Tag Archives: prayer

The Importance Of The Team Back Home.

The tickets are in hand. Connections are being made. Everything seems to be coming together. I leave for Ethiopia a month from today. This will be my second trip to Ethiopia, and my seventh trip to Africa in the last five years. In fact, it’s my third trip to Africa in the last eight months. It’s probably not a sustainable pace, but it’s how things have been laid out for me at this time. This trip came together probably more easily than any previous trip. The time was available even though it shouldn’t have been, I had the support of my wife and family, and the funds practically showed up on their own. It’s clear I’m supposed to go.

There are times when I’ve got a lot ruminating in my mind, when I have a concept I’ve been thinking about that I just need to put down in writing. Those times seem to get farther and farther apart when the time starts running short before my next trip though. Regular followers may notice that my blog posts have become more infrequent. The fact is that as a trip draws near, there is less reflection time and more nuts and bolts time. Both physically and spiritually, it becomes nuts and bolts. Are my shots in order? Are the funds all there? Is my photography equipment sufficient and in working order? Is my heart in the right place? Is my family in a stable place where I can be gone for a while? How is the security situation on the ground we where I’ll be going? It’s all nuts and bolts.  Furthermore, spiritually speaking, difficulty always seems to make itself known shortly before I leave. Frequently it’s not directly with me, but it may be all around me. These are the reasons I originally started writing this blog, not because it may be interesting to the reader, but because I simply needed to sort it out for myself.

For myself, my life has been good. I can honestly say that for myself I have no complaints. It’s what goes on around me that’s disturbing. It’s as if I’m dealing with a spoiled child who has a grudge against me. He has no way of hurting me, so he just starts breaking everything within reach. That spoiled child’s name is Satan, and this kind of thing frequently happens just before I leave on a missionary trip. Everything within arms length is great, but the chaos that goes on just outside of my grasp, though it doesn’t hurt me directly, still effects my spirit, particularly when it’s loved ones that are struggling.  The verses in Psalm 91 are brought to mind.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

This I declare about the LORD:

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

he is my God, and I trust him.

For he will rescue you from every trap

and protect you from deadly disease.

He will cover you with his feathers.

He will shelter you with his wings.

His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,

nor the arrow that flies in the day.

Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,

nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

Though a thousand fall at your side,

though ten thousand are dying around you,

these evils will not touch you.”

The comfort for me is knowing that when your enemy gets desperate, he’s usually about to lose. This is why prayer is so important, both for me and for the support team. It’s not just a trite request that people pray for you when you’re gone. It’s the most important role the people staying home can have; equally important to the role of the one going. So for those who will, please pray for those going, for those who are already there, and for the families of those who are going. It’s really important. Let the spoiled child be revealed for what he is.

The hands of a Sudanese man in prayer.
The hand of a Sudanese man in prayer.
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To The Uttermost Parts Of The Earth.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere–in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These words of Jesus were the last he spoke before he was taken up to Heaven. I am blessed to have been able to go many times now to the uttermost parts of the earth. Tomorrow I will buy airline tickets, and soon I will go to even more uttermost parts than last time. I won’t be specific as to where yet, but I will be in  Ethiopia again.

Some people say they don’t hear God’s voice. I have to say that I do. Sometimes it’s in the form of thoughts that I know in my knower are the truth. Other times it’s in the voice of someone else, or in dreams, or in things that I read. There are many ways God can speak if you’re listening. But you do have to put away all the busyness of the world around, let the distractions go, and listen for that voice that comes when you’re paying attention.  I spoke with God recently, and my first question was, “Lord, am I supposed to go back to Ethiopia?” As soon I asked the question I felt a bit foolish, not because I asked it, but because I asked a question that, had I been thinking about it, I would have already known the answer. The answer I got was, “I have given you many opportunities now; I’ve given you a passion for this, and a passion for people and the gospel. Most of your funds are raised even before you started trying to raise them. I’ve cleared your schedule at the specific time you would need to go. I’ve given you a wife who is supportive of you in all these things. Do you really need to keep asking if you’re supposed to go? I’ll tell you when you’re NOT supposed to go.

