Sitting here in a rustic old guesthouse in Nkhoma – deep in the warm heart of Africa – built in typical colonial style by missionaries and their helpers over a hundred years ago, I cannot but think of the new generation of cyber junkies back home in Canada and the US. My heart goes out to you now folks.
Do you know, these missionaries who started Nkhoma, who came up along the Indian Ocean from the Cape Colony with their little boats, and sailed up the Zambezi until they found a connecting river to Lake Malawi, were not very much older than you? They came here as Reformed Christians with a deep desire to spread the Gospel into Africa, at a time when spiritual darkness prevailed over the land, when leopards roamed around freely and you had to hack your way through the jungle. In fact two of the pioneer missionaries were killed by wild cats, one of them a direct descendant of Andrew Murray.
Today there are many Christians in this place and many young people from all over the world, spending time here all year round. Yesterday I met two medical students from New Zealand doing their sixth-year elective serving at the old redbrick Nkhoma Mission Hospital. All of this serves as a testimony to the sacrifices made by pioneer missionaries and those who followed them since the late 19th century.
As I am sitting here in the early morning shadows of the living room, with the sun’s first rays breaking through the wooden frame, and the soft sounds of distant African voices, a crowing rooster and some joyful birds waking up a new day, I cannot help thinking of you far away across the ocean! Especially as I read Isaiah 43 and 44 this morning of how great our God is and how futile all idolatry is. My mind invariably wandered off thinking of you. There is something I so desperately want to share with you my dear young friends…
During the last two and a half weeks I only had only sporadic Internet access, as well as no cellphone with me at all. I have watched a wee bit of sport in Pretoria, and only two Al Jazeera newscasts here in the capitol Lilongwe (one of which left me so dejected that immediately I sought some solitude and peace in prayer to regain my joy afterwards). In other words I had virtually no “connection” with the world out there, but ample time to think, to read and pray and to spend quality time with others, while missing my family dearly! And do you know what? I am extremely happy! Happier than ever.
Here is my point: I so desperately want to share with you that there is life – real abundant life – beyond what has become our sorry slavery to technology, information and entertainment. I wish you could experience just one week of deprivation from all of that which we deem so essential in North America. Let me explain: Some time ago I watched an interview with college students saying how they cannot imagine a day without their cellphones, or not checking their Facebook profiles or e-mails. What misery! Dear friends, I want to tell you, you can be truly fulfilled… You can be at peace and really happy without all of that! I promise you, its possible. And I wish it for you! Provided of course that you also know the peace that we have in Jesus and the joy of living in obedience to His will.
O how I wish that the Lord would reveal to you that none of you need to wake up with your cellphone under your pillow. No, you do not need to check your profile or some lame sports score every hour of the day, or the miserable news three times a day. All of this robs us of the quality of life God has promised us in His Son. Yes, we can easily redeem 80% of our free time wasted on trifles. Just think of what you can do with that time! Of how it will benefit your concentration span, your knowledge and insight, your usefulness, and above all your holiness and ability to serve others in love, if you put all that wasted time and attention to some good use! And how much stronger you will be to fight temptation…
Do you realize, that our slavery (in the West) to technology, to sports and movies, or and our endless curiosity for anything “cool” is closing our minds in many ways? I was reminded of this in several ways on my trip. Here at Nkhoma a fellow South African and missionary engineer, who has been working here for the past three decades, asked me: “Why are you Christians in North America so little concerned about the ecological crisis facing our world?“ And on the plane, a gentle looking man from Toronto – visiting family in northern Somalia – told me: “The average person in Canada cares very little for what is going on beyond her own small world, and yet it seems to me WWIII is around the corner!” Yes in our computer-besotted Western world, we are blissfully content to live in our little bubbles of irrelevance. I am sure that bothers you too, does it not?
The world of cyberspace, social media and the daily sports and news, that we think we so desperately need every waking hour, will cause you and me to miss the very best God has in store for us in this life. Please listen for once to the Spirit of God calling you: “Come! And let him who thirsts come! Let him (or her) come to drink of the water of life freely….” This promise is for life, nor for Sunday mornings only.
Think of it, we have something that is so much better, a living hope through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. In Him we receive peace and joy and a calling to a life of meaning and purpose. How much better to stay connected to Him who says in Isaiah (paraphrased): “I am your Redeemer, I am He who formed you in the womb. I am the Lord who makes all things, who alone stretches out the heavens, who frustrates the sounds of the pagan babblers and drives the diviners mad! I am He who blots out all your transgressions…. Why then have you not called on my name? Why have you become weary of me o house of Israel? Why have you not honored me with sincere devotion, but burdened me with your sins, and wearied me with your worldliness. Am I not the One who pours water on him who is thirsty, and turns the desert into the oasis? Who gives My Spirit to you and your descendants and my blessing to your offspring? Will you then not seek me, and cry out to the God of your salvation?
Or have we forgotten James’ warning that friendship with this world is enmity with God, and that the Holy Spirit yearns passionately to have our hearts entirely for Himself?
My friend I know what some of you might say: “Technology has brought us so many blessings, and opens up so much opportunity”. Admittedly, it has enabled better “communication”, faster access to information, and facilitated contact with people anywhere in the world, but it has done little if anything to better us as human beings. It has drastically shrunk our attention span, our social skills, our ability to read and write, our imagination and creativity, our spiritual hunger and awe, yes and also our patience, honesty, sensitivity and kindness
Our fatal temptation today is not to miss out on the gift of technology, which certainly also comes from “Above”, but in bowing down to it in worship, like the rest of mankind. Just read Isaiah 44 for a minute. Won’t we end up saying of our precious cellphones what ancient idolaters said of a piece of wood: “With you I make my necessary calls, and with you I gain important data for my job… and before you I bow down in worship as my god, as my greatest companion, my everlasting friend. O my dear i-phone, never leave me nor forsake me!”? But do you know what the Lord said of those worshiping a block of wood in Isaiah’s time? You are worshiping ashes! Is it any better worshiping a dumb piece of plastic, glass and copper so many centuries later!
My dear friends, I wish I could bring each of you to this old red-brick building of Nkhoma… for a week or two. In the meanwhile, believe me, there is real life beyond a cellphone, a TV screen and the X-box! May our God and Saviour give you a thirst for Him and a new sense of your calling as a Christian in this day and age. There are no limits as to what a Sovereign God can do with and through a young life radically devoted to His glory. Remember, those young missionary-families going into the jungle for life were not much older than you! Neither were the many comforts they left behind, less appealing to their flesh than yours. May you today also hear your Maker’s call to live a life that will truly make a difference.