and King sees as the key guide for the conduct of his people:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”

you are doing right. (Jas. 2:8 NIV)

Most of us will not live 100 years, but we can make a huge difference in this world if we live every moment in a way that communicates love to those around us. In whatever circumstance we find ourselves, let’s be aware of how we can use our gifting or an act of kindness to meet a need or just build trust. We can cross the boundaries that indicate cultural and racial differences. We can work to meet the needs of the poor. And showing love might mean just accompanying a slow eater through their meal or helping someone shell peanuts. These are acts of grace. We never know how they can be used by our King!

Reminder: Notice What He’s Painting

Lord, I’m looking out
my picture window
into a perfect scene:
a sunrise shaft of orange
lighting up gold autumn
and smooth green leaves
and the rippling lake
in spite of looming clouds.
Center stage, the red-white-blue
flaps in the breeze,
picture-perfect.

And I don’t want 
to be here.

The still-dark woods
beyond the brooding mansion
better fits my yearnings.
The flag droops,
breeze lost.
My heart droops,
dreams lost.
If I go into the woods
I’ll lie in the shadows,
sobbing.

So I sit here,
holding my sore heart
up to your healing light, 
noticing the hope
painted by your finger
when I remember
to look for it.

All around us there was evidence of God’s fingerprints, but I often forgot to notice them as we approached the first year anniversary of our evacuation. We still had no idea if a return to our ministries in Africa would be possible. The wait became overwhelming. Lament seemed my one recourse. It was now early fall of 2003. The civil unrest in Côte d’Ivoire was ongoing; the country was divided with the rebels holding the northern half. So many friends, so many “sons” and “daughters” were left behind. I had just begun my personal involvement as Hebrew exegete in the Nyarafolo translation, and my co-translator Moise and I had been loving our first project, Genesis. Glenn and I were discipling new believers in a village very special to us, Tiepogovogo, and had just sent off one of its young men for pastoral training. Was our participation in all this to come to a grinding halt?

We actually had much to be thankful for, and needed to remember to take note of it. Bryn was doing well adapting to high school at Southfield Christian School. The mission and our supporting churches had granted me permission to continue my studies at Michigan Theological Seminary (which I needed for my translation involvement) while Glenn worked as a contact with pastors in the region. We had friends and supporters praying with us, and time with family.

When our six-month reservation of an apartment provided by our church for missionaries came to an end, and we had nowhere else to go, a loving family from our church, Lyle and Sylvia Algate, offered us their basement apartment. It looked out on a beautiful lake, and the sight of water has always been one of my places of renewal. It was exactly what we needed. But the morning that I wrote the poem above I was still struggling to find peace and hope in the middle of that “in-between” time. Was I doing all this academic preparation for nothing?

Those months of digging into the challenges of translating Scripture into Nyarafolo had seemed to show me that God had formed me to do this detailed research that required perfectionism. He had definitely prepared Moise to be my partner in the venture, placing a deep love in his heart for the Word, and giving him an intimate knowledge of Nyarafolo culture. We had already discovered some exciting solutions to essential key terms in Genesis, like “covenant”. I longed to get back into it.

On the other hand, I found out that the Hebrew professor at the seminary I was attending had just launched a new course developed for the four of us students that he knew were actually using our Hebrew! He provided a study of Hebrew poetry based on the book of Isaiah. It was scintillating. (And in the future, that background would convince SIL that our team could actually translate the Psalms, something usually only allowed as a final piece of a translation project!)

Glenn had also been able to go back to the field on his own for a few weeks to set things in place so that the Nyarafolo team could continue work in promoting literacy and encouraging believers, and he organized certain things at the hospital as well. For years it was the only hospital open in that northern region! His stories about the rebel activity, the lack of normal resources like fuel, electricity and water due to government cut-offs (a tactic to discourage the “northern” rebellion), and the suffering of friends made it clear that it was not yet time for our family to return. But our hearts yearned to be there.

Pouring out our hearts to the Lord is not a bad thing. As it says in the psalms,

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Ps. 62:8 NIV)

I needed to be honest about my fears and worries and download them into that safe place, my Father’s listening ear. But I also needed to recognize what he was already doing, and trust that he was indeed preparing a good way forward – whatever that might end up being.

