On Emperors and Paper Houses

There’s something about fictional stories that I simply adore.

I think it’s the ability for a story to teach us about ourselves without feeling intentional. We’re far enough separated from that alternate reality that it’s not personal, but it still affects our thinking and feeling.

For example, you can tell a story about a young boy on a desert planet. A boy who farms moisture, and takes care of self-aware robots. A boy whose estranged father is an evil ruler who chokes people to death and cuts them in half, and whose sister is the princess of a planet that gets destroyed. A totally bizarre story!  And yet, we can feel connected to those characters.

I’ve been reading through the Dune series by Frank Herbert over the last couple years. (I highly encourage everyone to check them out.) I just finished the third book: God Emperor of Dune.  It has mazingly fleshed-out characters, but there was one in particular that sticks to my mind… Moneo.

Moneo was the second-hand man to the God-Emperor named Leto. He obeyed Leto without wavering, and invested decades of his life in the service of his master.  But he had one major character flaw that revealed itself time and time again… He was unable to question his beliefs.

It’s not that he was not allowed to question his beliefs in the God-Emperor (the ‘center’ of worship throughout the universe of these tales), but that he simply could not cognitively and emotionally handle his own suppressed doubts. Throughout the story, he encounters moments of dissonance; times when his ideas about the God-Emperor are challenged, and his mind begins to crumble as he scrambles for understanding – that all-too-elusive solid ground upon which his mind can stand.

Several characters in the story surpass Moneo in terms of their personal growth. His own daughter, for example, becomes the choice person for succession for the God-Emperor Leto as time goes on. Even the character who is expected to attempt an assassination of God-Emperor Leto is shown more favor as Moneo sinks into the background.

Many times, and especially towards the end of this entry of the series, God-Emperor Leto becomes frustrated with Moneo and his lack of mental/(spiritual?) flexibility. Moneo is so set in his thinking that he is unable to grasp the significance of his place, and his lackluster future is lamented by his ruler.

What is striking, however, is that Leto eventually reveals how much potential Moneo had; the intended purpose of his life, all the grandness that was laid out for him, and the majestic nature of Leto’s leadership.  And yet, he was so stuck in his rigid thinking that it wasn’t until his dying breath that he finally broke through his naïve shelter of paper walls and saw with clarity the true nature of his life and that of his master Leto.

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I find that Moneo is a good example of many believers. I, myself, remember living in paper houses. Following a rigid system of beliefs and a worldview that I neither understood nor cared to explore. I feared leaving those places – afraid that my life would crumble at the mere presence of an idea juxtaposed to what I believed to be true.

One of my greatest joys is seeing people leave paper houses. I remember those shining moments when someone is able to actually ask a real question; is able to truly reflect on their own notions of reality and challenge what they have thought to be true for so long. They take their first steps into a beautiful new world, full of danger – yes – but full of potential as well.

 

It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ imagery in The Great Divorce. The ghost-like people are new to the world of reality, and even their own feet cannot bend the blades of grass in this strange place. They walk on what feels like needles; they cannot lift even a single apple in this land. Strength comes with time, however, as they learn how to walk and their bodies become more solid.  So many visitors, however, abandon this world of reality as cruel and inhumane. They opt, instead, to return to the world of grey, where empty houses cannot even keep out the rain.

On the Bible and Tradition

I distinctly remember sitting in my ‘Introduction to the Old Testament’ class one day, during the Fall of 2010. We were discussing ancient creation myths and other Mesopotamian mythologies that seemed eerily similar to the accounts in Genesis 1-4. I don’t recall what exactly we talked about regarding the 1st or 4th chapters of Genesis, but I do remember talking about Genesis 2-3.

I was absolutely awestruck. Dumbfounded, even.

We were exploring the views of ancient Egyptian stories, Canaanite religion, Babylonian myths, and Sumerian epics. It was incredible the amount of similarities between these narratives and the Scriptural accounts. What struck me, however, was that all of these stories predated the Hebrew texts. Some by several thousand years.

