A Shield Only Works When Facing the Enemy

As this year comes to a close and I assess all that has happened with missions and travel, I am reminded of the spiritual warfare that has happened throughout the year. I realize that all things work out for the good of those who love the Lord, but that doesn’t mean that the trials are any easier. Only as I learn more and experience more, I worry about it less and less. I am no longer blind-sided by it as much. I am still continually surprised by the ways in which it shows up, but it’s timing can be almost always timed down to the day shortly before something big is supposed to be happening. As I start counting down the days before I go to Ethiopia again, I can expect more warfare.

Lately I have been reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It’s been decades since I last picked this up, and I am enjoying it if nothing more than for the word pictures it contains that give clarity to a lot of abstract concepts. During my pondering about this book, the subject of the armor of God came up. We find the subject of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18.

 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.   Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

The thing that occurred to me when I read it this time that I had never noticed before was the choice of armor; helmet, shield, sword, breastplate, etc, and specifically what they have in common. The thing they all have in common is that they are only effective when you are facing and engaging with the enemy. A Christian who either has his back to the enemy or has not engaged the enemy has lost. God gives us the tools with which to fight, but we have to decide whether to fight or not. I wanted to talk specifically about the shield. When the apostle Paul wrote this, he modeled the armor after the Roman legion, which used a large curved shield called a scutum. Our faith is that shield. It is what allows us to stand up to what the devil and the world throw at us and allows our faith not to be shaken. But it does more than that. The scutum not only protected from the flaming arrows of the enemy, but when the combat got close, its size allowed its bearer to knock the enemy back. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this metaphor was chosen, because it’s only in the thick of spiritual warfare that we get close enough to knock the enemy back on his heels. James 4:7 completes the thought. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

This of course runs counter to our culture. We call ourselves Christians, but we refuse to engage the enemy. The evidence of this is in where we spend our missions dollars. 24% of the world has never heard the gospel. Yet those areas receive 1/2 of one percent of our missions dollars, whereas 94.5% goes to areas that are already filled with professing Christians. This makes absolutely no sense. Jesus said “Look, the fields are ripe for harvest, but the workers are few.”  We keep going to the same fields that have already been harvested looking for a speck of grain that someone dropped, while the field next door, though harder to get to, has been completely ignored.  Parents with children in the military are proud that their children are serving in conflict zones in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere, but how many would send their children or go themselves to share the saving grace of God in those same areas? We somehow think it’s less important, when nothing could be further from the truth.   Someday the sun and moon will fall from the sky, and we’ll all be long gone. At that point the only thing that will matter is whether and how we engaged the enemy. Is it a harder way? Yes. But as we see the world falling apart around us, don’t think the destruction that has fallen over Syria or Afghanistan or Yemen or Libya will fail to come to us simply because we failed to recognize that the enemy was not political factions but rather the prince of this world, the devil. We MUST engage the enemy, or we too are lost.

I want to make one final point about the shield of faith. If faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, then we are taking something that cannot be seen and has no substance and turning it into substance and evidence, both of which are tangible things. It is only when we use faith, and faith becomes action, that action turns into something of substance. As James said, “show me your faith without action, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”  The opportunities are there. We must have the courage to engage the enemy.

You can only throw the enemy down when he gets close enough to touch.
You can only throw the enemy down when he gets close enough to touch.

Distraction.

Running the race set before us.
Running the race set before us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1

It’s now been over a year since I have been to Africa. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but as with Paul in 1 Thessalonians, “For we wanted to come to you–certainly I, Paul, did, again and again–but Satan blocked our way.” This is the longest gap in my travels since 2012. It’s easy to lose focus during a time like this. It’s easy to forget what the race is, what the goal is, and just give up, or move onto something else. This is why I go back to Hebrews. “Let us run with perseverance.”  The fact that it needed to be written is evidence that others have gone through the same thing. I’d like to focus on the rest of that verse though as well.

With Christmas coming, the opportunities to give and to serve multiply. Go through the checkout at a store, and they will inevitably ask you, “Would you like to give to the International Fund to Teach Origami to the Poor?” or any number of other less fictitious charities. Go outside and the Salvation Army is ringing the bell and asking for donations. Churches and charities of all kinds give people opportunities to serve in one capacity or another. These of course are good things, because they give people who don’t normally give or serve an opportunity to do so. But for people who are running the race marked out for us, they are also an opportunity for distraction.

