Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering "Our" Troops?

Is it just "our" troops that we should remember this day? What about the civilians, children and women, whom "our" troops have killed? Should we remember them as well? Or what about even the soldiers whom "our" troops have killed? Were their lives not as valuable as American soldier's lives?

As a believer in Jesus, coming from a long line of followers who began in the first century proclaiming Jesus is Lord (implying at the same time that Caesar is not), I have a hard time reconciling the current nationalism that I see within the church with the Scriptures and very beginnings of Christianity. It was common knowledge that someone being baptized in the first century was changing allegiances, and coming under a new King and becoming a citizen of a new Kingdom. The Christians of the first few centuries (pre-Constantine) were intensely non-violent and also strongly opposed to involvement in the state.

Blind nationalism has no place in Christianity, because a Christian's main allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Cries of nationalistic pride and sentimentalism over flags and songs should hold no power over a believer in Jesus. We know that every kingdom will be destroyed by Jesus, as it is promised at the end of Revelation. Babylon, Babylon the great is fallen!

My desire is that we WOULD remember OUR troops: the Christian martyrs who have gone before us, laying down their lives in non-violence for their king Jesus to spread the gospel of the true God who came down to save His people. I love to reflect on their lives. And if we must think of war, let us grieve in our hearts over so many people perpetually dying because of wicked foreign policies, of the greed of humanity, of the lust for power, and the very thing that causes so much war: blind nationalism. And let us cry come Lord Jesus, come!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Leaving Arua

Yesterday was a gift from the Lord for me. Honestly, over the last few days I have been ready to leave and I wasn't fully sure why. There are many different reasons I'm sure, but it just wasn't good. Yesterday afternoon revealed some things to me though. We had a farewell celebration, which was a formal thing for a few hours, but then there was dancing and food afterwards. Many people from the community had come together and it was so enjoyable, and I realize why now. It was one of the few glimpses I had into just being another person and having from with people in the community. Almost all of our ministry was going around to schools, churches, and villages teaching for a little while and then leaving after no more than a day with them. And we were always seen as the white people, which brought awe and even fear at times. We rarely got to be just another person, to come alongside Africans and become friends. Our skin was a barrier to creating authentic friendships, and I didn't realize how hard that can be until I caught a glimpse of what it could be like to be one with them. It charged me up and made me see that cross cultural ministry is really hard and it has a lot of barriers to developing powerful relationships, but if we persevere through that we can begin to see how we aren't all that different and really begin to relate. It also was very encouraging for me as I prepare to go to LA in January and am thinking about returning to Africa later in life, to know that I wouldn't always just be the white guy.

We also developed some great relationships with a few of the youth volunteers who traveled around and spent a lot of time with us. I didn't think it would be so hard to leave them, but I cried like a little baby last night. I mean I haven't actually cried, aside from getting teary eyed, in like 6 years. Two of our friends sang us a song where they were saying goodbye forever and to please write them. We all started crying, and exchanged many emotional words and hugs. I probably will never see these friends of mine again. And now we are both going to be living in very different worlds, with a huge ocean separating us. But again I continue to learn more about what it means to hope in the resurrection, and long for Jesus' return, and this is just another reason to do so. These friends of mine are continuing in lives with much hardship, with drunkard husbands and 5 kids, with no work or school fees, and other such things. I think this is where the strong emotion came from within me, and it reminds me that things are not right in the world, and that we need Jesus' rescuing really badly.

Well that's it for now... but I'll have more thoughts soon I'm sure.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

With four days left in Arua...

In our last week we have had a few cancelations because of… well us being in Africa, haha. We are always learning to be flexible, because things often start like 2 or 3 hours late, and when they do, I usually just pull out a book to read or journal. Because of it I have seriously read almost 5 books during the trip here! We do a lot here, but also just have a lot of time in the car or being delayed.

