The Secret to Contentment - A Guest Post by Alastair Bate

Born to New Zealand missionaries in South America, Alastair and his family lived and served in Jamaica, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Spain, and the United Kingdom, all before his young adult years. His heart for people and desire to share the gospel cut short a first career in biochemistry and led him to New Jersey in the late 1980s. Alastair completed further education and then had the opportunity to pastor in Massachusetts and New Jersey, as well as to serve for 10 years in Russia and Eastern Europe as a pastor, teacher, and administrator. For three of those years he was the country coordinator for The Salvation Army’s work in the Republic of Georgia. Alastair now lives in West Milford, NJ and has four daughters.

The 2015 World Happiness Report is out. Switzerland took top place with Togo languishing at the bottom in 158th place. The USA was at a modest 15th. What interested me was the Gallup data used for the report.  The placements were based on such indicators as average income, gross domestic product, corruption levels and social support. You would assume from this your chances of being happy are higher if your income is good and you live in a wealthy, stable country with a robust ‘safety net.’  Obviously this is the belief of many people. But what of the intangibles that can’t be summed on a spreadsheet?  Cultural influence? Faith? Family? Resilience? And dare I ask, weather?! I’m forming my own list of the world’s happiest countries… and I’m currently in the happiest of them all…Vanuatu.  

Before you bring up Google Maps, as I did in March when I was asked to join a disaster response team heading here, I’ll tell you more. 

Situated over a thousand miles north west of Australia in the South Pacific, this stunningly beautiful island-chain nation of 240,000 people is one of the world’s poorest.  It has seen more than its fair share of disasters, from cyclones to earthquakes and tsunamis to mudslides.  It was briefly in the news in March when the Category 5 Cyclone Pam hit with 165 mph sustained winds and everything in the monster storm’s path was blown away.  On the chain’s southern islands, 90% of buildings were either damaged or destroyed.  Trees, including income-generating coconut and banana trees, were stripped bare, crops were leveled, and tourists, the nation’s largest income source, were scared away.  Fortunately a solid national disaster preparedness plan resulted in relatively few deaths (13) and perhaps because of that, and other subsequent disasters elsewhere, this tragedy has quickly left the news feeds and consciences of most people.  However this nation is still hurting on its long road to recovery.  It has been a privilege to be a part of the coordinated response through the small Salvation Army team on which I am serving.  Working alongside other faith-based groups such as World Vision, Save the Children, ADRA and Samaritan’s Purse, it has been amazing for me and other foreigners to see the people of this tiny, predominantly Christian nation, who have lost so much, retain their most precious asset of all…their joy.  

Assessing a 21 Jump Street Yard

Assessing a 21 Jump Street Yard

One of the communities on which we have focused is called “21 Jump Street,” not far out of the center of Port Vila, the capital.  21 “yards” make up this community and in each yard are several dwellings, sleeping rooms, as they call them, facing a shaded central area.  One family lives in each of these small corrugated iron rooms.   Their yards have a communal kitchen area (with open fire stove) and a communal pit toilet.  Running water comes from a central standpipe, although the cyclone has left the water contaminated.  The community assessment we conducted involved going from yard to yard to talk to the residents.  Destruction by the wind, rain and flooding was evident.  Gaps around the yards showed where rooms had stood. For other sleeping rooms, the roofs or walls had simply blown away and the large trees in the yards were either barren or toppled, leaving no shade under the brutal sun.  Those still standing had remnants of corrugated iron and other debris caught in branches like rags.   Dwellings closest to the river were washed away by the 10-foot surge, along with their few possessions. No one in living memory had ever witnessed destruction on this scale.  But the community was pulling together.  Activity was everywhere. Children were running around, laughing as they played, while parents worked to clean up the yards. Families who had lost their sleeping rooms moved in with neighbors, sometimes 10 or more to a room no larger than my one-car garage at home.   In the assessment we heard vastly more gratitude for what remained than complaints over what was lost.  Over subsequent weeks we have been able to help this community with hygiene kits, rice, water containers and water purification means, seedlings to replant, and, through the blessing of generous donors, a $300 voucher for each of the 150 families toward construction materials and lost household items, a sizable amount in this poor economy.  Their gratitude was overwhelming with a community celebration event held in our honor.  It was a humbling experience.

Elsewhere, we have been able to restore drinking water to remote villages on the island of Tanna; purchase 3 fishing boats and gear, essential to the villages’ livelihood; fix the latrines of a school, and replace text books and exercise books to allow the children to return; provide tons of rice and other staple foods to various communities, including a school on the distant island of Anatom; and distribute tarpaulins to over 500 homes with leaking roofs, or no roofs at all, in remote parts of Efate, the main island.

Loading aid for Anatom

Loading aid for Anatom

Alastair, team member Darren and pilot Cameron taking aid to Anatom

Alastair, team member Darren and pilot Cameron taking aid to Anatom

I have learned so much from the Ni-Vanuatu people.  I have never in my travels come across a more beautiful, happy, honest, positive-outlooking people.  So many people in developed parts of the world, who have every possible possession and luxury, seem to yearn for one treasure they can never find…contentment.  It’s found here in Vanuatu.  Each night we walk through a ram-shackled, corrugated-iron, shanty-town street going home in the dark.  The scene would bring fear of mugging and robbery in almost every other part of the world.  Here in Port Vila, we simply receive from everyone we pass friendly calls of “Goodnight!” and broad smiles seen through the darkness.