I’ve heard it said before that the good is the enemy of the best. In fact, even good things can be “the sin that so easily entangles.”  How is that even possible, one might ask. How can something that is good not be good? Something that is good becomes sin when it distracts you from what you are supposed to be doing, from the course marked out for you. My wife used to have a mug that said, “Stop volunteering for stuff”. If you have been given a vision to see something run to completion, and other projects, noble or not, are getting in the way of that vision, that is when good things become something that entangles.

Now before someone asks you to volunteer and you say, “Well, I would, except that some missionary on the internet told me I shouldn’t,” understand that’s not what I’m saying. I’m only saying that if you are following the Vision that God has given you, and other opportunities come up as they always will, it’s ok to say no if it will be a distraction. The Church and the mission field are full of burned out people who not only fulfill their Vision, but any of the other projects they’ve taken on. Studies have shown that in the workplace, after a certain number of hours worked, people become not only less productive per hour, but less productive overall than someone working less. It is the same concept in ministry and missions. People carry a lot of guilt over feeling like they should always be doing more, but this should not be received. I’ve seen a sign that said, “Jesus is coming back. Look busy.” How many people live that way? We are not called to busyness, we’re called to obedience. Often busyness is the opposite of obedience, as we chase after every squirrel that comes along in the form of volunteer opportunities.

In March, God willing, I will go back to Ethiopia. Other opportunities within the same vision are also possibly opening up. But in either case, I must not become distracted, or take on additional weight as I seek to run that race. I will do my best to live a life that is an act of worship, and not an act of busyness.

When The Mission Gets Cancelled.

Ethiopian Orthodox church backlit by morning sun rays in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopian Orthodox church backlit by morning sun rays in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I wrote in my last blog, I am supposed to be leaving for Ethiopia in just a matter of days. Well, as of now, that is not happening. I received an email at the last minute that threw our idea of the current situation into question. Reports had been conflicting for some time depending on the source they came from. (This is a subject for another blog entirely.)

For those who don’t know, Ethiopia has been in turmoil for a number of months now. The very simple (perhaps simplistic) version of a complicated situation is that Ethiopia is ruled in large part by the Amhara. The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group within Ethiopia. Disagreements between the Amhara and the Oromo have recently come to a head over a plan to expand the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, which would displace Oromo farmers. Tensions have grown, and now there are protests happening thoughout the country, with many turning violent. Protestors have begun attacking foreign interests because this will directly affect the bottom line of the government. With this in mind, at the last minute our trip was cancelled.

Now, I’ve had trips delayed for a couple weeks before, but this puts it off at least until the next scheduled trip in March, if things improve. I was disappointed by this, but also relieved at the same time. I’ve been watching the situation get worse for a number of weeks, and was wondering how effective I’d be able to work even if I did go. I know personally that a lot of other people are disappointed as well.

But after getting past the disappointment, I had to go back to thinking about why. Why would timing be such for this to happen this way? What do we do now?  For the first question I would simply say that it’s better to find out now than when you’re already there. Also, I don’t mind there being a certain level of danger when traveling, but there’s nothing virtuous about going into a dangerous situation when you can avoid it by simply waiting.

For the second question, “what do we do now?” I want to go to Acts 16. Paul was traveling East through Europe toward what is now Turkey.  “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia,having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

It’s easy when something like this happens to simply throw up your hands and say, “well that’s it then!” Why Paul was prevented from entering Asia we don’t know, but when prevented he didn’t just give up. He waited for God to tell him what to do and redirected. Paul eventually did make it to Asia, but not then. It would be easy to just sit around being discouraged, but that is not what God wants us to do. This is our opportunity to seek God and ask what it is He wants us to do now. Doing nothing but being discouraged is not it. If we are the kind of people who held a ticket to Ethiopia because of our faith, then we are people of action. Not being in motion is not in our character. So take a day if you must, but then get to action, because it’s likely there is something else God wants you to do, if you just ask Him to direct you.

Africa Doesn’t Need Your Used Dancing Shoes.

Dancing Shoes
Dancing Shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. I’ve been busy with work, busy with teaching, busy with a lot of things. Well, it’s time to redirect, because I leave for Ethiopia in a little over two weeks. It’s been a year since I was last in Africa (too long really) and it’s snuck up on me a bit. Every time I go to Africa, I understand a little more, and realize how little I knew before. This also frustrates me when I talk to people who have never traveled, and who have never done missions. I have to look back at myself five or ten years ago, realize how little I knew then, how much I still have to learn, and let that grace then pass on to other people.

