The greatest of these…

I have, for a while now, been taking life one day at a time without having much in the way of an overarching plan or any real guess as to what tomorrow may hold. Even as I try to make plans for the coming months to see what doors may open to me, I find it is still an arduous process without many guarantees. This can lead to more than a few stress filled days and sleepless nights.Since, I’m not a big fan of stress, though I’ve seemingly chosen a lifestyle that attracts it, and since I do love my sleep, I’ve had to find ways to deal with this constant living in the unknown.

I could certainly tell you of the unhealthy means of coping. The escapes into naps, isolation, food, or Minecraft. I have quite the extensive Minecraft world on my iPad. It is the healthy means of dealing with this on which I want to focus.

I’ve found three.

                        Faith.

Many people have asked me how I am still going. Over the last two and a half years I have lived and worked on three continents and five countries. I hurt my back and ten days later evacuated from the Country over security concerns. I’ve been in a rural hospital for what they called malaria and sepsis at the same time. Now I am finishing my time in my fifth country trying to make plans for my next steps. Somedays it does feel more like I am crawling not taking steps. My next steps, every step really, is a step in faith. I suppose not everyone is in faith as somedays I wonder if I am still going because I am stubborn and refuse to quite, or because I am afraid and don’t want to admit I’ve failed. But, these are driven from my mind by the promises of God I can meditate on in his word and so I am able to say I don’t know how I am still going when I am not even sure where I am going, but I go on because I have faith and that is a gift from God alone.

 But my faith is not alone.

                   To it he has added…

                              Hope

I was sitting in a coffee shop enjoying a proper cup of tea and some free wifi. I was also listening to a music playlist I made while on a guided retreat with the interns. The playlist is called Go Mall, from the Irish meaning slow down. Amazing Grace came on and I was struck by one verse in particular:

The Lord has promised good to me

His word my hope secures

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures

Remembering the promises of God are helpful in times of stress. I especially love the imagery of the shield. For a long time I thought of shields as cool decorations and even cooler toys, in the case of the stage combat shields by Brother-in-law owns.I didn’t really see them as something I needed, but they are pretty important on the battlefield.

I love the idea that God is my shield. A shield isn’t there for decoration, if you are going to battle, you are going to need it. God being our shield doesn’t mean we aren’t being attack, but rather the opposite, that we are going to be under constant barrage and he will be what covers us.

Paul writes in Ephesians of our need to put on the full armor of God and list amongst the armor “the shield of faith, by which you will extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one”. I was sharing this passage in a bible study with a group of interns this summer and got to tell them about my favorite part being the shield. I love in particular the idea coming from an old battle practice where soldiers would soak their hide shields in water over night, so that when fiery darts struck a flammable liquid was released and spread fire, the shield’s soaked hide would extinguish the flame. Our shield of faith doesn’t just provide protection if arrows come are way, it is prepared knowing they will. In the midst, of battle , God provides shelter, a respite. So faith leads to hope as we are sheltered from the worst blows, able to renew our strength and advance the line.

God shields me in ways I wouldn’t think of when he provides respite even in a form of a beautiful day. My day was supposed to be spent helping with a local church arts festival all day. The weather forecast brought about a postponement of the event and left me with the day free. The storms held off their full force and there was actually quite a beautiful block of time filled with sunshine. Being able to relax and go for a walk along the canal, enjoy a nice lunch at a cafe and sit and write were all times of great refreshment for me that I badly needed. So many little moments like this I can point to that restore my hope and renew my strength.

We have a shield of faith and so we have a hope, but…

…The greatest of these is…

Love

Newton’s hymn doesn’t say God gives us a shield, it says God is our shield. He puts himself in the line of fire. He did it on the cross and he still does it today. Tim Keller points out that when Christ confronts Saul on the road to Damascus, “He asks him, ‘Saul why do you persecute me?’(Acts 9:4). Here we see that Jesus so identifies with his people that he shares in their suffering. When they are hurt or in grief, so is he.” What a beautiful thought. As an awkward middle schooler I was bullied, but their was no greater feeling of pride, security, and renewed strength as when I saw my big brother come around the corner and put that bully in his place. How much greater is the sight of Christ our brother coming to shield and protect us! 

Seeing this gift of faith and hope you see it is bound together in love. You see that in your worst, he has deemed you worthy of his love, not a reduced portion, but the whole of his perfect love.