There was more: in 2004 the Lord provided us with a house in Detroit to move into, affordable because it had been rehabbed by a mission agency associated with our church. We had no funds saved for a house at that time, but two couples gave us funds for a down payment so that we could negotiate a mortgage. And it was in a Black neighborhood; we knew the Lord had placed us there for a reason. Friends overwhelmed us with their offerings of furnishings. For the first time since we had left for Africa in 1978 we had a home of our own, a place to decorate with African art and store our belongings.

And in 2006 the Lord did open up the way for Glenn and me to return to the field. Bryn was in college. I had finished my M.Div., even while spending many of my last months of study doing it long-distance so that I could accompany my young sister through her bought with leukemia. She entered heaven. Since other things were in place, we went back to Ferkessédougou, knowing it was time to do so.

During that in-between hiatus we learned the importance of paying attention to the signs of the Father’s loving provision. Just as we had experienced in our first years of mission service, what was important was taking the next step that he showed us we should take. Sometimes we weren’t sure if we would land on concrete, mud or thin air. But we needed to trust his character, and he showed us his goodness over and over – even in the beauty of the lake and that early outburst of autumn glory in August 2003, in a place where we had been welcomed with amazing kindness and emotional support.

So if you are in a zone full of uncertainty or other hurts, do pour out your distresses to the Father, our truly solid safe place. He will accept that and respond, in his timing. As David wrote in another season of feeling surrounded by menace:

As for me, I will call out to God, and the LORD will deliver me. 17 During the evening, morning, and noontime I will lament and moan, and he will hear me. (Ps. 55:16,17 NET)

Even if it seems to take ages for the answer to come, he will provide what you need to keep on keeping on:

Throw your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the godly to be upended. (Ps. 55:22 NET)

When Fear is Feathers in the Wind

fear is feathers in the wind
	unsure where to land
	and at the mercy
	of whiffs and puffs
maybes and maybe-nots
	could-bes
	scared to fall
	scared to fly
	scared to uncover 
	the real world yet unknown
too many feathers
	cloud my sight
	and make it hard to breathe
Breath of Spirit,
	blow your clarity
	into this air
	and take me
	to what you have planned
	your destination
light shines on a winding path
	and my soul lands
	at rest in his hands

When life is hanging in an “in-between” zone, fear can take on a whole different character. What does the future hold? No one knows. Except our Lord, of course.

After evacuating from the warzone in Bouake on September 27, 2002, we were trying to figure out what to do next. We were in Abidjan, which the rebels had not been able to take. But they were increasingly asserting their control over the north, city by major city. Our African friends, mission family, and my sister and her family (who had arrived just a few weeks ago) were still stranded up there. What would happen to them?

And what would our next weeks, months or years look like? We contemplated staying on in Abidjan, but were not at all convinced that it would be wise. Tension was high; violence was simmering. Many missionaries from there were heading to the States already. We were lodged at the main SIL center there, processing these things with friends. Word finally came that the American missionaries in the north (including my sister’s family, the Merrys), were being flown out to Accra, Ghana. So we decided to join them there.

It was a time of relief, especially some days at the beach together with Linda Sharp, a missionary nurse also from the north, and the Merrys. But we were all in that quandary of what-to-do-next. Steve (M.D.) and  Kayleen Merry decided to serve at a hospital in Togo, for at least a year, while waiting to see if the war would calm down. We decided to go stay with friends in France for a month, since we had been asked to use the training we had just received (to facilitate Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills workshops) at a workshop in France in a few weeks. We had already been planning to take a six-month home assignment in the U.S. beginning December.

Glenn had to make a trip back to Abidjan to set financial things in place for the mission. He made it safely back to Accra, with stories to tell. And we flew to France to live with Jean and Holly Richerd in their guest apartment: a former wine cellar that looked out across Grenoble to the amazing snow-capped alps that framed the view.

This too, was refreshing. But we could not escape the sense of being in some unknown space between the known and unknown. It continued during the next year, when we were in the U.S., still waiting. The mission would not allow families with minors to re-enter the war-torn Côte d’Ivoire, so we were in hiatus. The country was not divided north and south, with the rebels in control of the north, just south of Bouake up to the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso. The Baptist Hospital in Ferke was struggling and dealing with rebels seeking medical treatment (no guns allowed past the entry!!) and promising to pay later (which never happened). The single women missionaries who were medical personnel had re-entered and were at work. But we knew that since we had a son in high school, we were in the U.S. until the unrest was resolved or at least until Bryn graduated.

