Monthly Archives: August 2014

Wood Smoke and Diesel

It’s only about a week until I leave for Nairobi. I have to say, it’s one of my favorite cities. This is the first time I will be going to Kenya for the sake of going to Kenya. I’ve always visited there on the way to somewhere else. This time I’m going just to see Kenya, and my wife is coming with me.  So what is Nairobi like? I will answer this question as much for my wife’s benefit as for anyone else’s.

Nairobi is the smell of charcoal fires with a bit of underlying diesel smoke as you get off the plane. Most people (at least that I’ve met) still cook with charcoal, even in their homes. Most vehicles run on diesel, because fuel is very expensive and diesel will get you farther.

Nairobi is a city of contrasts. You have expensive homes, gated communities, shopping centers, Mercedes Benz dealers, immense slums, destitute people, the highly educated, the uneducated, skyscrapers and tin shacks, motorcycle taxis, movers and shakers, and the hopeless. It’s street merchants and professional beggars. All of these are thrown into a blender and spread evenly. Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, is right across the road from entrance to the trendy restaurant, “Carnivore”.

Nairobi is leaving the airport and seeing giraffes over the fence on the side of the road. It’s seeing a warthog running down the side of Langata Road. Nairobi is eye candy. The people walking down the street wearing 25 hats that are for sale, or bunches of bananas for the hungry motorist- these are the things you see as you drive down the road. It’s the brightly painted metal fences and the students in uniform as they walk to class. Nairobi is the political signs that literally wallpaper everything that isn’t moving (and probably some things that are) during election time. There is always something to look at in Nairobi.

A man paints a metal fence in Nairobi.
A man paints a metal fence in Nairobi.

 

Most of all Nairobi is the people. They are very friendly. If traffic in the United States was like it is in Nairobi, road rage would be rampant. But there it works. Drivers look for the hole in the traffic and take it. No one gets upset about it. You don’t drive on the right or the left side of the road. You drive on the good side. Surprisingly there are few accidents.

Nairobi is the small shacks on the side of the road that look like nothing, but contain the most amazing cultural artifacts. If you want to come home with a piece of Kenya, avoid the huge markets and try these little places. Want a 100 year old Rungu? (a weapon the Maasai carry made out of the root of a tree.) You’ll find it there.

Want to get a couple miles down the road? Don’t call a taxi. Thumb down a matatu, or a small bus. It’ll cost you about 50 cents and it will be a cultural experience, along with about 15 of your new “friends”.

A food market in central Nairobi.
A food market in central Nairobi.

Try the local foods, especially the fresh fruit juice. Just avoid unpeeled vegetable and fruit. (see my previous blog on staying healthy). Try the sukuma wiki, or the meat pockets. If you’ve come this far, don’t go to Kentucky Fried Chicken. You can have that at home. Sit at the Nairobi Java house and have a really good cup of coffee, or go to a local restaurant and have fresh Tilapia that came out of the lake that morning.

To sum it up, Nairobi is an absolutely amazing city. It’s modern, but different from anything you’ll find in America or Europe. It’s a pleasure for me every time I go.

A panorama of Nairobi from the water town on top of a hotel.
A panorama of Nairobi from the water town on top of a hotel.
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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

And Please Give Me a Million Dollars and Huge Pectoral Muscles.

In the early 90’s cartoon, Ren and Stimpy, the cat and the dog are saying their prayers before bed.  As a very early aside, finding spiritual lessons in Ren and Stimpy proves that God can speak to you through virtually anything if you’re listening. Anyway, Stimpy prays first, “and please bless Grandma, and Grandpa”. After this, we hear Ren praying “and please give me a million dollars, and huge pectoral muscles.” Ridiculous?  More true to life I’d say.