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Marduk vs. Tiamat in the Enuma Elish – just before Marduk creates the expanse called “Sky” to separate the waters, and creates dry ground

I simply didn’t know how to handle what I was studying. Surely if the ancient accounts of Scripture were to be historically true, as I had assumed, then the earliest chapters of Genesis should predate every other telling of the stories.  However, if traditional interpretations are to be correct, then Moses wrote down the texts. But, therein lies a problem… Moses didn’t exist until around 1450 BCE, with the oldest surviving copies dating to around 400 BCE. These other ancient accounts existed well before 1500 BCE, with the earliest surviving physical copy of a creation myth dating to 1600 BCE (The Eridu Genesis of Sumerian origin). So, either Moses didn’t write parts of Genesis, or oral traditions survived hundreds (if not thousands) of years without change, or there’s something else going on here…

I want to pause for a moment, because I don’t want to get into interpretive methods of Genesis 1-4. That’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that I struggled, for years, on how to reconcile the authority of the Scriptures with the fact that the Scriptures mirror ancient mythologies.

That was a serious crisis point in my life. My faith was built upon the notion that the Scriptures are wholly unique, and stand unopposed by any other religion or anti-religious movement. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I have come to see as a very weak foundation for my faith.

It’s a funny irony, I’ve noticed, that Protestant traditions tend to look down on catholic practices. We – speaking as a generic protestant of the American variety – say, “Look at those catholics and their traditions! They worship ancient practices that serve… what purpose? Don’t they know that traditional practices for the sake of traditional practices is pointless? Our faith isn’t built upon the Church! They need to stop worshipping tradition!” And so, when we explore new thoughts about church practices, we tend to embrace them.

At the same time, we stick to our own traditions. Mainly, traditional interpretations of Scripture. We can apply the same criticisms to our hermeneutical methods: “Look at those protestants and their traditional interpretations! They worship the church fathers, and even figures of the Bible, and what they said about Scripture! Don’t they know that clinging to traditional views of Scripture for the sake of those traditional views is pointless? Our faith isn’t built on the Scriptures! They need to stop worshipping traditional interpretations!” And so, when we explore new thoughts about Biblical interpretations, we feel threatened by them. Oh, wait…

And here I want to make my first point: If the Bible is what we believe it is – the inspired word of God – then we shouldn’t feel threatened by scientific, anthropological, or archeological findings. Could these discoveries have an impact on our Scriptural interpretations? Absolutely! Would studies in language, ancient cultures, and biblical criticisms challenge our traditionally-held beliefs about Scripture? Quite possibly, yes. But why should we be afraid of that? Just like we shouldn’t be afraid to switch-up the practices of church, or explore alternate structures to a worship service, we can apply the same logic to our treatment of the Bible. After all, our church services and Scripture fulfill the same role: to be a vehicle for communicating the Gospel.

Now I want to awkwardly shift to my second point.

About a year ago, I was asked if I believe the Bible to be true. My response needed clarification, so this was how I answered: “Do I believe that the Bible is true in that it points to Jesus Christ, and accurately portrays his character, and accurately tells of the necessity of being in right relationship with our Creator and how we do that? Yes! Absolutely!  But, do I believe that the Bible is true in that every claim it makes about every subject is 100% scientifically, historically, and philosophically accurate? No.”  (I’m paraphrasing, but that was essentially my answer. And I stand by it).

The truth is this: The Bible contains contradictions. It even points some of them out (see Daniel’s conversation with Gabriel in chapter 9, where Daniel asks, ‘Hey, you told Jeremiah “70 years until Judah’s restoration.” It’s been 69, so what’s going on?’ and Gabriel says, ‘um… that was a mistake. It wasn’t 70 years. It’s actually 70 times 7 years.’  Jeremiah’s scroll autocorrected, I guess.).

