Multiplying What Is Possible

Over the past several years, my role in missions has changed. I have been to a lot of places I could never have imagined being, and formed relationships with people that from first glance I would have thought couldn’t be more different from myself. The latter part I of course couldn’t be more wrong about. My tasks have changed drastically as well. I am now in leadership in a missions organization. As such, I have been taking time lately to assess how I see things progressing or not progressing. I’ve been asking myself what the initial task was that God gave us, and asking whether we are still on that path or if we’ve strayed from it. As things begin moving, it’s easy to start looking out the side windows of the car and say, “Ooh, look at that!”. Pretty soon you find yourself off in a field looking at a replica of Stonehenge made out of junk cars. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to look at, but it’s definitely not what you were sent to do. As the quote goes, “The good is the enemy of the best.”

The good thing about having been involved with so many people and missions is that I’ve been able to see what works and what doesn’t. Which is what brought me to Luke 10 this week. It’s the chapter of the Bible where Jesus sends out 72 disciples in pairs as a kind of advanced party to everywhere he will shortly be going. It’s the only chapter where they’re mentioned, and until this past week I had never really though about who or what they were.

In reading, I’ve come up with a theory that is tied to Jesus’ leadership style. Some of the key points of how Jesus led, and consequently what we should emulate as leaders, are leading by example, leading through servanthood, and by delegating tasks to his disciples and allowing them to either succeed or fail. The last one is particularly key, because it’s clear that the disciples, and probably everyone, learned far more from failures than from instant success. Also key is that Jesus did not do everything himself, but delegated tasks, knowing that in order for success to continue past today or next week or next year, he had to raise up people who could and would do “greater things than these.”

So who were these 72 he sent out? I think we need to back up a chapter to Luke 9 where Jesus sends out his 12 disciples, his inner circle to do the following.

“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.”

In chapter 10 Jesus gives virtually identical instructions to the 72, and the reports when they get back from their journey are also almost identical to that given by the 12. So what does this mean? I think the key is in the number of disciples. How many times does 12 divide into 72? The answer is 6, with no remainder. I believe that as Jesus was a good delegator, he gave each of his inner 12 the task of training 6 others. Often the best way to make what you’ve learned stick is to teach someone else as you’re learning. Consequently Jesus sent out the 12 first, and what they learned they were then able to pass on each to 6 more. Why else would Jesus last instructions to his disciples before he was taken up to heaven be, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them all I have instructed you?”

There are two things I can take from this. The first is that missions will never be successful unless we are investing in people and raising up disciples. The second, and I think where missionaries and church leadership often makes the biggest mistake, is that Jesus didn’t try to do it all himself. He raised up leaders. He allowed people to fail, and in doing so he raised up more competent, passionate leaders. And if Jesus didn’t try to do it all himself, what makes us think we can? It’s something to think about.

Raising up leaders in the most remote parts of the world.

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He Prepares A Table For Me…

I’ve had a number of things on my mind lately that I’d like to write about, but I decided tonight to go back to the basics and tell a story of my travels. Specifically I’m going back four years to my last journey to South Sudan. At the time, South Sudan was the second most dangerous country in the world, and was quickly devolving to number one, which is where it currently stands. I’d like to be able to give reasons for why this is the case, but that would take volumes to describe. This being a blog, I fully expect to lose almost everyone if I go over 1000 words. If you’d like to know more about the how and why of the situation in South Sudan, feel free to look back through the archives where I write about it at length.

Staying put in South Sudan is not so bad. And if you have the opportunity to take a small plane where you need to go, you can avoid most of the danger, minus that of actually flying in poorly maintained small Russian planes.

The problem is when you have to travel the roads, and this is what we had to do. There was a village we had neglected to visit the last time we were there, and it was necessary to go and visit this time, despite the fact that the situation had gotten worse in the last six months since we’d been in country. The problem was two-fold. The first issue was what are known as “black snakes”. These are not literal snakes, though those exist as well, but rather armed bandits that wait along the road with Kalashnikovs for an easy looking target or a vehicle that has gotten separated. They then stop the vehicle and in the best case they only rob you. This is an ever present danger of road travel in South Sudan.

