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Eleven

I have now been back from Ethiopia for about twelve days. For anyone who has ever been concerned about getting sick in Africa, don’t be. If you’re going to get sick, it’s going to be on the plane either going or coming back. I managed to stay healthy for the entire trip despite lack of sleep, but two days after getting back, I came down with a persistent cough that I’m just now getting the better of. I have a very hard time sleeping on planes, so I often find myself awake for up to 48 hours. This tends to run me down, and it’s at that point that I get sick.

Nevertheless, I’ve been asked to go back to Ethiopia, and in only three and a half weeks. I have, some would say, foolishly agreed to do so. This will be my eleventh trip to Africa and the third in this calendar year. I believe though, in what’s going on over there. We are seeing the gospel spread, and we’re seeing tangible results in the quality of life in those we’re in relationship with. I will be going over there to document the opening of the Tesfa Center, a center for job development and training for destitute widows and their children. It will, God willing, be finished by the time I get there, and there will be a grand opening with the local community and dignitaries in attendance. So I will get over this cough, shoot a few weddings, and get right back on a plane in a few weeks. As Reinhardt Bonnke said, “God’s reward for good work is more work.”

Until I have more to write about, I’m going to leave you with some shots of the beauty of Ethiopia, all taken on this last trip that just ended.  Feel free to subscribe if you’d like to follow this blog.

Children celebrating the Ethiopian New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the special needs children we’re working with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ah, the wet season in the Ethiopian highlands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking through the field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethiopian horsemen drive pack animals in rural Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farms and houses in the mountains of Ethiopia
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The New Wallpaper.

A widow looks past the new wallpaper towards the window in Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Back In Addis Ababa.

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. 

Evacuating To Ethiopia.

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.”

More soon as I expect amazing things.

My Semi-Annual Test Blog

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. 

Ten

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.

The region we are going to in Ethiopia

Social Systems Are Like Tofu.

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 are bound;” (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.

The May Show And Tell.

Normally I don’t put two photography-only blogs nearly back to back. However, there were simply too many pictures from the last trip to include in my April post, so here is another. Plus, my thoughts on other subjects are still ruminating. So rather than work on getting my  disheveled thoughts into a proper order, I’ve decided to be lazy and put pictures up instead. Judging by the number of people that look at my blog when it’s only pictures, that seems to be what people want anyway. So here are more pictures from my trip to Ethiopia last month.

The spice market in Harar, Ethiopia. If you ever get the chance to go to Harar, definitely go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grinding coffee the old-fashioned way, with a wooden mortar and an iron bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silvest posing for the camera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The goat was not amused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horse cart is a frequent means of transport for people and goods in Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The narrow passageways of the ancient city of Harar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If my kids complain about how hard they have to work….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Khat market in Awaday, pronounced “I will die.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fun moment between father and daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The toothbrush seller. You buy a stick to brush your teeth with for about 4 cents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One more shot from inside the walled city of Harar.

What Did You Come Out Here To See?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve now been back from Ethiopia for about three weeks. I’ve had time to go through the pictures, and more importantly, I’ve been able to go through some of the hours of interviews I took of Ethiopians who are going out into the villages and towns in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. They are telling others about their faith and are suffering alienation from their families, physical violence against them, and some are paying the ultimate sacrifice. And yet they continue, because they know that God is worth it. They are seeing people freed from addictions and all kinds of things that destroy lives, and they’re seeing their communities changed because of it.

It’s very hard for me to convey what the gospel means to these people when I come back to the United States. We often have a very different view of what the gospel is in the United States. Just as in many areas where Christianity has been introduced, they have combined Christianity with their traditional beliefs, so we in the United States have largely combined Christianity with other beliefs. We combine our faith with politics, or with hedonism, or with capitalism, or any number of other beliefs. If we’re honest about it, these other beliefs often take precedence over our faith, and we end up changing our faith to fit these other beliefs rather than the other way around.

