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Friday, 28 March 2014

Not a Waste: the Short Life of David Brainerd

   David Brainerd (1718-1747) lived in New England for all of his twenty-nine years.  From the time of his conversion at 21 years of age to his death from “consumption” or tuberculosis, Brainerd dedicated himself to the service of God.  This included mission work to Native Americans living in the region of present-day New York and New Jersey.  As he preached and taught among them, he saw revival taking place.  
   The most direct information we have about David Brainerd comes through his missionary journal that was published by the Honourable Society (Scotland) for Propagating Christian Knowledge (1746) and his personal journals that were edited and published by Rev. Jonathan Edwards as The Life of David Brainerd (1749).  I took it upon myself to read as much as possible of the latter publication in preparation for this post.  When reading the journal edited by Edwards I was struck by a number of things:
  • When David Brainerd wrote these entries he never intended for them to be published.  Although he gave reluctant consent on his deathbed, Brainerd was surprised that they would be of any benefit to other Christian believers.  As a result some of the content made me feel like an intruder to private thoughts and struggles.
  • I’m quite sure Brainerd suffered from a significant mood disorder.  At the time, “melancholy” was used to define the dark periods of a person’s life.  At least a couple of days per week he tells of a debilitating sense of unworthiness.  One example: “Saw myself so vile and unworthy that I could not look my people in the face when I came to preach” [1]
  • His single-mindedness was reminiscent of St. Paul: “I thought I wanted not the favor of man to lean upon; for I knew Christ’s favor was infinitely better, and that it was no matter when, nor where, nor how Christ should send me, nor what trials he would still exercise me with, if I might be prepared for his work and will.”[2]
  • He is a man torn at times between assisting the Native people who come to him “under deep concern for their souls” and the exhaustion that comes of their “incessant application to me for help.” [3] This missionary needed an assistant! 
  • He refers to other Europeans whose nominal Christianity and harsh treatment of the Natives made it difficult to share the gospel.

   Dr. John A. Dreisbach said, “This book by Jonathan Edwards was the first biography written in America that achieved wide notice abroad as well as at home.”[4]  It influenced some of the biggest names in mission work in the coming centuries, including Adoniram Judson (Burma), William Carey (India), Henry Martyn (India), John Wesley (founder of Methodism in England and USA), J. Hudson Taylor (China) and David Livingstone (various locations along the Zambezi River in Africa).
   Although David Brainerd’s lifespan was considerably short and fraught with suffering, his devotion to the Lord urges us to seize each day for God’s glory.

[1] The Life of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards, Yale University Press, 1985 edition, January 1, 1744 entry, p.232.
[2] The Life, April 12, 1742 entry, p. 160.
[3] The Life, January 13, 1746 entry, p. 354.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Guest Post by Erudina: The Meaning of Stewardship

Front view of Dios Es Mi Paz church, after the service
Erudina is an elder at Dios Es Mi Paz (“God is my peace”) church.  She has a Master’s Degree in Education and serves as the principal of a public high school in Santo Domingo.  She is a widow with three children; she has experience with community development and youth work. Erudina prepared and delivered this message on January 26, 2014 in Spanish. This post is based on notes I took from Pastor Mario’s phrase-by-phrase translation into English.