I had one of those situations happen this past week. Inevitably when I am going to Africa, someone comes up to me who has been storing away used or new clothing, shoes, flip-flops, glasses, etc, and asks if I can take them over with me to Africa and hand them out. I understand that people are trying to help, and sometimes some of these things can be helpful, but let me be clear. Africa does not need your used flip-flops. The person who came up to me this past week went even further and asked that I take pictures of people wearing the clothes they wanted to send over, after telling me how much they’d spent on various items.  I refused.

There is a point where giving becomes selfish. If this makes no sense, let me explain a little.  It can be noble to try to donate clothing and supplies to people that may need them. It might be noble, but it is also likely ineffective. The point where it becomes selfish is when you insist on the satisfaction of knowing that someone in Africa is wearing your unsolicited donated clothing. At that point it goes from being a donation made out of a well-meaning heart to being all about you, and at that point I find my grace tested.

I understand why people want to send clothing and things with me. In the West, people with means usually think of poverty in terms of lack of resources. But if you go to the poor and ask them what poverty is, they might mention lack, but they’re also going to talk about things like powerlessness, despair, lack of hope, fear, sickness, and isolation. Poverty is much more a state of mind than it is a lack of “stuff”.  As the great western savior comes over and starts handing out free things, it does a number of things. First, it reinforces the idea that Westerners are the haves, and that they are the have-nots. If it is obvious that a lot of materials are being handed out, it makes people a target to those who did not receive. This is a problem we came across in Kibera slum in Kenya, but it applies almost universally. It also undercuts people who are selling those same things in the community when someone comes in and starts handing out things for free, thus stifling business in already poor communities.  So I’ll say it again; Africa doesn’t need your flip-flops, your old dancing shoes, your worn out pants, or your bags of disposable diapers and water bottles that add to the garbage problem that plague communities all over the developing world.  But if I stopped here, I would be remiss and would be doing nothing but complaining.

The inevitable question after reading what I’ve already said is, “what does Africa need then?” Or perhaps, “if donating stuff isn’t the thing to do, then how can I help?”

The idiom goes, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”  I would go one step further and say, “Find people who already know how to fish and equip them to teach others.” Identify those people and resources that already exist, and leverage them to help other people in the community around them. Wherever possible, it needs to be Africans helping Africans, and not just people coming from overseas to fix their problems. Africa is full of talented and intelligent people. Often they just need someone to stand behind them and give help when needed to spread that talent and knowledge around. Did you notice I said stand BEHIND? Your presence should be seen as little as possible.

I know it’s harder to give of yourself than to just donate things you have lying around, and some people are not equipped to do that. The more effective alternative though, if you can’t go or do, is to simply give money to organizations that focus on long-term development rather than sticking band aids on problems.

Sometimes someone will ask for donations of clothing and such, like someone who might be running an orphanage, for example. In this case it’s ok. But we need to be mindful of the fact that helping, really helping, often requires more of us than just going through our closet. Often the things that help the most are the things that take a long time and don’t offer us the instant gratification many of us would rather have.

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

An uncomfortable situation.
An uncomfortable situation.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been born in America, or maybe the sum of my experiences has carried me in a different direction than most of my friends and acquaintances, but as time goes by, I find my world view changing and my values diverging from what many in this country find important. As the lyrics from a profound song by Downhere goes,

I was born depraved but created for the divine
With death in my bones, in my heart eternal life
I’d love for Eden, but I’d kill for Rome
I’m native in a land that is not my home.

One of these values that I no longer hold dear is for comfort. Comfort and the seeking thereof is everywhere around us in America. Comfort is seen by many as a right. Just look at all the ads, whether it is for clothing, or mattresses, or some prescription drugs that promise comfort in one way or another. Well I have to say, comfort is overrated. Comfort keeps us from doing the hard things, the noble things, the right things.

I’ll be teaching a class on missions soon at my church, and this is one of the concepts I want to try to convey. Too often, missions is pitched as “a golden opportunity for a life changing experience”. You get to go and help people and have a wonderful experience, and at the end of it, we’ll go snorkeling.