The other, more pressing problem was that of the White Army. An army of mostly children and teenagers from the Nuer tribe, they rub ashes on their faces as an insect repellent, hence the “white” moniker. They had been emboldened by the renegade vice-president and occasional war-lord of South Sudan, Riek Machar, to attack and raid villages of their cattle. The village we were visiting was directly in their path, and the only road back was in their territory. So to say the least, we were concerned about our road travel, especially since it would be nearing darkness as we were returning.

Many seemingly daunting or hopeless situations are punctuated by the simple phrase, “but God.” This one was no different. Normally I avoid soldiers in developing nations as much as possible, especially in South Sudan, where loyalties change at the drop of a hat. As Sung Tzu so famously wrote in “The Art of War”, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

As we turned out of the village along the Nile onto the rutted dirt road, a cattle truck full of SPLA soldiers was passing. We hung back a bit, but drove within sight of the truck the entire way back. Their presence offered a deterrent to any would-be attackers for the whole journey. As I thought about it later, a couple of things came to mind. Part of Psalm 23 was one of them.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;”

The table prepared came in the form of a cattle truck full of soldiers, and I was thankful for it. I managed to snap this clandestine picture as we drove.

sudan-2943sm

The Settlers, Part Two.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about settlers, and I implied that there would be a second part. Well, after more thinking on the subject, here is the second part.

The word “settlers” has a couple of possible meanings. It could mean someone who follows in the footsteps of the pioneers and sets up camp when everything is safe. This was the angle I took in the first part if this blog. But there’s another possible meaning to the word settlers, that being the name given to people who settle for second best, or third best, or settle for the worst for that matter.

I wish I could say it wasn’t true, but when I look around myself, and when I look inward, I see an awful lot of settling, an awful lot of “that’ll do.”

Before we were saved, the enemy used tactics like lust, greed, hate, envy, and lots of other seemingly obvious ways to tempt us. After Jesus saved us, we (hopefully) stopped falling for those things so easily, though we will still often struggle. So the enemy changed his tactics to a more subtle line of offense, that being to get us involved in all sorts of good things, so long as those good things were not the best things that God had planned for us. This allows us to feel good about ourselves while still being disobedient. It allows us to continue to put ourselves first, and our faith atrophies like an unused muscle because we ignored the call to the best things God had for us.

Before someone starts thinking that I’m suggesting something that is too hard, I want to point out one truth that has been proven to me over and over again. God almost always wants better for us than we want for ourselves. Our recurring problem is that we’re unable to see it, because being Americans we associate blessings with money and power and things. Well I would go so far to say that the person that God chooses to give nothing but material wealth is truly cursed beyond all men.

God is not looking for our good, he’s looking for our best. He’s not looking for sacrifice, he’s looking for obedience. God is not looking for perfection, otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen us to do his work. Rather he’s looking for excellence, and a willing heart. God is looking for people that see that even though we live in temporary bodies, we are eternal beings, and our decisions should reflect that fact. He is looking for people who are not willing to settle for second best.

I don’t know what God has called any one person to except myself. What I do know is that it’s a question I have to continually ask, because each time I take a step, the decision about the next step is brand new. Each man and woman needs to ask that question, and then have the faith to take that next step.

I’d like to finish with some verses from Hebrews 11, which sums up what I’m talking about. The chapter is talking about many people who lived by faith, and it’s summed up with the following verses.

Hebrews 11:13-16. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

Just as the people spoken of in these verses had the opportunity to turn back, so we have the opportunity to do the same. But just as they were pilgrims and strangers on this earth, so are we, whether we recognize it or not. We have eternity written in our bones, and we were built for far more excellent things.

Making excellence from imperfect things.

Bringing about excellence from imperfect things.

