Today I’m just writing a short post. In two weeks I head back to Ethiopia. In the meantime, Im spending time with my wife and kids, doing a little traveling, and shooting some pictures and video for no one but me.
We had intended on camping, with the kids in a tent. However, the remnants of another hurricane are coming through with torrential rain. We’ve had so many hurricanes this season that I don’t even know the name of this one. However, it did change our plans slightly in that we rented a cabin instead of tenting.
One of the things we traveled to see is waterfalls in North Carolina. The bonus of the hurricane is that all the rivers, and consequently the waterfalls, are roaring. There’s a silver lining to every dark cloud. So here is the first of the shots that I took today. Until next time, when I’ll likely be on a plane over the Atlantic.
This blog is a bit different than what I usually write. Usually I’m considering ideas or thoughts having something to do with a recent or upcoming trip to Africa. Although I do leave again for Ethiopia in less than three weeks (yes, I was just there), my thoughts this week have come from an entirely different source. It also means that this post is going to be wordier than usual, because I’m writing for a specific purpose to a specific person, but I thought it might be worth sharing.
Several days ago, I was speaking with a Christian brother in the middle-east. He is an evangelist in a very difficult area, and he wanted to know my thoughts on resisting the devil. You see, he had just been to an area where people were supposedly proud to be Christians, and that there was not a mosque in the village. In talking though, it became more apparent to me that the people in the village were not so much proud that they were Christians as they were proud that they were not Muslims. They did not know the word of God, and many of them were living self-destructive lives. Many were trying to keep this fact hidden from the communities around them so as to not look bad.
Over the last few days, I’ve been praying and pondering on the subject of resisting the devil. I thought about all the methods mentioned in the Bible, and all the verses mentioned about resisting the devil. What I kept coming back to in my thoughts is this; You have to want to resist the devil before you can resist him.
Not resisting the devil is easy. All it requires is that you live the way you want to live, to consider yourself first, and that whatever you see as right in your own eyes, you do. It requires no humility, no accountability, and when all that causes problems in your life and the lives of those around you, you blame others.
What are the devil’s tactics? Well, on the obvious end, his intentions are to “steal, kill, and destroy”. John 10:10.
So why would anyone not resist that? If it was obvious that were the devil’s intentions, then everyone would resist. So his intentions must not be obvious, or people simply refuse to see it.
There is an interesting passage in Mark 3: 22-26. Jesus has been casting out demons, and learned men (the scribes) come against him, accusing him of casting out demons by the power of demons.
“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan?If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.”
So why would such supposedly learned men suggest something so seemingly preposterous? It’s because there is some precedent to the claim. You see, the devil has no kingdom of his own, and no creative power. He has only the power to usurp the Kingdom of God for his own purposes. If we carry “steal, kill, and destroy” to its final end, we have not only the complete destruction of God’s kingdom, we have, by transitive property, the destruction of Satan’s kingdom as well. The solution to this is a periodical reduction in the destruction the devil brings in order to put things into balance again, hence extending the reign of the devil as the prince of this world.
There is a fine line in this. If there is too much destruction, people begin to wake up and resist the devil. Take what is happening right now in Iraq and Syria. There is cruelty, destruction, and killing the likes of which the world has not seen in a long time. As a consequence, despite the threat of death, multitudes of people from those cultures are coming to Christ. This will ultimately be a massive failure for the devil, because by carrying things too far, he has undercut himself.
Being a parasite on the Kingdom of God is a precarious place to be, because there is not a winning position. If you do too much, people begin to resist you. Do too little, and the world begins to revert back to the way it was when God created it. That fine line in the middle is where the devil would like to be. Cause just enough strife that man takes it for granted. When he gets used to that, cause a little more, and so on. It’s amazing how much evil men will tolerate if it’s brought on slowly enough. It’s the tipping point that’s hard to gauge. The objective is to keep man in a place where he will not resist, because when he resists, it’s over. James 4 is very clear.
