It all started with recycling.
And it led to a trip to Africa.
Yes, as in paper/glass/plastics curbside recycling.
And yes, as in Africa, the continent.
One day my husband announced, “Honey, we can’t change everything. And I know we aren’t going to save the planet or anything, but we can do little things differently and be more responsible for our choices.”
We never recycled before, and then we started to.
Beginning that week, we began using our blue bin, the one the garbage company had issued for recycling actually for that purpose. It had held balls in the garage, potting soil in the garden and snow during the winter when the kids wanted to make a snow-fort. But it had never been placed street-side on garbage day.
Then, one week, it was. And that little change, that decision announced one day, became habit.
What we were unaware of, as we were living our average western lives working and eating and recycling, taking the kids to dance, going to the gym and to the park, is this: little changes lead to bigger ones.
Our caring about being more personally responsible with our trash was a small step toward taking a more honest look at our finances. Were there small changes we could make with our personal finance decisions?
And then, our relationships needed considered. Were we engaged in relationships that were healthy mutually beneficial and did our lives honor God together?
Then, our deeper values and spiritual concerns were examined. What did we really value? What was our family’s “culture” and how were we preparing our children to engage the world?
The baby step of recycling may sound like a silly starting point. But don’t we all get caught in our individual rut? Don’t we get used to the familiar ebb and flow and comfortable with the way things are done?
There are two ways to get out of a rut: you get kicked out or you climb out. Either way, you find yourself up on the surface and the view is different, expanded.
During this subtle shifting in our family-values paradigm, God began to nudge. So many events that seemed unrelated at the time began to line up like dominos. Finally, the smaller changes became bigger, life-altering challenges and we landed in a season where we found ourselves being redefined. And it all came to this question: if we cared about recycling stuff and responsibly spending and raising our children to be compassionate adults, did we care equally about restoring people, reaching them with God’s transcendent love and unremovable grace?
After all we all know that people are more valuable than things and money. So the answer should have been easy-peasy.
But it wasn’t. We were hard-pressed to present proof to our feeble answer: “Yes, we cared about people and sharing Jesus with them.”
We said it with our mouths, but not really with our lives. And although no one was watching, we felt a little chagrined, embarrassed even.
James tells us that faith without proof (works) is lifeless, pulseless, as good as dead.
We really weren’t participating in engaging with others to restore them to their Creator-God or reach them with God’s great love and transforming power and amazing grace. We did small group and church and all the things that western Evangelicals do. We tithed when we “could” more or less and really did love Jesus!
In our rut, we could only see “this much” but we were oblivious to all this potential living and giving and sharing that God had for us out there.
You see the Bible tells us that God has good works prepared for us in advance (Ephesians 2:10). He’s got the adventure planned and the itinerary mapped out, we just have to decide if we’re going to jump in with him.
I don’t know how many years we’d been recycling, but one day my husband and I were talking about big world problems that we sometimes try to solve while sipping iced tea on the patio or driving to Costco. You know the rundown: violent civil wars, child-trafficking, generational poverty and the like.
We are such average Americans, middle-class, union-worker husband, stay-at-home mom that we usually ended the conversations feeling flat and useless.Because, what can average people like us do about any of this? We’d shake our heads and lift up the same childish prayer my children would whisper at bedtime: “And God please help all those starving people in Africa. Help them to find food.”
And God began to ask us, “Do you really care or do you just want to discuss it?”
“Let’s go to the store and see if we can find chocolate that’s labeled slave free,” suggested my husband, “And coffee, too. We can’t do much, but we can do little things differently. We can start small.”
And so we did. (He suggested coffee and chocolate, of course we went!)
God had us close to the jumping point. It was on that fair-trade-slave-free scavenger hunt that Angelo remembered we had friends that started a coffee business and ministry in Ethiopia.
Then he took the leap. He looked up their number, had a great conversation, found out we could buy coffee that directly benefited the industrious and impoverished coffee-growers in Ethiopia and support ministry at the same time.
Before we knew it, we were getting passports.
We hugged and kissed our kids, left them in the capable hands of one brave college girl and jumped into the adventure God had for us. We didn’t know why, really. We didn’t have a great purpose. We weren’t going to build a school or teach nurses or adopt a baby.
We were going to see.
We climbed out of the rut and realized the world is very big indeed. And so is the God we worship.
There’s more I could say, and I will sometime. But I’ll share this:
Our coffee that we love and drink every day–the dark, earthy beans touched by so many African hands–is now served to thousands every week at our church. The ministry behind the brew found a strategic partner in our generous and grace-filled church. Two dozen more people decided to get a vision of the beauty and devastation that is Ethiopia — and came back changed, engaged, participating in ministry together with our Christian friends in Africa. Ethiopian missionaries are being supported, women are being taught about God’s true design for them and lives and communities are changing.
He used this average family, to make the connection between local church and Ethiopian ministry. Just people who could only see so far as to make little choices, small changes. But God always sees the long view.
Friends, this is the gracious way God works. He leads us by the hand through small and big changes alike and always, always has exciting opportunities, abundant blessings, deeper relationships and always more grace. It’s good for us to embrace small changes, to take time to examine our status quo, to climb up and see the world from a closer-to-heavenly perspective.
If you’re facing life-altering challenges or subtle nudges to make adjustments to your everyday life, I encourage you to be courageous. You never know where God may take you and how he might use you to love others into his saving grace.
And here, with Laura @ Playdates at the Wellspring