It was all a season of spiritual formation, the hard kind. We feared that we would not be able to go back to the field. We had no place to live if we stayed, after our first 6 months in the church’s mission apartments (they were already reserved after that, for others). We followed the news best we could, and realized that no solutions were being found to the civil crisis Côte d’Ivoire. French troops were there to help keep peace, but tensions were rising and so was the violence.

Then friends from church; Lyle and Sylvia Algate, opened up their home to us, ceding us their basement apartment. It was just what we needed, but still in-between.

Prayer was our recourse, and we cried out continually for the Lord to show us the way forward. He did. That story will be continued next time. But it taught me once again that the Lord’s promises are true. The following verse had been one of my childhood anchors, and it has become a thematic place of refuge in times of waiting for direction. I like the New Living rendering:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Prov. 3:5,6 NLT)

We all learned it as “he will make your paths straight.” What we were experiencing was that they did not seem “straight” at all, but winding between “maybe this” and “but this door just opened, didn’t it?” The note for the verse in the New English Translation explains well what “straight” meant to the Hebrew audience:

The verb ) יָשָׁרyashar( means “to make smooth; to make straight” (BDB 444 s.v.). This phrase means “to make the way free from obstacles,” that is, to make it successful (e.g., Isa 40:3). The straight, even road is the right road; God will make the way smooth for the believer. (NET note)

The “right road” may not always be an expressway, and we may not be able to see beyond the curves. But the Lord will lead us step by step as he works to remove obstacles, often one by one. I think of Paul’s travels and the way he thought he knew how long he could stay in one city, but things would change and he would need to move on to the next destination God had for him. In the end it resulted in much “fruit.” He did not see a direct path from “here” to “there” the way we might expect.

And that became our story. We were definitely shown the way, but it seemed more like a winding road sometimes requiring detours, and often leading through other crises. All the way, the Lord led us, and we are here to make that known.

I hope this is encouraging to you if you are in a phase of uncertainty and challenges. TRUST in the LORD – he will show you what he has planned, in his timing.

The Place of Ultimate Protection

I hold onto this, Lord!
Living inside your love
I move within
a world protected
not that I am
never wounded
but that you
keep me safe
from ultimate harm
from all malignant
and pernicious evil.

Inside the loving kindness
of your heart
I’m held where goodness
is my atmosphere
and tenderness the song
that plays incessantly
and heals me,
filling me 
with new hope
for this poor world.

A few days ago I was sorting through poetry written in 2002 and discovered the one above, written in August, the month before we found ourselves in the middle of the fighting in Bouake. We had been through some extremely painful experiences in 2001 and had profited from some counseling at a center in France. It had shown me how essential it was to leave my distresses with my Lord and to trust him, especially when evil raised its ugly head and life stayed hard. Learning to remember that his goodness and love were always my true home, even in the dark of despair, was now my goal. He was my one source of “hope for this poor world.” Looking back, I know he was preparing me for the danger coming in September.

We had not expected civil war to erupt in Côte d’Ivoire while we were supposed to be in training to lead seminars on Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills, living at the SIL center in Bouake. (The session on “Managing Stress” was actually very helpful right then!) We were hearing gunfire day and night, learning how to manage a lockdown in an attempt to stay safe, dealing with fears for loved ones in other parts of the country with no way to communicate with them.

A huge advantage was that our trainers had experience with preparing for such high-risk situations. One had even done police work and coached us on safety procedures. He told us that if the gunfire became very close, we should gather on the second floor of the three-story building where we were lodged. Huddled in the central hallway with rooms on each side, as well as the floors above and below us, we would be safest. Mattresses were stashed at the end of the hall, to be stacked against the doors for yet more protection.

The 18 of us trainees were divided into teams to take care of various aspects of life. Glenn was on the cooking team, helping to make soups out of the vegetables that we had available. I was the only one without a work assignment since I was supervising a young teen, our son Bryn.

