Deane's Blog

To be Seen, Known, and Loved

Deane Watters2 Comments

What do people who have lost everything need to hear?

That’s the question I was pondering back in June while preparing for our trip to Mozambique. What might they be feeling now, four months after the cyclone? What part of God’s message needs to be spoken into their hearts at this point? And how are they feeling about God anyway?

I wondered how I would feel if the roof had been blown off our house; if all our possessions had blown away or been ruined by the many inches of drenching rain and intense winds. What might I think about God as I looked back at the devastation everywhere in my community? How might I process the trauma of loss and what reassurance would I need?

I prepared a few talks, using a variety of scriptures, but once we got into the country and observed the damage, looked into eyes, clasped a few hands, and heard stories, I felt led in a direction I had not anticipated. I had many opportunities to stand in front of women who sat on mats, on the floor or on the ground, and speak to them.

I felt that God gave me words to share throughout our two weeks stay, but my words came most confidently on our last full day in Mozambique.

Sitting in a Chappa (small bus), outside the Dondo church, we waited for our pick-ups to be filled with bags of rice, blankets, bottles of oil, and donated clothes. Not a lot appeared to be happening at this early hour so when a semi-truck with a full load pulled up across the street, our eyes naturally watched as it awkwardly turned around and parked. We noted especially the two live goats tied to the very top of the tarp-covered load. We watched as the drivers pulled the bleating, traumatized animals from their high perches using ropes, down into a waiting wheelbarrow, filled with other goods to be delivered. Wondering if they would live through the day, our attention turned to other things. Already dusty, the street was filling with motorcycles, walkers, and the occasional vehicle; everyone was going somewhere.

Finally loaded, we started down the highway following the pickup ahead of us, its bed filled with bags of rice and 5 gangly teenagers eager for a day’s adventure. Turning off the highway, we came to a bumpy, dusty, road which necessitated a severe slowing down of our Chappa. Driving through villages that became increasingly primitive, we kept our phones close, cameras ever ready. There was a man walking his bicycle in the slippery thick sand with a load of charcoal, wrapped and ready to sell at the market. Women gathered at the river, washing clothes with babies wrapped on their backs. Villagers stared as we drove by, the teenagers loud singing attracting much attention, as well as the pale color of our skin.

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Turning one last time onto what looked to be a walking path, we heard the singing. Lifting our eyes we found a big crowd of people standing under a wide spread tree singing loudly. Driving through the crowd as they sang and clapped us in, we parked under a tree behind the small primitive church. As we stepped out of our vehicles, we were pulled into the dancing and clapping as the welcome continued. The throng moved along, now piling into the small church each hoping to find a place among the rows of rough log benches. Our team walked in, as though we were in a movie from another more ancient day. Brian turned to me. “Can you believe this?’ he asked. I just shook my head. The sound swelled as more people entered as the dust, smoke, and African sweat mingled into an experience of pure wonder.

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After introductions, the people were divided up. Sue took the children to a tent across the way. Amy and the teenagers gathered in the shade of the big tree out front. Brian, along with all the men, went out the back door and found their place among the parked vehicles in the shade settling on the grass. The women stayed inside with Kathy and me and our two translators. Some were widows, some were moms with babies.

It was now my turn to bring a message to these women, deep in the African bush. What had I learned about my Mozambican sisters in the two weeks we had been ministering in this country? What did these women need to hear? What would be a message that spoke to their hearts that would make a difference in their lives in the coming days?

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I started with greetings from the church in America, especially our church, Maranatha. Many of our people, along with family and friends, had given generously so this bush church (and many others) could receive the gifts we were bringing.

With Bible in hand, I started to recount the story of Abram and Sarai from the book of Genesis:

Out of His great love for His people, God had promised Abram descendants - as many as the stars in the sky! God had spoken and Abram and Sarai were amazed and full of hope. But as the years went by, Sarai never got pregnant! Eventually, impatient for God’s promise to be fulfilled, Sarai suggested that Abram take her servant, Hagar, get her pregnant, and thereby hurrying everything along. When Hagar did indeed get pregnant, she made fun of Sarai which angered and hurt Sarai so much that she began to mistreat Hagar. It was so upsetting that Hagar fled.