In all honesty, I’m not concerned about how anyone interprets the Bible for themselves. If you want to read everything literally, and treat it all as historical, political, scientific fact – go right ahead! If you want to believe that the Bible has no contradiction and interpret your way around ‘supposed contradictions,’ be my guest. I won’t question your faith, nor would I want to. What I struggle with, however, is the historic failure on the part of clergy and church leader to help us develop solid views of Scripture that do not devolve into worship of the 66 books.

I know this, because I experienced it. I experienced having a relationship with God that was based on words instead of the Word (and I don’t mean the Bible with that, I mean Jesus Christ).  I experienced having a crisis of faith because of challenges that were posed to a book – not challenges that were posed to my Creator himself. Yet, I had intricately woven the two together. I had confused the medium with the message; the Scriptures with the point of the Scriptures; the Bible with the Lord. Our faith isn’t built on the Bible. Our faith is built on Jesus Christ, whom the Scriptures point to. But the Bible is not Jesus Christ.

It was a long road to unravel and differentiate the two, but it was a road well worth embarking upon.

 

End note:

This is something I’ve been meaning to write on for a while, but unfortunately this type of conversation is one that can quickly get a minister ‘black-listed,’ either by members of a local church community or  other clergy.

Some may wonder, then, why I chose to write on this when it poses some risk. My answer is simple: I have always seen it as a responsibility of the minister to not simply maintain a status-quo of beliefs. If we are to grow in our faith, we need to face challenges and experience dissonance. What I try to do, then, is help people encounter those dissonances and process their way through them. What they conclude is up to them. This is one of the functions of my blog, after all.

On Bait and Switch

Can I confess something with you? This might be a small thing, but it is something that has started to irritate me a little bit, and I feel the need to get it off of my chest. I am starting to get annoyed with certain Facebook posts. Now, I know we all have our own preferences on what types of Facebook posts we like or don’t like, and I’ve made mention of Facebook posts before, but this particular type of post is quite aggravating. I’m talking, of course, about what I call the ‘bait and switch’ posts.

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You all know what I’m talking about. The posts that have the eye-catching titles that seem to be communicating a summary of an article but it turns out the article says something completely different. For example, the post titled, “This Man Is Dating Someone Even Though He’s Married. Sounds Disgusting, But I’m On His Side.” [SPOILER ALERT] After reading the article, I found out that the man in question is actually ‘dating’ his wife and the article is about how married people need to be constantly pursuing their spouse. But, the title of the article draws you to conclude something entirely different than what the content of the article is. [end of spoiler alert]

There are other articles similar to this, but you know what I’m talking about. I’ve stopped clicking on them simply because I hate being tricked. I don’t trust those provocative links anymore; the one’s that shout out, “This is a different view on something and should spark controversial conversation, click on me!” I’m beginning to wonder, however, if we tend to do the same thing in our Christian lives.

I’ve been to several different churches, and I’ve read about several more. It is always amusing to me to listen to a pastor talk about how ‘hip,’ ‘different,’ or ‘loving’ his/her church is, and then when I step in the door I’m confronted with an entirely different story. The ‘hip’ church just plays a different genre of music while the people are stoic and wear jeans, the ‘different’ church is unorganized and doesn’t really communicate a coherent message, and the ‘loving’ church has a lot of hand-shakers but no one will sit next to you in the sanctuary. I will admit that this is a gross generalization, but it has happened enough that I have given up trusting what pastors have to say about their churches. Let the actions of the people in the church speak for themselves.

On a more personal note, I have come to realize that we tend to do this in our own lives. The way we act, the way we talk, and the way we treat others all communicate a message of who we are. But, do we really communicate the reality of who we are? Or are we performing our own bait and switch on people?

“I love people! (except those who think differently than I do.)”
“I’m not judgmental (unless I see you drinking alcohol)”
“Anyone is welcome into my home (but you have to nice to me first)”
“Of course I don’t look down on you (until you start talking about abortion)”

We carry around this notion of a God who loves all people and has his arms open wide to even the most vile of persons. We shout this message as loud as we can, but when someone starts to respond to this we turn the tables and assimilate them into a mindset that looks down on everyone that looks different, thinks different, and acts different than ‘we’ do. We talk about how Jesus offers forgiveness, and yet we don’t forgive. We talk about a God who hates gossip and yet we spread rumors all the time. And we talk about a church that welcomes any and all, but will shun someone if we see them in a bar.

