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.
Less than forty eight hours ago, we got back from Kibera. All in all, I’d say the trip was a success. We were able to build good relationships with the people in the church and help out in the daycare. We were also able to help in some financial ways, but I see these as secondary to the job we came to do, which was build understanding of the issues and the people so we can partner for the long term. None of that can be done if we go with blinders on and a singular goal to build something or feed somebody. We are broken in certain ways, some of us financially, some of us spiritually, some of us in other ways. The goal of missions is to help each other overcome these various forms of brokenness. As I think over the issues I saw and more is revealed to me over time, I will write about these more in depth.
The trip home was an ordeal. My wife got sick to her stomach half way through the first flight, and is still a bit uneasy two days later. It was to the point where she came that close (you can’t see me thumb and forefingers about half an inch apart) to not getting on the plane from Zurich back to the United States. A couple missionaries saw what was going on and came to pray for Lynn. She met someone in the last five minutes before boarding who had some prescription nausea medication, and she was able to settle her stomach enough to board. God truly puts the right people in the right place. My friends wife also got sick to her stomach on the plane, but not to that extent. Then we had to get through the nightmare that is customs in Dulles (very close to dullard), where everything is done in the least efficient manner possible. Our plane was boarding by the time we got through that, but we still needed to get to a different section of the airport entirely. As I rounded the corner I saw the sign that said the next train would be coming in 23 seconds. I shouted back the information to everybody else, and we managed to get onto that train. After getting off, I ran ahead to the gate and found they were about to close it. I told them my group was right behind me, and they let us on. I can feel my blood pressure rising even as I write about it. Nonetheless, we made it on our last plane and back home.
I have been going through the pictures from the trip. I have far fewer this time. As I mentioned in a previous blog, my role was very different for this trip, and I was watching out for three other people rather than focusing all my attention on taking pictures. Nevertheless I have some that give what I feel is a good representation of our trip, and I will post more later as I have something to write about. Enjoy.
I’ve been in Kibera for about a week now, and honestly have been too busy to write up to this point. I was terribly sick yesterday, but fortunately had a lot of people praying for me, and I recovered very quickly. Thanks to everyone who was praying. The trip is still ongoing, so there will not be much in the way of reflection. That will undoubtedly come later. I can say that I have learned a lot this week, and have more questions than I started with. They are not bad questions though, and I’m sure they will lead to growth and a bettering of my understanding about how to partner with the church in Africa. For now then, here are some pictures from the trip. When I get home and I have had time to ponder, I will write more.
For those of you following this blog for the photography aspect, all of these pictures were shot with my small Canon G1X. The large SLR frankly was just too conspicuous and risky to pull out. U til next time.
This is just a very short post today, for those who are following our trip. We made it to Kenya yesterday, and today was our first day in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. We visited with Pastor Obedi and his wife Helen. It was good to see them again, as well as the fact that things have improved since last year. We also spent a lot of time with the kids, about 45 of them today! I did say this would be short and I will keep that promise. Until next time…
I had a lot of thoughts on my mind lately; a lot of heavy thoughts. I decided to throw them all out and write about my upcoming trip to Kenya instead. After all, this blog doesn’t always have to heavy.
In just a few weeks, I leave for Kenya. This will be my eighth trip to Africa since 2010, and the frequency of the trips has only increased. It’s now at least twice a year. Nevertheless, this trip will be full of firsts. This will be the first time I am going to Kenya when I’m not either just stopping through on the way to somewhere else or taking a partial vacation. I will be doing ministry in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. Though I’ve been to Africa several times, this is the first time I will be leading a team. There will be three people traveling with me, and two of them have never been to Africa before. My wife has only been once. To be honest, it makes me a little nervous, because I have more responsibility on my shoulders. I am fine with nervousness though. Everything that is worth doing comes with some risk, and the rewards are eternal. I know also that my nervousness will be nothing compared to that of my fellow travelers. I am looking forward to seeing that look on their faces the first time they step off the plane in Nairobi to the sights and sounds, and ah yes, the smells of Africa. I am looking forward to this because I remember the first time for me; for the awestruck wonder usually reserved for children but nonetheless granted to me one more time. I’m excited for them because I have some idea of what’s in store for them even if they don’t. I’m excited for the life changing epiphany that awaits them if their eyes are open even a little.