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers andadulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
It doesn’t say, “resist the devil and he might flee from you.” It says, “resist the devil and he WILL flee from you.” If we do not resist the devil, it is because we have made an agreement with him that things are fine the way they are. Essentially, I won’t resist you so long as things are relatively easy and I can put myself first. It starts with an agreement, and agreements with the devil are never a good idea. (See the post called The Hyena Gate.) I’ve heard the phrase so many times, “I chose the lesser of two evils.” Choosing the lesser of two evils, over time, always leads to choices becoming more and more evil. And so the cycle repeats itself, where Satan must cast himself out again to bring order to his usurped kingdom, and therefore extend his reign.
So what would it look like if we stopped making these agreements? If we put ease, and convenience, and most of all Self aside and started resisting the devil? What would it look like if the Church resisted the devil? What would it look like if we woke up each morning and prayed, “Lord, not I, but you?” What would it look like if we stopped constantly trying to lift ourselves up and let God do it instead? I’ll just finish by allowing us all to ponder those thoughts, and I will be thinking about them as well.
The widow was ready for our arrival. She smiled warmly as she greeted us with “Akum Nagoma”. Her simple mud walled house had been cleaned and was in order. She was dressed in her best. New magazine pages had been plastered to the walls, as is the custom to beautify homes in this part of Ethiopia. A television sat under a plastic cover in the main room. She seemed to be doing well…if you chose not to really look.
The rows of dots tattooed on her shrunken neck were too close together; in fact she looked skeletal. When we complimented her on the new wallpaper, she said, “oh, that’s old,” even though we could see that it had just been put up. The television sat there conspicuously, but what good is a television when you don’t have electricity?
We knew something was up. The house had been beautified for our arrival. The wallpaper was obviously new. The television and many of the items in the home were likely borrowed from friends or neighbors. Though she tried to look happy, she was obviously either sick or starving or both. As we asked her questions about how she was doing, her smile and warmness changed. She at first said that she wasn’t able to express how she is doing, and finally broke into tears. It was likely that she knew we were there to help, but the thing about poverty that most people who are not financially poor don’t understand is that Poverty and its ugly siblings Shame and Isolation usually walk hand in hand. Though she knew she needed help, she also didn’t want anyone to know that she needed help, particularly not these strange foreigners coming into her home. She didn’t want anyone judging her ability to take care of her children or herself. Being poor is bad, but everyone knowing you’re poor is so much worse.
This situation cuts to the core of why Christ calls us not only into relationship with Him, but also into relationship with those around us, who are made in Christ’s image. The scriptures are numerous in this area, but I’ll just highlight one. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It is because of this principal that the enemy seeks so much to divide us. If we remain in relationship with each other, we are less likely to fall into sin, less likely to fall into not only financial poverty, but poverty of spirit. Studies show that married people live longer than single people. It’s nothing magical, it’s just that it’s not good for people to be alone. Its why the writer of the book of Hebrews thought it important enough to write, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” The enemy knows that we are stronger together, that is why one of the most worn out tools in his box is Shame. How many times has someone disappeared from church when trouble hits? “Iron sharpens iron” is the saying, but we can’t sharpen each other if we isolate ourselves.
There is no shame if we realize that we are all broken people. We are all broken in different ways, but when we gather together as one body in Christ, my strength helps you in your weakness, and your strength helps me in my weakness. But we have to go in with the humility of knowing that “while we were yet enemies of God, Christ died for us.”
The great thing about having indigenous staff in Ethiopia is that there are people who can check on this widow and see how she is doing. It’s also why short-term missions is so hard. It’s hard to build relationships from afar, but if you have people on the ground it’s that much easier. Hopefully this widow will realize that no one is there to judge her, only help. Starting is the hardest part, but if she goes the path of many of the other widows in this community, she will soon be sustainably feeding her own family and herself. In so doing, she will lift the community as a whole.
After a week up in the mountains of Ethiopia, I am back in Addis Ababa. Once again, I have seen new things and will have new stories to tell, but only after some thought. My team worked wonderfully together, and I’d take this group anywhere. There were a few minor illnesses, but with some prayer, everyone recovered quickly. I had the honor of bringing my son on his first missions trip this time, so I finally got to share in person what I’ve only been able to tell in stories and pictures. I wish all of you could see what we have seen, but as he has now experienced, no matter how good the pictures and stories, there is no substitute for the real thing.
Having said that, my function this time was not to collect media, but rather to lead a team. Nevertheless, my camera never stays put away for long, so here are the first of my pictures to escape from Ethiopia. Enjoy, and I’ll write more soon.
