Jody and Sarah Fox - this phase of our Journey as IMB missionaries in Niger, West Africa

Friday, September 25, 2015

How Must We Respond?

Written by: Jody

As you may have heard, the IMB has made a decision to reduce its missions force by 600 to 900 people.  (Visit imb.org for more info and updates about this plan).  For the last 6 years combined the IMB has spent 210 million dollars more than has been given through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  There are many reasons for this, including rising costs of supporting a missionary unit on the field, but that is not the purpose of my writing today. 

Although more money has been spent than what has come in, the IMB has been able to cover costs by selling property and using emergency funds.  However, in order to be financially responsible in the future the IMB must make changes, because global properties will run out and emergency funds do dry up.  And since 80% of IMB funds are spent on personnel, there is no choice but to reduce personnel. 

Reducing personnel is obviously nobody’s first choice.  The idea of 600-900 fewer missionaries in the world where there are 2 billion people still unreached does not make anybody happy.  I have seen lists of what is changing in the IMB and what is not changing; however, the point of my writing today is to ask, “How must we respond?”  I believe that we must respond in 4 crucial areas.   

First, we must respond in unity and brotherly love.  John 13:35 tells us, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  If we are to remain steady on the course of reaching the nations with the Gospel we must heed the words of this verse.  A church or denomination that is not unified will not finish the race strong, in fact may even fail to finish at all.  I’m not saying the nations will not be reached, the Bible clearly tells us that they will.  What I am saying is that if we resort to name-calling and blame casting, our unity will be jeopardized and God will raise up another in our place.  Instead, now is a time for churches to come together in unity and brotherly love in one sacred effort to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  Let’s put aside blame and understand that we all, especially our leadership, want more missionaries on the field.  And let’s respond in unity across all denominations, because our testimony and the glory of Christ among the nations depends on it.

Second, let’s respond in faithful and generous giving to the great commission.  Now here is the touchy matter, because it deals with our money.  But think about it, is it really “OUR” money or does it all belong to the Lord and has been entrusted to us?  And if it belongs to the Lord and has been entrusted to us, should we not prove faithful and be generous in our giving?  However, I wonder if materialism has gotten the best of us, including we who are in the church and even we missionaries on the field. 

There really is no longer any excuse for the nations remaining unreached.  We not only have the technology and resources, but we also have the finances to go with it.  But we live in a time of affluence where, although the economy is down, we as middle class American citizens are still within the top 5% of wealthiest people in the world.  We live in a time of indulgence, where we spend hundreds maybe thousands of dollars more on Christmas presents than we do to giving toward the great commission (Lottie Moon).  We spend hundreds of dollars for a prom dress for one night, or feed our hunger for coffee on $5 lattes.  And we live in a time where materialism and keeping up with the Jones’ has so swept into our lives, that it has become out of place to even mention it.  And we are all to blame and all at fault for it, including us your IMB missionaries.  We are just as guilty of building our tower of wealth as the next person.

Instead, we need to come back to a simple understanding of Matthew 6:24b, “You cannot serve God and money.”  We need to begin to lay up treasures in heaven instead of treasures here on earth (Matthew 6:19-24).  And we need to teach this to our children, we need to want Jesus for our children more then we want a good Christmas for our children.  So I plead with you to join me as together we reevaluate our budgets and become more generous in our giving and less focused on ourselves.           

Third, let’s respond in prayer for our leadership.  If anyone thinks for a moment that IMB leadership wants to see its mission personnel shrink, you are deceived.  Instead of pointing fingers or complaining about organizational change or even decisions about how the IMB should reduce its personnel, let us first stop and pray for our leaders.  Is there really any good way to reduce personnel?  Our leaders need your prayers and support, not negative attitudes.  Please pray for them and support them regardless of your own opinions.

Finally, let us respond with the questions, “Why not me?”  “Why not now?”  I know what you may be thinking, “Jody we’re reducing personnel, why would anybody think about going now?”  Because if we stop thinking about going, we have lost the heart of the Gospel message and the very thing that has driven this denomination for well over a century. 

I believe every Christian is called to lose their lives for the sake of Christ, but for many the foreign mission field brings too much loss – loss of family, influence, comfort, and success.  Are we really willing to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel or is this just a verse to post on our Facebook accounts as we continue to live our lives for our own ambitions?