There’s a scripture that’s puzzled me since I first read it, and only since this last trip to Ethiopia am I beginning to understand it. It’s from Matthew 11, and in it, Jesus is looking at the crowds who had come out to see John The Baptist, and now that John was in prison, Jesus was addressing them. You have to understand that there was a large crowd of people out in the desert. He asks them, “What did you come out here to see?” He goes on to speak about John’s ministry that had started only about a year before. The verse that puzzled me was this one; “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  What did Jesus mean by “the violent take it by force?”  Were John’s disciples violent? The answer is no. What Jesus was talking about was a descriptive picture of the crowds that had come out to the desert. They resembled an army besieging a city. They pressed in on all sides and would let nothing stand between themselves and John’s message, which was that the Kingdom of God is at hand. They were hungry for God’s Kingdom, as if they had been waiting since the beginning of the world for the message that was now before them. Truthfully, they had been waiting that long. They were taking hold of that message of salvation and repentance and the coming of God’s Kingdom as if, if they lessened their grip just a little, it would be gone.

It was only as I interviewed these Ethiopian pastors that I began to understand this scripture. The Kingdom of God belongs to people who turn their whole hearts toward it, who are willing to completely give up their old lives and take hold of it with a fervor that nothing can break. To reiterate his point, Jesus goes on to say,

“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions,  and saying:

‘We played the flute for you,
    And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
    And you did not lament.’

 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”

Jesus was referring to the current religious generation, who heard the voice of the prophets, but were untouched by the message. They were so sure of themselves that when God and the prophets finally came, they saw only something to criticize. It is also what is referred to in 2 Timothy 3 “always learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

As I go through hours of video, I am planning to put together a longer video of the testimonies of several people. Their stories are unique, but remarkably similar in that each of them has given all for God.

 

 

75 Cent Shiro And Priceless Conversation.

Coffee doesn’t come any blacker than this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been back from Ethiopia for a week and a half now. I’ve finally recovered from jet lag. My work on the photos is largely done, and now I’m going through hours of video. I spent the better part of a week with 150 people who live their faith in the same way the early church lived their faith. These men and women are living in some of the most dangerous places and are literally putting their lives on the line for their faith. I met people who have been beaten and stabbed, lost their jobs and families, and still find Jesus to be who he said he was and consequently worth everything they’ve gone through.

I shot video of some of the most incredible interviews you could imagine, some of which had to be shot in silhouette to hide their identity. I thought the stories of the early church were good, but some of what I heard was better. You’d think then that the interviews would be the highlight of my week, but they weren’t.

During lunch each day the team I was with would walk back to our hotel and have lunch at the hotel restaurant. One day I decided to instead go across the street to a vendor who had been cooking a pot full of something that at the time I could not identify. Generally I would go across to her spot (there was no stall,) and have buna, or really strong coffee served in a small cup. As I sipped my buna earlier that morning and watched her cook, I decided to have lunch there instead. Now before you tell me that it’s foolish to eat street food in Ethiopia, I’m just going to say that just because the kitchen is in a hotel doesn’t mean it’s any cleaner than the street food. Plus, I’d been able to actually watch her cook, and I was comfortable with it.

As I walked over with a couple friends I’d traveled with, I realized that the place I would be having lunch was where the indigenous church planters we’d been ministering to were also having lunch. There were probably about thirty people all sitting together on plastic stools at low tables having what turned out to be shiro with either injera bread or baguette. Shiro is boiled bean flour mixed with water, berbere spice, garlic, and rosemary and boiled until it’s the consistency of thick soup. You then sop it up with the bread. Flavor wise, it was one of the better meals I had in Ethiopia. But flavor isn’t all there is to lunch.

The church planters made room for us at a very small table and through our translator, we began to get to know each other in a way that hadn’t been possible in the more formal setting we’d generally seen them in.

Before I left for Ethiopia, a friend of mine had told me that God felt he had a message for us as we were going. That message was that a lot of these men and women were having such difficulty that they were thinking of giving up. He said our presence would be very important, because it would help the Ethiopians know that they are not alone.

As I sat telling and listening to stories, they conveyed to us how incredibly important our presence was to them. They let us know just how much it meant to them that we’d come all this way to teach and encourage them. They said that because we had come, they would go and do even more. By having lunch with them, we were able to connect on a deeper level. No longer just teachers and pastors and students, we prayed for each other and become brothers and sisters bearing each others’ burdens. Lunch cost about $2 for the three of us, including tea, but I can’t put a price on the connection we all made that day.

We had lunch there the next day as well. When I go back to Ethiopia again, I will make a point to eat with the church planters again. The hotel restaurant may have more than one thing on the menu, but it can never match the company.

Lunch with the church planters.