Category Archives: Here and Far Away

Jocelyn R. Plett: Time is Money

by Jocelyn R. Plett

“Time is Money” I saw emblazoned on an imported van as I drove the pot-hole-ridden, zebu cart-clogged roads of Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar.

It seems to me as a westerner in a country where inefficiency appears to reign, that if “time is money,” then Madagascar, proclaimed as one of the poorest nations on earth, has some of the “wealthiest” citizens in the world! This is an interesting concept to contemplate, especially as we begin straddling two countries and cultures in this transitional period moving from there (Madagascar) to here (Canada).

I’ve watched Malagasy eye me accusingly as I seem to spend money without thought, choosing to pay someone to do a task that would take far too long for me to accomplish on my own. In my mind, of course, I feel as though I handle the money I’ve been given with a loose grip, giving generously to workers, investing in the lives of artisans. I have the financial resources to spend, so I spend it.

Many Malagasy don’t have financial resources to spend, but they have so much time that—from a western perspective—they use it thoughtlessly. I’ve observed time spent as liberally as money is spent in Canada. Many Westerners convince themselves that they have more money than time. In Madagascar they appear to have more time than money. Each spends what they have, not realizing how wealthy they really are!

Malagasy lament that they are financially poor, mourning their limited financial resources, while dallying at their tasks and cheating themselves by not charging for the time they have invested in a product. What takes 10 minutes in Canada can take half a day in Madagascar. Yet what costs $10 in Canada costs 10 cents in Madagascar. I’ve been astounded at the simple difference of value placed on different resources or “idols” (time, money), depending on the culture.

I marvel at how each culture is wealthy in different ways. This can appear to be a lopsided and unjust allocation, or it can be an opportunity for people to come together to pool the unique resources they have been given for the building of communities.

Church bodies and individuals are likewise rich in different resources. It’s the way God has blessed us! Differences have the potential to draw us together so each of us can give and receive something of value: Time. Finances. Skills. Wisdom. Empathy. Strength. Encouragement. Discipline.

The wisest way to manage what I am wealthy in within the Kingdom of God is obedience! If I listen and obey the Word and the Spirit, I will enter God’s perfect symphony of what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ. In this way we collaborate towards a shared goal: building the Kingdom, glorifying the Almighty.

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Jocelyn R. Plett

Reading, study and writing are some of the wisest ways of using my day, although it doesn’t look like I’m “doing” much. It’s recognizing the gifts and strengths God has given me and applying them to the building of the Kingdom. What riches do you contribute to Kingdom culture?

 

Jocelyn R. Plett: Breathing Room

by Jocelyn R. Plett

The other day on social media I posted in amazement at all the things I was able to accomplish in a day. Unsurprisingly, our friends in Madagascar responded, “Could not do all that in Tana. Traffic would have tripled the time.”

Indeed! Over the years living in Tana, the frustration of repeatedly failing to accomplish my “to do” list finally taught me to release it and focus on “merely” accomplishing one thing a day.

My blogging over the time we lived in Madagascar documents a trend in our observations of life in Canada during our furloughs: since life is much easier and “efficient,” people can do many things in a day and therefore they think they should do them. This creates a society of very busy people.

The unfortunate irony of these observations is that now that we live in Canada as “normal” people, not just visitors, we find ourselves in this same vise: the ability to do many things because our former inhibitors of traffic, cultural differences, language barriers, and infrastructure are no longer there. In Canada we are no longer forced to live a slow lifestyle. The relief in having this freedom is immense, but it comes at a price: being busier than we have ever been as a family.

Sandra Stanley’s study “Breathing Room” highlights areas of life where North Americans have shown they need to work hard at creating increased margin: time, finances, and relationships. (Andy Stanley’s series “Guardrails” is a similar study geared for men. Josh highly recommends it.) It was a well-timed reminder of common areas where we all need to practice discipline.