He seemed to be handling it all well. He was doing tenth grade online and needed little help. One afternoon when we had finished our training session I went out into the courtyard to take a brisk walk around it (stress relief!), inside the walls. Bryn was on the swing set as I passed that side of the yard. A few minutes later there was a screeching boom, and a fiery mortar went flying over the courtyard. Maternal instincts took over; I ran back to the swings to remind Bryn to go to the second floor. He wasn’t there! I ran inside and checked out the first floor, the second floor where people were gathering, and finally the third floor where our assigned bedrooms were. He was not in our rooms! Panic was setting in as I walked back down the hall – and then he came calmly out of the men’s bathroom. “We’re supposed to be on the second floor!” I shouted. “I know,” he replied. “I’m coming.” There was no sign of fear there at all!

That was our first experience of lying on the cement floor while we heard the mortars and gunfire tearing right over us. The rebels were on one side of the courtyard, the government soldiers on the other, shooting at each other over the courtyard expanse. Glenn and Bryn were lying parallel to each other on the floor, and I was next in the long line with my dear friend Karen DeGraaf just across from me. Often Karen and I held hands while we prayed. Twice, once for two hours and once for four, we all stayed in that hiding place, waiting it out.

One of the other missionaries took a picture of us all lying in this row; the unexpected flash of her camera startled us. Had something exploded in the hall?? No. Breathe. During the second session on the floor, Glenn and Bryn got tired of lying down in our recommended positions. They pulled out a pack of cards and sat cross-legged, playing to pass the time and handle the stress. That was not for me!

It had all begun on September 19th. On the 26th we finally got reassuring news: the French troops had been able to arrange a 24-hour ceasefire in the city so that foreigners with passports could evacuate toward the south. The first priority was the students and staff at International Christian Academy. They left, taking an eastern route away from the main thoroughfare. We were packed and ready to go, each of us assigned a place in the cars available. When we heard that it was our turn to leave the next morning, we drove out of the courtyard and joined a slow line of other cars heading south.

One of the hardest things to handle was driving through the city, seeing the crowds of young men and boys at the side of the road who had come out to watch us leave. What would they be facing by tomorrow?

The French soldiers checked passports and waved us along. We headed to Yamoussoukro, the official capital, where we were welcomed by a very unusual sight: American soldiers (a unit from Germany) flown in to protect Americans! After spending the night at the home of the Livingstons, missionaries who lived in that city (one of them was in our cohort from Bouake), we headed to Abidjan, the major city. When we arrived at the entry we had to be checked by government police. They required all passengers to exit their vehicles; cars had to be driven over to a side checkpoint to be scanned for firearms etc. Two Nigerian Christian workers were in our car with the three of us, and walked on ahead toward the agents at the checkpoint while Bryn and I hurried to the back of our station wagon to grab his backpack that contained his passport. The policeman near us was upset that we opened the back of the car, but I explained the issue. Glenn drove the car to the side and Bryn and I walked up to the checkpoint. The two Nigerians were still there, being harangued with increasing insistence by the policeman. He was speaking French, not realizing they could not understand or respond. It was clear that he viewed them as suspect, probably because they were dressed in their best clothes, long robes that are similar to Muslim male garb, in readiness to board a flight back to Nigeria. Fortunately I was able to explain in French that they had been at the same training session as I had attended, and were Christian workers, not to be feared. We were all  permitted to pass. I truly believe that the Lord used our delay to retrieve Bryn’s passport to give our friends safe passage! (Within a few weeks, we heard stories of people being shot at some checkpoints just because they had a “Muslim” name.)

Yes, we were stressed out. Our futures were all still entirely uncertain. The gunfire and mortar blasts had made it all too clear that danger was all around. But we were now safe, if unsure of next steps.

I still deal with some post-traumatic stress reactions, although they are much milder than in the past.. The sound of guns at a shooting range, and fireworks, are unwelcome. But the Father has continued to hone me, teaching me to trust him in ways that have made many more endeavors possible during these past 19 years – including returning to Côte d’Ivoire during the years of crisis when the rebels still held power in the north where we lived.

All along the way, the essential truth that I have clung to is that my Lord is loving and good, and he has a plan. My part is to trust him and wait, hard as that may be when I don’t see things change right away. Maybe you are facing distress right now. Whatever form it may take, hold onto this truth, and listen for his encouraging words. He does still speak to our hearts if we open our inner ears!