This is not the experience I’ve had. If missions is going to be a lifestyle and not just a chance to make you feel good, it’s going to be hard. I’ve been sick, brought sickness home to my wife, traveled on bone-jarring roads, slept with sweat dripping down my neck, woken to the sound of a woman wailing who had just discovered her dead child, seen starvation, malaria, leprosy, AIDS, and TB. I’ve been stopped at gunpoint and my driver pulled out of the car and beaten. I’ve woken to gunfire. Are we having fun yet?  If you go expecting a wonderful experience, what happens when the reality is so hard that it leaves you questioning your faith? Will it fail?

“Consider it PURE JOY by brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” This is how the book of James opens. I’m genuinely sorry if this is a hard blog to read today, because I know this concept at best lurks around the periphery of many people’s faith, but rarely does it look them straight in the eye. Let’s be honest, we have it extremely easy in the western world; many fail to realize just how easy we have it.

Do we want comfort, or do we want to be effective and walk in the Spirit of God? If there is a way to do both, I don’t know that path, and I haven’t seen it. The title of this blog today comes from an observation my wife made. She asked me, “you’re comfortable being uncomfortable, aren’t you?” I had never thought about it before, but I had to answer that I was. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So many times the Bible talks about the joy of the Lord, or says we will find rest in him, or that he binds our wounds. All of these verses though speak of that joy or rest or comfort that we find in God. This is why it’s possible to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The trials and “uncomfortableness” of the world, if you will, are temporary and finite. It’s an infinite God that we find comfort in even when the experiences of the world are harsh, painful, sorrowful, and hard. It’s why it’s possible to see and experience terrible things without losing our faith. It’s possible because it’s all in God’s hands, and the harder the word, the more glory is brought to His name. So go ahead and consider it pure joy when you face those trials, and when the opportunity comes to go to the truly hard places, take it.

African Profiles

Recently I started going through many of my pictures and revisiting some that either I hadn’t looked at before, or revisiting some with a new eye. What I found was that there were a tremendous number of stories that haven’t been told. It is probably about six months until the next time I go to Africa. Until that time, I plan to honor as many people as I can, telling their stories and showing you through words and pictures the beauty of who they are. All will be from either South Sudan, Kenya, or Ethiopia. I’m doing this primarily because the more I talk with people about Africa, the more I realize just how vast the disconnect is between what I have seen and what people understand. There is simply no frame of reference for people in the western world. I can tell stories, or I can show pictures, but without both together; a powerful picture with an explanation of what you’re looking at; people just fill in the blanks with their own preconceived ideas. So without getting too wordy, here is the first one. All pictures can be clicked on for a larger view.

This is Alemi. I met her in the highlands of Ethiopia. She is a widow who lives with her son. I really don’t know what happened to her husband. The most common reasons in this region of Africa are either tuberculosis or HIV, but I don’t know for sure. Alemi lives in a simple home. She has wallpapered the mud walls with newspapers full of ads for things that will likely never be within reach for her. However, she recently received a micro-loan through a Christian organization called the Petros Network to help her start a business. With just a small amount of money, she is able to feed herself and her son, and even put a little bit of money away. She is able to do this not because of a handout, but through a method that allows her keep her dignity, promotes work, and teaches her son the value of work. I hope to see her again next year and see how she has progressed.

As westerners, our first reaction is to feel sorry for people we see who are poor. Don’t feel sorry for her, except perhaps for the loss of her husband. She has a roof over her head, food on the table, a small business, her faith in Christ, and she and her son are healthy. She is complete in that she has everything she needs except her husband, and very little that she doesn’t. However, let her be a centering perspective when we think we deserve better than what we have.

Alemi in Ethiopia
Alemi in Ethiopia

Eternity Practice

Grossmünster in Zurich took 120 years to complete. They were on the right track.
Grossmünster in Zurich took 120 years to complete. They were on the right track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a bit of a hiatus from writing, I have begun to think about things related to missions again. I really felt like I needed a break after going to Africa two to three times a year. Now I have had five months of not traveling, and I am beginning to feel the call again. That call probably won’t be heeded for a while though, as my next trip to Africa is not scheduled until late fall this year.

I was reading a book the other day, and I came across some facts about a cathedral in central Europe that took 400 years to build. This might be something that would normally just make you say “wow” and move on. There was so much more to that statement though, that speaks volumes about how people thought in the middle ages as well as what they valued as opposed to how we think and value things now.

When I watch television shows about real estate in the western world, people are always looking for something new and shiny. If the kitchen hasn’t been updated in the past ten years, they want to tear it all apart and make it new. Furthermore, if the remodel is going to take more than four weeks, people get upset. So what does this have to do with missions?