Sandra points out that 100 years ago “there were limited options for how people spent their time. Most days, they stayed within a one-mile radius of home. When it got dark, everyone went to bed. Instead of struggling to figure out how to limit what they did with their time, they struggled to figure out what to do with their time. Today we have endless options, which is simultaneously wonderful and terrible…It’s great having choices, but filling our days with all the things we can do crowds out time for the things we’re called to do” (53).

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Jocelyn R. Plett

Putting up guardrails for my time is proving to be hard work. I find that it requires some serious pride (and fear) slaying within my heart as I make tough decisions. I want to be sure my kids are getting all the chances other kids have to experience the things that are available for them. I want to be involved in my church, as well as connecting with friends, family, and networking for my business.

The bottom line, however, is “My time is limited, so I must limit what I do with my time.” How, exactly, do I do that? I’m realizing anew that it starts with being attentive to the Word and the Spirit within me, Who will guide and direct my path if I am willing to listen and obey.

Jocelyn R. Plett: Scandalous

by Jocelyn R. Plett

The Author of life writes scandalous stories. Human expectation of God—zeal for God’s name even!—is often turned it on its head, frequently to the deep consternation of His most fervent followers. It seems to me that, when God is leading, even 180-degree turns and paradigm shifts (perhaps more accurately, paradigm shatters!) are not only not abnormal, they should be expected!

Think of a virgin bearing the Christ child (Matt. 1:23). A devout Jew eating unclean foods (Acts 10:1-23). A zealous-for-God Pharisee (Acts 22:3) switching from “breathing murderous threats about the followers of Jesus” (Acts 9:1) to becoming their most fervent leader. The King of the Universe dying a criminal’s death. These are stories of God doing things in a way that went against His own followers’ expectations.

What is the implication for me within this realization? It’s the bothersome revelation that perhaps a comfortable life doing the good things is not what God has planned for me. I’m convicted that I might be following the expected and acceptable methods of doing His will and not actually following Him.

Because, Church, what if Jesus asks me to do things I perceive are unwise, or not in keeping with being a good steward? What if Jesus leads me down a path that I feel is scandalous? Will I be willing to follow?

I must look for Christ and trust that where He leads me, through new and uncomfortable reading of Scripture, being in tune with the Spirit within me, trusting He will bring me to revolutionary new places of His glory. Unless, of course, I prefer my comfortable “this is the way we’ve always done it” theology.

One thing I’ve learned in my term abroad is that the risks of following Jesus down scandalous paths are worth it because it’s these risks we take for His name that display to us His greatest glory.

In our search for a new church here in Winnipeg we seem to have been led to one which does things in ways, I confess, I would previously have disdained. Yet we sense the Spirit saying to us, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Do I listen to what I believe is the Spirit, or to my old understanding of the way church “should” be done? I’ve been convicted to step out into new and disquieting territory and expect God to reveal Himself there in new and disquieting ways. Thrilling ways!

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Jocelyn R. Plett

We made our move from Madagascar with great petition for the Lord to reveal the place He wanted to plant us. I believe He has done this. It is at once unfathomably lovely and disturbingly different than what I expected! So, what exactly were my expectations built on?

Lord, let me not be afraid to follow You rather than the methods and expectations I’ve become comfortable with. Give us the courage to listen to the Spirit of Truth within us, to steep in Your Word, and walk the path You call us to despite the perception of scandal.

Jocelyn R. Plett: Waiting for God

By Jocelyn R. Plett

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “To those who carry out plans that are not mine. …without consulting me.” …This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

…Yet the LORD longs [waits] to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” (Isaiah 30:1-2, 15, 18).

One of the biggest cultural differences between life in Madagascar and Manitoba is the degree to which I feel in control. Despite eleven years in Madagascar we still felt we were at the mercy of the unexpected, the actions of the unjust, and the whims of a culture we did not understand.

There’s nothing like being out of control to push me into pleading the Psalms aloud or coming to the realization that I must submit to the sovereign power of the Almighty God if I mean to survive in a foreign land!

For me, desperation has been a great catalyst for intimacy with God. I’ve learned multiple times that God is truly all I need, and He can surely save His children out of their trouble if I submit to His perfect plan and timing.