To say that Thursday was a stressful day would be a monumental understatement. We have had our tickets in hand to Ethiopia for about a month now. When we bought them, we had no idea that two days before our expected departure date, there would be a hurricane with wind gusts up to 300 kilometers an hour barreling toward our homes and families. Consequently, on a day when I should have been focusing on preparing for the trip and spending time with my family, I was instead boarding up windows and making sure there was an evacuation plan for the members of my family not traveling with me. Also, there was concern that the airport we would be flying out of would be closed before we could fly out. I wasnt sure I would be coming home to a habitable house, and I was leaving my wife to take care of it.
That morning I went out for a walk and prayed. It was one of those desperate “God, please take care of all this” kind of prayers. After about 45 minutes, I had my answer. It was simply, “John, have I ever not taken care of your family?” The answer of course was no, and it left me feeling a little foolish for fretting so much about it.
Fast forward two days. I am currently sitting on an Airbus A-380 over the Atlantic Ocean. The storm dramatically altered its path to one that was far more favorable, not just for us, but for a lot of people. My home is barely supposed to get any wind now. My family is no longer evacuating inland. The airport stayed open long enough for us to catch our flight, and now the only ones “evacuating” are myself and the rest of our team. Were on our way to Ethiopia to do the finishing work on a center for widows so they can take care of themselves and their children.
So it all comes to this, and forgive my paraphrasing as I’m writing from my Ipad. “Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear, for he dresses the flowers of the field, and not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed as one of these.” Also, “Who by worrying can add a single day to his life?” Finally, “Trust in the Lord and lean not on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
As is my tradition, before I take a trip overseas, I write a test blog from my iPad. The interface is a bit different on a mobile device than on a computer, so I like to write at least one blog from the iPad to work out any kinks while I have access to power and bandwidth.
Saturday I leave for Ethiopia. This is also the time when a hurricane is predicted to be passing through, but we will pray against that. If Jesus commanded the wind and the waves, and we are acting in his authority, then so can we.
We are traveling to Ethiopia to do the finishing work on the Tesfa Center, which is a center designed to give destitute widows in the rural countryside a place to work and sustainably support both themselves and their children. James 1:27 came to mind today. It says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unspotted by the world.” We have been given the awesome opportunity to do this. Notice that is not enough to be unspotted by the world? There are also things that must be done. Likewise we are not just called to be busy. Faith without works is dead, just as works without faith will not save us. By faith we show gratitude to the God that selflessly gave himself for us, that while we were yet sinners he died for us. We in turn should live as ransomed people. As God gave his life for us, we return it by giving ours back.
So long as I have internet I plan to give updates while I’m gone. Finally, I leave you with a picture of one of the widows we are going to minister to.
Seven days from now, Lord willing, I’ll drive three hours to board a plane to Ethiopia. This will be my tenth trip to Africa since 2010, and the second this year. There’s a team of seven of us going. Four have never been to Africa before, and two have never left North America. I’m as excited for them as I am for myself. I remember the first time I got off a plane in Africa, in the dark of night in Nairobi as the smell of wood smoke and diesel fumes hit me. Back then, I had a day or so to acclimatize to the new surroundings before things really got started. That won’t be the case this time. Without realizing it, I scheduled our tickets so that we’ll be landing in the midst of the Ethiopian New Year. I don’t yet know what that means, but I understand it’s going to be interesting and a little crazy. It also makes it difficult for us to find transportation to where we’re going. The region we are going to is one of the poorest, but also one of the most beautiful regions of the world in which I’ve ever been.
On the subject of where we’re going. We have a four to five hour drive from the capital, with about a third of it on sketchy dirt roads. There’s been a lot of rain, which in Africa means that the roads will have a layer of slippery ooze that thwarts the idea of driving in a straight line. Some things have changed though. When I first went to this particular town three years ago, I tried doing a google search and found nothing; literally nothing. Now when I do an image search, I can find images. Mind you, I’ve taken almost all of them, but there are images now. Last time I went, the only communication out was by cell phone on Ethiopia telecom, and I could only get a signal after about 1 o’clock in the morning. As I understand it, they now have internet.
