Tag Archives: world events

When The Mission Gets Cancelled.

Ethiopian Orthodox church backlit by morning sun rays in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopian Orthodox church backlit by morning sun rays in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I wrote in my last blog, I am supposed to be leaving for Ethiopia in just a matter of days. Well, as of now, that is not happening. I received an email at the last minute that threw our idea of the current situation into question. Reports had been conflicting for some time depending on the source they came from. (This is a subject for another blog entirely.)

For those who don’t know, Ethiopia has been in turmoil for a number of months now. The very simple (perhaps simplistic) version of a complicated situation is that Ethiopia is ruled in large part by the Amhara. The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group within Ethiopia. Disagreements between the Amhara and the Oromo have recently come to a head over a plan to expand the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, which would displace Oromo farmers. Tensions have grown, and now there are protests happening thoughout the country, with many turning violent. Protestors have begun attacking foreign interests because this will directly affect the bottom line of the government. With this in mind, at the last minute our trip was cancelled.

Now, I’ve had trips delayed for a couple weeks before, but this puts it off at least until the next scheduled trip in March, if things improve. I was disappointed by this, but also relieved at the same time. I’ve been watching the situation get worse for a number of weeks, and was wondering how effective I’d be able to work even if I did go. I know personally that a lot of other people are disappointed as well.

But after getting past the disappointment, I had to go back to thinking about why. Why would timing be such for this to happen this way? What do we do now?  For the first question I would simply say that it’s better to find out now than when you’re already there. Also, I don’t mind there being a certain level of danger when traveling, but there’s nothing virtuous about going into a dangerous situation when you can avoid it by simply waiting.

For the second question, “what do we do now?” I want to go to Acts 16. Paul was traveling East through Europe toward what is now Turkey.  “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia,having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

It’s easy when something like this happens to simply throw up your hands and say, “well that’s it then!” Why Paul was prevented from entering Asia we don’t know, but when prevented he didn’t just give up. He waited for God to tell him what to do and redirected. Paul eventually did make it to Asia, but not then. It would be easy to just sit around being discouraged, but that is not what God wants us to do. This is our opportunity to seek God and ask what it is He wants us to do now. Doing nothing but being discouraged is not it. If we are the kind of people who held a ticket to Ethiopia because of our faith, then we are people of action. Not being in motion is not in our character. So take a day if you must, but then get to action, because it’s likely there is something else God wants you to do, if you just ask Him to direct you.

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I Didn’t See Anything…

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My wife made an interesting observation recently about censorship, and how nations use it to control their people. She noted that most of the nations that censor their media and internet, like China, North Korea, and a number of Arab nations, do so because they know that if the word got out that much of the world was such a great place to live, they’d never be able to keep people within their own borders. You look at the blind, maniacal loyalty displayed in North Korea (at least on the outside), and it only exists through a combination of fear and the kind of propaganda that only can exist if the flow of information is tightly controlled. Which begs the questions, “so what’s our excuse?”

Do I mean that our government censors the information we receive about other nations and cultures? No. They don’t have to, because we do it ourselves. The average American has no idea what the rest of the world is like. We don’t watch international news, learn other languages, or travel. When we do travel, we go to resorts where we won’t have to mingle with the indigenous populations. We are not generally taught geography after the seventh grade. According to National Geographic, half of American 18-24 year olds can’t find New York on a map, which is in their own country. One third can’t tell you which direction northwest is on a map. Three quarters think that English is the most commonly spoken native language in the world. Only half could find India on a map.

So why all the self-censorship? I believe it’s the repeated mantra that America is the greatest country in the world. Is it? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. It depends on what standards you are basing your assumptions.

When I was in my twenties, I mountain biked with one or two friends quite frequently. Compared to them, I was quite fast, so I decided to start racing. I entered my first race in the intermediate category, thinking I was too good for the beginners. Well, I came in dead last by a long margin. It wasn’t until I actually raced against people who were serious about it that I found out where the bar had been set. Only someone with a lot of arrogance or a self-proclaimed idiot declares themselves the best at something when they don’t even know what standard that statement is based on. I was probably a bit of both, and I had to be both educated and humbled by those that actually were the greatest. It was only at that point that I really started to improve and start winning some races.