The Settlers, Part One

Recently I was looking at a group I follow on Instagram. It’s an organization that puts together short term missions trips for which people can get involved. They put up a map showing all of the planned trips for the year. There were a lot of them, and they were certainly going to be very busy. But one thing stood out immediately, and that was the blank parts of the map, places where there were no trips planned. The entire Middle-East was missing. North and Central Africa were missing. Central Asia was missing. In short, the planned trips were all to places where the gospel has already been heavily preached. All or nearly all where there is a significantly large indigenous church presence to take up the job for which we’re sending short term missionaries.

Even in the first century, the Apostle Paul talked about this. Romans 15:20 says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”

The problem is this; when Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, going to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth, we weren’t all supposed to go to the same place. God was looking for pioneers. He was looking for people who would do the hard work, going into hostile, uncomfortable places. That’s what pioneers do. But at some point the settlers came in. Settlers are people who see that the wolves have been killed, the land has been cleared, and the railroad has been constructed. Settlers want to do something worthwhile but don’t like risk. In short, settlers build on someone else’s work. They not only settle the land, they settle for second best.

What we have to realize is that the Great Commission was never about us. It was not about feeling like we’re doing something worthwhile. It was not about being or looking busy, or having a life-changing experience. Sometimes these things happen. It’s good to have a life-changing experience and have a heart change. But it’s more important to be obedient. When Jesus said to go to the uttermost parts of the Earth, he meant the uttermost parts, and not just the convenient and easily accessible parts of Mexico. When we go to these places, we often go to places where we are not needed, and local ministries often find themselves taken from critical work in their own communities to accommodate our insatiable need to feel like we got something done. In cases like this, it’s better to have just stayed home. I don’t want to sound harsh, but the more quickly we figure out that missions is not about us, the more quickly we can fulfill the actual commission we were given.

So the next time an opportunity comes up to get involved in missions, ask yourself, “Am I a pioneer or a settler? Am I doing the best God has called me to, or am I settling for second best?”

Repairing The Old Ripped Nets.

I’d like to start this post a little differently than usual. I’d like to start by just listing some recent observations I’ve made. They may seem disjointed at first, but hopefully I can bring them all together.

Yesterday I was in the gym. As I looked around the room, everyone in my line of sight was staring at their phones.

Sunday was the Superbowl. Today someone declared to me “We did it!”

A friend of mine from my childhood was furious yesterday because Donald Trump bragged about the great economy but was silent when the market did badly. He proceeded to verbally abuse someone about it on Facebook.

These observations might seem like they have little or nothing to do with each other, but I would argue that they do. I love the line from the movie, The Princess Bride. You don’t even have to know the context to understand it. “Come now, we are men of action. Lies do not become us.”

The very first thing that God tells Adam in the garden is to subdue the earth. Subduing the earth is a really big job, a job for men of action. All throughout history, God has been looking for men of action. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” “Be not only hearers of the word, but doers.” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” There are so many examples that I could not list them all. But at some point, we decided to discontinue being men of action and go with the lie. Which lie was that? That security and living life vicariously through the doers was preferable to taking a risk and being the doer firsthand.

What are people looking at on their phones? They’re seeing what kind of exciting lives people on Instagram are living. They’re seeing what celebrities are doing. They’re checking the sports scores. They’re watching people who are doing or are making the appearance of doing what they wish they were doing.

To the man who watched football and declared, “We did it!” I’m sorry, but you didn’t do anything. You weren’t on the field.

To the man who was so upset about the president bragging about something; why on earth should that bother you? If you’re looking to control something, start with self and don’t abuse other people because you’re upset about what someone you’ve never met is doing.

People are frustrated and fearful because they’ve given up significance. There is no significance in staring at your phone, or any social media. There is no significance in living life as if we’re somehow immortal in our current body if we can just avoid risk. We are supposed to be influencers and subduers. But if we don’t subdue the earth, the earth will subdue us. That’s just the way it works. The decision not to make a decision is still a decision. We are more than conquerors through Christ, unless we just give up. And that is what I fear we have done and just given up.