Though the roles were reversed in the characters between the before mentioned cat and dog, there is a book called “Cat and Dog Theology”, by Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison. No it’s nothing to do with actual cats and dogs or pet spiritism. The basic gist of the teaching is this;

A dog looks at his master and says to himself, “He feeds me, takes care of me, plays with me, grooms me, and spends time with me. Wow! You’re amazing! You must be God.”  The cat, on the other hand, looks at his “owner” and says, “He feeds me, takes care of me, plays with me, grooms me, and spends time with me.  Wow! I must be God!”  It sounds ridiculous until we realize that the second version is frequently our own theology. Though I find that the simple concept lying at the heart of cat and dog theology is spot on, the lessons themselves get a bit drawn out and overreaching. As King Arthur said to Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Tell me again how one may utilize sheep’s bladders to prevent earthquakes.”  When you only know sheep’s bladders, you try to make them apply to everything. I found this with cat and dog theology. However, there were some fantastic points made, and so I still recommend either reading the book or listening to the lessons.

Cat people (people who think like cats, as opposed to people who like cats) read the Bible as if it’s a self-help book. Cat people don’t so much run toward God as run away from Hell. Cat people pray for blessing for the sake of their own blessing. They think that the Bible is written about us, and not about God. Cat theologians think that the Bible is written to bring glory to us. Cat people go to church for a social gospel. They go because it’s the proper social thing to do. They listen to sermons about what God can do for them, about how God wants to bless you.  While this last statement is true, half of it is missing. God blesses us so that we will pass on his glory to others, not so that we can accumulate those blessings in a stagnant cesspool of self-glorification.

Dog people, on the other hand, read the Bible and recognize that the book is about God, and that we are His servants, not the other way around. It is about less of us, and more of God. Dog people pray that God would use them to bless others. They run toward God because they love Him. They don’t run away from Hell, because they don’t fear it. They trust their God so much that they don’t need to fear Hell. Consequently they are effective missionaries. They pray that the lost would be saved. They believe in the great commission, which requires by design that we put ourselves aside to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and preach the gospel, facing hardship and possible persecution and even death because they know that no matter what happens, God will take care of them, whether it be in this life or the next.

Hebrews 11 sums up very well what it is that our faith is about.

“32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted,[f] were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”

They usually don’t preach the second part of these verses in church.  Sawn in two? Really?  Look in Iraq right now. The persecuted in Mosul are showing us what real Christianity is about. They would give up everything, whether it’s all their possessions to flee so as not to have to deny their God, or life itself as they are killed, and yes, sawn in two for not giving up their faith.

So I have to ask?  “What is wrong with the American church.”  What has brought us so far as to think that faith is about us? I listened recently to a sickening sermon by Keith Moore as he went on for an hour about how Jesus died so that we can be rich. How can someone read the scripture and so utterly miss the point? He actually says that Jesus would wear a Rolex if he were here in the flesh today. I read a news article a while back about how people who live according to this doctrine were now heavily in debt, because when the recession came, they didn’t want to look like they weren’t being blessed, and consequently had a crisis of faith when the recession hit. They went into debt to appear as if they were still blessed. They could have avoided the guilt had they realized that following Christ has nothing to do with having money, and has everything to do with following with a willing heart no matter what the external circumstances.

Let’s see what Luke 10 says. “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also,[a] and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

He does not say, “Accumulate riches to the point that when you go out, you will not lack for anything.”  He only says to obey, and leaves us to trust God. Trust is easier when we take the focus off of ourselves and place it where it belongs- on God. Missions is not part of what the church does. Missions is the whole reason the church exists. It’s time we started living like it.

Does God love them any less because they're not wearing a Rolex?
Does God love them any less because they’re not wearing a Rolex?

But Enough About Me. What Do You Think of My Hair?

For a variety of reasons, pride has been on my mind lately. I spent most of my life thinking that pride was not really an issue, this despite the fact that it’s listed as one of the seven deadly sins in the Bible. (Proverbs 6).  But that is what someone who lives with pride tells himself. Over the past few years I’ve been realizing more and more how false this belief is, that pride is not an issue.  I was listening to Daniel Kolenda recently, who is an evangelist to Africa. He pointed out that Lucifer was a worship leader before God’s throne, and pride was what turned him into the devil. I had to listen to that again. This brings a new perspective on things. Someone at the very throne of God can give up his place in Heaven for the chance at glorifying himself above God. This is what pride does.