When He Whispers: Learning to Listen on the Journey You can find my book of poetry on my growth in the discipline of listening at the following marketplaces:

Direct from the publisher, WestBow Press: https://www.westbowpress.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/824658-when-he-whispers

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/When-He-Whispers-Learning-Journey/dp/1664224106/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=when+he+whispers+learning+to+listen+on+the+journey&link_code=qs&qid=1620606002&sourceid=Mozilla-search&sr=8-1

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-he-whispers-linnea-boese/1139300248?ean=9781664224100

Christian Book Distributors: https://www.christianbook.com/when-whispers-learning-listen-the-journey/linnea-boese/9781664224100

The Mango Cycle of Life

there is an orange mango
hanging in the sun
soaking in the morning warmth
ripening silently
hanging on
its long stem firmly attached
to a slender branch
sucking in sustenance
growing gradually rounder
full of succulent juice
vitamins A and C
swaying slightly
as a breeze comes through
to caress the smooth skin
and whisk off dust
breath of heaven 
and sap of life
and healing light
I hang here too
knowing soon
my turn will come
to fall, matured
and ripened,

fruit that tells a story
of life sustained
by love and grace
attachment to the Source
hanging where I'm placed
living out my little span
being fruit
falling to the soil
to die, to let my seed
be buried whole
to grow into a leafy tree
with crowds of limbs
and flowers bursting
into fiery clusters
that drip down
becoming stems
with balls of green
forming on their ends
and it begins again
but now it's hundreds
of green newborn fruit
sipping the sap
the sun and the breeze
    and on it goes . . .

Mangoes are such a blessing! Watching the mango trees grow heavy with fruit every year, fruit that I longed for, was one of the riches of living where I did in northern Côte d’Ivoire. The family ate the fresh fruit with delight. I always had plans to make mango pie, ice cream, mango sauce, mango butter, and freeze whatever would fit in the freezer. Still, many fell to the ground and rotted. But how could a new tree be produced unless that happened?

The Scriptures are full of the imagery of producing fruit. The one we are most familiar with is that of the vine, of how we are to be like branches that cling to the vine and thus are nourished by the sap and can produce fruit. It is vital to understand that one. It is true of mango trees as well: if a branch loses its hold and is whipped off the tree, it dies. There is no fruit.

But I am intrigued by the way this image of “fruit” is also used to describe a tree:

The fruit of the righteous is like a tree producing life, and the one who wins souls is wise. (Prov 11.30)

Here I can picture a tree growing from a seed, and then, when it produces its fruit, this gives life to others! That fruit will nourish many, and some will fall on good soil and become yet other fruit-bearing trees. And the fruit that gives life involves right actions (what the “righteous” do) that encourage others and promote justice, and that invite people to enter that same way of living.

Jesus talked about how it matters whether the soil on which seed lands is receptive or not. When the Good News is received with conviction that lasts, the result is a healthy plant that also bears fruit.

But as for the seed that landed on good soil, these are the ones who, after hearing the word, cling to it with an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with steadfast endurance. (Luke 8:15)

In these verses it is clear that the fruit of that seed comes from living out the truth, the Word, in such a way that others are impacted. Clinging to the Word “with an honest and good heart” means learning it, absorbing it and letting it direct one’s actions – definitely not just claiming the title “believer” or “Christian”. It requires “steadfast endurance.”

Then in John 15 Jesus makes it clear that living out that truth hangs on whether mutual affection is a reality in the community. In fact, the command to love one another is underlined as the obedient action that allows the disciple to remain in God’s love. “Remaining” is explained by that metaphor of staying attached to the vine, which is where the disciple receives the strength and capacity to actually love others in this fundamental way, absorbing instruction that leads to living for others the way that Jesus did. I would encourage you to truly meditate on the entire chapter; here I will just highlight this emphasis on mutual loving. It has really clarified things for me:

My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. 9 “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. . . .12 My commandment is this– to love one another just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this– that one lays down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. . . 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 17 This I command you– to love one another. (Jn. 15:8 NET)

There it is! And I do believe we miss applying this way too often in our communities. What is the world noticing about Christians in the U.S. these days, for example? Is it not our divisions, our quarrels, and our public maligning of those who differ from us in their political position, social class, race or immigrant status? Do we listen lovingly to those who are experiencing more challenges or suffering than we are?