This is also the first time I will be going to Africa when photography will not be my main function. Yes, I will still be doing that, but I will have to put the camera down a lot more and do tasks which I may not be accustomed to. A year ago, when I was in Ethiopia, an African pastor prophesied over me as he prayed, saying I would be given new skills that would be used all over East Africa. Now is that time, and I will keep that in mind when I feel I am being stretched past my limits. New abilities don’t normally just drop into your lap. They form when we are pushed past what we have already become comfortable with into the realm of what might be possible. There are no participation trophies. I am looking forward to what is hard, knowing that what is hard now will not be as hard later. I’m looking forward to becoming more capable, even if it involves making mistakes. As I read in a book recently, “God cares more about the worker than the work.” I think this is a true statement.
I intend to be giving updates on our upcoming trip while in Kenya, including pictures. Thankfully I will have good internet access in the evenings. I also hope to be able to write about my team members’ first impressions while they are still fresh. I’m looking forward to that. One last note, I wanted to congratulate my friend Peter in South Sudan, who’s wife brought a joyous new life into the world last week.
For those wishing to follow my travels, and see the parts of Africa the tourists never see, you can follow this blog, and you’ll receive an email each time there’s a new post. Until next time.
In my last post I wrote a bit about agreements. It’s been a while since I’ve written, but the subject is still on my mind. Now that I’ve become aware of it, I have become more able to see what kind of agreements people make (including me) that we shouldn’t enter into.
In the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” Tommy is telling the others about how he met with the devil at a crossroads and agreed to give up his soul in exchange for being able to play the guitar. Delmar responds with, “You sold your ever loving soul to the devil for that?” To which Tommy responds, “Well, I wasn’t using it.”
The agreements we make are frequently not made so explicitly, but they are made nonetheless. I’m finding that most of the agreements we make are made not because we met with the devil at a crossroads, but because bad things enter our lives, and rather than fight them, we become comfortable with them over time, until we finally fail to see them at all. Then, even when we are given an opportunity to be free of what plagues us, we’re so comfortable with our affliction that we choose not to give it up.
This blog is mostly about Africa and missions, so let me give you an example from that vein. I will shortly be going back to Kibera, Kenya. I’ve been to a lot of places in Africa that seem hopeless, but Kibera is possibly the worst. The filth alone is enough to completely overwhelm. People live (and I use that word loosely) on less than two dollars a day. Disease is rampant. Sewage runs between all the shacks. Children are abandoned during the day as mothers go out looking for work. There are constant fires because of electrical shorts from spliced wiring as people steal electricity from neighbors. Garbage has literally formed layers like a geological feature that you can see from the past hundred years. When you ask people what they have hope for, they literally come up with nothing because hope is a distant relative that died a long time ago. For some people poverty is a temporary thing; a temporary setback until they are able to get back on their feet. Kibera’s poverty is something much worse. It’s poverty that is over 100 years old. It’s no longer simply a lack of resources, it’s now a pervading state of mind. It’s old, generational poverty.
Many people living in Kibera do not have what it takes to extricate themselves from the slum, but some do. These are probably the saddest cases, because they have made an agreement that Kibera, as bad as it is, is ok. The first time I was in Kibera, after about forty five minutes, I literally felt like I needed to get out. From that point to being so comfortable with it that you decide not to leave even if you can is almost unfathomable to me.