I believe my former opinion about pride is rooted in the false assumptions many of us hold about humility. People think of being humble and think of someone who is self-effacing, with a poor opinion of themselves. This is not what humility is, that is just poor self-worth. Humility is more about building others up, rather than tearing one’s self down, though in doing the first, you tend to think of yourself less, as opposed to thinking less of yourself.

C.S. Lewis has some great thoughts on the subject in the book, “The Screwtape Letters”. It’s a fantastic book that has volumes to reveal about human nature. I highly recommend it.  I’m paraphrasing because of the format of the book, but C.S. Lewis says,

“Men fix in their mind the idea that humility consists of a certain kind of opinion, namely a low one, of his own talents and character. He fixes in his mind the idea that humility consists of trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. This adds an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method, many people have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. On the other hand, true humility consists of a state of mind in which a man could design the best cathedral in the world, and know that it’s the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more or less glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. God wants him to be so free of any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents.  Humility also involves the doctrine that men did not create themselves, that their talents were given to them, and that they might as well be proud of their hair color than of some talent they have.”

This last part is particularly poignant for me.  It brings home the fact that every talent I have was given to me by God. I can choose to either use them for Him or not, but they have nevertheless been given to me by God. This gives me no room to look down on anyone else who has not been given the same gift, any more than they should look down on me for the gifts I do not possess.

A few additional thoughts of my own;

Humility seeks the good of others, pride asks only “how does this make me look?”  Humility seeks to release people in the gifts they are given, pride seeks to control.   Humility rejoices in the triumphs of others, pride seeks to undermine others.               Humility knows, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Pride forgets the second part. Humility attracts, pride eventually becomes repulsive.

I no longer think pride is not important.

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Ethiopia and the Petros Network

I find myself both excited but with my head spinning a bit. I have two trips to Africa planned for the next two and a half months. Kenya I’ve mentioned a bit, but I’m also joining the Petros Network this October and November in Ethiopia. I should be back from Kenya just long enough to get over the jet lag before I head across the ocean to Ethiopia. I’m excited for both these trips for a number of reasons. I’m excited to be moving into new territory, excited to see what plans God has to move in these places. I have to be honest, I’m also excited to be going to places that are not a war zone. I’m excited to be using the skills that God has given me for capturing the heart of the people I visit through photography. I’m excited to meet new people and new cultures, and see entirely new things.

There’s a lot of exciting (I know, I keep using that word) things going on with the Petros Network, and I’m very happy to be part of it. So I’m writing this blog to feature their story. As such, I’ve grabbed their story from their website, so when I talk about it with people, they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, and hopefully can spread their vision.

The Petros Network Story

HOME  /  ABOUT US  /  THE PETROS NETWORK STORY

PN How It Started The Petros Network Story

How God’s Kingdom works — small beginnings, unlikely sources, invisible activity, irresistible growth that is Petros Network’s story. – Pastor Ray Noah, Founder of Petros Network

LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW TO SPONSOR A CHURCH PLANT IN ETHIOPIA, SOUTH SUDAN, OR UGANDA

Small beginnings…

In 1991, Dr. Charles Blair, the pastor of Calvary Temple in Denver, Colorado, launched leadership training in partnership with the Evangelical Church Fellowship of Ethiopia to raise up and equip young pastors. By 1996, Dr. Blair had trained 300 missionaries church planters.  Two of those young pastors were Alayu Kebede and Bekele Godeta, who later became key leaders in the Petros Network’s church planting movement. This group of missionaries planted 300 churches in unreached villages, and by 2002 they had multiplied to 800 churches.