It is hard when in the midst of our suffering we can’t hardly see through the storms, when we struggle to see and remember his love.

Sometimes it seems as if we are able to endure the little sufferings of life, the discomforts by trusting God has a plan, that he is still there with us and loves us. So, if he is what alone can get us through suffering how then do we go about it practically. Like driving in the rain. He gives us his word to illuminate the path for us like headlights (thy word is a lamp unto my feet) and he gives us prayer to push back the rain from our vision. And while the rain is light this seems manageable and we feel we are doing it on our own and not always remembering we do it because God is with us and has given us his gifts to help us. Then the rain falls harder and we start to get a little nervous, we slow the car down to a crawl and we lean towards the windshield straining our eyes to see the path. So long as we can still see his path before us we can keep going and though we feel uncomfortable driving in such conditions we still trust we will make it, after all, we have been driving a long time and seen storms before. Then it really hits. The wind visible moves the car and we fight and grip the wheel hard just to stay on the road. The rain falls in such torrential sheets that the wipers cannot keep up and the path before us seems nonexistent. Sometimes the only thing to do is pull to the side of the road and wait. Sometimes, we feel judged for stopping as though it were giving up, being still and waiting on God, crying out for help to believe when you struggle to is not giving up anything except yourself to a great God which is exactly what we need in such times. Maybe the storm never passes, but we can still remember there is a path ahead of us. Waiting means the storm may pass, it could mean someone will stop and help, we may find others on the same road that we can help, or perhaps a new path that is a bit more clear, we can’t always know but faith isn’t rooted in the evidence of things seen it is rooted in hope of that yet to be seen.  Still, it hurts. There is pain in the storm, but not all of it is bad. We hurt because we have lost what we thought was our true path, our plan for our lives not believing God could have a greater one in store. We hurt because of loss, we hurt because we know nothing else. It is good to mourn loss. The storm may not pass but we may learn to see better through it and start moving slowly again towards our true destination.

To love and to be loved: that is the answer where ever we are, Stuck in the mud or racing down the highway. Faith hope and love are the only ways I have found to deal with a life of uncertainty and  world of struggles. And it isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Fatih, hope and love.

But the greatest of these is love.

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Disappointing god

    I’d not written poetry in years, but in my younger years it was a favorite hobby. There’s something about sitting in a cafe in Europe that’s make words come pouring back and on to paper. They have been a help for me to deal with the overwhelming number of emotions I have been dealing with since leaving Africa.

    I had seen too many posts from people on social media about their own disappointments and I began to feel sorry for myself. It didn’t take long for God to convict me of my grumbling and complaining. He showed me how I tend to mix motives in my work, and often disappointment comes when I have wrongly made myself the goal, wanting to be glorified, wanting to be God. When I make myself god, I will always end up disappointed.

    This sonnet, in particular, deals with my feelings of disappointment from a lost dream. I, too often, turn my calling and my work into an idol and losing them can have a crushing effect until I remember the one who Called me to himself has greater plans than I can dream. I need to be disappointed more by the god of myself and turn to find hope eternal in the God of love.

Disappointing god

Oft I have prayed and prayed and been denied

The thing that I had thought should be my prize

For such a sacrificial life as I have plied.

Crushed by expectations built on lies

I have become my own great golden god.

An idol made of flesh with heart of stone.

What worthless works I treasure, praise and laud,

In hard times quickly turn to wails and moans.

Disappointed me. Disappointing god,

Who’s woven of mine own deceitful lies

A mask I wear, a crumbling old façade.

I’m razed by mercy and by His grace I rise.

My god must die, that God can live in me.

My God didst die, from god I now am free.

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They Will Know We Are Christians by our What!?!

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I have been globetrottting for two years now serving as a missionary in East Africa. Here I have a tendency to let my hair run wild and grow long and my beard becomes bushy too. I also have been known to lose a great deal of weight. My first few months in South Sudan saw me lose 35 pounds. I greatly enjoyed packing those pounds back on when I was in briefly home in the States. Being gone so long and having my physical appearance change so much some times I wonder if my friends and family back home would even recognize me. I also wonder if I were to shave and cut my hair if any one in my organization would recognize me.

I am used to being judged by my appearance, which being a perpetual bachelor has never really bothered me much. In Africa, I am accustomed to people shouting Muzungu or Kawaaja at me simply because I am white. With my beard and long hair these days they more often shout Jesus. While it is my goal as a pastor and believer to imitate Christ looking like the stereotypical western depiction of Jesus was not my intention. My desire was to reflect Christ from my heart.