Jesus told Peter and James, and by transitive property, us, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At some point, we left the nets on the beach. They became weathered and dry rotted and ripped. It’s time to go back and pull those nets back out of the mud. It’s time to repair them, and fix the holes, and start catching men again. Don’t be fooled. You are an influence. It’s just a question of what type of influence you decide to be.

I’d like to finish with a parable out of Matthew. Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Revisiting The Terrifying Sound Of Silence.

When I write this blog, I always have to be aware that everything I observe is as an outsider. As such, my thoughts on everything African should be treated as suspect, even if the opinions I express are informed. So I take it as a blessing when something I have written in the past is confirmed by an African source, even if I’d rather the subject was not true. That happened this week, as a friend of mine in South Sudan wrote a small piece. His name is Manyang Mayar, and he’s a journalist.

Four years ago, I laid in a hammock in Bor, South Sudan, trying to sleep. I was unable to sleep though, because the noise was keeping me up. I wrote down an observation at that time that has been one of the most commented on since then. This short entry was written as an outsider coming into South Sudan. This week Manyang wrote a piece from the perspective of an insider going out of South Sudan. I’m going to post mine first, then his. I think you’ll find the two perspectives enlightening.

The Terrifying Sound Of Silence.

Just a short post as I sweat here in my hammock. As I lay here in complete darkness, but hearing music in the background, I’m reminded again of an observation made on my first visit and only confirmed since then. The South Sudanese hate silence. They listen to music all night. When they’re in a car they crank the stereo up until it distorts. You can be standing in a group of people having a conversation, and one of them will start blasting a song from their cell phone. It’s as if they think as long as there’s music or noise, things are ok. That bad things only happen during the night, when things are silent and dark, and terrible things come out of the darkness and silence. When it’s dark and silent, that’s when the attacks come, when children and cattle are stolen. It’s when the snakes crawl into your bed for warmth. It’s as if as long as there’s noise, things are alright. It’s like children who are afraid of monsters, only here the monsters are real. There’s been a lot of talk here about insecurity, about the attacks that come from cattle raiders, and the fact that they’re not far away.  70 people were killed here just last week in cattle raids, and people go to bed afraid. And so I think of that as I lay here in my hammock, wishing for silence.

And now Manyang’s article. This was used with permission.

A night out of Juba is worth good meal of hundred years.

First Published in PaanLuel Wel. For those who could not access the site in Juba.

By Manyang David Mayar, Eldoret, Kenya

(SSB 7 January 2018) I just discovered why my fellow South Sudanese who travel outside of the country’s capital return to Juba healthier compared to the time they left Juba.

For the past many years, I have been seeing some South Sudanese leaving Juba to East African Countries in order to spend their holidays. Sometimes others go for training or for studies in Nairobi or Kampala, Addis Ababa or China and other foreign countries. Most of them fly out of Juba International Airport or cross through the Nimule border with a rough skin and wrinkled faces. But when they return, they come back home with smooth skin; looking fresh and healthier than the time they left Juba.

I have been wondering what could it be – the thing that improves people’s health instantly in the foreign countries. I used to think it might be the cold nice weather in those countries that improve their health, or it might be the nice food or perhaps the free public transport that you don’t need to fight for like in Juba. Fortunately, a time came for me to experience the secret myself.

After spending some few nights outside of Juba recently in one of the East African countries, I had a chance to discover the secret of why South Sudanese become healthier when they are out of Juba.

Sleeping in one of the estates in one of the Kenyan towns, I experienced the calm and peace that my soul and spirit had been longing for. Every evening after I take my shower and eat (just the same maize flour and ngete, the same food I eat in Juba), I go to bed and sleep until morning.

There was no time in the night that a sound of bullet from robbers woke me up. I didn’t have to pause my breath at midnight in order to pay attention to some little sounds outside. And when my bladder has accumulated urine, I wake up easily and go to the urinary without any worry at all. And during the past few days that I have been here, I have found that relaxation and peace of mind that I, like most other South Sudanese, don’t really find back home.