We leave on Monday morning. It has come pretty fast. The two week mark was the shift in my mind of preparing to end well, but this last week has been somewhat slow because of a couple cancelations in our programs and it is honestly getting hard for me to not check out and start thinking more about going back to the US. When you know that you are about to leave for home soon, it can tend to make it easy to coast until you get back. I find myself dreaming about getting some Dairy Queen (yea they don’t have good ice cream or chocolate), Taco Bell, and other such foods, and just moving on with life in Simi and LA. But I was convicted a lot when I realized that if I can’t endure and stay focused on the mission to the end for just seven weeks, how am I supposed to do this with my life? What I mean is that this life is so short, and it is easy for me to want to just take it easy in this life while waiting for eternity, but that is not what I am called to. Yes I want God and His kingdom in it’s fullness more than anything, but I have to go hard here and not coast. Going hard here will actually make it so much sweeter, especially because it seems like it isn’t so pretty for those who are truly saved but just coast (1 Cor 3). So I can’t check out, I need to keep my mind here on the mission. Please pray for me on this, as I see how this can serve as preparation for life in that respect.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In Arringa, a Muslim area

A few days ago we went to Arringa, which is in the far Northwestern part of Uganda and has a very large Muslim population. We learned how a few missionaries had been killed in little while ago there, and others shot at. It was crazy to be in an area where there is real persecution of the church. One of the leaders of the church there really impressed me as he talked of what was happening there. He fully understood the cost of doing ministry there, but was still just as determined to spread the gospel knowing that it could cost him his life. In a place where people have been killed for ministry, he (and a team of others) are translating the Bible into the local language and doing all sorts of ministries. He said that there biggest need was leadership though, as the church, as small as it is, is weak and not educated well on the Bible. I wish we could have gone there to do ministry, but we were only there for a couple hours and had to depart. I am glad though that some of the people who we are working with here will be going back there for over a week to help strengthen the church there.

This is the sort of ministry my heart goes out to, and maybe the Lord will have me do one day. These Muslims are perishing every day without knowing the gospel, without understanding the message of Jesus, and then standing before their Creator fully accountable for all of their sin and going to an eternal Hell. That’s not good. Now I think Arringa can be ministered to be the native Ugandans nearby, so I don’t think I would return there. But what about Afghanistan, or North Africa, or Egypt, or other places where there are people who have never heard the gospel? What an honor it would be to go to a place like that. I know I’d be terrified, and I need the Lord to give me more faith for that sort of task. I mean at times it is hard for me even being here and they treat us really well and we don’t face persecution. Yet in light of eternity, it totally makes sense to go to those places. So I’ll pray that the Lord would prepare me for whatever He wants, especially because that wouldn’t happen until much later, after Los Angeles which seems to be next. And if I’m going to LA, it’s going to be for a while to really see that ministry through.

We are faced with just one week left. It’s crazy to think about. We’ve been in Africa for almost 6 weeks! Well I’ve definitely learned that people are people, sin is sin, and Jesus is king. There is nothing new underneath the sun. The culture is different in a lot of ways, but many of the temptations and challenges for the church are similar. A huge difference is obviously the wealth and poverty issue, but that’s one of the few major ones. Other than that these people are beautiful and not as different as we might like to think. I’ve become friends with Africans, and that shifts things. We don’t commonly like to become friends with people who are poor, because then we will feel bad for what we have and that we should live on less for their sake. We tend to either not go to poor areas or if we do we will isolate ourselves from meaningful relationships with poor people so as to not get too immersed in it. We have met missionaries here who live behind big walls with barbed wire and they have few meaningful relationships with Ugandans. How are we supposed to do ministry like that? It is honestly uncomfortable at times though, because as we get to know poor people here, they know that I have money just as much as I do, and it creates a barrier in relationship through distrust. But this is not something to run from, but rather something to deal with and work through. I’m not sure yet what to do, but I think it starts pouring out our lives for those who are poor (spiritually and physically, and it has to be both to be holistic ministry).

I'm also learning about my own sin, and how I can often be so focused on "mission" that I actually neglect loving the closest people around me. I know this doesn't please Jesus, because such a big part of the mission is being the church together who love each other. If we are called to be reconciled to Jesus, we are also called to be reconciled to our brother and sister. So please pray for me to have love in all things.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Compassion and World Vision, Arringa (Muslim area) soon

