Tag Archives: fear

Your Safety Is Not Assured.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. It’s not because I haven’t had something to write, but rather I’ve been a bit stumped as to how to write it.

Sometimes when you’ve been doing something for a while, it’s hard to think back to the way you thought about those things when you were still new. But recent events have brought me back to some underlying assumptions I had about missions when I was growing up and even as an adult.

Before I was a missionary, I always assumed that if my church was involved in missions somewhere and was sending people, it must be safe. I know from the statements that people say to me, and from observing what goes on, that this is still a very prevalent assumption that people make. Why is that?  Well, as a general rule, in most churches I’ve been a part of , that is the case. We only send people to “safe” places. But what makes a place safe?

The philosopher Jürgen Habermas deals with this in what is probably an unnecessarily wordy way. He says, “Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an antonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in the light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage.”  Dumbing it down, the ideas of love and justice in society are a direct result of the Judeo-Christian heritage which we draw from, even if our societies have moved away from that underlying paradigm.

If we look around the world, most places follow that general rule. The most dangerous places are those places that do not have a current or recent Christian presence. So if that is the case, then why are we going to the “safe” places? Is it because we are afraid to go the the places that God is really calling us to go? If a place is considered safe, there’s a good chance that a lot of missionaries have already been there. Do we go to the places that have already been evangelized because we feel that doing something is better than nothing? Is it our ersatz way of fulfilling the Great Commission?

It is said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I would like to amend that statement. I think what is even more dangerous than good men doing nothing is good men doing something that is neither good nor bad, but leaves them feeling as if they did something good. Rather than go to the places where God would actually call us to go, we give in to fear. We still go, but we go somewhere else.

Decisions that are made based on fear are almost universally the wrong choice. When we choose to do missionary work only in places where we feel safe and comfortable, we are not only disobedient to the Lord’s calling, but we carry that spirit of fear with us wherever we go. I read a quote this week from an indigenous Christian overseas. He was asked what his church learns from the Western missionaries. His answer was very telling. He said, “the Western missionaries teach us to be afraid.”

Why do we fear so much? I believe it is because many of us are building a kingdom, but it isn’t God’s Kingdom, it is our own kingdom. We seek to be gods of an empty universe of our own creation; kings of a kingdom with no subjects. We do what we want to do first and ask God to bless what we’ve already decided to do. As our towers grow taller and taller, they become harder and harder to maintain, and we fear they will topple. This is why Jesus says, “whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will save it.” This isn’t some trite conundrum. When we literally give our life, and our plans, and our finances, and our spouses and children, and our present and future over to Christ, all fear is taken away, because you can’t fear the loss of what you’ve already given away.

Most of Romans 8 deals with this, and so in closing I am going to sum up with the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote,

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,[a]who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shalltribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 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.”

It’s time to give up fear and go to the hard places.
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Overcoming My Deathly Fear Of Accountants.

In a week I leave for Kenya. My role has changed in many ways. I’m now not only a gatherer of media, but one of several trail blazers with a new mission in Africa’s largest slum. It makes me think back now on the times when I have been completely out of my element, and especially to the times when an incident caused me to become aware of my own shortcomings.

It was February 2013, and I was in Bor, South Sudan. I was laying in my hammock in a tin building, sweating down my neck and just trying not to let any part of my body touch another. Even at night it was almost 40 degrees. Earlier we had been sitting outside under the stars, but trying to avoid the wind and the dust by sitting in the shelter of the wall. When you stood up, you could hear distant machine-gun fire. None of us knew what was going on, and the man we were staying with hoped we hadn’t noticed. When someone asked, he tried to play it down. This was apparently not out of the ordinary.

As I lay there trying to fall asleep, a gunshot rang out. It was close this time, very close.  A second shot rang out, and this time it ricocheted off the roof of the tin building. I quickly rolled out of my hammock and crouched in what little shelter there was behind the unmilled log that formed a support post for the building. It wasn’t much.