Maybe God is not calling you to the foreign mission field and if not that’s fine.  However, I wonder if that is just an excuse for many.  Seriously, if we are going to reach all nations we need way more people than the IMB can send.  I believe God is calling out hundreds even thousands to go, but we must be open to hearing His call and even more faithful to follow. And if God is calling you to the foreign mission field why are we waiting for money from the IMB?  Are you a teacher?  Countries all over the world are looking for teachers.  Are you an engineer?  Countries all over the world are looking for engineers.  In fact almost any occupation can be utilized in almost any country of the world.  Yes, I believe in the importance of sending missionaries out with the IMB, but if we are going to reach all nations it cannot stop there.  We need legit tent making missionaries who are working and supporting their families in countries all over the world with the goal of sharing their faith and planting churches along the way.  Why not you?  Why not now?  Consider losing your life for the sake of those who have not heard and are on their way to eternal hell.  Consider Christ as more important than anything else.

The IMB is reducing its personnel, yes that is true.  And yes changes and decisions are coming within the IMB that many may not like.  However, our goal as Southern Baptists remains faithfully the same  -- that a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation will know and worship our Lord Jesus Christ.  In light of this goal we must respond not with dislike, but instead with unity, generous giving, prayer for leadership, and seeking God’s call in our lives.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Camping in Niger


After returning to Niger in January, we hit the ground running!  We had to get over jet lag, move into and set up a new house (including dealing with electricity and water issues and buying a fridge), and get the girls started back to school all within 4 days! It did take longer than 4 days to finish setting up the house and unpacking…but by the end of the 4 days we were sleeping in our new house and had enough unpacked to find clothes and make food.

With a start like that by the time March came we were ready for a break!  We wanted to get away as a family and relax.  But what can we do in Niger?  Well, we have a camping spot that we like to go to when we need to have some time for R&R.  Trust me…preparing for a campout…especially here… is not the easiest, but it was definitely worth the effort and we made some great memories!

So, here’s how camping in our neck of the desert looks…

1)   Preparation – Skip the tent, pack the mosquito nets and mats; skip the ingredients for s’mores, pack one bag of fruity flavored marshmallows; pack as much water as you possibly think you may need – there isn’t any running water at the ‘camp site’ and you can’t drive to the camp store to buy extra…so unless you want to drink river water…bring lots of water; pack food and dishes for dinner and breakfast the next day – don’t forget anything – remember there’s no camp store; pack binoculars for possible hippo viewing; pack plenty of solar powered lanterns – it gets dark here!  After packing all of that stuff our car was full to the brim and Mounkaila looked at us and said…you’re only going for 1 night?  Yep, just 1 night…

2)   Arrival – We call the guy who owns the camping plot (also called the mango farm) and he takes a boat from his village across the river to begin sweeping and preparing the camp site for our arrival.  He has to get out the table, chairs, tire swing, and sweep up all of the leaves and sticks…you know, to give us nice clean dirt to camp on!  When we arrive we set up our mosquito nets, hammock, unpack our things, and then the fun begins.



3)   Fun- Here’s what we do for fun on camping trips – go fishing, but fully expect to catch nothing…mission accomplished, but still fun.  Oh wait, we did catch an old fishing net someone had left in the water.  

The girls love playing on the tire swing. 






They also love playing near the river and in the tree house.  



Other things we have done are play hide and seek or climb the mango trees.  And of course it’s always fun on a camp out to sit and watch the fire and roast marshmallows.  



Also, on this particular trip we were able to see lots of hippos!  They were close enough to get a good viewing, but far away enough to not be worried about them.  Yes, we know they are dangerous!  But they also don’t want anything to do with humans, so as long as we don’t do anything to make them feel threatened we can camp in harmony.


4)   Food – We remembered our Cedarville cross country team roots and made hobo dinners.  This is something we did in college with the team each year and we still make these when our team gets together for campouts.  If you care to know…a hobo dinner is a meal you can cook on a campfire.  Inside of aluminum foil you place hamburger meat, sliced potatoes, onions, carrots, and ketchup or barbecue sauce.  You wrap it up and place it on the coals, flip it, then you’re meal is done!  Jody and I love this meal, but the girls opted for roasting hot dogs.  For breakfast we had fruit, muffins, juice and hot tea. 

5)   Sleeping -  I already mentioned that we slept under mosquito nets.  It was pretty hot at first, but we had some battery powered fans and it cooled down as the night went on. 


Just think…we’re camping in Africa, next to the Niger River, under mango trees, hearing hippos grunt in the distance, sleeping outside in this remote area…quite an unforgettable experience!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Each Day is a Gift from God

When we were on stateside we visited our home church (Parsons Baptist Church) in July.  I found out that one of the members, a dear friend, had recently been given about 6 months to live because of cancer.  When we visited her, she was in good spirits and I could tell she was resting in Christ.  She had the attitude of…well, the doctors have given me 6 months to live, but only God knows.  She knew that God had numbered her days…not the doctors.  God may take her the next day or God may take her in 20 years…either way she trusted in God and had no fear in death, only peace, because she was resting in the promises of God.