So what has been happening as of late here in Uganda? Hmm… Well this morning we went to the Compassion International site here in Arua, and talked with those in charge of it. A few days ago we were also able to visit a World Vision site in Offaka, which was about an hour and a half drive from Arua. We were speaking in Offaka, and then as we were pulling into town we saw the World Vision there, and during one of the session where Kevin and Jessica were teaching, Jessica and I ducked out and visited the office there. In talking with both Compassion and World Vision and seeing them on the ground here in Uganda, I feel even better and more confident in what they are doing, and would continue to encourage people to sponsor kids through these organizations. It seems like World Vision uses most of the child sponsorship money to develop the community around all the kids who are being sponsored by building wells in the community and doing other community projects that improve the situation around the children. They also do some with school needs and such, but it seems like the personal attention for each child is less than with Compassion, at least with the two places we saw. Compassion had much more of a focus on the child sponsorship’s money going directly to the child through school supplies, programs, medicine, family development and empowerment, and other things. So coming away from it, I’m not sure which one is better… it seems that they each meet very big needs in different ways, but I was definitely encouraged to see that local Ugandans were being empowered within these communities to improve the lives of the people there. They both seem to be very indigenous, being rooted in the community and having a great understanding of the needs there, rather than some Americans coming in and calling the shots when it doesn’t really meet their needs. So feel good about sponsoring through these organizations, as I have seen them on the ground and see their effectiveness. We hope to visit Compassion again on a Saturday when they have all of the kids there for the weekly program.

I was told about how north of Arua there is a very strong population of Muslims with few Christians there. It seems there are some attempts at ministry, but that these people are pretty resistant to the gospel and closed off to outsiders. It continues to break my heart that places like these have so many people who don’t know about Jesus and will die without ever having the opportunity to know that they can be saved from their rebellion against God. So when I first heard about it, I asked if we could possibly go to visit the area and see what it was like, because I am very interested in missions to unreached people groups. And it now looks like it is going to happen, as we are scheduled to go this Friday to Arringa, though we won’t be teaching or doing much it seems because it is just not a safe place for Christians. Of course ministry needs to be done there, but not by people who are just coming for one day. This type of place requires long term investment in the community, especially in Africa where relationships and community are so important. But please pray for us, as this will be my first time ever in a situation anything like this, where you could get in trouble for being a Christian and a fully Muslim area. And pray for these people, and that God would sent His workers there to share with them the good news, that they don’t have to try to earn His love, but that is was paid for.

Also this week we will be visiting the local hospital, a college, and a prison. It will be a welcomed change of pace from the normal programs that we have been doing. Doing the same program over and over, and always being in front of people can become emotionally tiring, and I think we were starting to feel it pretty hard.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thoughts on violence, money, etc. (you know me, haha)

So life here in Arua is going on the same, but people are definitely paying attention to what is happening. Our supervisor with Africa Inland Mission just came up from Kampala to visit us and check on how we are doing. Apparently the guy from the US, Nate, who died in the bomb blast was staying in her home, so it hit home for her quite a bit. It appears that this might only be the beginning of more things to come, rather than an isolated incident. The Ugandan government seems committed to adding more troops in Somalia, and completely destroying these terrorists. In response, the leader of this terrorist attack has promised to hit more places in Uganda. These people in Uganda already have enough issues, enough hardship, and now they are faced with this. My friend who runs the internet cafe told us that his birthday was yesterday, but he didn't go out because of being worried about the terrorists threats.

We aren't all that worried, and it seems like for the most part life goes on as normal here in Arua. The US Embassy has given some advice on how to handle ourselves though, suggesting to stay away from large venues and such, as well as other things. I just know that Jesus is needed here, and He is very much here. There are many solid believers here, including those whom we work with like Leviticus and James. Please pray for us as we preach the gospel of hope that overcomes death, suffering, and pain.

I was just saying how my faith is deepening, I am believing and trusting Jesus more, because we are face to face with the brokenness of the world. When you are in situations like these, surrounded by poverty, pain, hopeless situations, war, terror, etc., you begin to see the need for redemption, for Someone to set things right. So much in the US we deceive ourselves into thinking that things are great, that we have control, but the reality is that this world is very broken. In Uganda, you see your need for Jesus much more than you do in the US. One of our cooks has four children, her husband is a drunk, she sleeps on her kitchen floor, and has little hope of much more than that in this life. As we speak at schools and churches in villages, we hear many stories of people who have had their father die, or maybe both their parents, and don't know how they will get school fees for the next semester. Kids are walking around in rags. Some women walk quite a way with water on their head, or a pile of branches, or various other heavy things.