There she was, this pregnant servant girl, alone and afraid, when the angel of the LORD found her sitting near a spring in the desert. They talked. He asked her what was going on and she poured out her dilemma to Him. He listened and then told her to go back to Sarai and submit to her. He informed her that she was going to have a son and his name would be Ishmael and he would be a wild man, living in hostility toward all his brothers.

Before heading back to Sarai, Hagar answered Him. “You are the God who sees me, for I have now seen the One who sees me.” And she named God, El Roi, the God who sees.

At that point in my little talk, I lifted my Bible and proclaimed that our God never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! “So if our God saw Hagar all alone in that desert, He is same God that sees you right here in this church today! He is the God who sees and He looks on each one of you with love, kindness, and understanding. Not only does He see you, He knows you and He loves you!” (At this point the women burst out clapping and laughing, with joy- filled smiles on their faces.)

This was the message they needed to hear. This was the comfort their hearts were longing for.

God sees you. God knows you. God loves you.

It is written in Isaiah 66:13, that God assured His people, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” I told them to look at the many mothers sitting with babies right there with us, and to remember how much they held and comforted their own children when they were distressed. That is a picture of God’s intense, fierce, mother - love for them, and for us. Again they burst out with shouts of joy, receiving this message fully.

I realized something at that point. Just as God had come to Hagar on that lonely day, so He was coming to these people here today in the form of us - this lowly team of five. We were His messengers in the flesh, His hands and His feet.

I asked each of them to put a hand up to their hearts and repeat. “God loves me. God loves me. God loves me.”

With beaming and beautiful smiles, in unison, each repeated loudly, “God loves me. God loves me. God loves me,” followed by more cheering, clapping, and joyful noise.

I’ve never been a part of anything quite like it. God spoke the words these women needed to hear and He used my voice. I was amazed that He let me bring that message to them. I kept my own hand on my heart feeling the truth of these words within my own soul.

After praying, I asked if they had any questions for me and one woman stood. She thanked me for coming and for bringing God’s words to them. She said she had been faltering in her faith. After the cyclone, things had been so difficult that she didn’t know if she believed anymore. But because of this word here, today, her faith was renewed and she joyfully welcomed belief back into her heart.

Oh boy. Rushing over to her with a tight hug, I prayed that God would complete this desire of her heart by truly renewing her faith.

In contrast to those goats being so violently lowered from the semi-truck earlier in the day, these people were gently lowered into green pastures by the soothing and refreshing Word of God. And I was there to see it.

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This was an amazing day for me. Each family received a 22-pound bag of rice along with a blanket, bottle of oil and some donated clothes. A new plastic bowl was given to each person filled with cooked rice and delicious beans. They could sit right down and eat, filling the empty space with the warmth of food and the joy of God having seen, known and loved them in this concrete fill-your-stomach-and-heart kind of way.

There were also some hard truths to be faced on this day that was full of rejoicing and goodness. But that is the way of village life.

We keep these people in our prayers, asking God to continue to show His great love to them, even and especially these, so deep in the African bush.

Cold and Hungry

Deane Watters6 Comments

Note: Last week my husband and I (and three others) returned from 13 days in Mozambique, Africa, on a mission to bring food, blankets, and encouragement to the people still suffering after a devastating cyclone in March. For the next few weeks, I plan to share with you some of my memories from that trip. As you read my reflections, I hope you find them to be interesting and informative. Perhaps God will show you a bit more about how He works through His people in this amazing but complex world.

On March 14, 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique with a deadly fury. The people were warned of the coming storm but many scoffed at the idea until the winds started and the devastation began. Trees swayed and uprooted while tin roofs detached and became massive projectiles as dangerous as the storm itself. People living in mud houses found their walls melting and everything inside violently being whisked away. Every person feared for his/her life. They screamed out prayers, begging for relief. After the first surge, all became quiet so they thought it was over. But soon the next stage began, more intense and deadly than the first. They all thought they were going to die.

We knew about this cyclone. It played a monumental part in our decision to travel there. Leaders told us that the people were still hungry and cold. Their babies still needed blankets. Many were still waiting, living in camps hoping that homes could be built for them. Hunger was still crouching at many doors.

Reaching out, we asked people in our churches, along with family and friends, to help us gather money to buy bags of rice and blankets to be distributed by us, directly into the hands of those in need. We couldn’t feed them all but we could offer a bit of relief to the people of the church and the mission of Children’s Relief International, who is doing dynamic work in that area. People were generous! The thought of these already very poor people still in need after four months, moved many of us to share from our abundance. We raised $16,000 and could only thank God for stirring people to be generous toward those who have so little and have gone through so much.

