Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Snake Woman And The Blind Man

A couple of years ago, I was in Juba, South Sudan. I heard of a recent ‘event’ that had happened in the city. The story was, that there was near panic in part of Juba, because a woman had reportedly turned into a snake. How this was supposed to have happened and why, I don’t know, but the fact was there that in addition to the panic, there were apparently a large number of people that came out to see the snake woman. Ridiculous we would say. To add to it, we’d probably go on to say that it was simple-minded people believing in superstition, if we were to speak out loud what was going on within our heads before we remembered it’s not politically correct to pass judgement on what anyone believes.

Now let me tell you another story. The same year, there was a semi-homeless man that I would run into frequently as I’d walk my dog in my hometown. I would occasionally speak to him, and got to know him a little. One day, I saw that he had a patch over one of his eyes. I asked him what had happened. He said that his retina had detached, and his doctor told him he was losing his vision. I asked him if I could pray for him, and he agreed. I prayed that God would restore his vision to him and heal his eye, and we both went on our way. About a week later, I saw him again, and he was no longer wearing the patch on his eye and could see out of it.  I asked him about his eye, and his response was, “My doctor says he misdiagnosed it.”

One culture believes in all things spiritual, the other believes in nothing spiritual. While faith is the evidence of things unseen, what do you call it when you see something with your own eyes and still manage to rationalize it away? We in the supposedly Christian west write off all things spiritual as superstition or the figments of simple minds.  The fact is, that in my experience, it’s only in the caucasian west that we manage to convince ourselves that all things spiritual are such figments of a desperate imagination.

Go to Africa, and you’ll find that even the educated believe not only that God is able, but that he WILL intercede if we pray and act on the authority given to us in the Holy Spirit. Most of the book of Acts, and a good bit of 1st Corinthians deals with the subject of spiritual gifts. Jesus says in the gospel of John, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

“Greater things than these” are the words used. So as Christians, do we believe this, and if not, why not?  I’ve seen things that would blow the minds of such deniers. We don’t believe, because we don’t want to believe. We would have to live differently. We would have to take God at his word on a lot of things we currently ignore. I hear the question a lot, “How do you know which religion is correct?”  When an entire Muslim family in Ethiopia is instantly and miraculously healed, they know what is correct.

When a doctor tells a man he is going to lose his vision, the doctor has to be pretty sure about his diagnosis. When I see a man’s vision restored anyway, I know what’s correct.

If we profess to be Christians, it seems to me that there is the choice to take the whole package or nothing at all. Why would we want to follow Christ if what he said was a lie?  There’s any number of liars I’m free to follow, and most of them don’t require such things as abasing the human nature and pride, or putting others before yourself, or any of the other myriad of unpalatable things Christians are called to do but rarely do. In fact, most of them tell you to follow your heart and do what feels good. The book of Proverbs speaks directly to this and says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” On the other side of things, if everything Jesus said is true, then why WOULDN’T we want to follow him? Yes, it requires a lot of you, but it’s so much better a way than the half-hearted, half-believing version of following that the church generally does now in America. Jesus says in Matthew 10, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”  That is the version of following Christ that I want.

A woman who received her sight back after two years of blindness while I was in Ethiopia.
A woman who received her sight back after two years of blindness while I was in Ethiopia.
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The Turd That Hopped.

I was in Juba, South Sudan. Juba can be called Africa’s equivalent of a wild-west town. It’s pretty rough. People come there hoping for a better life, but with that comes a lot of crime and violence. Very few of the roads are paved, and no grass grows in the dry dirt, especially in February, when there’s no rain and the temperature hovers around 42 degrees celsius during the day. There’s no electricity, no central water, and no sanitation. The last part of that is the start of my story.

If you’ve ever been to Africa, you’re familiar with the squatty-potty. Essentially you have an elongated hole in the floor that drops to a pit; hopefully a deep one. Since there is no running water, after you do your business, you walk outside and fill a bucket with water that comes from a water tank that gets filled periodically with water trucked in from the Nile. It’s no good for drinking, but it’ll do for flushing.

One night we were staying in the compound in Juba. It was the middle of the night, so the generator had already been shut off, and the only light came from a headlamp, if you had one. A friend of mine got up to use the bathroom. As he entered the stall for the squatty, his headlamp landed on a pile of unmentionable on the floor of the bathroom. He was a bit annoyed that someone would have the lack of decency necessary to miss the hole completely and leave it there for the next person. What you have to realize is that this friend is in his sixties, with eyes in their sixties to go along.  As he went to kick the unmentionable into the hole with his shoe, the turd hopped toward him.  I heard a yell, and immediately suspected what actually happened. One of the large frogs that like to use the bathroom to stay out of the blazing heat had made its acquaintance with my friend.

For other antics of South Sudan’s frogs, check the blog post, https://southsudantraveler.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/check-your-shoes/

The hopping turd.
The hopping turd.

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.

Anfechtung

“Mama told me, be good, work hard, and love Mr. God. Every Sunday I lie, trying to realize why. Ain’t nothing more to say, your honor. Don’t look at me like that. The truth is; I am a free man, but I can’t enjoy my life.  I came to a standstill, with lies and hopes inside my head. Always seemed to late to turn, and too soon to understand.” These are song lyrics from the band, Riverside. They cut to the core of the human condition.