Well, not to be crude, but when our level of patience is equivalent to “gargle and spit”, it has a huge impact on the way we go about everything we do. Missions, particularly short-term missions goes hand in hand with this way of thinking. When we raise money, we must come up with a “project” that we plan to do and complete, or people don’t feel right about supporting it. These projects often run counter to the cultures we’re dealing with, as well as the long or even the short term good of those we’re supposed to be helping. I know of one missions group that would go and build a new church for one particular group of people every few years. The rebels would come and burn down the church, and the cycle would continue. So why is this? Is it because we are not thinking of eternal things?

Now this is where I get the hackles up on the back of lots of well meaning people who have sacrificed time and income and probably a lot of comfort to go and do these projects. For that I’m sorry, but it doesn’t negate my point.

You see, five hundred or a thousand years ago, people understood that some of the things they did for God (build a cathedral for instance) would be things for which they would never personally see the results. We don’t think that way anymore, and we should. People don’t want to give money to, or engage in things for which they won’t personally see the results, even if those results are only short term. We need to work on things that are not just long term, but eternal.

Even Cathedrals, with lifespans in the hundreds or thousands of years, are not eternal things, but the people of the day with their understanding as it was were more on the right track than we are today. Matthew 6 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This is an amazing verse. Buildings and projects may last a long time, but they are not eternal. The soul of a man or woman is eternal. Working with people requires building relationships, and building relationships takes time. When we do short-term missions, we need to understand that we are building relationships that will hopefully last beyond this Earth. We are not myopic do-gooders bent on building a product to make us feel good. Rather, we should realize that the things we start now, we will likely never personally see the results of. If we do see the results, we should consider it a blessing from God that we were graced to see them with our own eyes.

Jesus’s words speak as true today as they did when they were spoken. “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Even then it was realized that someone else would finish the work that another person started. So if it’s true that eternity is in our bones, let’s fervently work toward things that we may personally never finish. We are eternal beings, so let’s practice being eternal.

I Used To Be Able To Throw A Pigskin A Quarter Mile.

An Ethiopian runner crosses the finish line, utterly spent.
An Ethiopian runner crosses the finish line, utterly spent.

There’s a quirky movie called Napoleon Dynamite, in which one of the characters, Uncle Rico, continually lives in the past. He’s been out of high school for the better part of twenty years, but he continually talks about how great he was at (American) football, and laments about how things would have been if his coach had put him into the game for the championship.

Uncle Rico is comical because many of us can relate to him. The longer time goes by, the greater we were at such and such a time in the past. I hate to burst the bubble though, because if our finest and most defining moment was in high school, and we’re not still currently in high school, we are utterly wasting our lives. It doesn’t have to be high school, either. It could be college or career or any other time of life. The point is to keep going and continually seek not only better things, but the best things.

This concept got me thinking about racing. I’ve done half-marathons, marathons, mountain bike races, triathlons, even a couple of twelve hour races. People always think of racing in terms of winning, but there are two other aspects of racing people rarely think about. Before you win a race, you must first start, and you must also finish.  The Apostle Paul wrote about this when he could see his life was coming to an end. “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Notice that he doesn’t say he has won the race. He says he has finished. This is all we’re called to do, because everyone who finishes the race wins. 

There is the other side of the coin I’d like to address though, and that is that many never even start the race. They pray to God with tears in their eyes for God to save them, and he does, because his grace is free. But then nothing happens after that. It’s easy to say that by grace we’re saved and leave it at that, but as the book of James says, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” It goes on further. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.”  Or take Jesus’s own words. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.”

If we pray for God’s kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven, what we are praying for is that God’s will would be done here as it is in heaven. How does that happen if we refuse to do what God called us to do, or if we believe the lie that all the work was done when the original apostles walked the earth?  God calls us not only to be unpolluted by the world, but also, and this is the part that’s often forgotten, to look after widows and orphans in their distress. He calls us to make disciples of all nations. If we are to be like Christ, then we should do what he said he came to earth for in Luke 4, “To preach the gospel to the poor;
to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind,  to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  It’s time to take hold of the gratitude to God for what we’ve been saved from and let it be an outpouring that flows into a dark and lost world. We are just as broken as the world around us, but God takes that which is broken, mends it, and turns it into something beautiful. It’s time to take that gratitude and love for God, and other men who are made in His image, and turn it into new finest moments. It’s time to not only start the race, but finish it. Let’s not be Uncle Rico, who continually dwells on the past and what could have been. As long as there is breath in our lungs, there is opportunity. If you don’t currently follow Jesus, do so. He saves generously. The point is, life is too short to sit around wasting gifts we’ve been given. If you have wondered about serving God, and wondered about getting involved with missions, consider this your invitation. The time is short, and there’s literally a whole world of opportunities. So get out there are start the race.