Early in our visit, our team leader gathered a group of workers (Activistas) to let them tell their personal cyclone stories. These dear people work with Project Life, in the mission with Children’s Relief International. They gather regularly to study the Bible, pray and sing out their praises and then walk into the villages. They visit the homes of the 130 moms with new babies, making sure the babies are thriving, to pray over them, and to get help if it is needed. Over 370 widows with AIDS who live in the villages are also faithfully visited, ministered to, cared for and prayed over by these faithful workers. Prayer permeates this work. And these prayers are always accompanied by energetic dancing, clapping and praising.

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At our little gathering the stories began:

Everyone suffered, they said. No one was safe. All feared for their lives. All cried out.

“Our house was destroyed,” Laurinha told us.

Maria spoke quietly, “No one got through this cyclone with nothing to complain about.”

Manuel gently reflected, “When you are with God you don’t only win. You lose also. Everyone was wondering, “How am I going to survive?” We started singing God is great. He protected our lives. If it wasn’t for Him we’d all be dead. We are thanking God we are still alive.”

Confidently Elisa commented, “Only God takes care of us. There is no one else.” Only her roof was destroyed and she praised God for that.

Adelina whispered, “The Lord is my Shepherd. He takes care of us. I thank God I am alive and I got a new house.”

Joalina emphasized that everything is in God’s hand. “What is impossible for us is possible for God. He protected us.”

Our team was amazed. Each of these godly faithful workers started their stories with some form of “I thank God because…” So much faith. So much love and praise for the God who sees, knows and loves His people.

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After listening to the stories we celebrated God’s goodness with prayer, praise, cookies and bottles of pop! We gave these lovely people crosses made by Bob from our church. Each woman was gifted with a piece of donated jewelry and the men received ties donated by a neighbor of mine. We finished up by personally handing each of them a quilt made by the women at First Lutheran church here in Cedar Rapids.

What an afternoon.

Cyclones hit. Death is feared. Hunger sets in. But God is bigger than all that. He allowed these people an afternoon to voice their stories and receive a few gifts. It didn’t change anything but a bit of joy was felt and a huge amount of praise and thanksgiving resounded.

1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all you do be done in love.

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God Is With Us: Here And In Mozambique

Deane Watters7 Comments
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Psalm 42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Sometimes we think that to meet God we need to go to a place where he is. That might be a church or while we quietly sit with our eyes closed. But yesterday I stood at the side of an Iowa road looking out toward a country cornfield. I was taking pictures and listening to conversation when it came to me that I could look and listen for God right there. I could let go of my own thoughts and actually be more aware and welcoming to him in the moment in which I was standing. I quieted myself and welcomed him to my thoughts. A bird chirped. The sun warmed my shoulders and I swatted at a nasty fly biting my leg. Breathing in, I scrunched up my nose, realizing that the dust from the road hadn’t quite settled. As I took in green fields of newly forming corn, clouds in a gentle blue sky and ditches filled with grasses swaying in the breeze I warmed at the idea that God was right there with me, enjoying my attentiveness to him.

I breathed a simple prayer. “Thank you, Father God. Thank you for being here. Thank you for loving me.”

I felt seen. I wasn’t asking for anything. A gentle remembering was nothing big but a quiet yes to his desire to be sought and known.

In two weeks Brian and I are traveling, for the third time, to Mozambique, Africa. Our mission is similar to our past trips only this time the people are in more dire circumstances. In mid-March a powerful cyclone hit dead center on the mission project in Dondo, the city where Children’s Relief International has focused its work. Many people were left with nothing: no home, no food, no clothing, no money. Our latest report was that people are cold and hungry. How are we to meet people who have suffered so? What can we say to them?

I think that when we stand peering into the beautiful brown eyes of sick, cold, and hungry people, I know I can pray in the very same way I prayed at the side of that Iowa cornfield. Stopping for a moment, I can invite the Holy Spirit to help me live that moment more fully by thanking him for being with us and for being in that desperately needy place. Perhaps I would feel the same hot sun on my arms and breathe in the similar dusty air. Hearing tropical birds or the voices of children playing everywhere would probably make me look up only to see crude mud huts with gaunt barefooted people standing and watching us as we walk through. I could whisper a prayer recognizing the desperation they must feel and remember that he is right there with them and us. He’s not off somewhere attending to more important things. He is listening. He is feeling the desperation we all feel when people suffer. He, himself, has suffered greatly.

