Recently, I had a dream where I was hiking through some woods with God. We were hiking towards a place I could not see, and I kept peering through the trees trying to see our goal. Then the dream changed. We were still in the woods, but God was sitting on a log beside a campfire. I was standing off to the side unable to rest because we hadn't arrived yet. Suddenly, I had a vivid sense that God was inviting me to stop waiting impatiently for the journey's end and to enjoy my time with Him. After I awoke, I knew that God was talking to me about trials. We weren't hiking through a sunlit field, but rather a shadowy forest. He was saying that in times of walking through trial, I could take time to enjoy His presence and get to know Him better, or I could stand apart from Him in my impatience for the end of the trial. The only way for me to have joy was to take my focus off the end of the trial and to put it on the God walking with me.
I do find it hard to enjoy the moments when I'm walking through trial. Though I want to maintain an attitude of hopefulness and joy, I find myself tangled up in a battle against hopelessness and complaining that I never seem to win. I thought about James 1:2-4, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (ESV). I have already learned how to look back at testing and see good in it, but that does not help me in the moment. In the moment of trial and testing I lose joy and hope. Romans 15:13 reads "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (NET). I asked God, "Teach me how to have joy and hope in times of trial."
God chose the evocative image of sitting around a campfire. Recently, while we were spending a week in the bush teaching at our DTI, we sat around a fire with some Maasai believers. We were waiting while water heated for our bucket baths. Alitzah looked at the fire and said, "We should have brought marshmallows." What is more delightful than holding a stick over fire while slowly roasting food? God's image invites me to roast His word in the fire of the Spirit, letting the Word take on new richness of smell that I can savor from the moment I begin to cook to long after I finish eating. And the taste! And the nourishment! A nice German sausage, anyone? Years ago, while we were waiting to go to Kenya the first time, I began reading passages that had the word wait and a name of God. The study greatly strengthened me. Right now, I've decided to put passages that talk about joy or hope or endurance or suffering or comfort on my stick in the Spirit fire, savoring about three or four a night for the next several months.
Anyone who has been to church camp knows that campfire is a time for praise and worship. As we sat around the fire, I gazed up and saw the familiar three star pattern of Orion's belt. Behind me was a newly familiar constellation, the Southern cross. Those stars depicted different pictures to our Maasai friends, but to all of us they declared the glory of God. As we listened, we could hear the familiar sound of crickets and the crackle of the fire. We could also hear the newer sounds of zebras and hyenas not very far away. Sometimes, we would gaze into and poke at the fire. Shalviah squatted nearby, fascinated. The wind blew around us as we wrapped Maasai blankets and sweaters around our shoulders. The wonder of it all called forth song. We sang, "He's a good, good Father" and "I'm no longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God." Joshua translated "Holiness, holiness, is what I long for" into Maa, and we sang that. We lifted our hands and danced. Sometimes we silently reflected. God's image invites me into worship. We are called to join the heavenly declaration of God's glory. In Luke 19:40, Jesus tells us, "If [we] keep silent, the very stones will cry out!” (NET) I would often listen to worship music while I worked, but now I am setting aside daily time simply to worship.
Campfires are also times for testimony and remembrance. After a day of studying heavy topics at the DTI, we sat around and swapped stories. Some were funny. One of our Maasai brothers told of a time when he was camping around a fire with other Maasai and visitors. They woke in the night hearing an elephant approaching. Our friend described how he leaped over the fire to get away, accidentally grabbing a bone instead of his sword and how one visitor couldn't get his sleeping bag unzipped and had to flee like a caterpillar. Our friend was a good storyteller, and we could picture it vividly as we laughed. I remember a time I asked God to show me something that makes Him laugh. The next day, I saw a one inch caterpillar on my doorstep, When I approached, it reared up and wove its body back and forth like a cobra. It had two eyespots and something that resembled a forked tongue. A tiny caterpillar pretending to be a deadly serpent made me laugh with God. Proverbs 17:22 tells us "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" (ESV). In Genesis 21:6, "Sarah said, 'God has made me laugh. Everyone who hears about this will laugh with me'" (NET). I want to tell the stories of how God has given me laughter, so God and others can hear and laugh with me.
Some stories were testimonies. We learned how the first pastor of that congregation became a believer. He used to drink a lot. One night, his body began to swell after a lot of drink. Though he hadn't yet heard about Jesus, he cried out to Creator God, and God healed him. Shortly after, the missionaries arrived in his village and told him about Jesus. He gave Jesus his life that day, and he has never returned to alcohol. Campfire time is a time to say to God, "Do you remember that time when I ..., and you ...?" I remember how I used to be terrified whenever anyone was late. What if the rapture had happened, and I was left behind? My youth group had watched the thief in the night movies, and they had terrified me. One day when Alitzah was a baby, Joshua was late, and I felt the familiar fear rise. I remember standing at the sink doing dishes when I felt the presence of God and His assurance, "I haven't left you." That fear has never returned. In Isaiah 43:26, God tells us to put Him in remembrance, but too often, as in the passage, we only remind Him of our complaints. A campfire is different. For those who grew up going to church camp, a campfire calls us to tell stories of hope and joy.
Campfire is also a time for prayer and for thanksgiving for answered prayers. At the DTI, they have a tradition of praying for and blessing one another. Some of our Maasai brothers were struggling with colds, so we prayed for them. They gave thanks to God afterward that they slept better and were enabled to concentrate in class. Isaiah 62:6-7 reads "On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth" (ESV). During the years we lived in the bush, I was overwhelmed with fear. Returning to the bush for this week was like measuring myself on a growth chart and finding myself grown beyond imagining. I overflowed with thanksgiving for what God has done in me, and as I gave thanks, my story encouraged the students to trust in what God is doing in their hearts. I give thanks to God for all those who have prayed into my growth with me, such as our home group members and our prayer supporters, and I praise God that He allows me to pray into the lives of others.
The Bible tells us in the last days we will see visions and dream dreams. When I started having visions and dreams a few years ago, I stopped writing because I wasn't sure how people would respond. Recently, I decided that I will not let fear drive me any longer. I love sharing what I am learning. If you are on this journey with me, may God bless your campfire times! May they bring you joy and strength, and may you find an abundant hope harvest in your heart!