In Juba, after taking my shower and have taken my evening meal, I go to bed. I spend many hours paying attention to little sound happening outside. It could be a wind blowing those empty bottles outside, or some of those wild cats and dogs stepping on some metals. But because my subconscious mind is full of stories about how unknown gunmen had raided the other house, I don’t usual catch my sleep and rest easily.

Worse of it all is when my bladder becomes full of urine. When this happens, I usually open my eyes into the dark and throw my ears outside to access the situation. Is there someone moving, could there be someone waiting for me outside? And then my heart will start pumping. Because of those thoughts, I sometimes convince myself that the morning is soon approaching and that I should ignore for just few hours. My bladder would remain hurting until morning.

Some other nights, I carry with me a container to use later at night when urine knocks the door of my bladder. But even though I have a container in the house, you don’t urinate at ease. I first let my ears do the environment check before I make any move in my own house.

This is the life many South Sudanese go through. People in Juba go to bed alive and died through the whole night. And when the daylight breaks, their being alive becomes a reality again. This is the reason they look healthier when they travel outside Juba even if it is just for a week. This is another beauty of peace that we don’t know. That is why some of us are desperately looking for peace.

When we talk about the need for peace, it is not just about stopping war, it is actually about bringing that kind of atmosphere where citizens can sleep at ease in their houses and not worrying about anything at all in their country.

So what is it that make these East African Countries peaceful compared to our country? It is on two simple things: the strong rule of law that crack down the crimes and the hard working citizens who strive to work for themselves.

In my country, the rule of law is weak in combating crimes and people are relying on short cut to get their wealth. Instead of going to the countryside and produce food, majority of unemployed hungry folks remained in the city only to be night robbers. Of course they exploit the chance of the soft rule of law against them. And by doing what they do, they are making most of their fellow citizens especially in Juba get sick each night.

When we choose to embrace peace and hard work, we will experience the very best of our country.

© Manyang_David 2018

Just a quick reminder that if you’d like to read more about my experiences with missions, you can buy my ebook at the following link, as well as at major online sources like Ibooks and Barnes and Noble. The title is “The Missional Life. What I Learned From Engaging in Missions in East Africa.” The proceeds from this book help fund the work I continue to do in Africa.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/704141

The Difference Between Liberation And Eviction.

The past week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about the harder aspects of some of the things I’ve seen over the past several years. I’ve been thinking about things like poverty and setting the captives free. I’ve been particularly thinking about why some people and some cultures have been successful at dealing with theses things and why some have gone down tragic roads, when from the outside it looked like many of them had similar origins.

These are particularly hard subjects to understand for the western mind, because we live in a culture where we get most of our information about poverty and oppression from movies and a media that sees these subjects as sufficiently distant from personal experience to understand them in the kind of visceral way that people in South Sudan or the Congo would.

We believe in a number of things that, though possibly politically correct, when tested turn out to be factually false. We believe things like; poverty is mostly a problem of lack of resources, or that all oppressed people are naturally angelic, or that if people could just have oppression removed they would thrive. We believe these things because they are the subject of so many feel good stories. I would like to believe them to, but my experiences in parts of Africa have taught me that even though these things can happen, life is usually far more complicated and usually much messier than this.

My time in South Sudan was a huge eye opener for me. The South Sudanese were oppressed horribly by the Northern Sudanese for decades, in ways that for brevity I’m not going to get into. I first went to South Sudan in 2010, right before they achieved independence from the North. I saw the hope and the excitement on people’s faces as they prepared for the vote that would free them from their oppressors. Surely this was the Hollywood story everyone wanted and expected to see. Not quite.

Over the next three years, I went back three more times, and got to personally see the situation devolve into chaos. The South Sudanese went from fighting against the Northern oppressors to fighting against each other. If you’d like to read more about that, you can go back into some of my blog posts from 2013 and 2014 particularly. So what happened?

