The Wilderness…

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Throughout the Old and New Testament we see in scripture this place of “the wilderness.” It’s a frequently used term that denotes different metaphorical and symbolic meanings. Basically, it’s a place of withdrawal from the world to face the reality of God, a time ‘inbetween’ of transition, or a time before something big, and a time where God provides through conflicts with hostile people and spiritual evil. It’s never something anybody asks for, but something that God unexpectedly gives usually in a big way.

I woke up this morning to many people asking what I am doing, if I am staying here, going home, and worrying about me being okay. First, I do apologize for my feeble attempt to keep you all up to date through social media when every day things are new and changing and I only have small pockets of really good Internet connectivity. Second, I want to shout it loud and clear I’m okay!! My last Saturday youth group I had in Toliara, all of the sudden the light from the ceiling sparked and borderline blew up! Before I realized really what had even happened, it dawned on me that I was sitting in the front of the church and now I am straddling the back door because I thought our church building was just bombed or something! Next, of course, was a roaring laugh from all of the Malagasy youth who were still all in their seats at the front of the church. When I came back to sit down, one of the guys leaned over to me and said, “You should not worry! We are in the house of God, and we believe He WILL protect us and this building.” Immediately conviction, humility, and every bit of peace just fell over me and my very human heart. I hope that you feel the exact same feelings I felt that day when I reassure you that I am in the hands of God over here and He is protecting me physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and in all ways.

The last two months and the next week or two have been a God delivered and unexpected wilderness. There are moments when I have felt like Jeremiah crying out from a broken heart in the book of Lamentations where he saw destruction happening in his city, watched it take place, and now is reflection on the brokenness of his heart in the book of Lamentations. There are moments when I have felt like Job where Satan was allowed to attacked Job’s character, health, to take away all of his family, his friends, his possessions, and the wicked were allowed to prosper. Being apart from my family, and with all my team members leaving, much like Job the Lord has stripped me from every comfort until I only cling to Him and I sing along with Job from thousands of years ago, “For I know that my Redeemer lives…as long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood…till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.” (Job 19:25; 27:2-5) But more so than Jeremiah and Job, the Lord has and is using this time in a big way to turn my Martha heart into a Mary. In Luke, the Lord remarks that Martha “was distracted with much serving.” (Luke 10:40) As I reflect on my heart before entering this experience and the American way of life, I was so distracted with much serving. I was a teacher, I was involved with Bible studies, I was mentoring kids, I was coaching basketball, I was leading/planning/organizing short term overseas mission trips, all while having and enjoying a fun and active life of skiing, riding my bike, lots of hours at the gym, and occasional CrossFit. All not bad things in and of themselves, but I was neglecting to choose, ‘the good portion’, the most important. It had been so long since I had sat still that I literally had forgotten how too, making the first two weeks in Africa very uncomfortable. The Lord is using the wilderness to renew the calmness of my heart. To reteach me being still and patience and dependent on Him alone. He is using it to reveal to me sneaky idols of business and fitness and He is training my heart to see the good portion and to know the fullness of joy and life, not in the doing, but in the being found at His feet. That’s it.

So to answer the question, ‘Where are you anyways?!’ Currently, you can find me dancing away with my new Malagasy friends in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. I am waiting for visa stuff to clear and then I will fly out of here to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where I will meet a new team that I will spend the remainder of my time here in Africa with, Lord willing. My first few weeks there will be orientation/introduction and include a retreat with all the AIM missionaries in Tanzania. After that, I will spend 3-4 weeks in an official language school learning the basics of Swahili before moving to the village. In the village I will be living with a ministry partner whom her and I will work directly with the Church of Tanzania and the Pastor there who is also a director of a Christian school. We will help out from an administrative standpoint with the school, and maybe teach a little. We will also be partnering with Tanzanian missionaries through the church and doing outreach. All this will take place while living amongst an Islamic people group, which will present its blessings and challenges.