I’ve said this before to people, and I believe it is true. If I were not born into the Christian faith, I would most likely outright reject Christianity. I look at how we talk about ‘the world’ and I see the ‘Christian’ movies we tout as being life-changing, and I honestly don’t see much that is very warm or welcoming in those.

If we’re critical of ourselves, then I think we would see that we often pull a bait-and-switch on people. The way I see it, we need to either look at ourselves objectively and realize that we are messed up people who don’t have it all together and stop trying to make ourselves seem perfect, or we need to start taking our faith more seriously and start living out what we believe (which is not intolerance, hate, and judgment as many would claim). To be fair, I think we need a little bot of both; We ought to be real with who we are and recognize that God is still working in our lives, and we should also see that we are called to live a life that we cannot live on our own.

If the Gospel is manifesting itself in our lives, then there is no need to perform some elaborate marketing campaign. Our lives becomes testimonies in themselves of who God is, and our God is a God who accepts us where we are in spite of our flaws. But, do we accept others in spite of their flaws or do we only say that?

On Plans and Trust

Last week I attended the Global Leadership Summit with a very good friend of mine.  During one of the breaks in the Sessions I remained in my seat, while most everyone else was walking around looking at books, using the restroom, socializing, etc.  I felt like I should open my Bible and start reading it, and I happened across Proverbs 19 and 20.

I like planning things out.  I guess you could call me a classic “over-thinker” because whenever I see possibilities I follow every rabbit trail as far as I can in my mind.  It’s almost a gift, in a way, because I’m able to quickly assess the possible consequences of certain actions and choices.  But, unfortunately, I’ve recently begun to discover that whenever I do this I actually limit myself.  “Well, if such-and-such happens, then this will happen” and so when “such-and-such” happens, but “this” didn’t, I keep going on as if “this” did, and I miss out on so much that I could have experienced because I am too focused on the consequence I was expecting.

I am also a worrier.  When it comes to planning things out I tend to worry if I see things going in a different direction than what I intended.  This isn’t always the case, but mostly this happens when things are out of my control and in the control of someone else.  Honestly, I have a difficult time trusting people when it comes to my future.  I think, “God is in control of my future, and if He meant for such-and-such to happen then He would be directing me in that way.  But, He hasn’t said anything like that to me, so then such-and-such person is being a hindrance to God’s will in my life.”  Normally I don’t say something that extreme, but God’s been showing me that my actions say that quite often.  And, I’ve noticed that it’s happened more than I care to admit in the last few years.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lords purpose that prevails.” -Proverbs 19:21

At least once every day since I read this passage last Thursday in Detroit God’s been reminding me of this verse.  Not a whole lot is going on in my world right now, so I’m slowly being consumed with just a few thoughts running through my head and there are a lot of “what-if”‘s.  I’m in Band Camp right now, and sometimes during the practices I completely miss the instructions being called out to us because I’m thinking, “God, what if…..” and I begin to worry.  So, I plan.  “Maybe if I do this, then…”, “I know! I’ll try doing this, so that…..”, or sometimes I don’t even know what to do to manipulate an outcome, so I spend way too long trying to figure out a plan.

Then I hear my Baba: “Why do you think you need to do that?  Isn’t it enough that you love me? isn’t it enough that I’ve shown you, through My Word, that it is always My purpose that prevails?  You keep trying to change things; trying to achieve your own dreams, and you truly believe that what you see if My will for your life.  I love how zealous you are for My Will, but my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.  If you really are seeking after me, and want to see me glorified in your life, then you need to be okay with these outcomes and trust that I know what I’m doing.  And stop worrying about how other people are affecting your life.  Don’t you think that I love you enough that I wouldn’t have let those things happen if I thought they were going to separate you completely from the plans I have for you?”