To say I can explain all of the aspects of this in a single blog post would be naive and foolish, because it’s an incredibly complex subject, and entire books could be written about it. So I’m going to focus on just a small part.

I want to start by drawing some parallels between the situation in South Sudan and the written account we have of another oppressed culture that was freed from its captors around 3400 years ago. I’m speaking of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as written in the book of Exodus. There are many things written that can give us insight into the kind of things that happen when an enslaved culture is freed, particularly if you know what you’re looking for. The great thing about Exodus is that is quite comprehensive, and conveys a complete timeline.

One of the things that many Westerners don’t have a grasp of is the mental, emotional, cultural, and spiritual damage that is caused by institutionalized oppression, particularly slavery. This can manifest in people as hopelessness, a feeling of powerlessness, depression, and sometimes even paranoia. The end result is that when an opportunity comes for people to be free, they often don’t take it. Oppressed people often choose the miserable security of keeping your head down and staying alive than taking a chance at freedom. This is evident in Exodus 6:9. Moses is interceding on behalf of his people, and he goes to give them instruction. Their response is in Exodus 6:9. “So Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.”

Later on there are a series of events that happen that as I read them, made me initially think about these parallels. The Israelites have been set free and are crossing the desert when it dawns on the Egyptians that they’ve lost their free labor. The Egyptians send out their army to retake the Israelites. As the cloud of dust rises on the horizon from the Egyptian army, there is a record of what the Israelites say, and it is surprisingly fatalistic and even has a hint of longing for the land in which they were enslaved.

Exodus 14:11 Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?

Exodus 14:12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”

And in another situation, later on, Exodus 16:3, And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Their response is puzzling until you realize one thing, and this is the key. Moses interceded on the Israelites behalf because it was God’s will that they should be freed. For many of the Israelites, they were content with the security of the situation, miserable as it was. After God sent the plagues, the Israelites became a stench in the nostrils of Pharaoh, and there was no longer a choice to stay. This is why it’s so important when we’re working with oppressed people to allow them ways to empower themselves. Many of the Israelites were not so much liberated as evicted from Egypt, and it’s when we realize this that their responses suddenly make sense. The Israelites continue to act like slaves even though they are physically free people for the next forty years. Moses was able to take the Israelites out of slavery, but he was unable to remove the slave from the Israelites. In fact, it is not until the next generation grew up, a generation that never knew what it was like to be a slave, that they are able to enter the promised land, because you can not build a nation with people that are still slaves in their heart.

This is what I found in South Sudan. A nation that knew nothing but oppression and slavery and warfare, and doing what each person needs to do to survive on a daily basis, has walked into freedom with the same attitude. Whereas the common enemy used to be the North, now the common enemy is every man’s neighbor. No one has a plan for the future, because people are still living to survive the current moment. I understand that it is hard to change an entire way of thinking and living, but I hope and pray that the South Sudanese don’t have to wander in the desert for forty years until a generation is raised up that know how to live in freedom.

A Time For Renewal.

I’ve been back from Ethiopia now for a month and a half. It seems like a very long time ago. Normally by now, I’ve thought of all kinds of things to write about. Honestly though, my passion to write about the subjects I normally write about is at a nadir for the year. This is not because I’m losing interest or passion, but because sometimes you just need some downtime. This year I traveled to Ethiopia three times and spent about a month there in total. When I wasn’t actually traveling, I was either fundraising for those trips, helping other people fundraise for their trips and ministries, and working my photography job. I also helped start a 501 (3)c non-profit organization. I also have a wife and three kids. So to say the least, I’ve been busy this year. My passion for missions is because of gratitude to the God who saved me, and not out of a sense of obligation to look busy. As such, I don’t have a problem taking a vacation once in a while for some renewal.