Thinking we’re the greatest as a nation is potentially more damaging to ourselves and the world. On one hand, without knowing anything about the world around us, we fail to see the needs of the world around us. On the other side of things, we also don’t see where other cultures or nations do things better than we do, and believe me, there are many areas where we are not first. By having this myopic, insular view we have lured ourselves into complacency for both the needs of the poor and our own improvement as a people. We have both no compassion for the world and no willingness to strive for what is better. We have willingly relegated ourselves to live in a cultural wasteland. We think that the rest of the world isn’t worth knowing about because we are better than them in every way, and we’re totally wrong.

People who think they have nothing to learn from anyone else are people who have willingly decided that they are going to stagnate. And stagnation is no recipe for greatness.

When I Picked God For My Kickball Team.

This blog is about missions, and about living a missional life. It’s also about photography, but not this time. The world is at a crossroads today; a turning point that has never been seen before, and a turning point that the church will either lead or fail miserably. The choice is entirely ours, but first we have to understand the choice.

I’m going to skip around history today to try to connect the dots. Let’s start with the great commission, the last words Jesus said before he ascended into heaven. “Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Many in the church seem to think this is optional today. We feel that the church is more about being on the right side of things; about defending territory that’s already won. In building on the last blog, many think openly that there is God’s team, and there is everybody else, especially Muslims. I am certain that many reading this blog feel that way. 

Let me go back to more than twelve centuries before the great commission. Joshua was about to lead his army into the promised land, and the attack on Jericho was coming close. A man (who turned out to be an angel) appeared in front of Joshua, and a very telling conversation happened.

“When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the LORD’s army.”

We have deluded ourselves today into thinking that God is on our side. I can assure you, He is not. The question is whether we are on His side. We are confusing God’s faithfulness with our own worthiness. The former is infinite. The latter doesn’t exist. It’s as if we think all the nations of the world got together for a kickball game, and we picked God on our team. God doesn’t play on our team. He is the whole game, and we exist for His glory, and not the other way around. We have deluded ourselves into thinking that He has blessed us with salvation because of something that we’ve done. The book of Romans is pretty explicit about this subject.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This takes away any idea that we are saved because of anything that we’ve done. We do what we do in the name of Christ because we have gratitude for what He did for us, and not because we fear we haven’t done enough. If we keep this attitude, the ideas of “Us” and “Them” suddenly disappear, and we realize that we are ALL fallen people, and we realize that we need to do what Jesus called us to do; to go to every part of the world and tell people what He did for us. Some preach, some teach, some do engage in humanitarian endeavors, some stay home to make it possible for others to go, and some use other skills. “What is in your hand?” is the question that God asked Moses. With that question, God used the staff that was in Moses hand to free his people. What is in your hand?

This brings us to the turning point the world has come to. Islam has always been a violent religion. Few people with a knowledge of history will dispute this. Lately though, radicalization has become even more pronounced. I believe this is an indication of the devil working harder because of an imminent defeat.

There are radical changes happening within the Muslim world. When we go into the Muslim world, we hear stories of Muslims having visions and dreams of Christ when they’ve never heard the gospel before. These are not unusual stories anymore. They are becoming more common. This is because the field is ready for harvest. The only reason Islam has had such a stranglehold on the area it has for the past fourteen hundred years is because of  a control of information. The penalty for reading a bible in many places has been, and continues to be, as severe as having your right hand shredded, or even execution. We live in a world now where it is getting harder and harder to control information. I have seen where my blog is read, in places like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and many other places where a lot of the information I write is considered forbidden.

This is a phenomenon that can’t be stopped. You can censor the internet, but you can’t do it completely. People who are questioning Islam now have access to the information that they never had before. The gospel is reaching the Muslim world, and the only one who can mess this up is……. The Church.

The Muslim world can not only see the Gospel, they can also see your attitudes about them. Every time someone posts an article about how Syrian refugees should stay home, or how Muslims are on the losing side and God is on our side, we display our arrogance and self-righteousness and the idea that somehow we are more deserving of salvation than they are. God is currently spreading His redemption to places where it hasn’t existed in a long time. I would not personally want to be the person who stood in the way of that. To conclude, I’d like to quote a parable of Jesus. I’d also like to point out that these parables were written down because the writer knew they would continue to apply to us, and not so we could look back at people in history and look down on them.

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Let’s go ahead and be glad if the Muslim world is exalted in the end, but let’s not find that we had to be humbled in the process.

A woman walks down the street in Harar, Islam's fourth holiest city.
A woman walks down the street in Harar, Islam’s fourth holiest city.