“A man’s steps are directed by the Lord.  How then can anyone understand his own way?” -Proverbs 20:24

More and more I see how little I’ve surrendered to God.  I pray and I read the scriptures and I seek His face, and I still believe that I can know where He is leading me.

Recently someone was talking with me about what I was planning on doing once I graduated Olivet.  I gave them what I knew to be the best explanation, and then said, “But I’ve learned that I can only see the next immediate step.  Everything else is in God’s hands.” 4 years ago I was going to be an architect and had the next 10 years of my life planned out.  3 years ago I was going to be a pastor in the Michigan.  2 years ago I was going to be a pastor anywhere BUT Michigan.  Last year I was going to be a pastor overseas.  Now, I’m sensing a call to international missions to train/teach/disciple pastors who lack access to good education and training.  Next May, I graduate.  After that? Only God knows.

“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.” -Romans 8:28

I have no good reason to worry.  Sometimes I find myself trying to justify my fears and doubts.  But, whenever that happens, I hear my heavenly Baba say, “If you’re seeking my face, and humbling yourself before me and surrendering everything, then the only thing you need to know for sure is that everything that is happening in your life is leading you where I want you to be, and that is a good thing!”

Other times I see an opportunity and think, “certainly this must be where God is leading me.  I mean, see how beautiful this is! I’m so excited to see what God has in store for me in this!!”  Then the door closes shut, and I have a hard time believing that God could possibly have something better in store for me than that.  I usually respond to those situations with a little bit of aggravation and say, “Well, if that wasn’t your will for me because you have something better, then whatever your plan is for that part of my life must be something that falls straight out of Heaven.”

…”Exactly!”

Let’s leave this one untitled.

Took a nap today, and had a nightmare.  For some reason all it did after I woke up was remind me of some parts of my life I’d prefer to not dwell on for too long. I almost forgot that I mentioned a little of this in my first blog post.  It’s not often I’m reminded of those moments, but they always sober me up pretty well.

Few people can claim to have experienced genuine human friendlessness.  Especially for an extended period of time.  If you’ve ever looked at your cell phone and truly had no one in your contact list to text or call about anything not work-related, or if you’ve ever gone to sleep weeks on end without having one conversation with someone that was deeper than, “hi! how are you?”, or if you’ve had imaginary conversations with people that become so intense it feels like you’ve actually talked with someone and been shocked to realize you’re alone, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Welcome to my life 2007-2009.

It was a slow series of events that dragged out for a few years before, at one definable point, I had no friends.  It wasn’t that I was a jerk, or that there was major drama involved.  People moved away.  I lost contact with some after graduation.  Life takes us in different directions, and apparently I wasn’t permitted to have a traveling companion where I was going.  The only people I knew were either clients at work, my boss, or my church family; who all lived at least 30 minutes away.

I spent my 21st birthday with my mom and dad at Applebees.  I was hoping to have a party, but I could only think of 4 people who I was close enough to to invite.  The first two were my parents, and the other two were spending that weekend with their young kids.

It was a time that was dark, lonely, cold, and empty.  But I wouldn’t trade those years for anything, because I discovered something that has changed my life: there is a unique form of comfort to be found in deep-seated pain.  I’m not talking about any physical pain, or your boyfriend/girlfriend of 2 months breaking up with you.  I’m talking about the kind of pain that wracks you to your very core; that makes a home for itself somewhere inside.  This pain comes in many forms, and this was one of those forms for me.

But along with the misery comes an unexpected warmth.  It’s definitely comforting.  It doesn’t make things easier to bear, but it keeps things from breaking you.  It doesn’t numb the pain, or distract you.  It gives you just enough strength to breath, enough focus to get your through the day, enough patience to make it through, and enough wisdom to keep you from becoming self-destructive.