The next few months after visiting her, I thought of her and her situation often.  I imagined myself in her situation.  What if the doctors gave me 6 months to live…would I live life differently?  Would I make more out of each opportunity?  Would I treat my husband differently?  Would I spend more time just talking with my kids?  Would I pray more?  Share the gospel more boldly?  I honestly can’t decide whether knowing the day of my death would be a blessing or a curse.  But either way, our days on this earth are short. 

“As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.”
Psalm 103:15-16



During that time, I came across a key chain, which I felt compelled to buy.  It says, “Each day is a gift from God.”  I wanted that to be a reminder that every day that I spend on this earth is from God – He is the one who gives me breath and life each day.  He is in complete control.  The question is  - What will I do with each day He has given me?  Here are some ideas…

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!”
Psalm 96:1-3

“Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually!”
Psalm 105:4

From a worldly perspective, people may think…Life is short, so live it up.  Basically, live for yourself and do what makes you happy because your life is short and you should make the most out of it.  But the continuation of the first verses I quoted from Psalm 103, say “But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (v. 17-18)

So although this life is short, the steadfast love of the Lord is not.  The love of the Lord will continue for all eternity to those who fear him.  My friend who had cancer knows that.  That’s why she can have peace whether or not her earthly life would continue much longer.  She knows that Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”  She knows that Jesus has gone before to prepare a place for her (John 14:3) and she knows that “According to his great mercy, he has caused [her] to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3)

And guess what?  Six months have come and gone…but my friend is still alive and in fact healthier than she was 6 months ago.  I was able to visit her again before we came back to Niger.  She can praise God for giving her more days on this earth and she can still rest in knowing that when her time to leave this earth comes, she will be continuing her life forever with Christ.

The reason I chose to write this blog today is because it is my Grandpa Pollock’s birthday.  He turns 101 today. Wow!!  That certainly is a long life.  God has blessed him with many days.  If each day is a gift from God, he certainly has received a lot of gifts!  But the gift far greater than 101 years on this earth is the gift of eternal life.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Compared to eternity, 101 years, is just a drop of water in an ocean.  Whether a person lives 10 years or 100 years, death is inevitable unless we have received the gift of eternal life.
 
Our family with Grandpa Pollock last July

Although his birthday was March 10th, we celebrated his 100th birthday last July during our family reunion.

So when I look at my keychain and read the inscription, "Each day is a gift from God,” I am reminded to be thankful for each day on earth and live it for God’s glory.  And I am also reminded that the gift of eternal life – days without number in God’s presence – is a gift I have received through faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s the hope that my friend has, my grandpa has, and I have.  And that’s the hope that you can have if you trust in Christ for salvation.  With a gift like that, how can we not

“Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.”

Psalm 96:2-3

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Making Friends

When you move into a neighborhood, how do you meet people?  Perhaps your neighbors stop over and introduce themselves to you…even bringing you a plate of cookies and welcoming you to the neighborhood.  Or maybe you take a walk down the street and meet people who are out working in their yard. 

Well, here in Niamey we met our neighbors through a little girl named Umi.  One morning I was on our porch reading, when the door to our compound (yard) opened up and a little 2 year old girl walked in.   I looked up and waited for her mom or an older sibling to follow her in.  But there was no one else.  The little girl walked in like she owned the place and started to look around. I went to the door and looked both ways down the street and saw no one.  What was this little girl doing here and where did she come from?  I started to talk to her in Zarma…Where’s your mom?  What are you doing?  What do you want?, but she was not answering me.  Finally, I asked what is your name? and she answered, “Umi”.  

This is Umi…the girl who started it all.
I didn’t want her mom to worry about her, so I told her she needed to go home and I sent her out of our compound.  As she began to walk away I decided I better follow her and make sure she got home safely.  She had to cross the road and … after all she’s only 2.   Her home was not far and she knew right where to go.  I followed her into her compound, up some stairs, and to her door.  I called out “fofo” (hello) to see if anyone was home.

A woman came to the doorway and we greeted each other.  She invited me in and I explained what happened.  She told me she was washing and so she didn’t know Umi had left, but she also wasn’t too concerned.  She also has two other daughters and I told her they could come and play with my girls if they wanted to.  That same day after school Umi and one of her sisters came over and had a lot of fun playing with Camryn, Jordan, and Lauren.  Since then I have also been over to talk with Umi’s mom (Hadiza) twice and she has visited me once.  Also, the three sisters (and some of their friends) have come over many times to play with our girls.  I am grateful that little Umi wandered over to our house so that we were able to make this connection with these neighbors.

Jordan, Maymouna (Umi's sister), and Camryn


Camryn playing with Umi 

Playing in our compound

Maymouna, Umi, and Camryn…sitting on Mary our tortoise