   Stewardship is a universal principle, but it is even more relevant for believers.  The Greek word for stewardship is oikos, which means “household” or “disposition to care for a household,” and “one who is in charge.”  Christian stewardship is watching over God’s belongings.  We are heirs in Christ of all God’s belongings.  In our lives we are stewards of the following:
  • money
  • physical and mental health
  • work
  • entertainment
  • time
  • skills
  • spiritual gifts
   Stewardship is a very wide topic, but we will focus on one aspect—skills and abilities.  There is a variation in the amount of skills people have.  Some think it has to do with our IQ, but skills go beyond that.  God gives us each talent that we have.  The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14 –30 teaches that the quality of our service is how we use our skills and abilities.  According to Scripture, everyone has some skills.  We are born with natural skills through our genes, but our upbringing affects the development of our skills.  As we grow up we may barely notice our skills due to our external conditions.  When we develop our skills (through education and experience), we expect to be compensated for that, but whether paid or not we are to use these skills for service.
   Some special skills are given to do special work that God want us to do.  In Exodus 4:10-17 Moses protests his inabilities, while God emphasizes His own power.  Sometimes, like Moses, we think we don’t fill the shoes or fit the requirements.  But God will give us what we need.
   I Corinthians 12 mentions gifts of the Holy Spirit.  They are supernatural gifts to expand the church and spread the gospel.  Some people do not have much formal education, like Peter and John, but they can do wonderful things through the Holy Spirit.
   Sometimes we are tempted to bury our talents, but we should not give in to these temptations. We need to use these gifts in the church.  We can discern God’s will through the Holy Spirit, reading His word, seeking advice from brothers and sisters in Christ, pastors and leaders.
   We need to avoid selfish desires and any sins so that we can use our gifts.  Open your eyes to the opportunities.  How can we help those who are in need of healing, encouragement and care?  We are called to shine in our community as true representatives of Christ:
·        Being faithful in daily life, getting rid of pride and selfishness
·        Do what’s right without being conscious of it
Don’t waste your talents and gifts by getting involved in sinful activities.  This can happen when we use our skills to accumulate wealth.  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).  We need to follow God’s lead.  When we waste our skills we lose out.
   Our work will be revealed by fire, as it says in I Corinthians 3:10-15.  Let’s use our skills to build things that will last and are worthwhile.  Some problems in the church are the result of wasting gifts.  Some examples are:
  • seeking compensation and advancement in careers rather than service
  • seeking spectacular gifts without having victory over sin in our lives
  • false worship that is actually religious entertainment

   The parable of the talents shows that the one who had five talents multiplied them to become ten talents.  When we develop stewardship in our lives, it will help us grow in Christ.  Then we will hear these words at the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter the joy of your Lord.”

Friday, 21 March 2014

Hand-up for a Ghanaian School

   A friend of mine is temporarily living in Ghana while her husband is employed there on a construction project.  Her four children are attending a Christian elementary school that lacks many of the resources we take for granted in North America.  One great need they have is adequate school desks.  These desks can be made and purchased in Ghana.
   Instead of just asking for money from the outside, the students were brainstorming about how they could raise money for desks.  One Ghanaian girl, aged about twelve, offered her sewing skills for this cause.  She will make small purses (with a zipper and strap) for $2 CDN apiece. 
The purse is 14 cm by 8 cm, with a longer shoulder strap 
She is also willing to makes dresses for $15 CDN.  Dresses can be made to the size of the girl (length & waist measurements) and according to a preferred colour for the skirt and matching bows (give first and second choice).  Based on the design, it appears that the bodice comes only in black.
Summer dress with skirt going down to the knee

Close-up of layered skirt

Close-up of bow

This is where I come in, as an advocate for fair trade and honourably assisting individuals in need.  If you would be interested in ordering one of these items, you may contact me by email harriette.edit@gmail.com.  Arrangements about how to exchange the goods and money will be made on an individual basis.  

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Marvels of Newborns

We rightly think of newborns as helpless creatures dependent upon the care they receive from the adults in their lives.  However, in the past five days I was reminded by two newborns (a six week-old and a three month- old) and two medical doctors (my uncle and my cousin) of the remarkable set of reflexes given to infants that help them adapt to life outside the womb and survive in it.