The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher.

When I was a small child, I remember my grandfather, who was born in 1910, telling me stories he’s heard over the course of his life. They were always riveting for me to listen to, because they were like nothing I heard elsewhere. I always assumed as a child that they were stories he’d made up, until as an adult I was able to find them on the internet. Many times they were old folk tales going back centuries. One of these was the story of the old woman and her little pig. This is how it goes.

ONCE there was an old woman found a sixpence while she was sweeping, and she took it to the village and bought a little pig with it. 

She got part way home, and she came to a stile, and the pig wouldn’t go over the stile. 

So she told her little dog to bite the pig, and he wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she came to a stick that was lying by the side of the road. And she said, “Stick, stick, beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the stick wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she came to a fire that was burning by the side of the road. And she said, “Fire, fire, burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the fire wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she came to a puddle of water in the road. And she said, “Water, water, quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the water wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she saw an ox standing in a field. And she said, “Ox, ox, drink water, water won’t quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.”

But the ox wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she came to a butcher standing in the door of his shop. And she said, “Butcher, butcher, kill ox, ox won’t drink water, water won’t quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the butcher wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she saw a rope tied to the limb of a tree. And she said, “Rope, rope, hang butcher, butcher won’t kill ox, ox won’t drink water, water won’t quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the rope wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she saw a rat. And she said, “Rat, rat, gnaw rope, rope won’t hang butcher, butcher won’t kill ox, ox won’t drink water, water won’t quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight, ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

The rat said, “I will if you give me a piece of cheese.” 

And the little old woman gave the rat a piece of cheese. 

So the rat began to gnaw the rope, and the rope began to hang the butcher, and the butcher began to kill the ox, and the ox began to drink the water, and the water began to quench the fire, and the fire began to burn the stick, and the stick began to beat the dog, and the dog began to bite the pig, and the pig began to jump over the stile, and the little old woman got home that night.

It’s a fun story, but what does it have to do with Africa or missions? Frankly, a lot. The preceding story is a lot like trying to get things done in Africa. You try to get something done, but there’s always someone waiting for someone else to do something first, who in turn is waiting for someone to do something else, and by the time you get to the end of the line, whatever it is you are trying to do never gets done. This finally gets to the rat, who had to be paid a bribe to do what rats normally do anyway, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

There are certain cultural things that need to be understood before we rush to judgement about why this is the way it is. Africans value family and time building relationships far more than cracking the whip and getting things done. There is nothing wrong with this, up to a point. We on the other hand, especially in New York where I’m from, value getting things done more than family or relationships, and many times are willing to sacrifice the latter for the former. This is not ok.

The other thing to understand is that many times the things we think are important to get done are not important to them. Just because westerners thought of it doesn’t make it better, and many times they see problems with what we’re trying to do that we don’t see. That’s why we go to Africa to learn as much as we go to teach. We help each other through our respective brokenness.

There are times, though, when we’re asked for help on a specific issue, and things just need to get done. Often there are volunteers who have donated their time and resources on this end of things who are waiting for something from the receiving end so they can do what they’ve been asked to do. Often these volunteers don’t understand the way things are done in the non-western world. Both those asking for help and the volunteer’s time needs to be valued. This way mutual respect can be shown to all parties, and the things that really need to get done can be finished.

The thing I’d like to see come out of the relationships we’ve built in Africa, and I say this with the utmost respect for all parties, is for many of the Africans to learn to be stewards with resources, and for the westerners to be better stewards with people and relationships. This way we can all grow.

She couldn't get that pig to jump over the stile.
She couldn’t get that pig to jump over the stile.

The Great Summary In Pictures

This is my 100th blog post on South Sudan Traveler, and what better way to celebrate it than with some of my favorite pictures of all time. Some you’ve seen in previous blog posts, but many others are brand new (at least to you). I think back to my first time going to South Sudan back in 2010, before it was its own country. I think back to how green I was, but fully aware that I am simply a different shade of green now. My perspectives have changed since that time, but thankfully I have the pictures to document how those perspectives changed. So please enjoy Africa as I’ve seen it over the last five years, from South Sudan to Kenya to Ethiopia. Soon I will have even more. All pictures can be clicked on for a bit larger view. Also, I am beginning to work on a book that will feature the unexpurgated version of Africa you don’t see in the brochure. More on that later.