Fortunately, there was never a third shot, and I never really found out what happened, but that night taught me a lot about myself. I can honestly say I was not scared by that incident, but what went on in my head that night was far more telling. The thoughts that occupied my mind that night were not of gunfire or violence or whatever was hiding out there in the night. My thought were occupied with my finances when I got home. I have a very cyclical job, and there are times when I simply don’t have a lot, depending on the time of year. My thoughts were about how I was going to pay for my everyday expenses when I got home.

You might think this is very strange, and it probably is. But the fact was that I had given my life both figuratively and literally to God. Please see this previous blog on the subject. https://southsudantraveler.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/im-twelve-years-old-and-im-going-to-die/

But giving my life to God did not mean I had given all areas to him, and frankly, my finances were one of those areas I had not given. I like to maintain control over certain things, especially my finances. Maybe it’s something to do with being self-employed. While it’s strange to not worry about your own life but worry about your finances, I suspect we all do something along this line, just not to this extreme.

The fact is that there is nothing that I can lose that Jesus has not already won. You can’t lose a life you’ve already given up. You also can’t be poor when God is with you, even if you have nothing. It’s only now that I’m learning this. Romans 8 sums it up very well.

 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

 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.”

We seek in vain to be free of trouble and danger and poverty, when all along we should be seeking to be within the heart of God. If we are there, then none of the other things matter. We are poured out as an offering before the throne of God, because that is the reason we were placed here. It is not for self-preservation, because there is no such thing. We are not here for self-glorification, because nothing temporal can achieve such a thing. We are here to do the will of God; that good and perfect will. To look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep ones’s self from being polluted by the world. This is a hard calling, but when everything is put in this perspective, suddenly my finances are not really a worry anymore. If God has called me to do what I’m doing, then the finances will take care of themselves. God does not send his workers without tools, whatever they may be. I just need to be reminded of that sometimes.

In one week I leave for Kenya. I am going with a little apprehension. But no matter what it is, God has it covered.

A South Sudanese man cleans his gun.
A South Sudanese man cleans his gun.

I’m Twelve Years Old, And I’m Going To Die.

I’ve put off writing this article for some time now. I thought about writing it last week in Ethiopia, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Now I think it’s time.

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When I was 13 years old, my father died after a six month illness. Thirteen years after that, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She fought that battle for six years, during which time I saw her deteriorate until she died as well. I found myself a young man with both parents dead. So though Loss and I are not on good terms, we have shared a table together on occasion. The problem with watching both your parents die at a young age is that it can take a mental and spiritual tole on you. During the time my mother was sick, and after she died, I began to wake up at night with this awful dread that I was going to die too. It was a fear I couldn’t shake.

Fast forward to last week. The most heart-breaking thing for me in Ethiopia was one boy who was about twelve years old. He came into the clinic because of some medical issues. He had a goiter, and his thyroid problem had caused another autoimmune issue that was attacking the pigment in his skin, leaving him with white patches. This boy had also lost his father about a month before.  The boy came in because he didn’t know what kind of illness he had, but he was sure it was serious. I watched as this boy quietly wept in the chair. He was certain he was going to die like his father did. The doctors told him through the translator that he had nothing wrong that was going to kill him, but it took a while for it to sink in.  This boy utterly broke my heart, because I knew exactly what he was going though. How terrible to be twelve years old and thinking you’re going to die. Though there were bigger tragedies of the week, this one hit me the hardest.

Eight years ago, I was still praying that God would release me from this fear. Finally He did. At a seemingly random time as I was driving, in an almost audible voice, God told me that I am on this earth by His grace and for his purpose, and I’ll be here as long as He wants me to be. At that point I was delivered from all that fear of death I had been dealing with, and it hasn’t come back.

It was this revelation that has allowed me to be involved with the missions I’m involved with. If I was still dealing with fear of death, I never would have been able to go to South Sudan. If I never went to South Sudan, I never would have gotten involved with missions in Kenya or Ethiopia. But God’s grace is sufficient. I still deal with fear of other things, but I won’t give them validity by naming them. When the day comes that I find myself willing to give them up to God, those will leave as well.