That idea of being an imitator of Christ and leading others to do the same remains central in my heart as a core tenet in my personal calling to ministry. I liken it to those old movies of explorers coming across a hidden tomb and they find a mirror in the darkness. They clean off the mirror and adjust it just right so that it catches the ray of light from above and then sends that beam across a great series of other mirrors causing the whole tomb to become illuminated. I love the picture of reflecting the light of Christ in my life to others that the whole world may become illumined.

This is a beautiful idea that I usually mess up, which shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to me or you. After all, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” Recently, I have been a bit taken aback at how much of this I see in the Christian world. Christ said that, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Yet, these days those who tout the moniker of Christian seldom seem to have applied it to anything in their life other than their Facebook profile. I will admit that the sample I have is a bit skewed as social media is one of the few outlets I have to see what things are like back in the States. However, Social Media should not be an excuse as we were called to be Christians and to love one another in every realm.

Two things of great importance to highlight from Christ’s command to love one another.

First, Christ desires his disciples to love the Lord, to love their neighbor, and even to love their enemies. Name calling, shaming, and Bible-thumping are not ever listed amongst the traits of a disciple. In fact, love should go so far as to “keep no record of wrong”, to “forgive your enemy”, and to “pray for those who persecute you”.

Christ never asked me to post something in his name and then tell everyone that didn’t share or like it that they are a bad Christian. I am not saved by the number of likes I get. Neither did Christ say that when a Christian is bullied he should take the sword of the Spirit and start hacking away at people. Western Christians seemed to have adopted the guerrilla tactics of the fallen world. James Davidson Hunter, brilliant author and professor, in his work To Change the World, visits the Nietzchean idea of Ressentiment, explaining that “His (Nietzsche’s) definition of this french word included what we in the English-speaking world mean by resentment, but it also involves a combination of anger, envy, hate, rage, and revenge as the motive for political action.” He goes on to show how it is based in a sense of injury, real or perceived, and that then leads to a sense of entitlement, which in turn leads one to demand recompense. “And so it is, then, that the injury—real or perceived—leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on those whom they see as responsible.” Ressentiment is alive and thriving in American Culture and from my point of view many who would claim to be disciples have adopted this stance. Yet no where in this philosophy is there room for love. Gaining power and control will not right a wrong. It may allow for vengeance, but only love is going to wipe the slate clean.

A Poison Tree by William Blake

I was angry with my friend;

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I waterd it in fears,

Night & morning with my tears:

And I sunned it with smiles,

And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night.

Till it bore an apple bright.

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole,

When the night had veild the pole;

In the morning glad I see;

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Harbor hate and it will grow. I have never seen Christian hypocrisy so much as I have seen it played out in the election process in America. I don’t mean just the candidates and their primary school antics and squabbles, but everyone on every side who follows these candidates and gives full vent to their opinions lambasting any who stand opposed. Christians should be involved in the political process, but more importantly, they should show the love of Christ in that process. Why is it that nowadays the public knows Christians not by their love but by their anger, hate, protests, and hypocrisy. What happened to knowing we are Christian’s by our love?

That then leads me to the second point concerning Christ’s command to love one another. He set the example. He said we are to love as he has loved. Any of you out there who read this and claim that you are loving that way and haven’t been nailed to a tree and died yet better recheck your level of love. Christ love is ultimate. It is sacrificial. It is what we as disciples are called to live. True love is not conveyed in an emoji nor can it be encapsulated in 140 characters or less. True love is a life lived in sacrifice for others motivated by a live sacrificed for you.

This kind of love must be lived, so how do we do that. My motives, my words, and my actions often stray from the ideal of love. How can I stay and not stray. We can feign the words and actions. What we can’t fake is the heart. The more time you spend with the one you love the more you will become like them. Spend some time looking at the way Christ loved those around him. Spend time knowing who he is and not just simply facts about him to make you look good on bible trivia night. To walk like Jesus, walk with Jesus.

One practical place I would love to see American believers begin to show love is in their approach to the elections. Every good southern mama has, at least once in their lives, said that if you can’t say nuthin’ nice don’t say nuthin’ at all. How hard would it be to find one good thing to say about each candidate and one good thing to say about each person who disagrees with your views? After all, if you are a Christian you believe they were all made in God’s image. As it is written in James, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.” For my own part I pray God’s mercy on me for this hardened heart of mine and ask that he will teach me more each day to love like he loves me. I pray this for you too. May the world again know we are Christians by our love.