In Manitoba, however, there’s such a lovely sense that I can make my own success. Hard work appears to pay off huge dividends. There are fewer situations that show the truth of things: that I am not in control of how life plays out. With the most honourable intentions I can manage my time, money, and energy into “good” things and miss the great things God has in store because I forget to consult with Him on what He wants for me, thinking I already know.

His plans are rarely the same as my own. I don’t tend towards as wild and risky endeavours as He does, because I’m banking on my own strength to accomplish them. If I allow the LORD to set Himself up for glory it will be a “heart in my throat” sort of ride, unable to see where I’ll come out until it’s over and all I can do is say, “Wow! God, You are amazing!”

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Jocelyn R. Plett

It’s been a wild ride listening to what God would have of us this year. I would not have imagined coming off the “official” mission field was where God would lead, yet our calling to Manitoba has been as clear as the one to go abroad. It has been an exercise of submission, to be sure! A great deal of anxious wondering, I confess, and subsequent stern self-admonitions to wait patiently for the better plan God has in store.

“Learn to worship God as the God who does wonders, who wishes to prove to you that He can do something super-natural and divine”’ (Andrew Murray, The Believer’s Secret of Waiting on God).

Jocelyn R. Plett: Indispensable

by Jocelyn R. Plett

What would we do without you!”

I’ve heard people say this to missionary colleagues of mine or other family members who do a great job of making themselves indispensable to others. Of course, we are called to work with excellence, allowing the Church to benefit from our skills and gifts.

However, there is a danger, definitely on the mission field, where our indispens-ability can subconsciously go to our heads; and we begin to believe that, “Horrors, what would the people do if I need to leave the country?” Alternately, we can find ourselves thinking, “What would I do if I could no longer lean on so-and-so?” be that a spouse, a colleague, a friend or parent.

Although we love to feel needed, like we’re contributing a valuable resource, this is a heavy load to carry. I know many people who can’t move on to the next place that the Lord is calling them to because they feel the hole they will leave is too large for anyone to fill, and, therefore, the people who depend on them will suffer.

My grandfather, never one to mince words, taught me an important lesson shortly before we left for missions. “You see this?” he said, putting his finger into a glass of water, “This is you. Now watch what happens when I take my finger out of the water.” He pulled his finger out and gave me a pointed look. “Do you see any holes?” he asked.

Ouch! Thanks, Grampa, for making me feel like I’ll have no lasting impact. But of course, that wasn’t his point. It was this: we are not indispensable, none of us.

“What would we do without you?” isn’t a phrase I want to hear about myself, not because I don’t want to serve in the best possible capacity that I am gifted to, but because I want to ensure that I follow what Scripture teaches in training up leaders to follow in this path I am walking.

Malagasy culture is power-selfish in many ways. If someone succeeds in something, the culture is not to encourage him, but to pull him back down to the common level. Similarly, church leaders don’t train up younger leaders to take over. In fact, they purposefully withhold information and wisdom in order to keep them at a disadvantage. This is not only unscriptural, it hurts the whole Church.

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Jocelyn R. Plett

We are followers of Christ, not of people. The Church is His Bride, not a tool. We would do well to ensure that Christ becomes greater in us as we become less. It is my own goal to ensure that those around me learn with me to say, “What would we do without Christ?” Never, “what would we do without you!”

I will fail, I will leave, I will get weary, and I will die. But Christ is constant and generous with the grace, strength, power, and love each of us needs in every situation. I can’t compete with that, nor do I want to.

Jocelyn R. Plett: From Here to Far Away

by Jocelyn R. Plett

Less than a week remains (as of May 7) until we embark on our last journey off this great island (Madagascar). The emotions and stress of saying goodbye to friends, places, things, and experiences we most likely will never see again is overwhelming. The whole experience brings death to my mind more often than not.

As we mourn this life we’ve known for so many years, as we enjoy every “last” as fully as we are able, I ponder the bittersweet fact that life in Madagascar will go on after we leave, just as it has for centuries. Our friends will continue on with life without us, our staff will move on to new jobs with new employers. We will be remembered, surely, especially—I hope—by the things we have invested in.