I would so appreciate all the prayers you want to send up for me in the up and coming weeks! Please pray along with me as I ask the Lord to not give Satan a foothold in my heart due to the challenges of the last two months. Pray that I would not have any room in my heart for bitterness, anger, or the desire for ‘justice.’ Pray that my heart would rest assured in knowing that Jesus knows the truth, and he’s the ultimate judge, and that would be enough for me. Pray for my heart to be full again, so I can give it all away. Pray that I wouldn’t be scared to enter a new experience, new people, new language but that I would have an indescribable excitement and an eagerness to go love some more people in a new and different country! Pray that I would also be able to properly reflect on my time in Madagascar, the beauty of this country, and the many blessings the Lord has allowed me in these last two months.

Although the wilderness is never asked for, and is usually unexpected, it’s always necessary and in the end brings all glory to God..

Before I go, I would like to say that in the next week or two while I am in Antananarivo waiting, I will have more free time probably then I will in the remainder of my time in Africa. So please, do not be shy! If I had an America phone, I would spend all day on it calling y’all. Ways that we can connect are through skype: laceyjoc, through email: laceyjoc@gmail.com, through facebook: Lacey Jo Cunningham, or if you are really brave with deep pockets, through phone: 011-261-2326912305

 

A couple of experts of C.S. Lewis books that the Lord has reminded me of recently:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

 

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

 

May His palace come in each of our hearts, and may He make himself right at home..

My people:

 

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Sarodrano, Madagascar

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So, this week I had my homestay in Sarodrano. Honestly, I really didn’t understand the point of it all at the beginning of the week. Our team is set-up differently than other teams where we each live with a Malagasy family, and not with each other, so we kind of have permanent homestays. I now clearly understand the point of it: Frustration! I can not begin to put words to how badly I want to speak to these people! I wanna know about them, I wanna know who they are; beyond their name, what is the news and how old they are; I can’t really hold a conversation, and it kills me! One thing I learned from being a teacher is you can tell so much about people from what their face and their eyes communicate. There are so many people I met this week that I cannot wait to come back in six months and have lots of conversations with! As for the frustration, I have never been more motivated than I am now to learn some Vezo Malagasy! I’m coming at this sucker from every angle!

I’ve had an absolute blast learning language this week doing all sorts of activities: Going on a canoe to checking out the growing seaweed that they use to make gels etc. Walking around in the ocean for 2 hrs snorkel fishing as they described what was good to eat and for what dishes. I patched up a dudes leg that took a fishing spear to the thigh with some iodine, Neosporin and bandages, then every morning as I was sitting on my porch people would come and show me their open wounds – I saw some pretty gnarly stuff and helped as many as I could before I ran out of bandages! I got my hair all braided up and It was the most painful experience of my life. Went to a Lutheran and Charismatic church (the charismatic church was my favorite even though these people have no concept of rhythm at all!). Went net fishing on a boat and caught a bunch of small little guys. The concept of snorkel fishing is get a big nice looking fish, and net fishing is getting a whole school of small fish- so lots of little guys.

This week I’ve had pure and utter peace. I have been praying for Africa and contemplating a big move for four and a half years now, and I’m here.. It’s a bit surreal honestly. I came not really knowing anything beyond my flight times (ha) and just taking each day in stride, knowing that out of all the places in the world, I am exactly where the Lord wants me for such a time as this. One thing the Lord really put on my heart this week was the parable of the Lost Sheep, so I read it like six times. I’ve sacrificed a lot in getting here, raised a lot of support, left a good ol life that it took me 3 years to have in CO, I haven’t dated for a year cause you just really can’t.. And now I’m in a foreign place, learning a new language for the next couple of years, without my family missing birthdays, weddings, holidays, the birth of my handsome nephew.. all to gather and eat with tax collectors and sinners because there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the 99 righteous persons left in the open country.. so even if this is all for one, its all worth all the frustration!

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him and the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them too.’ So he told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing! And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:3-7

 

Love and miss y’all, to all my hoodlums getting ready to start school, y’all better do it big! Make lots of memories, do quality work, and make good decisions. Praying for you all.

Please pray for our team this week, and for divine absorption of language!

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Snorkel fishing; caught a blow fish

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Beautiful sunset from our front porch

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My massive catch, I took to our chef to cook for me and he throw it away! ha!

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Sweet handmade toy sail boat

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Boats from our front porch