A prominent 20th-Century theologian held the notion that the person of Jesus Christ, the true reality of who he was, was fully realized on the Cross.  What he meant by that was this: the poor, the destitute, the maimed, the broken, the down-trodden, the prostitute on the corner, the homeless child, the murderer in jail…when you see these people you see Jesus.

Since my two-year ordeal, I’ve firmly held on to the idea that people generally have an extremely twisted view of discomfort.  Sure, we declare that to be a Christian is to allow ourselves to be in uncomfortable positions.  I’m not talking about being in uncomfortable surroundings, around weird people.  I’m talking about internal discomfort.  We avoid it.  We have entire belief systems dedicated to this strange idea that, “if it hurts, it’s wrong. if there’s pain, avoid it.”  Hedonism and Apathy are two main things I can think of right now that embody what I’m getting at pretty well.

I’ve seen this idea seep into the Church.  It’s like God’s ‘out there’ somewhere on the mountaintops, ushering us to Himself.  We see pain as moments of trial, and actually endure them for the sole purpose of coming out the other end of it a better person.  Pain is just something to get through.  Discomfort is simply one of the negatives to this whole “live like Jesus” thing.  We dedicate so much time to finding ways out of pain.

I find this so unusual when I really take time to think about it.  If we are, in fact, growing into people who will be like Jesus, and if the reality of Jesus is hanging on the Cross, then pain and discomfort of extreme degrees is going to become the identifying marker of our existence.  The Cross is where the nails are.  The Cross is where the blood-letting happens, where the spears pierce sides, legs are broken, throats are strangled, and our friends leave us.  And therein lies our one point of solace: here is Jesus.

Christ came to earth to identify Himself with us.  God came to earth and become a human.  The only thing I have found to be the grand unifier is pain.  The one thing everyone on the face of the earth can relate to is pain.  Not everyone has been poor, or experienced “need”.  Not everyone has experienced “wealth”.  We’re all different nationalities, backgrounds, life experiences, skin colors, etc.  But the one thing we all have in common is our shared understanding of “pain.”

Since we all know what pain is, and since we will all continue to experience it through our lives, I feel it’s important to keep reminding myself that the best thing to do in those instances where pain arises is to embrace it.  That odd comfort in the midst of pain I talked about earlier, it only came about when I embraced my situation; when I accepted its reality gave up looking for a way out, but I didn’t ignore it either.

For a long time I believed that God really was somewhere else.  Like I was in my demoralized position and God was watching, and He did feel my pain, but it wasn’t true association.  It was like (and I don’t have experience with this, but I picture it like this) I’m in prison, and God stays on the other side of glass as a visitor, talking to me through a phone on the wall telling me everything will be okay.  Truth is, that’s not how things are at all.

God’s not looking in on what’s going on.  God’s right there with you in those times, sharing every single emotion, carrying every single scar.  Literally, He is walking in your shoes.  That is the comfort I find when i go through times like that.

Fellowship with God is the single greatest power we can experience, but it only comes when  we choose to live in the reality of our circumstances.

Does it take the pain away? Nope!

Does it distract you from the pain? No

Does it make things easier? Not really

Does it make you happy? No, and sometimes it might not even make you joyful.

But, it is enough.

Yes, there are ways to avoid pain.  There are things we can do to keep ourselves from staying “there” for longer than we would like.  When we do that though, I think we miss an opportunity to see Jesus in a way we may have never seen Him before.  Not that He can only be seen in those instances, but it’s a side of Him we miss sometimes.

Maybe some people are in a place right now they’d rather not be in.  Maybe it’s a loss of a loved one, a prolonged season of some sort of situation you feel like no one else can identify with (and you may be right), depression… whatever it is.  I encourage you to not look away.  Where you’re at… it hurts.  I know.  Let it hurt.  Cry yourself to sleep.  Don’t try to convince yourself everything is “okay.”  Everything is not “okay” – you’re suffering.  I won’t even ask you to keep your head up.  Just do one thing: never forget who is sharing your pain.