The first time I went to Ethiopia, I was (at least initially) traveling alone. This time I’ve got a team going with me, including my son. Passports are all in order, everybody has their shots, and we’re ready to go. I plan to do updates on the work we’re doing, so long as the rumor that there is internet is true. Feel free to subscribe to this blog if you’d like email updates when there is a new post. Thank you all for your prayers. A new adventure begins.
I was having a phone conversation recently with one of our partners overseas. He has been doing some evangelistic work with a very poor tribe of people. He has not been working with this particular group of people for very long, and he was conveying to me the conditions they are living under, and the social structures they’re forced (for now) to live under. It essentially boils down to medieval serfdom. A family will work the fields for the landowner. After they’ve harvested 80 kilograms of cotton, they are paid about $2.50. In addition to the meager wages, they are also in debt to the landowner. They are living in legalized slavery.
Throughout the world, this is not an uncommon thing, much as we’d like to tell ourselves that the world has advanced and moved on from such things. There’s a lot of talk lately about social justice, and particularly about evil governments, and evil corporations, and evil politicians. In all cases we are talking about social systems, from small local systems to national governments. All are social systems, but the evil part is where people get hung up.
Social systems are not evil in themselves, nor are they good. Social systems are amoral, meaning they have no morality in themselves. Social systems are like tofu. Just as tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it in, so social systems take on the character of whoever is running them. If you have evil people running the social system, the social system will be evil. If you have good people running the social system, you will likely have a good social system, unless the good people lack knowledge or wisdom, or are incompetent, which happens.
Social justice activists are spending an awful lot of time trying to dismantle evil systems, and in many cases this is a good thing. However, if you dismantle an evil system but the hearts of the people are still evil, you are wasting your time.
I have spent a good amount of time this week pouring over video footage I shot last time I was in Africa. (I finally have the time to do so.) We interviewed several pastors, many of whom came from a background where in their younger years, they were part of the evil systems we are talking about in their respective societies. They were persecutors, drug addicts, witch doctors, people who were cruel to their wives and families. The common thread between them was when they had an encounter with the living God, and he changed everything. Now these people are out risking their own lives in a dangerous land to tell others about what changed them and their families, and gave them hope. I hear people say sometimes that their faith is a personal thing. That’s hogwash. If your faith doesn’t make a tangible difference in yourself and the world around you, what good is it? As James says, “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You say you believe in God. Good! Even the demons believe, and shudder!”
My conversation with our overseas partner was informative for me, but also really got me thinking about how we are to handle these situations. In regards to the social systems already in place, the bible is very clear about it in many places. 1 Timothy 2 says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” First we need to pray for a turning of the landowner’s heart. If his heart is turned toward God, and it’s genuine, his attitude toward the people working his land will change. The second part of this is what praying for unjust leaders does in us. Jesus talks about this in Luke 6. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
You see, everyone is running around trying to change everyone else, but change starts with us, and with the attitude of our own hearts. We pray for our enemies both because the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, but also because when we pray for our enemies, we cannot simultaneously hate them.
There may be other strategies we need to take to alleviate the slavery these people are living under, but to start them prematurely or to do them in lieu of praying for their enemies undermines the reason Christ came, that being “to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who arebound;” (Isaiah 61). Many are under the assumption that if people are oppressed, they are somehow angelic. I can tell you from personal experience from some of the places I’ve worked in that if you release a slave from his oppressor without taking the spirit of the slave out of the man, he will do worse atrocities to both his oppressor and the people around him than his oppressor ever did to him.
In closing, I’d like to relay a story from one of the interviews I did in Africa this year. The man I was interviewing hated Christians when he was younger. He would attack them and throw stones at them. One day, he came across a Christian and started beating him. The man he was beating continued to tell him about Jesus even while he was beating him. It’s this kind of self-sacrifice that changes the world. Not and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but praying for our enemies and telling them the good news even while they are beating us.
A couple years ago, I wrote an article about my wife’s experience as she moved through fears, worry, and difficulty on her first journey to Africa. I wrote about how the first time the gravity of what she was doing hit her was when she went in for her immunizations before going to Kenya. Here is a link to that blog.