That renewal came last week, when I traveled by ship to the Caribbean for eight days. I took the whole family with me, traveling to four different islands. We went to the islands of Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. I had no phone and no internet for a full week, so there was no checking in with work. There was no Facebook (thank God), no email, and I couldn’t check phone messages. It was wonderful.

I of course took pictures and videos, but it was on my own terms. There were no shot lists, and no one was paying me. I could shoot whatever I wanted to. I could take pictures of beautiful things just because I wanted to. I also took my drone along and was able to get some great aerial shots of each place. I might write a blog on that sometime, but for now, please enjoy my trip of renewal through my eyes. And of course, please feel free to subscribe if you’d like to get emails when there’s an update to my blog.

Gazebo on the sea cliffs in the Dominican Republic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pristine beach on Grand Turk with our ship in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man painting his roof with a brush in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial shot of El Morro fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panorama of Basseterre, St Kitts at dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea on St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial view of a ship at the edge of a drop-off to deep water in Grand Turk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial panorama of the old section of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brown booby looks at me as I take its picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful volcanic sea cliffs of St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children play cricket on the island of St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An iguana stares at me from the fortress walls of El Morro in San Juan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wreck of the Mega One Triton on the beach in Grand Turk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cannon points out over the ocean at Brimstone Fortress on St Kitts island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An old church stands over the sea on the North end of St Kitts.

Once Upon A Time On A Very Uncomfortable Day.

I’ve been in a lot of uncomfortable situations. Without going into too many details, I’ve done public speaking, which I’m told most people fear more than death. I’ve eaten some very sketchy meals and stayed in even sketchier places. I’ve traveled on some very dangerous roads. So in my own mind at least, it takes a lot to make me uncomfortable. Or so I thought.

My last trip to Ethiopia was supposed to be a documentation trip. My function, at least in my own head, was to take photos and videos. It’s what I do for a living and it’s what I’m comfortable with. Furthermore, when I’m taking pictures, there is a bit of a disconnect that happens by looking through that electronic device between myself and the subject, rendering the uncomfortable and the difficult just a little bit more palatable. Sunday that was taken away from me. One of the things on my shot list was to go to a particular local church of about 700 and take pictures of the service. A vehicle and a translator was procured. The plan was to show up, get some pictures, and get back out again. After all, I had to get back to finish work on the Tesfa Center, which was opening that afternoon, and there was still a lot to do.That plan went right out the window.

What happens when you are the only representative from an organization that shows up to a church that said organization has been supporting? Guess what? You’re preaching today.

I had about 40 minutes notice. There were no excuses, nor was I going to make any. Didn’t they know I’m just the photographer? Apparently not.  We entered the church, and as tradition dictates, guests sit up on the stage with the pastor and the elders. You would think I wouldn’t have a hard time thinking of what to say. After all, I have 150 or so blog posts to draw from. But for some reason, none of that seemed to fit in a church I’ve never been to, in a language I don’t speak. I’ve preached before in Africa, but I knew a long time before that it was coming and spent quite a bit of time preparing. It’s not one of my highest skills.

My time came and I got up and spoke. To say the least, my sermon was short, maybe five minutes. I talked about the long legacy of following Christ in Ethiopia, all the way back to Peter speaking to the Ethiopian eunuch in the first century. I spoke about how it was possible that a missionary from Ethiopia may have been responsible some time in the past for the salvation that my family was blessed to have. I talked about how we follow Christ not because we have to, but because we have gratitude to our Father, who even while we were enemies of God, sent his son Jesus to sacrifice for us. I can only hope that I made some kind of coherent sense. One of the verses I said was translated wrong (the wrong verse was translated.) I can only hope this was divinely inspired. After all, if Balaam’s donkey could speak by the Spirit of God, there’s hope for me as well.

I finished, and the translator was quite surprised that I was done already. (That’s what you get when you ask the photographer to preach.) But it wasn’t over yet. I asked the translator if it would be rude to leave early, because I really did have a tremendous amount of work to finish. The answer of course was yes. Not only that, but I would be going to the pastor’s house with all the elders and deacons for a meal afterward.