 

Just as a footnote, I’m tempering this word with a counterpoint I wrote about in a previous blog, about when it all becomes about doing. https://southsudantraveler.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/when-the-mission-ruins-the-missionary/

I Didn’t See Anything…

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My wife made an interesting observation recently about censorship, and how nations use it to control their people. She noted that most of the nations that censor their media and internet, like China, North Korea, and a number of Arab nations, do so because they know that if the word got out that much of the world was such a great place to live, they’d never be able to keep people within their own borders. You look at the blind, maniacal loyalty displayed in North Korea (at least on the outside), and it only exists through a combination of fear and the kind of propaganda that only can exist if the flow of information is tightly controlled. Which begs the questions, “so what’s our excuse?”

Do I mean that our government censors the information we receive about other nations and cultures? No. They don’t have to, because we do it ourselves. The average American has no idea what the rest of the world is like. We don’t watch international news, learn other languages, or travel. When we do travel, we go to resorts where we won’t have to mingle with the indigenous populations. We are not generally taught geography after the seventh grade. According to National Geographic, half of American 18-24 year olds can’t find New York on a map, which is in their own country. One third can’t tell you which direction northwest is on a map. Three quarters think that English is the most commonly spoken native language in the world. Only half could find India on a map.

So why all the self-censorship? I believe it’s the repeated mantra that America is the greatest country in the world. Is it? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. It depends on what standards you are basing your assumptions.

When I was in my twenties, I mountain biked with one or two friends quite frequently. Compared to them, I was quite fast, so I decided to start racing. I entered my first race in the intermediate category, thinking I was too good for the beginners. Well, I came in dead last by a long margin. It wasn’t until I actually raced against people who were serious about it that I found out where the bar had been set. Only someone with a lot of arrogance or a self-proclaimed idiot declares themselves the best at something when they don’t even know what standard that statement is based on. I was probably a bit of both, and I had to be both educated and humbled by those that actually were the greatest. It was only at that point that I really started to improve and start winning some races.

Thinking we’re the greatest as a nation is potentially more damaging to ourselves and the world. On one hand, without knowing anything about the world around us, we fail to see the needs of the world around us. On the other side of things, we also don’t see where other cultures or nations do things better than we do, and believe me, there are many areas where we are not first. By having this myopic, insular view we have lured ourselves into complacency for both the needs of the poor and our own improvement as a people. We have both no compassion for the world and no willingness to strive for what is better. We have willingly relegated ourselves to live in a cultural wasteland. We think that the rest of the world isn’t worth knowing about because we are better than them in every way, and we’re totally wrong.

People who think they have nothing to learn from anyone else are people who have willingly decided that they are going to stagnate. And stagnation is no recipe for greatness.

Leaving Footprints In The Enemy’s Territory.

I’ve taken a break for about a month and a half, but I am back to writing. Exciting things have happened since the last time I wrote. I got to see a church come together with their brothers and sisters half way across the world. The video above was shown at our church in South Carolina. The purpose of the video was to make people aware of not only what life is like in the slums of Kibera, Kenya, but also to awaken people to the heart of the people there. If you only show gloom and doom without showing people that the needs and wants and dreams of people are the same everywhere, you rob them of their dignity and make the problem of poverty even worse. So I thought it was important to hear from the people there without overlaying my own thoughts about the situation.

Two Sundays ago, I saw our church come together and sponsor 45 children from Praise Assembly Kibera so that they can go to school, and begin the journey out of the slum for the next generation.  We have two church services, and after the first service, there were only 12 children left to sponsor. This is exciting, but it tells me that the vision wasn’t big enough, which is also exciting. I can’t wait to see what can be done when the size of the vision meets the size of the hearts of people to fulfill that vision. I fully expect God to stretch the idea of what is possible when people are obedient to his calling.

We also now have a new missions coordinator appointed, and I’m thrilled to see what can happen when there is one person to bring everybody under one roof, so to speak, and get us all moving in the same direction. Let’s leave our footprints in the territory the enemy thinks he owns, and move with boldness and without fear into the places God wants us to go. That is the kind of thing that brings me excitement.