Obviously, I say all of this out of my own personal experiences.  You always hear about the lights at the ends of the tunnels, the happy endings, yada yada yada.  After everything I’ve gone through, I’ve come to this conclusion: The only happy ending is Heaven, everything else is just a series of transitions.  So why is it we try to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise when times get tough?

On Black People and Hand Gestures

hanging out with my friends at the Mwanza church, shortly before the Sunday Morning service on May 13, 2012

Africa was always the place where no one wanted to ever end up.  That’s how it seemed when I was a kid, anyway.  “I would pray to God, ‘please don’t send me to Africa'” is something I would hear missionaries say when they came to our church.  So, naturally, I always wanted to be the one to go to Africa.  “Screw fear and reservation, I’m going to Black People Land!” is something I would always say to myself in response to the missionaries – maybe not verbatim, but something similar to that!

Last November my team members and I were individually selected (after applications and interviews), and after 6.5 months of preparations, training, and spending time getting to know each other, we all set out for our two-week Mission trip to East Africa!

Our purpose was pretty simple: Train pastors in basic theology and church doctrine, work with the children and youth in the churches, and spend time with the people.  It might sound weird hearing that one of our main objectives was to train pastors. I mean, our team was made up of one professor and his wife, one Resident Director (and part-time professor), and the rest of us were students.  How could we possibly know enough to train pastors!

The truth is, several places we’ve been in the country of Tanzania have an interesting exposure to Christianity.  Normally what happens, particularly in Tanzania which is where we worked for half of our trip, is missionaries come in, travel around, show the Jesus Film, and convert hundreds or thousands of people at a time.  At that point, the missionaries appoint someone in the “congregation” to be the pastor and then they move on.  Granted, every situation is different, but this has been a fairly common practice in some places.  So what you have are pastors of churches who know very little compared to what we know about Scripture, Theology, Christology, Ecclesiology, Soteriology, Escatology, and doctrine (which incorporates all of that).  For example, we’ve had pastors ask us questions such as: “Who is God married to?”  In America, we would never hear this question because we’re so well exposed to Christianity that the idea of God being married doesn’t even cross our minds.  Because of a lack of proper teaching many of those pastors have for many reasons, teams like ours go in and offer basic training. And that is exactly what we did in the cities of Mwanza and Tarime.

Among other things, we also were able to teach the pastors and other adults how to use the Evange-cubes as a way of telling others about the depravity of man, the love of God, the sacrifice of Christ, the forgiveness offered through the act Jesus took on the Cross, and our new found life in Christ!  I had the privilege of being a part of this teaching session in Mwanza, where my “rafiki” (friend) and I walked through the Evange-cube with pastors and adults.  Once we finished going through what everything meant, we had one of the pastors and one of the adult leaders come forward and walk through the Evange-cube in front of everyone else.  I can’t describe how it felt listening to them talk about the Salvation story with such excitement in their voices, and knowing that I was able to teach it to them using such a simple device!  Once the Evenge-cube demonstration was done, our leader felt that there were some in the group we were teaching who had not made the decision to follow Christ, so we gathered a couple benches together and had an altar call.  there were about 12 people altogether who either gave their lives to Christ for the first time or recommitted their hearts to him!  What an amazing experience it was watching lives being changed right before my eyes!  Not only that, but I had the incredible, humbling experience of being able to pray over that group. My mind is still going blank whenever I think of that… unbelievable!  Our God is so awesome! “Bwana Asufiwe!” (Praise the Lord!) “Bwana Asufiwe Tene!!”