In 2002, Dr. Blair was 84-years-old when he received a request from a Christian president of one of Ethiopia’s nine federal regions. This leader asked Charles if he would sponsor in his region 1000 church plants within the next two years while the doors were open under his presidency. In that region were 3000 villages, and the president envisioned that 1000 churches planted could quickly reproduce at least two additional churches and his region could be won for Jesus. Although Charles was growing older and lacked adequate resources to plant that large number of churches, he couldn’t shake the president’s request. So he agreed to plant those 1000 churches!

On the return flight to the US, Dr. Blair was suddenly overcome with doubt. How in the world could an old man with no money plant 1000 churches. So he began to write a letter to the president rescinding his agreement, explaining all the reasons why he couldn’t help and all the things he didn’t possess to do the job. However, somewhere in the air between Ethiopia and Denver, God spoke and said, “Charles, don’t tell me what you don’t have—just use what you have.” Charles said, “Lord, all I’ve got at this point in my life are friends.” And the Lord said, “Then tell your friends—and watch what I do.”

Charles Blair and Ray Noah The Petros Network StoryAfter Charles arrived home, one of the “friends” he first contacted was a former associate, Pastor Ray Noah, who was then pastoring a church in California. Charles told him about the vision. Pastor Ray honestly thought this was the case of an “old man dreaming dreams, “ but he couldn’t help but be impressed that this “old man” was still in the game, dreaming dreams and swinging for the fences.

As Charles asked him what he thought of this idea, Pastor Ray responded, “Absolutely this is a great idea. You should go for it!” And with that Charles responded, “If it is such a great idea, will you help me?”

Pastor Ray had just unwittingly taken hold of the baton he didn’t know was being passed, and together began to strategize how to plant 1000 churches in unreached villages in a remote region of Ethiopia without any money. Staying true to God’s voice, they called 100 of their “friends” to hear about this vision.

After hearing the plan, 99 of the 100 said “yes” to the call. From there, they sent word to 2300 donors and the necessary finances began to come in. In two years, starting from scratch, nearly $2 million was raised and 1000 churches were planted. Between 2003 and 2007, that number grew to 1642 churches and thousands of new converts who had never heard the name of Jesus were brought into those churches. An Ethiopian government census stated that in 2003 there were 5.4% Christians in the region, but that percentage had grown to 13.5% by 2007. A veritable revival had been set loose!

By the end of 2007, Pastor Charles was 87 and his health was growing poor. Because of his illness, he was no longer able to share the vision and raise funds for continued church planting in Ethiopia. However, in that same year Pastor Ray Noah stepped in to continue that vision and took over the financial burden of the Ethiopian offices and ministry. In 2008 he accepted a pastorate at Portland Christian Center. The church whole-heartedly embraced the church planting vision, and even though Pastor Blair passed away, a new group of believers in Portland, Oregon were named as stewards of the vision.

Pastor Bekele Godeta and Gojo, Ethiopia

Pastor Bekele Godeta planted his first church in a small village with no believers when he was 22 years old. The town was ruled by a powerful witch doctor, who was hostile toward this growing young church. He gathered an army of 400 to fight against the 25 new believers. Sadly, 9 new believers died in the conflict, 300 cattle belonging to the new believers were stolen, and all-out persecution began.

Bekele Godeta Ray Noah The Petros Network StoryThe government sent soldiers to fight the 400-strong opposition. In the 3-day war that followed, many more people died. The witch doctor, wanting to kill the leader of this upstart congregation, assumed that he must be a very big man—both in size and influence, for who else could command such influence and authority to have the government fight for him. He never suspected the 22-year-old dressed very casually right under his nose. Pastor Bekele’s supporters kept his identity hidden, knowing the witch doctor was trying to find and kill him. Ultimately, the government quelled the uprising, and the 300 cattle were returned. As punishment, the witch doctor was forced to feed 100 government soldiers for 3 months. All the while, the small church was growing, adding new converts day by day.