I’m excited for this trip. Frankly I’ve been excited about all of them except for one, but that’s another story. We’ll be covering some new territory, but also some familiar, and building on the relationships we’ve already established. All the while I will be documenting again, so there will be plenty of pictures. I won’t be specific on places and times until I’m already there, but I will be putting my thoughts down all the while, even if I don’t publish them until later. I learn more about myself than I do about Africa every time I go. I expect this time to be no different, and look forward to sharing what I’ve learned.

The sun rising over the crosses of an Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa.
The sun rising over the crosses of an Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa.

Does God Hate Me?

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”  James 1:2-4  SERIOUSLY???

 

Ten years ago, I was selling investments and insurance. I didn’t enjoy what I did, but I was good at it, and I was honest. Surely this was good enough for reward in God’s eyes. Then things started to turn. The economy turned, and I was working twice as hard for half as much money. I watched as dishonest people reaped the cash, while I struggled to pay the bills.  I had a new baby, but he literally never slept. Never. He would sleep for an hour and a half at night, then take forty minutes to get back to sleep. Rinse and repeat.  This happened every night for nine months. The next child was nearly the same. I was thinking of running for city council, so I asked God whether I should or shouldn’t. His answer was, “whether you do or not, I’ll bless you.” Then my mother died. Funny how God humors you when you’re asking the answer to an irrelevant question. 

Between the constant failure in business and the chronic lack of sleep, I actually began to wonder if God hated me. After all, “Delight yourself also in the LORD: and he shall give you the desires of your heart.” Certainly I was delighting in the Lord, but not really. I was asking God to bless the things I was doing, but never bothering to ask what it was He wanted me to do. There’s a difference. What I was doing wasn’t bad. But sometimes we need to trade what is good for what is best. I was secure in my job, but as I said before, I didn’t enjoy it. I am not the kind of person who drives a Lincoln, or golfs (I have never golfed), or quotes Zig Ziglar. In fact my stomach turns a little when I think of that. But I was secure, and it was going to take some serious discomfort to get me out of that.

As I said, my mother died. That was the last straw, and ironically, it was during that time that I realized God didn’t hate me. I had to travel 2000 miles to get to her funeral, and it allowed me to get far enough away for long enough that I was able to really start thinking about the state of my life and the things I was doing. God gave me skills with photography, not insurance. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should be doing it. I was trading the skills God gave me for the skills He didn’t give me. I wasn’t blessed because the desires of my heart were not God’s desires. Rather, I hoped that His desires were mine. They were quite backwards. (See the last blog, “And Please Give Me a Million Dollars and Huge Pectoral Muscles”.

Fast forward ten years. God has given me amazing opportunities, and I’m using the skills He gave me, and they have taken me places I never, and I mean never, would have imagined. I’ve been published in national newspapers, and had the cover of the Washington Post. My weddings have been published more times than I can count, and I’ve taken pictures of famous people in my studio.  I’ve been to South Sudan, Kenya, and soon Ethiopia. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. God didn’t hate me. He just needed to make it so difficult that He could pry me out of my self-made misery. I’m thankful for that now.  Here’s a few of my favorite pictures that I never would have taken if I didn’t listen.

Tom Berenger in my studio.
Tom Berenger in my studio.
Infrared photograph of a live oak, 180 degree infrared panorama.
Infrared photograph of a live oak, 180 degree infrared panorama.
Old Woman in South Sudan
Old Woman in South Sudan

landman-513sm

Lighting striking over bridge and water
Lighting striking over bridge and water

Praying That The Truck Stalls.

