Month: February 2019

The Jug of Oil and The Fuel Tank

One of my favorite Bible stories has also been a guiding light to me since I first started working as a volunteer in foreign lands back in 1978. Over the years since then, it’s served as both a promise I could depend on and a nudge I couldn’t ignore.

This is how the story goes: God had sent a drought to punish Israel for their wickedness, and the brook nearby where the prophet Elijah had been camping had dried up, as had his food supply. God told him to travel to a town called Zarephath where he would meet a widow with a good heart and faith in God who would provide for him while he continued his ministry.

As Elijah approached the city, he met a woman gathering sticks by the town gate and may have felt that this was the one God had told him about. Tired and hungry, he asked her for some water and a piece of bread.

She stared at him in disbelief and explained that she didn’t have any bread left and only enough flour and oil to bake a last loaf for herself and her son. She expected this would be their final meal before starving to death.

Elijah then asked an impossible favor of her: “First, bake a loaf for me and then one for your son and yourself.” Then he assured her that God would bless this sacrificial and unselfish deed: “There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” [1 Kings 17:14 NLT] The widow did as Elijah requested, and sure enough, the Bible records that from that point on, her flour and oil never ran out, and there was sufficient food for her and her family throughout the famine. God kept His promise. [See 1 Kings 17:7–16.]

Reflecting on my many years of service on a shoestring budget, I realize that I have a similar story to tell. It seems like we receive almost daily requests or pleas for help. Sometimes it’s a poor and sick unemployed single mother with a string of children, or a group of destitute elderly people we meet when taking a mission trip to rural areas, or a stranded stranger who has been robbed, or hungry orphans barely surviving in poorly funded institutions, or a neighbor who has run out of some item, and on the list goes.

In Kenya, the choice to give or to withhold presents itself many times a day, even when we are scratching the bottom of the barrel ourselves. With seven children of my own to raise, I often felt like I had a legitimate excuse not to give. But then I’d feel God’s tug on my heart, and I’d feel compelled to reach out to try to meet the need.

To this day, over 35 years into this giving spree, we still have enough. Our pantry is like the widow’s jar of flour that has never been empty, and our jeep’s fuel tank, like her jug of oil, has never run dry yet. The cycle of giving has been rewarded by refilling, then it overflows and we keep giving, only to be filled again with God’s goodness.

Because I have been given much, I too, must give: Because of Thy great bounty, Lord, Each day I live

I shall divide my gifts from Thee With every brother that I see Who has the need of help from me.

-Grace Noll Crowell (1877–1969)

Posted by Iris Richard in General

Five Ways To Relax

Every morning I wake up and board an express train leaving from Fast Track Station. As I speed along life’s rails, I stare out the window and think. Where has the time gone?How did my children manage to grow up so quickly? Now it’s happening to my grandchildren. I catch my reflection in the window and wonder where all that grey hair came from. It seems like only yesterday…

In today’s ever-changing and expanding world, it’s hard to take the focus off of what is happening to us externally, the pressures of life on the fast track, but it’s through turning inward and working on ourselves that we are renewed. It can start here:

  1. Invest in relationships: Don’t take friends and family for granted; these relationships need nurturing. Treat yourself and a friend to a cup of tea or coffee, and talk. Let people know that you appreciate them and are glad they’re part of your life. Try to surround yourself with happy people. Being around people who are upbeat buoys your own mood. And when you are cheerful and optimistic, you give something to those around you by just being yourself.
  2. Take a brisk walk: Physical activity boosts the feel-good endorphins in your body, which increases your sense of well-being, which makes it easier to approach challenges positively. Exercise also improves your overall health. While you’re exercising, concentrate on deep, abominable breathing; that will increase the amount of oxygen delivered to every cell of your body and flush your circulatory system of toxins.
  3. Meditate: Focus on an object—a flower, a tree, a cloud—and take in its wonder. Or concentrate on a positive thought or Scripture. Let feelings of gratitude fill your mind and flood your spirit. Picture your troubles, confusion, and fears taking flight as you breathe slowly and deeply.
  4. Engage in prayer. Prayer is like an extension of meditation. It has the same immediate benefits for body, mind, and spirit, but goes far beyond that; it is your link with your Creator, and it sets His power to work on your behalf. You can pray in your own words, or read the written prayers of others.
  5. Take time off. Most stress is work related. Make times when you totally disengage from work and do something that will have a positive impact. And instead of picking up the nearest electronic device, if that is your default diversion, try sketching or painting, creative writing, or reading a good book—something that will stimulate you in a new direction.
Posted by Iris Richard in General