A year later, the church members were walking by the witch doctor’s home. They were singing as they walked, but stopped to inquire as to the commotion surrounding his home. “What happened?” they asked. “The witch doctor just died!” was the response. That was the beginning of an even bigger revival, through which 48 more churches have now been planted from that one church! The witch doctor was never replaced.

In 1996, Pastor Bekele, at 26 years of age, moved to an unreached village called Gojo. Before bringing the first 6 converts to Christ, Pastor Bekele faced harsh persecution, even being stoned at one point. However, the number of believers were multiplying in Gojo and other churches were forming. Likewise, the persecution had all but disappeared. In 2009 Pastor Bekele, full of faith, contacted Alayu Kebede, Petros Network’s Ethiopian Call Director and asked him to send an email to Pastor Ray saying, “Will you help me plant 250 churches in the Oromia region.” When Pastor Ray received the email he knew this was a calling from God.

God has a plan…

Within that very week, Pastor Ray was having coffee with a member of his church and began telling him about Pastor Bekele’s request. Unknown to Pastor Ray, the gentleman had some means and called him later that day, “I will support planting 125 churches if you can come up with funding for another 125 churches.” That man was George Wilson ofWater for the World. God had placed a vision in the heart of an Ethiopian pastor, who wrote a US Pastor, who shared a burden with a another brother along with several US/Canadian churches, and Petros Network’s church planting movement was poised for growth.

When Pastor Ray moved his family to take over the pastorate of Portland Christian Center in 2008, he did so under the agreement that the church would join in supporting the Ethiopian Church planting vision of Petros Network. And they did it with enthusiasm! Portland Christian Center has personally sponsored well over 400 of the 1000 church plants in Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Sudan.
Petros Network Church Planter The Petros Network StorySince 2010, Petros Network has planted more than 850 churches in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia. Church planters report over 1.2 million Ethiopians have heard the gospel for the first time, and over 140,000 Ethiopians have responded to the message to follow Christ and joined the local church. Redemptive Lift efforts have followed the church plants. Through Petros Network, and the local indigenous church, a training center, a guest house, two primary schools (Ethiopia and Uganda), 373 physical church buildings have been built, and an additional 303 are in progress. Water has been advanced in the city of Gojo, a model farm is being developed, 50 acres of land is being harvested, medical and dental clinics have been launched by church partners, five widow’s homes have been built, and The TESFA Project was initiated to provide micro-grants, meaningful work, training, and support for widows and orphans. Truly, Petros Network has demonstrated the local church, when at its best, is the hope of the world.

In the spring of 2013, Petros Network formed a key partnership with Pastor Kirk Yamaguchi and the Canyon View Vineyard Church to advance into South Sudan.  The results have been miraculous, similar to what’s been happening in Ethiopia over the past decade, showing the power in expanding the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ example of Word and Deed. In addition to South Sudan, Petros Network has also moved into Uganda and Kenya and is investigating other unreached people groups.

What has been the strategy for growth?  The same strategy God gave to Dr. Charles Blair — go tell your friends and see what I (God) will do! Today we are grateful for the unity of the church and strategic partners unifying across denominational lines in the US, Canada, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda for Kingdom Impact.

Soli Deo Gloria! For the Glory of God Alone!

It’s Not The Ebola, It’s The Water.

It’s only a few weeks until I leave for Kenya. Things are starting to come together. Today I picked up my anti-malarial pills. This is always one of the more difficult things, because there are really no good choices. I’ve always taken Meflouquine in the past because I react well to it, and also because it’s cheaper. However, the evidence is mounting that it causes long term neurological problems, and I’ve decided that there’s only so many empty chambers in the revolver before I find the one with the bullet. I unfortunately (for some things) live in the United States, and this means I pay about four times for medication what the rest of the world does. As I showed up at the pharmacy (the chemist to the rest of you), my prescription was three times what I was told it was going to be.  Furthermore they didn’t have enough, so they couldn’t even fill the whole prescription. This did me no good whatsoever. I couldn’t exactly leave Africa to have the other half of my prescription filled half way through the trip. So I called another pharmacy that had all the pills, and found a coupon online which reduced the cost to what I had originally been told. The cost of medical care and medication is out of control in this country, and I’m reduced to playing games like this. I will now be taking generic Malerone, which unfortunately seems to upset the stomach of everyone I’ve ever seen taking it. Better an upset stomach than crazy though, right?