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b

Prayer has been on mind mind today, in particular in regards to some of the situations I’ve been in when traveling in South Sudan. One particular instance comes to mind. I was traveling in the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser with two other missionaries and several natives, going from the town of Bor to a village about three hours north called Liliir. The seasonal rains had run long that year, and there were huge sections of road that were virtually impassible. When I say virtually impassible, what I mean is that some vehicles made it, and some did not. We passed many vehicles that were stuck deeper than the wheels in mud, and were being unloaded to take the weight off so hopefully they could be moved. I remember one that had its rear axle sitting behind it, and was clearly not going to be going anywhere. I have a picture I took of one of those vehicles as we passed.

Toyota being unloaded to try to get it out of the mud, South Sudan.
Toyota being unloaded to try to get it out of the mud, South Sudan.

 

So now, knowing the situation, you would think that our driver would take the utmost care to avoid those kinds of situations on the way back from the village that evening. You would think wrong. He apparently had a terminal case of denial, and as we came to this very spot where only six hours before we had seen the above vehicle stuck, he decided to go through that very same spot rather than go the route we knew was safe. The thing about traveling in South Sudan is that you really don’t want to be doing it at night, and getting stuck would have put us in that situation.  Just for reference, since I’m unable to get the travel warning we were under at the time, I’m just posting the current one from the Dept. of State. ”

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Republic of South Sudan.  After review of our security conditions, the U.S. Department of State lifted the ordered departure status for the U.S. Embassy in Juba on June 12, 2014.  However, as a result of continued instability and a poor security situation resulting from the civil conflict which erupted in the country in December 2013, the U.S. Embassy will continue operating at reduced staffing levels for the foreseeable future.  The U.S. Embassy is therefore only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Republic of South Sudan.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on April 23, 2014.”

So you can see now why we wouldn’t want to be stuck out at night with no way to get back.  Despite our loud objections, our driver tried to put the vehicle into four wheel drive low, and descend into the muck. What he didn’t know, though, was that we had a team of people praying for us back home.

As our driver tried to put the vehicle into four wheel low, the engine stalled. He started it back up, tried to put it back into four wheel low, and stalled it again. This happened three or four times. Finally, he gave up, backed up the vehicle, and drove to the route we had come through that morning. As he got to the crossing, he dropped the vehicle into four wheel low gear with no trouble and no stalling, and crossed easily.

It’s situations like this that make you realize the difference between tourism and missions. It’s not the place you are going that makes the difference, it’s the spiritual currents that are running just below the surface. Is what you’re doing moving things in the spiritual realm? If they are, you are going to face opposition, and this is why those who are still at home in prayer are just as important if not more so than those who actually go. I will probably go into other situations where this was very apparent at a later time.  For now though, the subject of prayer is forefront on my mind as some of my friends are currently on their way to Kenya, some of them for the first time. Also, in the next three months, I’ll be going to Kenya as well, and then to Ethiopia. More on that later.

From starving to strong.

I haven’t been able to post in several days. I have a number of thing written, and will be posting them as I can. They will be out of order for the most part, so don’t let the order of events confuse you.

Today was a really good day. I will probably write several posts about today, but for now I am only going to focus on a couple things. This is now my fourth time in South Sudan. My second trip was exceptionally hard for a number of reasons. It was shortly after the referendum passed and South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. There had been electricity in the air before the referendum, because everyone was excited about gaining their freedom. The second time I went, independence had been gained, but the hard realities had set in. Independence meant that first you had to learn how to be independent, and conditions had deteriorated since my first visit.
Part of this deterioration can be seen in a video I shot, which I may or may not be able to post depending on where impost from. I met a little girl holding her starving, sick sister. I rubbed her head with my hand, and she was burning hot.
I had tears in my eyes as I prayed for her, and I was certain she would die soon. On my third trip, I didn’t see her.
Today, despite my lack of faith when I prayed for her, I saw her in church. She was still being held by her sister, but this time it wasn’t because she had to be. She was healthy and strong. Praise God!

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