The watchman in Ethiopia
The watchman in Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A boy looks in the window of a polling place shortly before independence in South Sudan.
A boy looks in the window of a polling place shortly before independence in South Sudan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making a mask out of bottle tops and an engine fan in South Sudan
Making a mask out of bottle tops and an engine fan in South Sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cattle drive.
The cattle drive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sudan-2637
The look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A South Sudanese pastor weeps in prayer as he prays that God would make him in private the man he claims to be in public.
A South Sudanese pastor weeps in prayer as he prays that God would make him in private the man he claims to be in public.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The girls at the reform school in Kenya
The girls at the reform school in Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linus, our sponsor child's grandfather, gives his respect as we leave.
Linus, our sponsor child’s grandfather, gives his respect as we leave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moon setting as dawn approaches in Ethiopia.
The moon setting as dawn approaches in Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

praying for a sick child.
praying for a sick child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting an Ethiopian widow in her home.
Visiting an Ethiopian widow in her home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little girl carries her sister in South Sudan
A little girl carries her sister in South Sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A woman in Ethiopia
A woman in Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baskets of fresh tea, Kimunye, Kenya
Baskets of fresh tea, Kimunye, Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women carrying thatch for a new roof in Torit, South Sudan.
Women carrying thatch for a new roof in Torit, South Sudan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An old woman in Liliir, South Sudan
An old woman in Liliir, South Sudan
Life in Gojo, Ethiopia
Life in Gojo, Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful village of Panwel, South Sudan
The beautiful village of Panwel, South Sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful Tabitha, who was tragically killed last year in South Sudan. We miss her.
The beautiful Tabitha, who was tragically killed last year in South Sudan. We miss her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful smile in Ethiopia.
Beautiful smile in Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ethiopian widow with her new calf.
The Ethiopian widow with her new calf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Maasai women near Bisil, Kenya.
Two Maasai women near Bisil, Kenya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing Africa For The First Time

The first time I saw Africa was not looking out the window as I flew into Nairobi. It wasn’t when I got off the plane in Jomo Kenyatta Airport late in the evening to the cool air and the smell of charcoal smoke. It wasn’t the next morning waking to the cawing of the large ibises that are ubiquitous to Kenya. It wasn’t even the next day when I stepped off the next plane into the suffocating heat of Juba, South Sudan. The first time I saw Africa was several days later.

In the book, “Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad writes of nineteenth century travelers, “Most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them-the ship… In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, and changing  immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance… A casual stroll or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the secret not worth knowing.”

I believe this to be the case as much today as it was in 1899. People like the idea of seeing another culture, but would rather do it as one looks at fish in a bowl. This is why cruises are so popular. Go to a new place every day, take the sanitized, expurgated tour designed to solidify preconceptions and stereotypes you came with, and at the end of the day be safely back within the insular confines of familiar comforts.

This is why the first time I saw Africa was several days after I got there. It was when everything familiar was left behind that I really saw Africa, and it was a day I will never forget. It was the day that I realized this was not a one time event, but something that was to become part of me. It was the day it occurred to me (because it hadn’t yet) that I would be back many times.

The day I’m referring to was about my fourth day in South Sudan. We originally had no plans to go where we ended up going, but the pastor we were there to visit arranged for us to go and visit his home village, about a three hour off-road drive from Bor, where we were staying. That day I saw things I never imagined I would see. The cattle herders herding cattle with horns so immense it’s hard to imagine how something could carry something that large. The grass fires rolling across the plains, set by people deliberately to renew the land with fresh grass for the next season. We met the chief of the village of Liliir, a man with three wives, seventeen children, and I’m not sure how many grandchildren. He had been the chief of this village of 60,000 for fifty years, and ruled not with an iron fist, but with wisdom and respect. I met a man who was 110 years old that day, and who could remember when the British colonialists came. His wife was much younger, and when I asked to take her picture, she hurried into her hut to put her best clothes on.  As we traveled back that day, by chance we came across a gathering of two cattle camps. They were there for South Sudan’s favorite sport, wrestling. We asked the driver if we could stop and watch, and the cattle camp got the first foreign audience they had probably ever seen. It was absolutely amazing.  That was the day I became immersed in the culture; where all the familiar was left behind and I was able to experience Africa as part of Africa, and not through the glass. It was a turning point for me, when the foreign became not so foreign, and my worldview changed. It was the reason I write this blog today, and the reason I’m going back to Africa in less than two months.