Staying healthy though, seems to be one of the biggest anxieties for people traveling to Africa for the first time. I remember before I’d ever gone, being under the impression that Africa is so full of disease that if I went I would surely catch something that was going to kill me. After all, there’s yellow fever, ebola, malaria, dysentery, polio, schistosomiasis, aids, diphtheria, rabies, west nile virus, cholera, meningitis, hepatitis, and sleeping sickness. It’s enough pestilence and disease to make the weather channel giddy. Most of the danger is perception though, and precautions can be taken. I’ve only been sick once in Africa, and it was none of the above.  I’ve had the question a couple of times now, “are you worried about ebola?”. Frankly, no. I’ll be two thousand miles from any of that. It’s like saying, “There’s a cholera outbreak in Mexico. Aren’t you afraid to go to Canada?”

Most of these are really nothing to worry about. The really bad ones can either be avoided altogether, or prevented with immunizations.  Of everything listed above, only malaria and the diseases spread though food and water (dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis), take some conscious effort to avoid. Malaria you take medication to avoid, but it is also good to make sure you don’t get bitten by mosquitos from dusk though dawn. This involves using insect repellant and limiting exposed skin during those times. Also, an absolute must is to sleep under a mosquito net, unless you’re either in the desert where there are no mosquitoes, or at high altitude like some parts of Kenya and Ethiopia. Most of the other diseases you get from either contaminated water or food. For food, make sure your food is well cooked. Don’t eat fruit or vegetables uncooked unless they are peeled. In other words, don’t eat an unpeeled apple or tomato, and certainly don’t eat lettuce. You don’t know what they used to fertilize the crops (I’ll let you use your imagination), or who was handling the food. Water can be tricky too. Buying bottled water should be a sure bet, but there are now people taking old bottles, bottling tap or river water, and putting a new seal on it. So know the source of your water. Also, don’t order ice in your drink unless you know it was made from bottled water. I carry a Camelbak All Clear with me. It’s a bottle with an ultraviolet lamp on the top that sterilizes your water in one minute. I drank water out of the Nile for five days with it on my last trip and never got sick, so I know it works.

Food prep in Africa
Food prep in Africa

It’s really not hard to stay healthy when you’re traveling. In closing, I had an amusing conversation the other day with one of my South Sudanese friends. I put a picture up on Facebook of my brother and his son in front of a campfire from a recent camping trip. He asked essentially if we were worried about being eaten by wild animals in such a thick forest. While the thought of bears occupied a small place in the back of my mind, I really wasn’t worried about it. As I told him, as long as you don’t run, the bears don’t think you’re food.  It’s the same in Africa with illness. It occupies a small place in the back of my mind, but I know that as long as take a few precautions, there’s no reason I shouldn’t remain healthy. If I wasn’t confident in this, I wouldn’t be bringing my wife with me on my next trip.

The Name’s Satan, But You Can Call Me “Pud”

I’ll start off by saying, some of you aren’t going to like this post.

Imagine if you knew your imminent execution was coming by a horrible means, and once a  predetermined set of criteria had been met, your execution would be carried out without further delay. Now imagine you’ve got an army that you can command from your prison cell. What would you do? You would of course command that army to do everything in its power to make sure that set of criteria did not come to fruition, or at least put it off as long as possible.