Matthew 10:39 says, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” This isn’t some trite irony that just sounds good because of its dualism. There is a profound truth in this. The day I gave up control of this situation to God was the day I found my life. After all, you can’t be afraid to lose something you’ve already given up. I hesitated to write this blog because of how I might come across, but I think it’s important that people read this, because I know there are a lot of people going through the same thing that I did. There is life, and there is hope. You just have to give up your fears to God, because He is the one in control.

Congratulations, Your Comfort Zone Just Got Bigger

Part of my joy on this trip to Kenya is having my wife with me, and seeing her discover things for the first time. Previous to this, my wife had never left North America. So this was truly new for her. This was her first time to another continent, first time to a non-first world country, first time going somewhere without the children. It was truly outside of her comfort zone. So I have asked for her help in writing this. I wanted to know first all, what her impressions of Africa were before she left to come here, and her impressions now that she is here. So now I hand this over to her.
“I think my thoughts about Africa before we arrived was that everything was going to be different, I wouldn’t find anything familiar. I thought I would be encountering a culture so foreign that I would feel awkward and out of place most of the time. I am not a person who likes to stand out preferring to blend in. I have huge (that’s an understatement) fears of the unknown. I thought we would be spending 10 days completely out of my comfort zone and I would be uncomfortable most of the time. I am still uncomfortable most of the time, because everything is still new. I am not an adventure seeker, but I no longer fear Kenya. I was able to see something through an entirely different lens.
I think I have been most pleasantly surprised by how hospitable and friendly the people are here. Everywhere we have traveled whether it was Kibera, the girls reform school, or meeting with our sponsor child and all the many hardworking people who are trying to help her have a better life, I have found nothing but kindness and genuine warmth. Even in situations where life seems more than bleak, I didn’t find a spirit of negativity. Look forward, don’t focus on the past. Work hard for your future. Tomorrow brings a new opportunity. These seem to be the attitudes of most I’ve encountered.
I think my favorite part of coming to Kenya has been meeting the people we’ve built relationships with. Had we not built those relationships with the people that have shown us around I would have had a very different experience. It was a comfort for me knowing that those relationships had already been established by our friends who came here shortly before us.
The food has also been wonderful. I haven’t had a bad meal since coming here. I expected bland food and chewy, gristly meat. Instead I got incredibly fresh food with lots of variety.
My least favorite part of this trip has been the lack of certain amenities, especially hot water. In some places we have either boiling hot water to shower in, or cold. In other places we have to wait for a certain time of day for hot water. I’m tired of having my hair in a pony tail. Its also exhausting not hearing English. It’s difficult to build relationships and have a conversation with people who speak English as a second or third language. It’s tiring to communicate. The smoke and the diesel fumes also bother me, especially in downtown Nairobi. I find it hard to breathe.”
I’m also going to add that when I watched my wife get up in front of a group of schoolgirls and start talking, I could tell she was in her element. Before we came here, I saw a lot of fears. I think most of those fears are gone. After all, fear of the unknown is the worst kind, but everything you know, at one time was also unknown.
If she has further thoughts later after some ruminating, I may write a subsequent blog. Till next time…

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On the Road to Bulletproof.

In the past couple months, a lot has changed. One of the things is that I now get to watch from the outside the experiences of someone close to me as she prepares to go to Africa. The person I’m talking about is my wife.  We have decided to go to Kenya, (together this time). We will be going to visit a little girl we have been sponsoring for two years now, and for once I will be going to Kenya for the sake of going to Kenya, and not just on route to somewhere more remote.

I’m excited for my wife, even if she isn’t yet excited for herself. I’m excited because I know some of what’s in store for her. We went yesterday to get her first immunizations for going overseas; not a terribly pleasant process. It was at this point, after the second needle, that the gravity of what was going on struck her and it became an emotional and difficult experience. The needle wasn’t the problem, it was the anxiety that this was real, that she was going WAY out of her comfort zone and going somewhere totally unfamiliar.