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Dante’s Ninth Ring or Sick in Africa

In South Sudan terms, Saturday I felt a little somehow, but quickly it became a what what situation. I should warn you this blog is not for the squeamish tummies. Amongst many other symptoms I began to have a fever which rose to 103, drop to 100, rose to 103, and drop to 100 then rose to 103 and by this point early morning having become rather dehydrated and weak popular demand had me heading to a local hospital thinking I may have malaria but at the least needing to get some fluids in me. Our very good friends the Sharlands proving their saintly status yet again, came and picked Will and I and several bags of supplies to head to the hospital. Why several bags, because this is a rural African hospital. It is dry season and a very severe one so no water right now. Also, the hospital is powered by hydroelectricity and well I mentioned already the no water thing that includes the river providing the power. So, testing was rather simplistic. The rapid test said no malaria and so have some doctor friends, others claim that since I was on malarone to prevent malaria it would test negative and I could still have it, to be safe I am being treated for malaria. Of course that wasn’t all though I also had a severe gi bug. So, they are also treating me for that. They got me set up in a room with an iv for fluids and Will took over to be my own personal nurse again (the Reeds had this fun a year ago in Mundri when I hurt my back). I ended up staying a little over 24 hours in the hospital before being sent home to rest still with a port stuck in my hand as I have several more days of injections.

Now to describe the hospital experience. Why so many supplies? Well we needed to pack things like our own bed sheets, and for Will a tent that he set up to sleep in outside my window, which provided great entertainment to all watching Ugandans (and every Ugandan watched when the rare muzungu came out) No water so we packed our drinking water and several jerry cans for washing and flushing the squatty potty, which is not the most exciting thing for a man with a gi bug. We packed our own toilet paper, and food (for Will I didn’t eat for three days). We brought our own medicine because their pharmacy was out of some of the ones I needed. Flashlights, because with intermittent power (thank you generator) it is hard to see that squatty potty in the dark. We probably could have packed ear plugs given the noise. The eleven pm church choir was pleasant although in my slightly delirious state I did have to wonder if the drugs hadn’t worked and I had died already. It was far too hot to be heaven though, which is also why I had a tiny battery operated fan although the chills kept me cold until the fever broke and the medicine made them go away.

Some of our Sudanese friends came to visit in the morning to pray for me and bring me tea and cake. It’s a cultural thing families come to provide meals and care for the sick, very nice but I declined as my stomach was yet to handle food and I was hesitant to take their advice that something hot would fix my stomach. I survived though I am still very weak and weary and lying in bed for today and a few more days to come. Will was a hero and when he got me home set to disinfecting the house and Theresa had made me nome chicken noodle soup. Please pray they don’t get it I don’t think I could be as strong a helper as they have been. Will also snapped some photos to help us remember this glorious event on our one year evacuation anniversary. We do love keeping things crazy as a team. For now I am closing my laptop and sleeping for a week but feel free to keep scrolling to get the pictorial guide to the hospital. Also in my many thanks are Serge for being so supportive, my insurance company for making this logistically easy, The Sharlands and Reeds for well everything and my parents for not panicking too much.

 

 

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My first stop the eMMMMMergency room because i was so sick it took

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My room freshly sorted by Will and Heather

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Close up of some hospital rules

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My Squatty Potty

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Arua In Pictures

My Parents gave me a new camera while I was home and to prove to my mother that I am using it here are some pictures from life in Arua.

 

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Boy’s Pit Latrine at the Church

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Zoom in sign from the bathroom. Good African Advice.

 

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My alarm clock

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Preaching at the Moru Church

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Moru refugee boy playing with his new football provided by my great supporters

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Proof that I am a wizard. The owl our night guard caught.

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Just Another Day

I couldn’t sleep. A common occurance given the heat and the cacophany of noises outside most prominent of which is still the rooster. I got up early and started my day at home. Will and Theresa are off to get an ultrasound and find the sex of their baby today, which makes it an exciting day around here. I am also on the schedule for cooking dinner tonight so with my early start I headed to the kitchen with my coffee to begin prepping.