The Ni-Vanuatu people understand and live out what Paul revealed to the Philippians. (4:12-13 NIV)   I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

May I, too, have the faith to live with this contentment. 

Hungry for More - A Guest Post by Lori Anne Camaya

Today's post is written by Lori Anne Camaya. Lori lives in NJ with her husband and 2 children. She enjoys spending quality time with her family and friends. Lori also serves as a Women's LIFE small group leader at Jacksonville Chapel.

Writing this post is far outside my comfort zone. I’m not a super Christian and I don’t have it all together. I’m just a wife and mom who loves Jesus and has a never ending pile of laundry. I’m someone who was able to humble herself in the mess of life and was asked to share my story. 

Like many others, as 2015 started, I considered making New Year’s resolutions. I was reluctant to do so, knowing if history repeated itself, they would last about 3 weeks before I gave up. I knew in my heart that the areas of life I needed to do better in were areas I tried to maintain control of myself. Instead, I turned to God and prayed for more of Him. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” I prayed God would show me areas that were taking up too much space in my life. 

Shortly after, I began to feel convicted about the importance food was playing in my life. Though I love Jesus and appreciate what He has done in my life; when I was stressed, bored, or needing comfort, I would head straight for carbs or sweets and not the God I love so much. 

I was being led to fast. 

I considered God's character of faithfulness and Peter stepping out of the boat. I was also mindful of the other disciples who didn’t. I had a choice. Fasting, versus choosing what would be more comfortable, meant an opportunity for God to do something amazing in my life. I didn’t want to miss out. Resting on this verse, "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord" (Jeremiah 29:11-14), I stepped out with a willing heart. 

The night before Ash Wednesday, God confirmed that He was inviting me to give up food for Lent. I became expectant. I was not going to be legalistic or religious about it – no intense set of rules for which we see Jesus repeatedly chastise the so-called religious leaders of his day. I told God I would fast for whatever length of time He led me to... thinking 3, 5, 10, possibly 21 days. 

About 2 weeks in, I realized this was going to be a 40 day fast.

I've tried to fast in the past, but I never understood how, or the purpose behind it. I always got wrapped up in the details, the rules, the sacrifice. I always had ulterior motives, like losing weight or trying to get God’s attention. This time, I was being asked to surrender control, my agenda, fear, pride, even the lies I had about food being an idol in my life.  

Fasting is a posture of the heart. I didn’t have to do it, I got to do it. My heart gets overwhelmed that the God of the universe loves me so much that He heard my prayers and wanted to draw me closer to Him this way.

A misconception I had before the fast was that the only discomfort would be the fast itself: my sacrifice of food. However, as hard and uncomfortable situations arose, I asked: "Really, God – why is this happening?" Once I realized that God was allowing these things in my life, so I could grow in areas of peace, gentleness, forgiveness, and patience, it was confirmation that God was doing a good work in me. 

Don't be dismayed if you have difficulties while fasting; consider it a confirmation. Press forward. 

Perhaps, the hardest part of this journey was realizing all my habits, resolutions, actions in life stem from my heart. Pastor Dave spoke in the "Give It Up" series about how we all worship something. 

God wanted my heart, not my sandwich. 

I've learned through this that I don't need to have it all together or even know what I'm doing. I don't have to be qualified or strong. I don't need to perform perfectly (one night during the 40 days I actually had a milkshake as my meal; another night a chai latte). God still loves me. More than wanting to lose weight or do it perfectly; I desperately wanted more of God in my life. 

Most importantly, I realized that giving up food for 40 days (which seemed like a huge, unimaginable, daunting idea) WAS NOTHING compared to what I gained. Nothing is greater than Him, nothing more fulfilling or satisfying. On Day 40, instead of being hungry, I was sad it was ending! He reminded me that I did not have to be fearful of it being over. He doesn't love me anymore or any less than before this started. 

At the end of 40 days and nights, I was humbled. He had given me a sense of peace, gentleness and forgiveness like never before. He opened my eyes to see Him more clearly in my life. I desire wisdom and discernment more than ever. 

For those wondering what it looked like, I fasted with liquid nutrition. During the 40 days, I mainly drank water, almond milk, juice, broth/smooth soups, protein shakes, and coffee (that I didn't give up). I typically had 1 protein shake or a bowl of broth/soup once a day, so I was probably consuming about 400 calories a day or so. In addition to studying the Word, I also downloaded free devotionals on fasting which I read during the fast.

I will definitely incorporate fasting in the future, although I can’t call it a habit just yet. I’m so thankful for the love of Christ which was constant before and after this fast. I love that He loves me right where I am, and that He continues to work on me. "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."(Philippians 1:6 NIV). 

He wants to do the same for all of us – that means you too.