Another great experience I got to witness happened with the group that was teaching the children.  In another building by where my “rafiki”, group leader, and I were teaching the pastors, most of our group was walking through the Evange-cube with the children.  One thing that’s important to know is that children in that culture are not valued near as much as children in America.  Though I don’t know exactly what the situation is like, it’s safe to say they are generally neglected, even when it comes to the church.  Anyways, once the group working with the kids finished walking through the Evange-cubes with the children – along with some of the children’s leaders from some of the neighboring churches in the area – they decided to take a break.  Well, once they did that, the children’s leaders got up, got some Evange-cubes, and each one gathered a group of children around them and began teaching the children the Evange-cubes!  I remember walking into that building with my group leader to get some supplies, and when he and I noticed what was going on I heard him say, almost under his breath, “this is why we’re here…”

This was the third trip my school has taken to this particular area of the world, and during the last trip we felt as if some of the people had become dependent on our visits.  It was almost like there wasn’t much growth going on in between our mission trips.  But this time, it was like something “clicked”.  The pastors began asking deeper theological questions, they started taking more initiative in applying everything we were teaching them, and they were so excited to learn anything and everything they could from us; not because we were visitors from America, but because they genuinely wanted to know more of who God is, they wanted to know what God wanted from them, and they wanted to know how He wanted to use them to help strengthen the Church not as an institution, but as a family of believers.

Also, I had the personal privilege of preaching to the congregation during their Sunday Morning service a sermon based on a simple phrase: “Napenda Tanzania, na nawapenda watu wote”, which was about how God loves the people of Tanzania, and how God seeks to have us, his children, share His love with others no matter what religion, or lack thereof, they follow.  Interestingly, our Matatu drivers were listening in during my sermon, and they’re Muslim!  -Quite an interesting experience to be able to share God’s love with Muslims! We left Tanzania on an indescribable high, as we had the opportunity to see the fruits of months of work right before our eyes as God moved in mighty ways!

From there, we ministered in the cities of Nakuru and Nairobi, both in the country Kenya.  We did similar work there, but it seemed different for me because most of the people knew English pretty well whereas in Tanzania no one except a handful of people we met spoke any English.  Swahili is the dominant language there, so translators went with us wherever we went.  Though I can’t say I got to see lives changed in Kenya like what I saw in Tanzania, I can say I got to see my group impact the lives of so many simply by sharing time together and being in fellowship with one another.

During our time in Kenya, I had a very unexpected personal experience.  We were en route to Nakuru, and I was sitting by my amazing friend who is really, really good at Sign Language.  She works with Sign Language ministries in Kenya, and during our ride she took the time to teach me some Sign (Kenyan and American Sign Language!) It was quite a fun adventure, and I discovered that I really enjoy using Sign!  I got to learn 2 new languages in Africa, haha.

About a month and a half ago I embarked on this journey to East Africa for the second time with 11 other people from ONU for the purpose of being used by God in whatever way He wanted to. Not surprisingly, when a group is dedicated to that purpose things tend to go awry, and right from the beginning of our 2-week trip my team and I encountered obstacles, and things always seemed to be going wrong even up until we finally arrived back in the States.  At first, our flight from Chicago to Amsterdam got cancelled, so our schedule was pushed back a day, two of our buses in Tanzania broke down, and we had to push one of them at one point on a dirt road on a hot day.  Hotels which we had booked suddenly didn’t have enough room for us so we had to find something else.  People kept getting sick on our team.  Road conditions made travel times much longer than they should have been, so we arrived at new location later than we wanted to.  And on our last day we were behind schedule all day, so we almost missed our plane from Nairobi to Amsterdam, and every layover on the way home was way too short, so we were literally running through Amsterdam and Paris just to catch our connecting flights.

But, in all things God’s peace rested on myself and my team.  Never once did I hear anyone complaining about the heat, the inconveniences we had to work through, some of the food we had to eat, the smells, the general lack of sleep… nothing.  And in all things God revealed Himself in ways I can’t even comprehend.  There was no obstacle that came our way that God did not overcome.  No danger that God protected us from.  No risk that God did not keep us through.  And God was constantly drawing us back to Him, which was what this trip was all about: teaching and equipping others so that others can experience the intimate, unexplainable love and providence of God.

I’ve seen lives changed.  I’ve seen unmovable obstacles which stared me int he face get torn down.  I have seen just a glimpse of the power and love of God displayed.  And all this in just 15 days… I’m excited to see what kinds of great works He will be doing in and through my life for the next 15 years, and beyond!