The thing about missions is that there is a plan you start out with, and usually there’s an entirely different series of events that happens that looks nothing like that plan. Missions is not for the inflexible, and there’s a time to just give in and go with what happens. This was one of those times.

I sat down to the meal with some very gracious hosts who put an extravagant meal together by Ethiopian standards. There were two kinds of meat in a place where meat is not usually served at all. There was a spicy bean stew, and even bottles of soda. All of that was fantastic…….except for the injira bread, and that was where my second event taking me out of my comfort zone happened.

Injira is an acquired taste. It’s a spongy bread made out of a grain called teff. Injira, when fresh, isn’t bad. It’s used in place of silverware. You rip a piece of it off, and scoop up whatever is on the plate. It comes before the rest of the meal, and you unroll it and put your other food on top of it. This is all fine.

The problem is the Ethiopian taste for fermented injira. Lots of Ethiopians consider the flavor better after it’s had a few days to ferment, and fermented injira bread gets VERY, VERY, did I say VERY sour.  If my Ethiopian friends are reading this, I’m sure you are laughing at me right now, but the injira I ate was so sour, I thought the meat with it had gone bad. Nevertheless I knew it wasn’t going to kill me, and I put on the best face I could as I choked it down and tried not to insult my very gracious hosts.

So where does this bring us? As with all things in missions, there are the plans we walk in with, and there are the plans that God has. Frankly, I was wrong to pigeon hole what I thought God’s plans were to simply taking pictures. He wanted me to preach that day, and not take pictures. He wanted me to engage in community and not work on the Tesfa Center. John 3:8 says “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

When I made that decision to follow Christ, I gave up the right to tell him what I will and will not do. The events of that day were a good reminder of that, and will allow me to be more prepared next time, perhaps at a time and place where the stakes are higher.

Preaching in the church I was sent to photograph.

Seven Years Since It All Started.

Seven years ago, almost to the day, I boarded a flight into the Sudan. I had never been to Africa before, never been to a developing nation, never been involved in missions. I was incredibly green. I didn’t even know enough to know what questions to ask.  All I knew was that God had called me to go. I had a camera with me, and I knew that God had given me the skills to use it.

I look back now and question how effective my work was on those first few trips. I don’t know if much direct and lasting fruit came from my work there. However, in the bigger picture, I know that what I learned from those first difficult trips was incredibly fruitful. It has allowed me to be useful in ways that I never could have imagined. The path I’ve traveled was definitely God ordained, since he put people and organizations in my path that I never would have found without his help.

Having said that, I’d like to thank Linda and Ray at Petros Network for giving me the opportunities to work with them and to use my skills for Kingdom work, and not just for myself.

I’ve been back from Ethiopia now for a few weeks, and I’ve had a chance to go through a lot of the pictures. I’m not satisfied with my work unless I can look at the photos and know that I’ve conveyed the sense of where I’ve been, touched the heart of the people, and done both of those things in a way that I feel is respectful to the subject. I can honestly say this time that I think I was able to do that. As I promised, I’ll be bringing more stories of the things that happened on this most recent pair of back to back trips. For now though, here are a smattering of some of the shots that struck my eye as I went through the thousands of shots. All can be clicked on for a larger view.

Also, since I keep forgetting, here is a link to my ebook that I’ve had out for a while. It covers some of the things I’ve learned on my travels, as well as having lots of photos. Most of the proceeds goes to missions.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/704141

A child looks through the bars of the Tesfa Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the women at the Tesfa Center for special programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This woman’s expressions caught my eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many people travel by horse in this region of Oromia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing up some very last minute painting at the Tesfa Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in school while there are visitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle working with one of my most photogenic widows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sifting green coffee in the market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, worship from the heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful hills of Oromia at dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the orphans. His transformation has been incredible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coffee ceremony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In church the morning I found myself having to preach. (for another blog)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the expressions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More expressions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no North American or African church. There is only the Church.