The reference in the title is to a 1939 movie, “On Borrowed Time”, based on a novel by Laurence Edward Watkin, in which death is trapped in an apple tree until he is let down. With what is going on recently in Syria and Iraq with Isis slaughtering everyone who won’t convert to Islam, I have become convinced until someone proves otherwise that Islam’s sole purpose on this earth is to delay the return of Christ, and by extension, stay Satan’s execution.  Does that concept make you angry? So be it, but prove me wrong. It seems the more vile and violent Islam becomes, the more people insist that Islam is a peaceful religion. “Thou doth protest too much”, is the line from Macbeth. Faith is the evidence of things not seen, but stupidity is looking at something right in front of you and insisting that it’s something entirely different.

The criteria of which I’m speaking is multi-faceted, but specifically I’m talking about the verse in Revelation that says, “After this I beheld, and, see, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;” The verse indicated that before Christ comes back, there will be followers of Christ from every tribe, language, and nation. Every time Islam moves into an area, they try to eradicate Jews and Christians. (Afterward, when the Jews and Christians are gone, they turn on each other, but that’s for a different blog). Once again, don’t like what I’m saying? Prove me wrong. From the Pakistani kid I went to school with who said he wanted to kill Salmon Rushdie, to the girl at college who had to flee Kenya because there was a price on her head for converting to Christianity, to everyone I know in South Sudan who lived most of their lives under the oppression of the Islamic state there, no one seems keen on showing me the other side. From the Philippines to Indonesia to Iraq to North Africa, I’m not sure it would be possible to count the number of groups trying to set up an Islamic theocracy. Am I making you angry yet? As angry as it makes you that in Syria and Iraq Christian children are being systematically beheaded? If you read the newspapers, they’re never listed as Christian, they’re always listed as “minorities”. No one will look at the issue.

It is time for the church to wake up and realize the spiritual battle that it is in. Much of the church doesn’t believe that it is in a battle. It’s time to look around. Some friends of mine just got back from Kenya where among other things they witnessed an exorcism. Some of you are saying to yourselves, “there’s no such thing as demons, that stuff doesn’t happen.” Well, the only difference between those oppressed by demons in Africa and those oppressed by demons here is that in the west, we’re content to live with our demons. It’s time to stop settling and start living the lives as more than conquerors that we are promised.  It’s time to start engaging the battle, and putting more effort into saving the world through the gospel than the effort Isis is putting in to eradicate it. It’s time to start freeing people with the love of God, and that means going to the places where Satan’s army has a stronghold. Satan knows that someday Mr. Brink is going to get let out of the apple tree, and when that day comes, it’s his last day. Let’s do everything we can to make that day come sooner. It’s time to stop living in fear, time to stop worrying about trying to be politically correct. It’s time to stop worrying about what the neighbors think. It’s time to stop ignoring the spiritual warfare going on around us and start taking part. Just because you refuse to engage with the battle going on around you doesn’t mean you will survive, and you certainly won’t do any good. Let’s convert more from Islam with the love of God than they convert to Islam with the barrel of a gun. It’s time.

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Drowning Jesus

Faith and missions are two things that have been on my mind a lot lately, and particularly the way they interact with each other. I grew up in churches that had no fire, no power, no influence, and consequently made no difference. I no longer have time or patience for that kind of theology. We were taught as children that Jesus did miracles, and the disciples after Him did miracles and healings and all of the incredible moves of the Spirit of God that are talked about in the book of acts, but that after the disciples died, these things died with them. You can’t back that belief up anywhere in the scriptures, but we were taught it nonetheless. Why were we taught it?  Well I’ll get to that later.

In the book of Matthew is the following story. It takes place just after Jesus had preached to the multitudes and fed them all with five loaves of bread and two fish.

“22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea,[a] tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.

25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.

27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw that the wind was boisterous,[b] he was afraid; Then Jesus began to sink under the waves………………….  Ok, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I changed that last bit. Here’s how it actually goes.