I love cooking but Africa likes to make it a challenge. Every simple task gets a little tricky and takes a little longer than in the States. Take my menu for today: Sloppy Joes, coleslaw, and chips. In the States this would be a fairly quick and easy meal. Not as easy here. I tackled the slaw first, easy enough to do when my eyes are barely cracked after only a few sips of coffee. Throwing the slaw in the fridge to marinate, I then get to work on the hamburger buns, becuase unless you want to pick out weevils from the local bread as you eat, you make your own fresh. You do still have to sift everything to get the weevils out. (I really want to insert a weevil pun here but I will leave that to my Dad and Uncles.) While baking the bread I also throw in a batch of muffins to have ready for when company comes over. The Joes I can fix pretty fast just before we are ready to eay thanks to some seasoning packs from people back home. So, that just leaves the chips. Making your own potato chips is a chore. Getting them sliced thin enough is hard without my mandolin but alas that is in a box somewhere in Alabama. Get them nice and thin though that makes for a good chip. Then soak them and dry them out to make them perfect for frying. Then just stand over a hot stove with bubbling oil in the African heat and wait for them to fry to golden perfection. One or two of mine actually did this the rest, well, they are at least edible. I’m not complaining about the difficulties, in fact it is far easier here than it ever was in Mundri. Here I can get Ultra Pasturized stay on the shelf for a year in the african heat milk in stead of just the powdered stuff. Here I can sometimes get meat. Here there are more than three fruits and vegetables from which to choose. Uganda does have some nice advantages. But it is nice to remember how much extra effort goes into daily living here than when I was in the States and could just run out and get something or pop a frozen pizza in the microwave when I was too tired from work to cook.

With the meal prepped I can focus on other things like getting in a little exercise. If you thought Insanity Max 30 Sweat Intervals made you sweat in the States you should try them in the middle of the day in Africa. I’m told exercise is good for you, and I am trying to stick with it, but the temptation to just rely on life in Africa for loosing wait is hard.

After sweating over a stove and being absolutely drenched by Insanity I went to shower much to the delight of my teammates. My first in six days. It is dry season, the cistern is dried up and the city hasn’t brought water in three weeks so we are conserving what we have. Thankfully we found a man who will, for a small fee, truck us in a little water. I can’t tell you how nice it was to do the dishes in the sink and to actually bathe not just wipe down with a bucket and cloth.

The afternoon is spent writing. Expense Reports, Blogs, Newsletters, Papers for my doctoral class, sermons; there is always something to write. Today I went with expense reports and a blog incase you couldn’t tell. I really must want to procrastinate writing for my class to actually want to do expense reports for the team.

Dinner with the team celebrating the Reeds news that they are having a baby —- (I know something you don’t know) and maybe a TV show to relax a little before trying to get some sleep and start again tomorrow adding in language lessons, some time with our Moru friends, and hosting some fellow missionaries for dinner.

Its just another day.

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Dewey Defeats Truman

It is election time in Uganda. Yesterday Ugandans went to the polls to vote for their next President. Incumbent Museveni has been in office for 30 years, but is meeting stiff opposition this time around. Just to be on the safe side in the case of any one side getting overly excited about their candidate or the results we are sticking close to home for the next few days. The country is eagerly awaiting the results which as of this morning had a whopping 2% reporting with Museveni in the lead.

Elections here are a little different from in the States. Ugandan’s eager to vote will wait in line under the hot sun all day for a chance to cast their ballot while the majority of Americans decide not to exercise their right to vote, but have no problem exercising their free speech in complaining about both the process and the results. The polling stations here may also be nothing more than a plastic tub set in the middle of a mud hut compound where the community can come check in and cast their ballot.

This doesn’t always go as planned as many polling stations failed to get the ballots in a timely manner or even at all causing huge delays in the process. One opposition candidate was also arrested for trespassing when he charged into a house where he had heard ballots were being stuffed. This was not his first time be detained this week. Social Media sites have also been blocked by the government due to security concerns, imagine the reaction if that happened in the States.

Throughout all of this, I just pray that wisdom and peace prevail. Ugandan has been a bit of a refugee for me as its neighbor South Sudan has proven to be a more volatile place to live. I hope to see peace and grace continue through this election process and on through the years to come that this country’s stability might be replicated in some of its neighbors. Also, given the issues surrounding an African election, I hope American’s might think twice before complaining about our process (feel free to keep complaining about candidates) but the freedom, the ease, and the privilege of going to the polls in the states should not be shaken for granted.

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