This week I have been studying the concept of “anfechtung”. I would give you an english word, but unfortunately there is no direct translation. Translated literally, it means a trial or conflict. It is so much more than that, though. It is all the doubts, panic, turmoil, and desperation that invades the spirit of man. It is the isolation man feels; the need to be one with eternity while at the same time running from it. The source of the dichotomy is mankind being born depraved but created for the divine. It is the hole in the spirit that longs to be filled. I suspect that most of the readers here have some idea of what I’m talking about, unless you’re very young, in which case you’ll find out soon enough.

Anfechtung comes from man’s natural inclination to be one with God, but can be made worse by a number of things. Two of these things come from the church, and those are the things I am going to address. On one hand, you have a church that says, “Come on in as you are, bring your baggage with you. We love you, and who are we to say what is right and wrong? You feel free to stay the way you are.”

The other church says, “Feel free to come, but we have a strict set of guidelines, and a list of things that you’re going to have to take care of before we accept you into this body.”  One kind of church is permissive, the other is legalistic. One ignores truth, the other ignores grace. Note the line in the song, “it always seemed too late to turn, too soon to understand.”

1st Corinthians 13 finishes with “and now these three remain:faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” There is a reason these things are grouped together. They are like the ingredients of a recipe. Without all three, the other ingredients are useless.  Love without faith is a hippie, in the original sense of the word.  Faith without love is a terrorist. Either love or faith without hope rots the bones. Without faith, there is no hope.

A teenager in our community died recently, and his funeral was held at (we’ll call it a church). It was one of these churches where they hold no core beliefs. Your idea of who God is is as valid as anyone else’s. When the rubber hit the road, the only thing they could talk about were all the things this boy was destined to do, but now never would. There was no hope, because there was no faith. In an effort to not be offensive, the message of hope was lost. Love without faith leaves no hope. This is one place anfechtung comes from.

Anfechtung is an inclination in the human spirit to drive man to God. The church takes anfechtung and drives man farther away from God. It may not be intentional, but that is the effect.  Jesus words in Luke 17 say the following; “1He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4“And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

People who experience anfechtung are looking for answers. They recognize their own brokenness. They recognize their own aloneness. They recognize their own separation from God. Jesus further says in Matthew 23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

People say that faith is a crutch. I fully take ownership of that. For those who think that, I challenge you to take ownership of your crutches as well, because everyone has them. In Ethiopia recently, one of the doctors I was with was thrilled to be able to treat so many different kinds of illnesses for the poor there. The reason he was happy to treat all these different maladies was that at his own practice, the most common complaint is, “Doc, I can’t sleep. Can you prescribe something for me?”

You can’t sleep because you are struggling with your own anfechtungen. Do you drink your crutch? Does your doctor prescribe it for you? Do you eat it? Do you buy it? What is your anfechtung’s name? If faith is a crutch, I am happy to live with it.

What I would like to see is churches that recognize the struggles, the anfechtungen that people have. I would like for people to be able to enter Christian fellowship knowing that they will be accepted the way they are, but that they, through the Holy Spirit, will be helped not to stay that way. That they can bring their baggage in the door and hopefully drop it at the altar and not leave back out the door with it. It’s time to get back to the basics, to put moral pablum and platitudes aside. It’s time to put permissiveness, relativism, and legalism aside and stop standing between people and God.

man in Sudan

 

The January Fluff Piece

2014 was a year of incredible change, and of events I could not have predicted in a million years. I started the year thinking there was a possibility that my role in missions might be at an end. What instead happened was that God spent the first half of the year teaching me a lot of truths that I will always carry with me, and that will lead me to other truths. Then the second half of the year consisted of not “shall I serve?”, but “where shall I serve?”. That last question is the one that I carry into this year. I have opportunity to serve in South Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia this year, in various capacities. When I was in Ethiopia this year, a pastor told me through a translator that I would be given new skills and would be useful in many places. I am convinced that my roles will soon expand beyond photography and into a variety of other roles, but for now I have to wait to find out what those other roles may be.

What is both a blessing and a curse for me at the same time is that very rarely does my mind shut off. I frequently have what seem to be disparate lines of thought running through my head, often for weeks at a time. Frequently these disparate lines congeal into one predominant thought or concept, and I find that they weren’t disparate at all; hence a lot of the content of this blog.  God blessed me this past month with a time where I was able to step away from international ministry for a bit, and just shut my mind off for a bit. After two trips to Africa in just six weeks, I took one last international trip, this time to shoot a wedding, and this time in the Bahamas. While my senses were still filled with the wonder of amazing places, it was different than Africa. There was no feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of need. It was easy. Sometimes your need to let the fire in your belly die down for a few weeks so it doesn’t burn a hole. January’s trip to the Bahamas was just that opportunity. I was able to take my wife with me to assist, and just spend my time taking pictures of beautiful things. I think back ten years to when I was in an entirely different career, and God called me to do something different, and realize just how blessed I am to have stepped out of my comfort-zone, take a leap of faith, and do what I’m doing now.

As I finish resting from thinking, and temporarily put an end to pontificating, I take the opportunity to write this fluff piece. Soon I’m sure, the thoughts will begin flooding in again, and I’ll be confronted with not whether to serve, but where, and in what capacity. But as I said in my last blog, God is not looking for the über-capable, but the über-faithful. I’m sure that as I’m willing, the questions will not be if, but where and when. So to finish up, here are a few pictures from my third and easiest international trip in just over four months. Soon though, I will give you more from Africa.

My wife at the shore of Elbow Cay, Bahamas
My wife at the shore of Elbow Cay, Bahamas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bride and groom in an underwater shoot I did for them.
The bride and groom in an underwater shoot I did for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

panorama of the sea just as I arrived at my hotel.
panorama of the sea just as I arrived at my hotel.