Yet there is hope. These people have great love and hospitality. They always receive us warmly, and rarely complain. To them it is just life. We pull out a futbol and kids come to play with us with torn clothing and no shoes, yet they are all smiles and enjoy to just play. It's not that they don't have issues, or that they are unaffected by them, but they deal with it and move on. For those who know Jesus, they understand what it means to long for the return of Jesus, for the time when things will be set right, for when Satan and his evil ways will be done away with and the earth will be renewed and set right, for when God will dwell among His people and He will wipe away every tear and their will be no more mourning or pain. This is what they hope in. But in the US, we hope in so many other things. And we wonder why Jesus says blessed are the poor, blessed are those who hunger now, blessed are those who weep now, etc. Personally, I think that the King of the Universe knew what He was talking about, and that we should stop ignoring these statements. And if we really believe them, shouldn't we want to enter into poverty? Shouldn't we want to identify with and be among those who Jesus says are blessed? I just don't get why we don't take Jesus seriously. He gives so many warning to the rich, and yet we continue to hoard, continue to keep big bank account, continue to live on more than we need. I don't get how we can say that this homeless guy is our Lord when we only listen to the things He said which we like, and ignore the ones that we don't like. This Jesus actually says that it is really hard for rich people to get into Heaven, and then we shrug our shoulders and continue to live lifestyles that 98% of the world can't afford... and we don't think we are rich!

I am tempted to go on about how things here don't make sense, how people shouldn't suffer here and we need to fix things here... but honestly I think it is life in the US that makes less sense. It makes no sense that we live the way that we do when we know how the world lives. We aren't ignorant, as hard as we try to be. So what is stopping you from selling your stuff and moving into an inner city, or an Indian reservation, or some poor rural community, or somewhere overseas where people are suffering? We say that God hasn't called us there, but we never checked with God to see if He had called us where we currently were in our comfort. I'm more convinced than ever that it's time to go to the ghetto, and so Watts/South Central area is on my sights for January, but we'll see what the Lord wants. But for the time being, please pray for Uganda and that they would hope in Jesus, not in armies, bombs, soldiers, or whatever else, but in Jesus. And pray that we would do the same in the US.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thoughts on a day off...

Yesterday was our day off, and we were supposed to be at a village for the whole of today and spending the night there, but they had to cancel. Thus we had a second off day in a row, and I was left with little to do. Kevin and I went on a run around town this morning and saw a lot of people. We even had a 70 year old women start running with us for a bit, haha. Everyone gets excited when they see “moondus” (white people) around town. Then after lunch I didn’t know what to do, so I used Kevin’s computer and watched a talk by Donald Miller. He spoke on the idea of story, and how the hero of a story is always someone who works through conflict to achieve whatever it is that is desired. No conflict = bad story. I think he was right on. The thing is, I naturally want to avoid conflict, to live a life free from risk and hardship. Yet this creates a very boring, selfish story.

Then I watched a movie on Kevin’s computer (I was still bored, and there was nothing to do around Arua) called Cinderella Man. It’s about a guy during the Great Depression who is facing the reality of not being able to provide for his family, and on top of that his boxing career is ending, as well as his source of income. He ends up getting one last shot at a fight, wins, then gets another, and another, and keeps on winning until he eventually beats the heavy weight champ. Then he buys a house for his family and their problems are done, so it would seem. Yet aside from him seeming to be a really nice guy and inspiring others, his pursuits were still primarily motivated by self-interest. Does this make a hero? Well it seems like it, and when you watch the movie you are really excited for him. But what about everyone else that remained in dire poverty after his success?

I remember watching a movie called 10,000 BC. There is a quote from it that I will never forget, at least the paraphrase of it as I’m sure I’ll butcher it. But the main character is a young guy whom no one would have seen as a leader. The majority of the people in his tribe were captured and taken as slaves, including the woman he loved, and he decided to go after them. Along the journey, he comes across a wise old man who explains leadership. He says something to the effect of this: “There are different types of men in the world. Average men draw a circle around themselves and that is who they care about and are willing to sacrifice for. Good men draw their circle of responsibility around their family and close loved ones. Great men expand their circle even wider to their village. But the exceptional men, the rare heroes, are those who’s circle has no end.” This young man had to choose who he was willing to fight and die for: just his woman? Just his family? Just his tribe? Or everyone who was enslaved?

I know I want to be the last one, only because that is Who I follow. Jesus’ love knew no bounds, and expands to the ends of the earth. He came down from Heaven to be a man and die for sinners who didn’t deserve it, so how could I do any less? I see that the most heroic men are the ones who willingly enter into suffering, pain, and conflict to help those who may possibly want to kill him, let alone those whom he doesn’t even know. But do I have the courage? Do I have enough belief in the gospel required to fully trust that I am invincible, that I will only die once and then rise again to eternal life? My life must answer that…