Here are just a few of the beneficial reflexes newborn are born with:
  • While the developing infant has lungs, she does not need them until birth. The breathing reflex “even before the umbilical cord is cut”[1] allows her to make this transition to a world with air.  The ability to sneeze, hiccough, cough and thrash are also vital to breathing in newborns.
  • A newborn has no experience with eating through its mouth.  Yet when a baby’s cheek is stimulated, he turns in that direction, opens his mouth and begins to suck anything that touches his lips.  An additional aid to the newborn is that right after birth, his mother’s breast smells like amniotic fluid, the familiar environment that the baby has known.  In my cousin’s words, “It smells like home!”
  • The proximity of our windpipe and esophagus makes choking a dangerous possibility even for adults.  The gag reflex begins in newborns and, thankfully, never leaves us.
  • Newborns can lose heat rapidly, so parents are given instruction about swaddling them and guarding their temperature at all times.  However, tucking legs close to the body, shivering and crying are reflexes that enable a baby to conserve heat.

   I remember being impressed watching the news in 1985 after the devastating earthquake in Mexico City.  Up to a week after the tremor, the survivors that were found were newborns.  How is this even possible?  According to a New York Times article at the time, pediatric specialists “generally attribute it to the fact that newborn babies have an excess of body fluids and are metabolically prepared for stressful events at the time of birth. In addition, because the nature of their entombment was somewhat similar to being in the womb, doctors have speculated that the infants probably experienced less of the terror and shock that can so quickly drain away the life of an adult in a similar situation.”[2]
   We all began our lives so vulnerably, but how amazing that we were designed to rise to the challenges before us.  It is no cliché that the birth of a child is laden with miracles.

[1] http://www.reocities.com/route66ok2000/devpsych5/devpsych5.html; chapter summary of pages 130-136, point 8.
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/1985/10/16/world/mexico-s-entombed-babies-win-the-fight-for-life.html

Friday, 14 March 2014

Guest Post by Matthias

This piece of writing is in my possession due to providence.  Matthias composed this poem/lyric on a French study sheet in May of 2012, when I noticed it and copied it in a notebook without his knowledge.  The sheet had to be handed it on the day of the test, but somehow it was never returned.  If I had not copied it then, I would not have it today.  For the record, Matthias did give permission for its publication here.
As in a surprise, glory will rise
And with faith beyond the shadow of a doubt,
Many will yet cry out.
But even in that hour
His healing power
Come down to shower
To those who cower;
And lie in wait for him,
Admitting their sin.
Through disaster will bring faith
And the knowledge of escape
Will bring to know
That through the one who sows,
There is fire
And light amidst the seemingly all-occurring darkness.
That still small voice that whispers through the grass
Will not let a single soul pass,
Without the chance to receive everlasting rides in the home he has prepared.
And when all is at doubt
Let Him in, who has always been pushed out.
When lives are at stake,
Many will awake

And question the meaning of life.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Lentils for Lent

I would like to share this recipe for Egyptian-style Rice and Lentils.  For the season of Lent, I am basing all my personal supper meals around rice and beans/legumes.  This is one of my favourites.

Recipe serves 6-8, but it can be divided in half[1]:

Rice & Lentils

In heavy saucepan, heat 3 Tablespoons oil.  Add 1¼ cups lentils and 1½ cups brown rice and stir often while they brown slightly and are coated, about 3-5 minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon salt and 4 cups boiling water or chicken broth.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer 35 minutes, stirring once part-way through.


You can make this as simple or complicated as you want to.  You can simply heat prepared tomato sauce from a can or make your own by heating and simmering the following for 20-30 minutes:

¾ cup tomato paste
3 cups tomato juice, sauce or pureed tomatoes
1 green pepper, chopped
celery leaves, chopped
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper or to taste


Heat oil in a small skillet and sauté 3 onions sliced into rings, with up to 4 minced garlic cloves, if desired, over medium heat until lightly browned. 

Plain Yogurt

Serve on the side.