What is it that makes memories? What is it that makes life exciting and worth living? Let’s for now just touch on the trying new things part of the answer to that question.  Why do so many of us have such fond and romantic memories of childhood?  It’s because as a child, everything is new, and consequently everything is exciting. Furthermore, we have only the memories going backward, without the anxiety of not knowing the future. Our memories have been expurgated of most or all of the bad things, because the bad things rarely ended up being as bad as we though they might be, but the good things usually ended up being at least as good as we expected.

Fast forward to adulthood, where most of us have gotten into a long pattern of doing the same thing day after day. Where we worry about the future, and even though in childhood our worst fears never came to fruition, we still worry about anything new. Consequently the excitement ends, and many of us never do anything new again. How boring a life does that make for us?  Not only boring, but ineffectual. We make decisions out of fear, or we avoid a decision out of fear. The fact is that almost all the time, a decision based on fear is the wrong decision. Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” Though I consider Nietzsche’s philosophy to be a mixed bag, I believe he was right in this. We forget this as adults. We avoid pain and difficulty and consequently we avoid growth.

So in this I am proud of my wife. I know how difficult this is for her because she is not an adventurous woman by any stretch of the imagination. We talked about going to a number of places as part of our twentieth anniversary, and out of all of them she chose the most difficult. And even as she gets her shots so she can get on the road to becoming bulletproof, and she can’t yet look back and see that it was worth it, she has chosen growth over fear.

Getting her first immunizations to go to Africa. Today was Hepatitis A, Yellow Fever, and Polio. Fun!!
Getting her first immunizations to go to Africa. Today was Hepatitis A, Yellow Fever, and Polio. Fun!!

The Weatherman Says We’re All Going To Die.

I currently have the Weather Channel website open on a separate page, and some of the headlines are as follows; “I realized I was going to die”

“One little thing can go wrong, and that can be it.”

“Caution, check your groceries.”

“Horrific croc attack for golfer.”

“There is no antidote”.

I could literally go on like that for a while simply by scrolling down the page. As Ty Tabor says in one of his songs, “We learn how to be afraid.”

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I have no time for this sort of thing. The fact is that we’re in God’s hands, and He takes care of us whether we know what the danger or the problem is. Take my exit from South Sudan as an example. My last night in Bor, South Sudan, the rain began at about nine at night, and continued on almost until morning. Rain blew in the sides of the semi-open building I was in, and I had to cover my hammock with a tarp. By morning, the roads were a special kind of slick like we simply don’t get in America. Dirt roads in America are graded and built up with gravel so they’re still passable in bad weather. In South Sudan, (and most of the world for that matter) dirt roads are just places where the trees have been cut down. When it rains, they turn to the kind of mud that’s hard to walk on, much less drive.

We prayed the entire way to the airport as the vehicle literally slid completely sideways and narrowly missed going into the black-hole-like ditch, where vehicles go in, but don’t come out again. We made it to the airport, and pastor Joseph didn’t say goodbye. We turned around and the vehicle was sliding back down the road. He was concerned about just making it back.

Our plane made it into the airport, and we made it out back to the capital, Juba, with our plane splashing through mud puddles on the runway as we left.

The weather cleared, and everything was ok, but we didn’t realize for a few days just how close our escape was. We left during the only break in the weather for the next couple of weeks. Shortly after we left, the rains came back, and the Nile flooded its banks for the second time this year. That two hour window was the only one we would get, and had we missed it, I might still be there.

My point in all this. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own. Who, by worrying, can add a single day to his life?”  The fact is that people were praying for us, and the troubles facing us were taken care of despite the fact that we didn’t fully understand the problem. 2nd Timothy says,  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  So think about that the next time the weather channel tries to convince you that you might get ebola from pigeons in the park.

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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.

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sitting at the table in the darkness in South Sudan. Click to see larger view