Now, I’m going to preface my next statements by saying that I have a real problem with prosperity doctrine, which is unfortunately popular both in the United States and Kenya. It teaches basically that if you have enough faith, God will bless you and make you rich. I could go on for an entire blog about how this is wrong both scripturally and in the real world, but I won’t. While I don’t believe it is God’s intention to make us rich, I do believe he cares for us as his own children, which we are. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. ““Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11: 11-13
The bible frequently talks about how we will suffer along with Christ if we follow him, but if we realize that we are beloved children of God, when he sends the opportunity to be freed from bondage and suffering, it hardly makes sense to then say, “No, that’s ok. I’m good”. While we are called to suffer with Christ, we are not called to make agreements with the devil simply for the sake of taking on suffering. “My marriage is bad, but it’s ok.” “I live in filth, but it’s ok.” “My children are starving, but that’s just life.” These are all agreements from the pit of hell. Something I have been learning is that I don’t pray big enough. I pray for something but cut short the full extent of what I need, or the needs of someone I’m praying for. When you realize you’re praying to an infinite God, it suddenly seem stupid to put limitations on your prayers. I met an Ethiopian pastor recently who said “I always pray for something, then double it.” He’s not praying for riches, he’s praying for the lost to be saved, for the captives to be set free, and for a bit of God’s kingdom to show up here on Earth. The first step in that process is to stop accepting the physical, spiritual, and mental squalor that we have agreed to live in.
Last time I was in Kenya, I was in a car with my wife and two of the Kenyans who are our good friends. As we neared the edge of Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, our car was stopped by two men who had placed a large rock in the road. Their “business” if you will, was to put a rock in the road and demand money from people as they drove by before they would remove it. What they got instead was a stern talking to from Jimmy, who had given up a fairly comfortable life to live in the slum.
I have to admit, I’m quite angry right now. One of our friends from the United States is currently helping Jimmy in Kibera. There is a small library there, and it’s not much to look at, but it gives kids who would normally be abandoned during the day a place to go. Outside the library is a festering cesspool of human waste that runs between the library and the next building. Yesterday Jimmy, our American friend, and a group of willing people built a platform over that gully, not just to cover the filth, but to create a small area for kids to sell goods so they can support themselves. On the first day, the children took in about $30, which is quite an accomplishment considering most people live here on $2 a day. It gave the kids a way to learn initiative and self-respect, and keep them from selling drugs.
Over night, some people came and destroyed the bridge they had built, for no other reason than misery loves company. This is the incredible difficulty in poverty alleviation. I’ve seen this happen in Kenya. I’ve seen this happen in South Sudan. I’ve seen this happen on the Indian Reservations in the United States. The attitude is, “I’m Ok with misery and lack as long as you have misery and lack, too.” Confucius said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” The same can be said for envy. You can’t sabotage someone else’s work and expect that the same is not going to happen to you. That in a nutshell is why Kibera still exists. The unfortunate and politically incorrect truth is that no rich man is needed to hold down the poor. Given the opportunity, the poor man will do it himself. This is why it is impossible to separate the spiritual from poverty alleviation. Poverty is rarely just a lack of resources. It may start as a lack of resources, but quickly turns into poverty of spirit. That’s why it is so hard to lift a community from poverty once they’re there. This is the fundamental flaw in western understanding of poverty.
A couple months ago, I was watching the news. Some member of a European royal family (which one I don’t remember) was in Africa with a large entourage and a film crew and reporters. This royal was touring a village and looking around at the poverty. He was interviewed by one of the reporters, and asked what he thought should be done. The royal responded, “They just need resources. They’re not getting the resources they need.” All I could do was sit and shake my head. It wasn’t the resources that were the problem, it was the poverty of spirit that keeps people poor even when the resources are there. You can give a man in the slums fifty dollars, and for some rare individuals he’ll take it and start a business. But more likely than that is that he’ll take it and get drunk, then come home and beat his wife. This is the harsh reality of the slum. That’s why Kibera has been there for over 100 years. This member of the royal family’s heart was in the right place, but the understanding is not there. He’ll go back to Downton Abbey, and probably raise a bunch of money that will be sent back to this community. In ten years, there will be no sign that he was ever there.
