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Monday, November 21, 2011

Curses and Blessings in North Africa

Is there such a thing as blog neglect?  I do have a good reason for being away from my little cyberspace nook for awhile.  A little over one week ago I returned from my first international trip in nearly 20 years.  Between the preparing, traveling, ministering, and recovering I feel like my life skipped straight from Halloween to Thanksgiving…..and I am so thankful.  I’m just warning you, this post is pretty heavy and serious.  It’s my life lesson from this trip. 

On this trip I worked with a team from my church helping our friends who work in a small town in North Africa….you can read about what we did here. I have all sorts of fun stories about what we ate and played and learned while our friendships grew deep roots. Maybe I’ll save those for another post called“nowhere to file”. Because there is no place in my brain to store a memory of my girlfriends wearing traditional Berber garb singing at the top of their lungs complete with head bops to 80’s music as we traverse impossible terrain leaving a village called “The Moon”.  See what I mean?  Nowhere to file......

The Berbers who live in this place in North Africa are hospitable and friendly.  They definitely were on their best behavior while we were there, but to us they were truly beautiful and generous people.  Their belief system is a strange combo of animism and Islam.  Our worker friend described it this way; in their mind God is detached and far away but real and demanding (parts of Islam) and determines many of their rules and traditions.  Their everyday living though, is dominated by a superstitious belief that spirits/God can be offended easily (animism).  They work very hard to avoid what we call “bad juju” (totally our own description of their belief system-but I’m betting it communicates).  The blend of these two belief systems is the fear that dominates their days and nights and obliterates their hope.  Our friends work and live among these precious people, respecting their culture and sharing their language and friendship so that when the opportunity comes, they can share about Hope.  When we come for a week, we just provide a little bit of credibility to their work and Story.

Our Oklahoma team (plus a few of our friends' kiddos).

One of the interesting perspectives that our worker friends face regularly is the assumption of the curse.  In their language it is called “tagat” and is their explanation for the bad things that happen.  Physical deformities and illnesses, divorce and death, infertility, losses, accidents and struggles are as shameful as they are common and are believed to come into lives because of the curse. The people determine acceptability of friends and family members based on how cursed they might be.  We might see a family there who believes they are cursed because their child was born with a cleft palate as silly and superstitious because we could easily fix his sweet mouth where we live.  We have a true, scientific, physical explanation that has nothing to do with evil spirits.  For them, the curse explains the bad things, but also holds them hostage because they have no way to control these circumstances.

This little one has something we think is similar to cerebral palsy.
We loved holding and smooching and loving on curses here baby, only loving!

These people have mistakenly believed that the curse is the root of everything bad that happens. The problem isn’t that they recognize their need for Someone greater than themselves to lift the curse, the problem is that they don’t yet know Who.

So here is where the curse comes into my story.  One of the most amazing parts of this trip for me was the surprise blessing that some of my past struggles can be….still now, years after their usefulness seems to be used up.  I had brought a little photo album with pictures of my kids and husband and family.  These were great conversation starters and opened the door to some amazing things.  As our new friends looked at the pictures and asked our worker friend questions lost to me in translation, my friend shared my story.  She told about the loss of my babies to miscarriage and infertility (Total Curse Material), something very shameful in their lives.  Then she pointed to the picture of my four year old daughter, adopted into our family after our painful “curse-ish” years of loss.  She was able to share the amazing truth that sometimes what seems to be a curse is made into a blessing by God (Total Romans 8:28 Material).   At one point a dear lady who knows the Truth said to her mother,
“They don’t love like we do”. 
Even in another language I heard the spiritual door swing open and my friend stepped right through, sharing that we only love differently because we (like they)  are loved by God and love back like He does.  It’s Jesus. Mercy.

Sharing my little photo story of curses to blessings.

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written:
Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us….
He redeemed us in order that the blessing…might come…through Christ Jesus.” 
Galatians 3:10, 13-14

 The Message says it this way,
“That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross:
He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse.
And now, because of that, the air is cleared…
We are all able to receive God's life, his Spirit, in and with us by believing….”

 The word for curse in Greek is katara. It comes from two original words meaning “against” and “to curse”.  “The opposite of blessing, it means rejection and surrender to punishment.  It is equivalent to judgment without mercy (James 2:13). The word involves both the sentence of the divine judgment and the ruin therein inflicted, the manifested curse.” Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, p. 926.

So this is the truth about the curse.  It exists and we all live under it every single second we try to please God with our own efforts or ignore Him with our imagined indifference. It is only broken by Jesus, who became the curse (did you get that? He BECAME the curse) for us paying the unimaginable ransom to free us from its grip, surrendering to our punishment.  He endured judgment without mercy so that we wouldn’t have to; He stood up under our ruin becoming sin for us, so that we could escape the curse and live with hope and relationship with God free from fear.  

For those of you who have taken the blessing of a curse-free life for granted….listen up.  It’s a gift to live in a grace-filled relationship with God through Jesus.  It was free to you, but COSTLY to Him, so live up to it.  That’s what you were created for…..

For those of you who are living under the curse of working to gain God’s approval….stop.  It’s beyond you.  When you presume to be able to take Jesus’ place you make His sacrifice meaningless.

For those of you who are continuing to assume that you are walking in the shoes of the cursed because you can’t understand the pain of your current circumstances….look up and meet the affectionate eyes of Jesus who turns curses into blessings.  Let Him change your perspective.

And please, pray for the dear ones in North Africa that they would choose a grace-filled life of blessing.
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Therefore choose life….”
Deuteronomy 30:19

This is the picture of God's Blessings I shared in North Africa.