Lord, listen to Your children praying,
Lord, send Your spirit in this place;
Lord, listen to Your children praying,
Send us love, send us pow'r, send us grace!

And I would add, Send us food, send us blankets, send us an assurance that you are with us.

And that is what we are going to do. We have gathered thousands of dollars with which to buy bags of rice and blankets to feed and comfort hundreds of weary people.

I imagine there will be moments in those two weeks when I will not want to be fully present in the moment. Rushing through and getting to the end of the day might be easier than witnessing and entering into the suffering of some of God’s precious people. But I’m going to do my best to stay attentive, to not numb out, to feel every moment. Because it is then and there I will enter into the suffering of Jesus, by actually feeling his agony for these beautiful people.

Would you pray with me that God would use our team to bring a sliver of encouragement and a boatload of truth to the Mozambicans we encounter? Pray that we will do as our team verse says: Let all you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)

  • love - when Brian preaches on Sunday mornings

  • love - when I talk to women’s groups

  • love - when our team leader pours out her heart about the beauty of Psalm 139 and God’s love and care about every detail of every life

  • love - when one by one we lift a bag of rice and place it in the arms of a hungry man, woman or child

  • love - when we sit and hold the hands of widows who have lost husbands to AIDS and who themselves suffer as a result - we need God with us.

  • love - we will need tongues that bring the fires of the hope of the gospel and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit along with our rice and blankets.

At any given moment we can turn our minds and hearts toward God, the one who has compassion as a mother for her children, who stands as a shepherd guarding his sheep, as a Father who runs to welcome all who come home and as a Savior who weeps over lost cities. He promises relief and a place where there will no longer be any suffering, peace that is unbelievable, and hope that keeps us all stepping into the moments of our days with faith, hope and much courage.

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The Richest of Food

FaithDeane WattersComment

On this gray rainy morning I read in Luke that at daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary, secluded location, perhaps in the nearby desert. I picture him sitting outside somewhere just a ways out from the town and all the people he loved, the ones he came to serve. He was in the midst of an exhausting but powerful ministry and it must have felt overwhelming at times. But he knew himself and he knew what kept him going. Time away from his work talking and being with His Father seemed to be an important part of Jesus’ ministry.

Just the night before, he had attended to all those who had been brought to him who were sick. He laid his hands on them and they were healed. With great compassion he had rebuked demons and commanded with authority that they be silent. He must have spent every ounce of strength that night. But the next morning, early, he found a quiet place to replenish his soul.

I can feel an overwhelming exhaustion at times. Not necessarily from being out in ministry like Jesus, but just from living. From listening and talking and writing and doing the work I’m called to do.

But this morning I come to my quiet place, groggily listening for the birds who are greeting the day and noticing that a gentle breeze is sifting through the emerging leaves in the tree tops outside my window. The raindrops are splashing on my little deck offering their quiet plopping, doing what they do, nourishing and replenishing the land.

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I am here in my quiet place feeding my soul, by remembering the hope I carry and by welcoming in my Father God. This gift of faith sits in my chest and I cherish it, longing for it to grow, to matter, to comfort and reassure me when the internal battle gets loud and threatens to overpower the growing seed of faith deep inside.

The loudness of the world can squash the deeper things that matter. It makes a way for numbness and fear. But coming to this quiet place I am reminded, once again (will I ever be free of the need?) that my Father sees and knows all, is with me, and wants me to be me. My weariness is born of my continual need to be reminded and assured. So every day I come and feed on the richest of food, the kind that nourishes my soul. In Psalm 63 David says, that in the midst of remembering and praising God, he will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods. Worship fills up the empty places that threaten to starve us and render us as passive, broken, or unusable vessels.

But there is this quiet place that draws us and allows us to come empty, worried, and unsure, to open the door on a full-flavored feast ( do you smell a roast beef baking?) a place to sing in the shadow of His wing and a strong right hand to hold us warmly to himself. Here. Today. Now.

If you are one who longs to “eat and be satisfied,” I encourage you to pick up your Bible, turn to Psalm 63, Romans 8, Ephesians 1, or the book of John and begin your feast. Write down a few words that seem to call out to you. Let them simmer for a bit. Prepare to be satisfied!