[1] This recipe can be found in the More with Less Cookbook (1976) on page 108, but I changed it so that brown rice is used instead of white rice.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Ice Photos

In my part of Canada there have been exactly six days where the average temperature was above the freezing mark since Christmas Eve.  The snow continues to accumulate; ice has formed in different ways and in different places.
Both photos taken on December 22nd by my husband, after the ice storm

   I was thinking that during this long winter we could pay a bit more attention to some intricacies of snow and ice.  Some of us may remember learning the hydrological (water) cycle and the unique way snow/frost is formed as opposed to ice.  Ice makes the simple transition from liquid to solid through cold temperatures, whereas snow and frost skip a step.  They are formed by sublimation, when water vapour responds to freezing temperatures.
   While it has become legendary that the Inuit language of Inuktitut has numerous words for snow and ice due to the fact that its speakers have the longest winters on the planet, English can also boast over 50 specific words related to ice and snow.[1]  Many of these words come from specialized fields, such as alpine skiing and meteorology.  Another specialized field that deals with ice is electrical engineering.  Until recently I had never heard of additional words for ice, namely soft and hard rime and glaze ice.  A researcher at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, whose thesis paper I had the privilege of editing, used these terms because various types of ice coatings on electrical equipment can have greater damaging effects than others.  Another fascinating adjective I learned from this study was “icephobic,” that which inhibits the formation of ice.
  Today I took a photo of the snow bank beside my driveway, which is anything but icephobic.  The grainy snow becomes liquid and then freezes as an icicle along the side.  
Another icicle (right) on the back fender of my van defies gravity.

[1] http://poetry-contingency.uwaterloo.ca/fifty-five-english-words-for-snow/ shares a list of words.

Monday, 3 March 2014

When It's not about you

   It takes a measure of faith to believe in God’s providence.  It is possible to dismiss the everyday positive happenings as coincidence or luck.  And when things go horribly wrong in our lives, it is hard to see a caring God or to trust that in the end it will be for the best.  Often the only way to see God’s providence is by looking back, years after a painful event.  I’d like to share one story like that.
   During the summer of 1988 I spent part of my summer in Michigan leading Vacation Bible School and otherwise assisting a church with outreach.  While I was away from home my family was going through a particularly stressful time such that my father had to be hospitalized.  The reasons for the stress concerned a business partnership that had gone awry despite the best of intentions at the beginning.  My father’s hospital stay caused hardship to my family because of the separation and the need to manage a farm during the busiest season of the year.  As the eldest child in the family, I was unable to help from a distance.
   My father’s response to being in the hospital led us to being able to see God’s providence in the situation, however.  He was looking out for the other patients and seeing how he could help them.  He was drawn to talk with one woman in particular.  Vera, like my father, was born in the Netherlands.  She was alone in the world and was suffering from major depression.  She was estranged from her husband, and she would have no place to go upon release.  Her only relatives lived overseas.  When my mother went to visit, she was introduced to Vera in the pleasant meeting area provided.  My parents’ hearts went out to her.
   Not really knowing how things would unfold, my parents agreed that Vera could come home with them when my father was released.  Vera walked around my parents’ spacious acreage, ate with the family and appreciated the privacy of the guest room she had been given.  However, it seemed that God knew my parents had enough to handle.  An aunt and uncle from the Ottawa area were also visiting and they felt compelled to give Vera a new start at their home.
   Vera lived with them for a period of time and was able to find work.  Through my aunt and uncle, they were able to make contact with her family in the Netherlands.  In the end an arrangement was made for her to go back to Holland and be cared for by her relatives.  If it were not for the misery my family went through, my parents would never have been involved in helping Vera’s life move forward.
   Sometimes circumstances place us where we would not choose to go.  At such a time, the purpose of our being there may not be about us at all.  It may be for the benefit of someone else entirely.  Eyes of faith must overcome our natural tendency for self-pity.  God has a bigger plan than we can imagine, and we need to trust Him.

   It causes me to think about the imprisonment of Christians in many places around the world.  Prison is the last place a person chooses to go, but many faithful Christians who have been placed there by the evil intents of a corrupt regime make the most of their time.  They determine to live out their faith for the benefit of the hardened criminals and guards who might not otherwise hear the gospel of salvation.