But it is a harsh and glorious truth that it has not been us who has provided blessings to those around us so much as the Almighty God, who used us to bless them. I need not fear for them. The Lord remains here to continue to bless and provide for those who remain in this place.

Just as He is already in the new life awaiting us in the country we will move to. Preparing a place for us with good purpose and as great provision as He has given us in this life. Greater, even.

Beth Moore, in a Bible study video I watched long ago, spoke on the passing from this life to life after death. As she walked across the stage, she shed a big overcoat, exemplifying the act of shedding our physical body, yet continuing on with a new body. The old life, the overcoat, was left on an untidy heap in the middle of the stage while she continued her trajectory.

It was a vivid visual aid of the truth that life does not stop when we move from one life to another. Transitioning is understandably filled with turmoil. Our emotions and our bodies roil with love, sadness, stress, pain, perhaps, and fear of the unknown. It seems to me that human nature invariably clings to what we know and are comfortable with, even if the unknown is foretold to be infinitely better.

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Jocelyn R. Plett

In these days of our own trans-continental transition I cling to the hope that the same God who has provided for us, loved us, blessed us, comforted us in this life, is there not only on “the other side,” but will hold us in His hand as we make that step over the threshold. I choose to believe that the life waiting for us has even greater joys and gifts than this one has—and we have had many!

In our time of turmoil I must make the daily and conscious decision to trust that God is with us and that life on the other side of the ocean will be as blessed as this one has been. To the praise of His glorious grace.

Jocelyn R. Plett: Left and Leaving

There are times when I particularly enjoy my husband Josh. Long talks on the lawn, leisurely kisses after days apart, delighting in something together. In those moments I catch myself thinking, “I’m so glad to enjoy this! I will be sad when it’s over!”

In the midst of these moments I find myself overtaken by nostalgia, a wistfulness that beauty doesn’t last. Yet, thankfully, barring death we’ve got our whole future to spend together enjoying moments like these. Holding them loosely so as not to crush them.

I experience moments of contented panic in my day-to-day life in Madagascar. Now that we’re leaving it makes “Mada-moments” more poignant, painful even.

There is a deep tension between savouring the moment and realizing that it is fleeting. Leaving means sacrificing so many things I’ve come to love: the ability to custom order almost anything to be hand-made by skilled craftspeople, beautiful baskets and other Malagasy made crafts, the climate, cheap tropical fruit, our wonderful church family, a vibrant international community. The list is endless.

Yet these things, this place, is not something I can hold on to. Life happens; change comes. Change is really the only constant in life on earth.

Enjoying God, therefore, is something that I’m finding inexpressibly comforting. Enjoying His Word, resting in His presence, waiting on Him to guide and provide—these things will literally last forever. As much as I enjoy my husband, my children, friends, or places, these things will pass away.

When I steep in the presence of the Almighty, those human feelings of nostalgia make me smile rather than panic, for time with God is unlimited and will become increasingly enjoyable the more I learn about Him.

Uprooting causes me to grasp onto anything familiar that I can bring with me. Sheepishly, I know that no matter how many souvenirs I buy, I can’t bring this life with me to Canada. I’ve taken, therefore, to being thankful for the things that will be constant here, and far away in Canada: Josh, my boys, some furniture, the boys’ Lego, family traditions. And God. No matter what happens in life, no matter what I lose, God never changes. What a comforting thought.

Good-bye is a word that loosens earth’s hold on me. Painful as it is, good-bye cuts the cables that release my boat from the harbour and frees me to float closer to my real home. Good-bye reminds me that the idea that I possess anything is illusionary.

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Jocelyn R. Plett

“My dear ones are not mine to have and to hold forever. Earthly relationships are transient. The house we put so much of ourselves into passes from our grasp. The job that identifies us at parties is lost; the skill that was linked with our names diminishes” (Jean Flemming, Pursue the Intentional Life, 174).

This is a hard truth, but an important one if I am to weather life’s losses and leavings. And, frankly, I find it brings the consistency of God into sharper focus.