Showing love is always a challenge, especially when it requires finding ways to show it to those who are mistreating us or misunderstanding us. I like the example that Paul gives in the following verses, where he asks for grace for those who have opposed him in the Family of Christ:

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. (2 Tim. 4:16 NIV)

This past year in Côte d’Ivoire the dry season lasted too long, so that the “mango rains” the come before the rainy season did not come until a few months too late. The mango harvest was truly disappointing. It made me realize how important it is that the nourishment of the sap, the life-giving liquid in the tree, can flow as it should and therefore produce fruit. If we are going through spiritual drought, not getting the nourishment we need, it is no wonder that we find it so difficult to love as Jesus commands us to love. It is up to each of us to analyze where we get our nourishment, and whether it is really from him or from the world. Let’s figure out how we can love one another!

Navigating the Flash Flood

What had been just a ribbon of sludge
across the road on the way to the village
is now a mass of watery mud
covering the road between the bushes.
Are we blocked? Is it now too deep?
Should we try to carefully creep ahead?
What if we sink in a ditch instead?

A motorcycle passes, rushing brazenly on
into the murky mass, intent on making goal.
The motor splutters and dies and it sinks
underwater, its tires stuck in mud beneath
what had seemed to him a shallow puddle.
Two women, however, make each step a scout
carefully finding a way through the muddle.

The road we traveled for so many years every Sunday out to Tiepogovogo for church was always a challenge. Every time a heavy rain came it would carry away loose dirt, leaving rocks exposed and jagged trenches that only got deeper with time. Sometimes driving felt like playing a tense video game.

The first Sunday that we were back in Côte d’Ivoire last month we were eager to visit that church and the people there that mean so much to us. Glenn was even asked to preach, since the pastor was elsewhere that week. Fortunately, we had been loaned a Toyota that could handle bush roads. We loaded the car with the pastor’s wife and kids, dear friends of ours, and took off.

It had rained hard that night, and a flash flood had begun to cover the road, but not as badly as the time we remembered when we had watched the motorcycle die as it unwisely dove in. (The next Sunday we heard from the pastor that it had become completely impassable by then!).

So Glenn worked that illustration into his message. The printed Nyarafolo Scriptures (the NT+OT portions) are now available, and so much hangs on whether the people will actually use them. We know of some other language Bibles that have ended up mostly left in their shipping cartons, and that is not the desired outcome!

A priority is inciting a hunger to be able to access the Word personally. For those who never attended school (and no more than 10% of that ethnic group have been able to do that) it means learning to read. Those who did attend even a few years of school learned to read in French, the national language, and need to transfer those skills to reading their mother tongue. Is the hard work worth the outcome?

Yes, it is! For those who want to know Truth, especially those who are on the “Jesus Road,” the Scriptures are their guide to walking that Road. The Word points out the dangers that lurk and how to avoid them, as well as giving directions for doing what is right and in line with the Master’s goals for us.

Just like the motorcyclist who took his chances and just plunged into the murky flood, believers who pay no attention to the signposts that the Lord has left us in his Word are heading into disaster. But if you know, step by step, the right way forward and follow it, all is well.

When the message was over, the oldest man in the Tiepogovogo congregation, Fulokuo, stood up to give a comment. “When we were young,“ he said, “there was no Bible here. We were told that in order to have  anything go well in life, we had to keep on sacrificing chickens (to the territorial gods). Now we have the Word, so we have left all those sacrifices behind to follow Jesus. As my friend Sikatchi has said, if a Nyarafolo now does not go to heaven it is because they choose to ignore that Word. So pray that many Nyarafolo – including the women and children – will follow Jesus, that they will get their Bibles and learn to know him. I myself cannot yet read, but I will get a copy and try to learn!”

A carton of the Scriptures was on the podium, and after the service there was a line of men and women eager to get their very first copy of this Holy Book. May many more also benefit from this treasure that is sweeter than honey to our souls!

In Michigan and elsewhere we have been experiencing flash floods as well, with all the dangers they bring with them. We’ve seen freeways inundated with water, cars floated over to the side. For me it is now a reminder of the way I need to both trust my Lord’s protection and follow his instructions – not rushing ahead into waters covering the way forward, but waiting for guidance, and listening to what his Word has already told me to do.

The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

 (Ps. 19:9b-11 NIV)

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