What the slums need is people who are committed for the long haul. People who realize that change comes slowly, one person at a time, through personal sacrifice. What the slums need is leadership from within, not the white man to come from outside and fix all the black man’s problems. The slums need partners who will identify and empower the people and the human resources that already exist there. The slums need Godly men and women who are willing to sacrifice personally so that others won’t have to, and to be examples to people who wish ill to anyone who wants the slum to become a better place. This is all a lot harder than throwing money at the slum. I wish I could convey this concept to anyone who hasn’t been to Africa, but unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. After my first trip to Africa, I knew in my knower that you could throw all of the worlds financial resources at Africa, and if that’s all that was done it would bankrupt the whole world. If you’ve ever thought about traveling and seeing the world, I want to encourage you in the strongest possible way, to go and see the developing world. Go the the slums. Go see what most of the world lives like. It will give you an understanding of the world, and an understanding of yourself that you didn’t even know you lacked.
For now, all I can do is pray for our friends in Kibera that they will have the fortitude to start over. I will also pray for those that put rocks in the road and destroy other people’s work, that God will break through to them and show them that all they’ve done is hurt their own communities and themselves. I’ll pray for those that think that tearing someone else down somehow lifts them up. But tonight I’m just sad and angry.
I’m not even sure where to start today, and I’m going to apologize in advance for what may seem a disjointed blog. I am attempting to take many seemingly unrelated events and bring them together.
A year ago, I was just leaving for South Sudan. Little did I know at that time that a series of events would transpire that would touch so many lives. My fourth trip to South Sudan set off one of the most difficult times of my life. I’m not going to get into the details of it, but after coming back, I found myself, along with two other couples who had traveled with me, in the impossible situation of being rendered completely ineffective in our ministry. The option was always there to stay where we were, to remain in effect comfortable and useless. We chose not to do that though, and shortly thereafter we were in a brand new church, with vision for what might be, but with no tools in our hands.
Let’s move across the world to Kenya around 1992, where a boy named Jimmy had just watched his sister die of starvation in his mother’s arms. That event caused his mother to go and find help for the family….any help. She found Compassion International, and was able to get Jimmy sponsored by a twenty year old man who was a new Christian. His sponsorship made it possible for Jimmy to have enough food and to get an education, which eventually led him to a college education at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Realizing by that age what that sponsorship had meant in his own life, he decided to stand in the gap and sponsored a child in Haiti so that that child wouldn’t have to go through the same thing he did. His experience with Compassion International also brought him to a conference called Catalyst in 2009, where he told of his experiences, and then, to his surprise, to meet the man who had sponsored him all those years. I have a link below to the video of that event. I will warn you. Have tissues ready if you’re going to watch it. It’s one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. Two thousand more children were sponsored that night.
Let’s move to summer of 2014, where one of the couples who moved churches with us was at an arts conference in Atlanta. They met another Kenyan there named Njenga who was also promoting Compassion International. This couple had a heart to do missions in Kenya, specifically the slums of Kibera, which is one of the most difficult places I’ve been. So they asked Njenga who they should talk to about getting into Kibera, and he connected them with Jimmy. Our friends wanted to introduce their two teenage boys to missions, so they planned a trip to Kenya. There they met with Jimmy, who took them into the slums of Kibera and showed them that even though lots of organizations say they have a presence in Kibera, most come and take a look at what is happening once a year and other than that have no actual presence there. Jimmy chose to live in the slum for four months even though he didn’t have to, and spent that time looking for who was being faithful with the little they had. He found that parents would leave for the entire day to go and find help or to go work, and their children were either completely unattended or left in what I hesitate to call a daycare, where they were not held or attended to. So he searched for people in the slum who had a heart for the children. One day, he made an unscheduled stop at a place that was not on his list. Jimmy walked into a daycare run by a pastor named Obedi and his wife. As Jimmy walked through the door, Obedi had one small child in each arm and was praying over both of them. He knew at this point that this was the man he needed to work with. He was loving on those children, and being faithful before anyone showed up, before anyone had offered him a dime.