“30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous,[b] he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So my alternate ending to this story is as ridiculous as what I was taught as a child, and what many are taught now. The fact is that my lack of faith doesn’t limit God in any way, it only limits what God will do through ME. Think about that. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” If we don’t believe this is true, we may as well throw the rest of the scripture out too. The world is not interested in a castrated, ineffective, impotent, watered-down, powerless, gospel, because that is no gospel at all. I’m not interested in it either. There is a lost world out there, and if you don’t believe that, I challenge you to get out and travel to a country that the name ends either in ia or stan.

We are not told the stories in the gospels and Acts to look back wistfully and say, “gosh, wouldn’t that be nice?” We are told these things as a reference for what we are expected to do today.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,[a]
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”

So why aren’t we taught that today?  Why are we taught that God doesn’t do this anymore?   It’s born out of fear. If I choose to believe that Jesus still expects us to pray for the sick, to set the captives free, to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, to heal the brokenhearted, to give sight to the blind, (both literally and figuratively), to cast out demons, and even to raise the dead; if I believe these things then there is going to be a whole lot more required of me than just showing up on Sunday morning and putting in my hour. I might have to go and pray for that unsavory person on the street if the Spirit of God moves me to do it. It might require me to trust God to do what He said he would do. It might require me to go to a place where there is no Starbucks, or air conditioning, or paved roads, or even an assurance of safety. So if I go with the doctrine that God doesn’t do these things anymore, what I’m telling God is, “I would do these things, but you don’t do these things anymore.  It’s not me, it’s you.” Then we can be content with our “faith” that requires nothing of us. It’s as ridiculous as getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus, but when we see the waves and start to doubt, expecting Jesus to be the one who sinks instead of us. Think about it.

Missionaries pray for a sick woman in South Sudan.
Missionaries pray for a sick woman in South Sudan.

Africa in Infrared

As the wedding season slows a bit here in the south (it gets really hot here), I find I’m able to catch up on the things I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time. I no longer feel like I’ve got all the unedited files snapping at my heels like a herd of badly color corrected schnauzers.

 

On one of my previous trips to Africa, before I left, I had my old 30d slr camera converted to shoot 720 nm infrared light by Digital Silver Imaging. They take the old filter that’s opaque to infrared light off your sensor and replace it with one that allows certain wavelengths of infrared light to pass through. This allows for some really unique photography. I’ll say right off the bat that people seem to either hate it or love it, but it is a totally different way of seeing things. Objects reflect infrared light differently than visible, light, so the processing of the photographs is really an art form unto itself.

Infrared photography taken in Torit, South Sudan
Infrared photography taken in Torit, South Sudan

 

So why would I carry the extra weight of an additional camera body when I have tight weight restrictions and  literally need to be able to carry everything on my back?  Because as far as I know, nobody’s done it before, at least not in South Sudan. All photos were taken either in South Sudan or in Kenya. I wanted to get a new perspective, and by doing so, perhaps catch peoples attention who have never paid any notice to what’s going on in that part of the world. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, there is a tremendous physical and spiritual need in South Sudan. Having said that though, I’m not sure I’d carry the extra weight again.

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A family shelters from the heat of the day in Torit, South Sudan. Infrared photo.

I am currently getting ready to go on a missions trip to Ethiopia. I’ve been asked to take pictures for the Petros Network, which is doing extensive work there with church planting, medical missions, and widow and orphan missions. I am excited and honored to be able to help them. Their website is http://petrosnetwork.org

I will of course be blogging and posting photos of the Ethiopia trip when that happens. In the meantime though, between now and the end of October when I leave, I need to raise about $2000 more  to cover my expenses. I have put my infrared photos up for sale as a fundraiser.  The gallery can be viewed by using the following link. There are a variety of sizes available, and custom sizes can be ordered by contacting me though the online gallery.  Please visit http://www.enjoyphotos.com, and fill in the following information:

Username: Infrared Africa Prints
Password: 43975

Enjoy my photography, and if you’d like to own some of it, you’ll be helping a good cause.

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Huts and one lone sheep, Bor South Sudan. Infrared photo.