Moving On

Steve had been a cheerful little boy with big brown eyes, curly blond hair, and a dimple that appeared on his right cheek every time he smiled. He had dreamy eyes, and often sat by the window to gaze at the rain, the clouds, or the birds.

“He has been kissed by an angel,” the Japanese midwife had told me with a smile when she first placed the small warm bundle in my arms, pointing out a snow-white streak of hair at the back of his head. “He has a special calling in life.” Over the years, her words often came back to me and I wondered what they meant.

Fifteen years later, Steve, then a handsome teenager with a strong, athletic physique, suddenly became very ill. I was sure it was a bout of malaria, as we had travelled to the coast regularly during our missionary work in East Africa. The grave look on the doctor’s face said otherwise, even before he relayed the findings of the tests he had ordered. “Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.” My mind was suddenly flooded with questions. What did that mean? Could it be healed? How will this affect his future?

Because of the seriousness of Steve’s condition, we were in a race against time. Within a few hours, Steve was flown to Europe where better treatments were available. He was hospitalized and put on chemotherapy.

The next two years were long and agonizing. Hopeful moments were followed by setbacks as one chemo therapy session was followed by the next.

Then came the day when it became clear that our dear Steve was not going to recover. His doctors pronounced the treatments unsuccessful and gave him six weeks to live. It was Steve’s wish to return to Mombasa, Kenya, where he had grown up. It was there, surrounded by his friends and family, that he got to fulfill some of his final wishes, like a day of sailing in the bay before watching the hot tropical sun spread bright hews over the Indian Ocean at sunset.

When Steve’s last breath passed his lips early one morning in a small hospital room overlooking the ocean, the world stood still for me. A large yellow butterfly fluttered through the open window, and I felt God reassuring me that He had taken Steve gently to His unseen realm. Still, the impact of losing my son left me in shambles long after everyone else’s mourning had passed.

“Let go and move on” was the well-meaning advice I seemed to get from every side. But where was I to move on to? And how? Deep inside, I felt bitter and angry with God for snatching my vibrant young son from me. I felt cheated and empty. My heart remained heavy as the months dragged by and I pondered my loss again and again.

Eventually I decided to meet God on my porch early each morning to tell Him of my woes. Days stretched to weeks as I poured on Him all my grief, remorse, and anger over what had happened. “If love is the essence of Your nature, as the Bible says, how could You have dealt so harshly with me and my son?” I asked over and over.

        What a patient and long suffering listener I had found.

I cried and pleaded and reasoned, until finally one morning I felt I had said all that I wanted and poured out all my emotions. It was then, when I was willing to make peace with God, that tranquility filled my soul. In a still, soothing voice, God began to speak to my heart. From that point on, my solitary morning porch meetings with God took another direction. I learned to listen to Him and to allow Him to comfort me and heal my pain.


Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free.
I’m following the path God has laid you see.
I took His hand when I heard Him call;
I turned my back and left it all.

I could not stay another day
To laugh, to love, to work, to play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way;
I found that peace at the close of day.

If my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.

A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss,
Oh yes, these things I too will miss.

Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life’s been full; I savored much—
Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch.

Perhaps my time seemed all too brief;
Don’t lengthen it with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and peace to thee
God wanted me; He set me free.

-Author unknown

Posted by Iris Richard in General