Four weeks after our friends visited Kenya, I had the chance to meet Njenga and Jimmy and Obedi in Nairobi. I always have a full schedule in September, but this year I didn’t, so I figured God was telling me it was time to take a trip. I had planned a trip with my wife for our twentieth anniversary. So I asked her where she wanted to go. We could have gone anywhere. But despite the fact that she had never left the North American continent, she said she wanted to go to Kenya. I’m still not sure how that answer came about.
So here is where it all comes together. Jimmy is getting married next week in the United States. He was able to come to our church and speak to our congregation. He’s spoken to 35 churches in the past, and none have offered to partner with him with his vision for children in the slums of Kenya. It so happened that my pastor and some of the staff were at Catalyst in 2009 and saw Jimmy speak, but until this week they didn’t know that he was the same man invited to come speak at our church. I watched today as a church came together in a single vision to advance God’s kingdom; to do what God said is holy and acceptable in his sight, to “help the widows and orphans in their distress.” I watched people put themselves aside, to offer themselves, their time, and their finances in an incredible way. He put the right people in the right place at the right time.
Had that initial difficult situation not happened, or if our friends had chosen to just stay comfortable, this never would have happened. Had Jimmy’s sister not died and his mother went for help, this never would have happened. If Jimmy didn’t go to school in the United States, this never would have happened. There is now the chance to help literally thousands of people in places so poor, most Americans literally have no comprehension of it. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This is not just idle words. God took difficult and terrible situations and used them for His good and for our good. The first team will be going to Kenya in January of this coming year. I leave for Ethiopia in two weeks. God took the work we were doing in South Sudan and is now expanding it to all of East Africa. To think, I wondered if my time doing missions work was over. I’ve heard the question asked, “what is God’s reward for faithfulness in doing His work”? The answer is more work, and I am great with that. I have not even begun to list the “coincidences” that brought all this together, or the ones I can’t talk about. I am certain that there are many others that I am unaware of. The point is, there are no coincidences with God. I have never been so excited to see what He is doing as I am now.
The video below is eight minutes, but believe me, well worth it.
My wife is asleep as I write this, the victim of an exhausting day compounded by jetlag. We spent our first day in Kenya in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi and the third largest in Africa I believe. I was here four years ago, and to be quite honest, I was not looking forward to coming back. Four years ago, we did little more than tour through it. If you see Kibera that way, you will get a sense of little more than hopelessness, poverty, and gut-wrenching filth. Many people who live in Nairobi have never been to Kibera, preferring to act like it does not exist. This is where the poorest of the poor live, because you can rent a ten by ten foot shack for about ten dollars a month.
But today I saw new things. Walking through the winding maze of alleys between cardboard and plywood sided shacks, we came to a place where a pastor watches people’s children so that the parents can go to work during the day and not wonder what is happening to their children in a place where physical and sexual abuse are common. He teaches them songs, and engages their minds through teaching that these children would not normally be getting. He sets them on a path to learning from infants up to about age six because without that start, they’re finding that the children from Kibera who do go to school are already behind by the start of kindergarten, having missed out on the basic skills other children learn from their parents by age three. He is cutting off the developmental disability, victim mentality, lack of reasoning skills, and feeling of hopelessness that pervades this place.
As my friend Jimmy pointed out, people believe there is nothing they can do for so long, that the mentality becomes the thing holding them back even when there is a way. It’s like the donkey who stands where he is because he’s tied to a plastic chair. Today I saw hope where I saw none before, and came out with a much greater understanding of where poverty comes from. Today I had little to teach and very much to learn. There was much more to this day, but too much for one post. I will have to ponder a lot of it as well before coming to conclusions worth writing down.
On one last note, to prove that truth is stranger than fiction, today I shot a music video in Kibera for a local rap artist who grew up in the slum.