A cattle herder on the plains of South Sudan
A cattle herder on the plains of South Sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chief with one of his children and one of his grandchildren.
The chief with one of his children and one of his grandchildren.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khalei, 110 years old with his much younger wife.
Khalei, 110 years old with his much younger wife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grassfires near Liliir.
The grassfires near Liliir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The children gathered to watch wrestling.
The children gathered to watch wrestling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children starting the grassfires.
Children starting the grassfires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the more painful moments during wrestling.
One of the more painful moments during wrestling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrestling.
Wrestling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The elders gathered for the meeting with the chief.
The elders gathered for the meeting with the chief.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man in the village cleaning his prized but very old Kalashnikov.
A man in the village cleaning his prized but very old Kalashnikov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A beautiful woman with tribal scarification.
A beautiful woman with tribal scarification.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmy Buttons

I met James on my last trip to Kenya in September. He has an incredible heart for lost kids; kids estranged from their parents, kids in prison, kids estranged from God. He used to have his own television show in Kenya, but gave that up when he was presented with the ultimatum to either give up his show or give up ministering to lost kids. Here we might say we work on a shoestring budget. Jimmy has no permanent employment, and his budget is whatever God gives him through faith. This week James wrote about one of his recent trips, and his message really spoke to me, and it goes right with the spirit of this blog. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he asked him, “What is in your hand?”  Moses had a staff, and God used it in amazing ways.  In James’s hand are two sewing needles, a ball of string, a bible, and a pile of buttons.  Here is James’s message from this week.

“Are We There Yet?

As I prepare to leave for ministry with our girls, I keep thinking about my trip to Baragoi. That trip changed my life, the way I look at ministry and my personal plans. It was the best way to conclude a fruitful year of ministry in 2014.

I wake up everyday with the intention of bringing a smile to the faces of the children and young people we minister to and mentor. The recipients of our programmes are children who need a lot of encouragement and opportunities. I used to have a list of people and a grand plan of how I wanted to get them involved.

Going to Baragoi had not been in my plans, in fact I had prepared to attend two weddings in our church. Yet when I heard about the trip, my mind was set and made up. I have done so many things on a zero budget. But going to Baragoi was the first time I wasn’t going to worry about provision because everything was provided. I left home with my Bible, a pair of scissors, hundreds of buttons, two balls of thread and two sewing needles. These were the tools I was going to use while ministering to children in Baragoi.

As our journey progressed, I kept asking, “Are we there yet?” Two days after leaving Nairobi I was asked to share the Word of God at the Full Gospel Church and so began my ministry. By the time we were leaving, I had run out of sewing thread and buttons. I also, reluctantly, parted ways with one of my needles after one of the mothers asked for it.

On our way back to Nairobi, God shown me how He can grow my network. Like I said before, I used to have a list of people I would like to have in my network. I still do. But after Baragoi, I have surrendered and have entrusted God with building my network.

As I was getting off the bus at Uthiru, a lady whose contacts I had been trying to get in 2014 called out to me. “From today you shall be known as Jim Buttons,” she said. “Here is my number. I would like us to talk more about your ministry with young people. May God bless your button ministry and see you soon!”

Perhaps you are a young person who desires to be used by God and your worry is provision and not knowing the right people. Or maybe you are worried about not being qualified or ready. Let me tell you something. God wants to use you – right now and right where you are – with what you have available.

I met a young woman who is now rubbing shoulders with doctors, lecturers and even politicians simply because she is willing to travel to places like Turkana, Samburu and the rest of Kenya just to deworm children and talk about nutrition.

I don’t know about you or what you are waiting for. Sign up for mission and outreach in your church, campus or let us know if you are looking for mission and outreach opportunities. Venture out and help reach out to a person that needs your smile, hug and time. Your life will never be the same again.

Look at where sewing children’s torn clothes and replacing buttons is taking me. I may lack the money I need for my big picture and vision. But at the end of the day, I have my Bible, pair of scissors, needles, thread, buttons and my passion to reach out to children. What about you? What do you have at hand?”

James teaching girls at a reform school about the value they have in God's eyes.
James teaching girls at a reform school about the value they have in God’s eyes.

Rocks In The Road Is Not A Business Plan

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.

A view of the sewage ditch from the library in Kibera.
A view of the sewage ditch from the library in Kibera.

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.

There Are No Coincidences.

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.

Jimmy speaking at church this morning.
Jimmy speaking at church this morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rIElUTPBi0