Now it’s my son’s turn. In less than a month, he will be going with me to Ethiopia. It will be his first time overseas (other than the Caribbean.) Certainly it will be his first time to a developing nation. Whereas my wife had fears of the unknown, I don’t think my son even knows yet what there is to fear. That is a good thing. Fear is usually of the unknown, and when whatever it is you are fearing eventually becomes known, it’s very rarely as bad as you thought it was going to be.
Quite the opposite, I’m excited for my son. He is going to experience new cultures and languages, new foods, new continents. He is probably going to see things that can only be understood through experience. He is still in high school, but this will give him a better education than anything possible in a classroom. He is going to learn about the real world through experience. Being taught in a classroom is one thing, but you never truly gain understanding through second hand knowledge.
I suspect he’ll have a similar experience that I did on my first trip to South Sudan. I remember being on the plane, and suddenly “What on earth am I doing?!” went through my head. He’ll be alright though. I know he’ll come back stronger and wiser. I know he’ll see things perhaps that test his faith, but also he’ll see things that make him realize that God is even bigger than he thought he was.
This is the first of my children to travel with me. I have two more that are younger. My eight year old has already been asking for a couple years if she can go to Africa with me. I always tell her the same thing. “When you’re 16.” I’m excited that the day has come that the first one is going.
Coming full circle, in similar fashion to three years ago, I was in a Passport Health office taking pictures of someone getting a shot who probably didn’t want their picture taken. Fortunately for him, my son only needed three immunizations, and one of them was oral. His road to becoming bulletproof didn’t take as many needles as my wife’s or mine did. Lucky him.
In October 1972, Private Kinshichi Akatsu of the Imperial Japanese Army emerged from the jungle of Lubang Island in the Philippines and burned the rice collected by Filipino farmers. Shortly afterward, he was killed by two shots from Filipino police. He was probably the last casualty of World War Two. Twenty nine years after the war ended, he was still engaging in guerrilla activity for an empire that no longer existed. Kinshichi had seen the information that the war ended August 15, 1945, but refused to believe that it was true. He and four other soldiers continued to fight, and at the time of his death, only one other holdout survived with him.
Kinshichi was living the epitome of a lost cause. The empire from where he drew his authority no longer existed. Consequently, even if he were to take the entire island hostage, there would be no victory for him. There was no Empire of Japan to hand the island of Lubang over to. He was wasting his life doing nothing more than being a thorn in the side of the islanders.
Now let’s change gears a bit. Romans 8:37-39 says the following. “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I’ve always wondered what exactly it means to be “more than a conqueror.” It seems to me that you are either a conqueror or you are not, but what does it mean to be more than a conqueror? The contrast of Kinshichi Akatsu’s story helps me to understand. You see, no matter how successful Kinshichi was in his activities, he was still a conquered man, whether he knew it or not.
In contrast, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus also says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” So it stands to reason, that if Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, then by his authority we are conquerors through him also.
This causes a conundrum for Satan. He is already defeated and holds no authority over those who have been redeemed. He does not have the power to create his own kingdom, and holds no authority in the Kingdom of God. His situation is explained beautifully in the book “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning” by Rene Girard. Girard says, “Satan does not create by his own means. Rather he sustains himself as a parasite on what God creates by imitating God in a manner that is jealous, grotesque, perverse, and as contrary as possible to the upright and obedient imitation of Jesus. To repeat, Satan is an imitator in the rivalistic sense of the word. His kingdom is a caricature of the kingdom of God.”
So what does one do if your enemy has already conquered you and you hold no authority? You try to convince your enemy that he is not in fact a conqueror. If it is impossible for you to create victory, you attempt to limit the damage your enemy does to you by convincing them that they are not conquerors. How many churches refuse to walk in the gifts of the Spirit? How many Christians walk around like they are under the thumb of the enemy? How many Christians refuse to pray for God’s healing for themselves or others? How many refuse to fulfill the Great Commission out of fear? How many let the things of the world distract from eternal things?
We are more than conquerors because there is no doubt who the Winner is. Satan can never pull victory out of a hat. He can only delay his demise, and the longer we are convinced that we are not conquerors, the longer he will last. All he can do right now, metaphorically speaking, is burn the crops of the farmers. Make no mistake though. Just as two bullets from a Filipino policeman dispatched private Akatsu, so will Satan be dispatched in the end. Let’s start living like that.